Natural Health Tips

Some Herbs to Grow with Medicinal and Culinary Benefits

Here are a few herbs that boast both medicinal and culinary properties, so not only will they flavor your dishes, you can also gain health-promoting benefits from them.

These herbs are all easy to grow and by having them growing in your garden you can have them at hand all year round.

rosemary

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is an aromatic and intensely-flavored herb that has long needle-like evergreen leaves and belongs to the mint family. All varieties of rosemary as effective medicinally and for culinary purposes, and because they are evergreen, their leaves can be picked all year round.

Studies have identified a number of polyphenolic compounds in rosemary that have antioxidant activity, and inhibit oxidation and bacterial growth such as E. coli.

Research found that rosemary extract had a protective effect on human blood exposed to radiation, and showed strong antimutagenic effects, which is associated with preventing certain cancers. Furthermore, carnosic acid, the main polyphenol antioxidant in rosemary, combined with vitamin D, was found to reduce human leukemia cancer cell spread.

Rosemary tea is used an effective remedy for headaches. Roughly chop a handful of fresh leaves and let them infuse in boiling water for about 10 minutes.

Rosemary is commonly available as an established shrub from most garden centers, and its attractive foliage, invigorating scent and range of health-enhancing properties makes it an essential herb to have in the garden.

sage

Sage (Salvia) has velvety, textured leaves, ranging in color and size, and the best medicinal and culinary sages are the ones that have officinalis or lavandulifolia in their name.

Like rosemary, its sister herb in the mint family, sage contains a variety of volatile oils, flavonoids, and phenolic acids, including the phenolic acid named after rosemary - rosmarinic acid. The rosmarinic acid in sage and rosemary also functions as an antioxidant, and reduces inflammatory responses in the body.

Research published in 2003 found that sage is an outstanding memory enhancer, and that the dried root of Chinese sage contains active compounds similar to those used to treat Alzheimer's disease.

Sage is also anti-bacterial and anti-mucosal so it is useful for fighting colds, and clearing catarrh as well as fighting off germs. Its antiseptic properties make it excellent for healing gum problems and sore throats when drunk as a tea or used as a gargle.

Sage plants grow very slowly so the quickest and most reliable way to grow sage is to buy it as a small plant from a garden centre and plant it straight outside.

Sage is a popular herb with a warm, spicy, slightly tangy flavor that can be used to flavor many dishes, and it is an attractive plant to have growing in the garden;

mint

Mint (Mentha) consists of many different species; the most widely grown and used are spearmint, peppermint, orange or bergamot mint and pineapple mint. This herb has many varied culinary and medicinal uses.

Mint contains phenolic compounds that have strong antioxidant activity, and its many vitamins and minerals include Vitamin A, calcium, folate, potassium and phosphorus.

Studies found that the phenolic phytochemicals in fresh mint had very strong scavenging activity, and its high salicylic acid content is thought to play a role in the prevention of colorectal and lung cancer, and atherosclerosis.

Research also found that peppermint oil reduced nausea, spasms and had a soothing effect on sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome.

Menthol, a major component of mint was found to activate a nerve ending that responsed to cold and to menthol, which is thought to explain its cooling sensation and its common use as an inhalant to reduce decongestion in the nose.

Peppermint tea is a really effective aid for digestion and other intestinal ailments, and it also has mild antibacterial and antiseptic properties. Peppermint teabags are now widely available to buy, but it's so easy to grow your own.

Mint plants very invasive and can spread around the garden quickly. To restrict its growth, grow it in a pot sunk in the ground (this will stop its roots from spreading), or grow it in containers.

lemon-grass

Lemon-grass (Cymbopogon schoenanthus) is a tropical plant so it grows well in hot climates, or in a heated greenhouse. This herb has long grass-like fragrant leaves and has a citrus flavor, commonly used to flavor teas, soups and curries.

Lemon-grass is rich in Beta-carotene, the powerful antioxidant, and recent studies have found that this herb also has antifungal and antibacterial properties.

The scholar Ibn al-Qayyim in his work on Prophetic Medicine mentioned the following benefits of lemon-grass:

"Idhkhir (lemon-grass) is hot in the second degree and dry in the first; gentle, opening obstructions and the 'mouths' of veins; diuretic, emmenagogue; it breaks up stones, dissolves hard inflammations in the stomach, liver and kidneys, when drunk and used as a poultice. Its root strengthens the bases of the teeth and the stomach; it quietens nausea and restrains the belly."

References

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  • Sharaboni H. Cooperative antitumor effects of vitamin D3 derivatives and rosemary preparations in a mouse model of myeloid leukemia. Int J cancer. 2006 Jun 15;118(12):3012-21.

  • Moreira MR, Ponce AG, del Valle CE, Roura SI. Inhibitory parameters of essential oils to reduce a foodborne pathogen. LWT. 2005;38:565-570.

  • Shan B, Cai YZ, sun M, Corke H. Antioxidant capacity of 26 spice extracts and characterization of their phenolic constituents. J Agric Food Chem. 2005; 53:7749-7759.

  • Samarth RM, Panwar M, Kumar M, Kumar A. Protective effects of Mentha piperita Linn on benzo[a]pyrene-induced lung carcinogenicity and mutagenicity in Swiss albino mice. Mutagenesis. 2006 Jan;21(1):61-6.

  • Spirling LI, Daniels IR. Botanical perspectives on health peppermint: more than just an after-dinner mint. J R Soc health. 2001 Mar;121(1):62-3.

  • McKay DL, Blumberg JB. A review of the bioactivity and potential health benefits of peppermint tea (Mentha piperita L.).Phytother Res. 2006 Aug;20(8):619-33.

  • al-Sereiti MR, Abu-Amer KM, Sen P. Pharmacology of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis Linn.) and its therapeutic potentials. Indian J Exp Biol 1999 1999.

  • Calucci L, Pinzino C, Zandomeneghi M et al. Effects of gamma-irradiation on the free radical and antioxidant contents in nine aromatic herbs and spices. J Agric Food Chem 2003 Feb 12; 51(4):927-34 2003.

  • Kelm MA, Nair MG, Strasburg GM, DeWitt DL. Antioxidant and cyclooxygenase inhibitory phenolic compounds from Ocimum sanctum Linn. Phytomedicine 2000 Mar;7(1):7-13 2000. PMID:12240.

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  • Tildesley NT, Kennedy DO, Perry EK, Ballard CG, Savelev S, Wesnes KA, Scholey AB. Salvia lavandulaefolia (Spanish Sage) enhances memory in healthy young volunteers. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2003 Jun;75(3):669-74. 2003.

  • Shadab, Q., Hanif, M. & Chaudhary, F.M. (1992) antifungal activity by lemongrass essential oils. Pak. J. Sci. Ind. Res. 35, 246-249.