What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think superfood? Maybe it’s kale or blueberries, chia seeds or quinoa. But what if we told you that it’s time to make some room on the list for the common herbs sitting on your spice rack?
The idea of using herbs for their medicinal properties is nothing new—they’ve been used for centuries to treat ailments and prevent disease. And they’ve remained staples among Asian cultures where Ayurvedic practices are seen as more essential to wellness (as compared to the United States where for many those practices deemed “alternative” are viewed with a dose of skepticism for some, and as complete quackery for others).
“The commonly used herbs—I like to call them pantry herbs, because here in India they are very much a part of our daily diet—help improve a few of the very important physiological functions of the body: digestion, assimilation, absorption, and tissue regeneration,” said Dr. Niveditha Srinivasamurthy, Ayurveda Specialist and consultant at icliniq.
And holistic doctors have long been using them in conjunction with other alternative therapies to improve health outcomes.
“My philosophy on herbs is that they create and sustain powerful therapeutic vibrational effects on not only the systems in the body, but in the meridians and the energetic pathways as well,” said Dr. Phil Trigiani, Doctor of Acupuncture and holistic health expert. “Much in the same way that acupuncture, bodywork and exercise do.”
But turning to herbs for their medicinal properties is becoming more and more mainstream, gaining momentum among trend-seekers and thought leaders in the health space as holistic practices gain traction.
“Herbs are beginning to sprout back into modern culture,” wrote Pat Crocker in The Healing Herbs Cookbook. “The growing scientific evidence for the medicinal value of herbs is putting herbal remedies into mainstream consciousness.”
And the back-to-basics approach that has fueled trendy health movements like the paleo diet and eating clean is the same one that now has people turning to the herbs used by our early ancestors to promote health.
The Science of the Spice Rack
It’s not just the rise in popularity of returning to a simple, holistic approach to health that has herbs back in the spotlight. Science has also turned its attention to the medicinal properties of plants as well, and some convincing research has emerged.
“In recent years, medicinal plants themselves have increasingly become the focus of scientific inquiry,” wrote Melanie Wenzel in Home Herbal Remedies. “Unlike synthetically manufactured drugs, which contain a single, isolated active ingredient, a plant comprises a complex mixture of pharmacologically active substances. These are finely tuned to each other and in perfect balance. It is just like in nutrition: even if a vitamin supplement contains a multitude of vitamins, it can never supply the body with as balanced a mix of vital substances as fresh fruits and vegetables. Each plant is more valuable than the sum of its constituent parts.”
And the pocket-sized plants each come with their own unique bragging rights when it comes to boosting health.
“Think of herbs as the braniac-steroid cousin of the vegetable family,” said Trigiani. “Herbs are more condense with a specific intention and purpose.”
Reducing inflammation (a marker for aging and disease), lessening symptoms like pain and nausea, and promoting weight loss are just some of the benefits to be reaped from adding herbs to the grocery list.
While there are hundreds of options (being used in everything from DIY skincare treatments to homemade teas and tonics), start simple. “All of the following herbs are excellent for enhancing digestion and assimilation of nutrients as well as increasing metabolism and helping to burn fat,” said Trigiani.
Next time you’re making dinner, reach for one of these six common herbs (that are probably already in your spice rack).
6 Powerful Herbs to Stock in your Spice Rack
For anti-inflammatory affects use…
Turmeric has surged in popularity, and for good reason: it contains several compounds with medicinal properties, that don’t fall short of serving as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antimicrobial, and immunostimulant. The most notable compound it containes, curcumin, is a powerful antioxidant that helps the body fight oxidative damage and fight inflammation—which play a major role in aging and disease (so it’s also been linked to a lower risk of a slew of health issues from memory loss to heart disease). Turmeric is anti-allergic, a natural antibiotic, and specially recommended in respiratory diseases, as a blood purifier, and to improve skin tone,” said Srinivasamurthy. A study in Alternative Medicine Review even went as far as to equate the anti-inflammatory affects of curcumin to that of pharmaceutical drugs.
If you’re addicted to salt use…
Dulse: Sea vegetables are also rising up the popularity ranks. They are touted for their high mineral content, including iodine, iron and potassium. Dulse is a red seaweed that often comes in comes dried in flake form, with a salty, bacon-like flavor that makes it a flavorful substitute for table salt. “Dulse is especially relevant, fortifying kidney and hormonal functions, as well as strengthening reproductive organs for fertility,” said Trigiani. It’s also high in iodine, which the thyroid needs to function properly. Adults need about 150 micrograms daily, according to the National Institutes of Health. You’ll far surpass your daily quota by adding just a small amount of dulse to your diet: a 1/4-ounce serving contains 1,169 micrograms of iodine.
Soothe nausea and muscle pain with…
Ginger: You knew you reached for Ginger Ale when battling a hangover for a reason. A study published in the British Journal of Anesthesia found ginger to be an effective treatment for the nausea and vomiting associated with seasickness, morning sickness and chemotherapy-induced nausea. the best option to improve digestion. “This is a natural detoxifier, helps remove toxins from the digestive tract (an excellent remedy for flatulence) and helps treat joint pains and arthritis, to,” said Srinivasamurthy. Ginger has also been shown to have similar (and in some cases greater) pain– and inflammation-reducing affects as aspirin and ibuprofen. And if you’re putting in work at the gym (and barely able to sit down on the toilet from all the squats you did last night), a study published in International Journal of Preventative Medicine showed that when given to women athletes for six weeks, ginger showed a decrease in muscle soreness.
For spring allergies use…
Rosemary: A study published in Experimental Biology and Medicine found that rosemary helped to suppress the symptoms of seasonal allergies including nasal congestion. The herb is also often used in aromatherapy to increase concentration and memory, and to relieve stress. A study found that rosemary extract improved memory, reduced oxidative sterss and could be used to help with age-related cognitive decline.
Fight hunger pangs with…
Cayenne: Nature’s weight-loss supplement, cayenne pepper contains the active compound capsaicin, which studies show can increase fat burn, decrease appetite, and aid in weight loss. “Though we use pepper of a stronger variety here in India, the medical benefits are pretty much the same,” said Srinivasamurthy. “If used in the right quantity it is a digestive, and external usage of this herb is very common, in pain relieving gels and oils.”
For blood-sugar control use…
Cinnamon: The antioxidant properties of the spice come courtesy of a compound called cinnamaldehyde (which is also responsible for its flavor and smell). Research has shown the spice to reduce inflammation and lower tryglyceides and cholesterol. But the most significant affect of cinnamon is its ability to stabilize blood sugar levels: a study published in Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism found that cinnamon lowered fasting blood sugars in diabetic patients by 10 to 29 percent. And it can help slow the breakdown of carbs in the digestive tract (so you may want to sprinkle some on that after-dinner cappuccino).