When herbs come to mind we usually think of what food to flavour with them. So many dishes, like sage and onion stuffing to lemon and thyme chicken, are enhanced by these fragrant plants. Herbs have many benefits, some culinary, but did you know that for centuries traditional cures using herbs and plants have been used by herbalists and apothecaries?
A herb is defined as ‘any plant where the leaves, seeds or flowers are used for medicine, flavour or scent’ according to Oxford Dictionaries. Here, alongside Suttons Seeds, who sell a range of grow your own veg, we take a look at the benefits that are connected to eight of the most popular herbs.
The most common herb in Chinese medicine is ginseng. It has been used to treat just about any ailment for thousands of years. Ginseng, especially the Panax variety has been found to boost our mood, enhance our memory and increase concentration. It is also a natural detoxifier and is said to boost our immune system and treat imbalances in our body, including blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol levels and hormones.
The downside that it is said that those with heart disease should avoid this herb due to the reported side effects, such as heart palpitations and insomnia. Consult your cardiologist before using ginseng medically.
Looking to improve your speed and accuracy when it comes to mental tasks? Scientists at Northumbria University found that one of the essential oils that provides rosemary with its scent helps to improve it. The main chemical constituent in the herb is 8-cineole and by simply smelling rosemary, we are said to be able to score higher on tests and function better on a daily basis.
William Shakespeare famously said: “rosemary is for remembrance,” and the university’s study found that we are more alert when the scent of rosemary fills the room.
If you’re into immune health then echinacea is a herb you must know. It is high in flavonoids and has mild anti-inflammatory properties. It is said to hold immune-boosting qualities that promotes the activity of the lymphocyte cells that help eliminate viruses from the body. Promoters of the herb use it to combat an array of ailments, including:
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Acid indigestion
- Gum disease
- Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Echinacea as a remedy in Europe and North America became popular in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. Its first use was as a treatment for the common cold. Native American tribes in South Dakota used it for this reason and a supplement maker from Switzerland helped make it popular outside the tribes.
The word ‘sage’ comes from the Latin word ‘salvere’ – to save. And it certainly had a life-saving reputation in the Middle Ages, with many using it as a way to try to prevent the plague.
Recently though, research has found that the herb may be able to improve our brain’s functionality and memories, especially in people who have Alzheimer’s disease as sage inhibits the breakdown of acetylcholine — something which drops in sufferers of the disease.
Basil. It’s one of the most popular herbs and a staple in most of our kitchens but there is more to it than just that. This herb also has anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties that can halt osteoarthritis. Currently, it’s being used to combat digestive disorders and is the subject of studies looking into its anti-cancer properties.
Basils essential oils are a good source of vitamin A, potassium, calcium, iron and magnesium. It’s also said that the oil can enhance dull-looking skin and hair when massaged into the skin, provide relief from the common cold and improve digestion.
Not to be confused with the regular basil plant. Holy basil is considered to be a sacred herb in India and has been linked with reducing blood sugar levels. That’s not it’s only use – a study found that it can increase immune cells which are found in our blood. It has also been used to combat anxiety and any anxiety-related depression. However, as these studies have been relatively small, it’s anticipated that more research will be carried out to discover the herb’s true ‘powers’.
Hailing from the Mediterranean spearmint leaves carry menthol and are rich in many antioxidant vitamins, such as vitamin A and vitamin C. Spearmint can help battle flatulence and hiccup as it helps relax your stomach muscles.
If used topically spearmint can help relieve itching dermatitis and hives. If used in aromatherapy it can help reduce stress, fatigue, and headaches.
Rich in health-benefitting phyto-nutrients, tarragon has long been used as a remedy to stimulate appetite. In its fresh form, it is one of the highest antioxidant value food sources in common herbs. Studies have found that it helps to lower blood sugar levels and compounds found in the herb can inhibit platelet activation and prevent adhesion to the blood vessel wall. This can help prevent clot formation inside blood vessels in your heart and brain, which can protect from heart attacks and strokes.
Tarragon tea is said to help cure insomnia and in dentistry, its said to help as an antiseptic for tooth complaints.
It’s clear that the list of herbs with medical benefits is lengthy and above covers eight out of that long list. Studies will continue to be carried out to firmly understand all the positive aspects of the herbs available to us. So, now is as good a time as any to head to your local supermarkets and stock up on those all-important herbs!