5 Super Herbs To Introduce To Your Life

Assortment of spices on wooden table. Selective focus

5 Super Herbs To Include In Your Life
Long before pharmaceutical companies started researching and creating medicines, people used herb and spices for health, healing, flavoring and food preservation. Emperor Charlemagne, 9th century, said it best: “An herb is a friend of physicians and the praise of cooks.”

The usable parts of these powerful plants can include the leaves, flowers, stems, rhizomes and roots. Although often used interchangeably, the term herb is used for the leaves, whereas the term spice is used to define the roots, rhizomes, bark and seeds. Some plants have both: such as cilantro (the leaves) and coriander (the seeds of the cilantro plant).

Because herbs do have potent medicinal properties, you should work with a physician, naturopath, or registered dietitian before treating yourself with herbs. Some drugs are based on active compounds in herbs like digoxin, which is derived from the active ingredient in foxglove (digitalis lanata), an herb used to treat heart conditions in medical literature as early as 1785. Indiscriminately taking medicinal herbs such as foxglove could therefore be dangerous.

Other herbs and spices can liven up your daily dishes while providing some healthy side benefits. It’s these herbs and spices that are favorites among registered dietitians, the food and culinary specialists helping to bridge the gap between your plate and physician. My top 5 culinary and medicinal super herbs are listed below:

1. Turmeric, used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine, is derived from the plant Curcuma longa, a member of the ginger family. Turmeric contains the phytochemical curcumin, which has shown promise in reducing inflammation. Inflammation is a key marker of chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and heart disease. Turmeric research also shows promise for cancer prevention. Use turmeric to flavor Indian curries and mustards, or try a pinch in your favorite smoothies for some added zest.

2. Oregano, a member of the mint family, has been ranked even higher than fruits and vegetables in antioxidant activity, and is one of the highest among culinary herbs. Traditionally used to flavor Italian dishes such as pizza, oregano provides antimicrobial properties to help protect against disease-causing bacteria such as staphylococcus. The oil of oregano contains two powerful compounds called carvacrol and thymol, which appear to have antibacterial and antifungal properties. Interestingly, it takes about 1000 lbs. of wild oregano to produce just 1 lb. of pure oregano oil!

3. Basil, another member of the mint family, is one of the easiest herbs to grow in your garden and is not only super-tasty; it is one of the mostly widely used medicinal herbs in some countries. Basil extract shows promising results in protecting against cancers and reducing cholesterol and its potential risk in heart disease. Fresh pesto is easy to make and a tasty way to add more basil to your diet. Check my video (link to: http://www.anutritiousdish.com/a-basil-appraisal/.)
on how to make pesto.

4. Garlic is a member of the onion family that has been revered for over 7,000 years for it’s culinary flavor and medicinal uses. Allicin is the chemical compound that makes garlic smell and seems to be the active compound responsible for it’s positive role in heart health and cancer prevention. According to WebMD, another compound in garlic called ajoene, provides antibiotic and antifungal properties as a topical gel. Beware that eating lots of garlic can make you smell like garlic, which may be why some studies show that people who eat a lot of garlic get fewer mosquito and tick bites.

5. Sweet Cinnamon, the spice that provides comfort and flavor in grandma’s apple pie, may also provide health benefits. Cinnamon’s active ingredient has similar effects to insulin and may responsible for cinnamon’s modest effects in reducing blood sugar levels. However, don’t count on that pie for keeping blood sugars under control! Cinnamon also provides some antimicrobial properties.

There are many other super herbs that have medicinal purposes and are available in pills or super herb teas. Herbs that show potential in treating anxiety are: chamomile, valerian, passion flower and even lavender (taken orally). The best herb for depression appears to be St. John’s Wart, but it should not be taken in conjunction with prescribed anti-depressants without first consulting your physician.

The Mayo Clinic book of Alternative Medicine (Mayoclinic.com) provides a list of herbal medicines and their potential uses. Registered Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine (DIFM) can help you review your herbal supplements for safety and effectiveness using the Natural Medicine Database. To find a DIFM nutrition practitioner, go to integrativerd.org (link to: integrativerd.org)and click on find an integrative RD.

Jennifer M. Wood, MS, RD

Jennifer M Wood, MS, RDN is registered dietitian nutritionist and successful food and nutrition consultant in Southeastern Minnesota. As the founder of a nation-wide gourmet food company, Wood wrote Jenny’s Country Kitchen…recipes for making homemade a little easier! (2003), which is a timeless collection of make-ahead, freeze-ahead and pantry-stocking recipes and time saving tips to help busy families put nutritious food on table. Wood graduated with a pre-med bachelors degree in nutritional science in 2001, completed her dietetic internship in 2007 and went on to complete a master’s degree in food and nutrition in 2011.

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