Herb garden in plant holders on window sill

Photo courtesy of Zhanjiang Chen/​Unsplash

More than simply a green garnish on your plate, garden variety herbs have health benefits that are known to help boost the nutritional value of any meal. Just think about the potent fragrances and tastes that herbs impart — a key indicator that they are brimming with good stuff. Whether fresh or dry, there are many ways you can reap the rewards of these uniquely flavorsome plants.

Traditionally used in teas and tinctures, in modern times herbs have become part of a healthy diet protocol. Herbal extracts are often used in natural personal care and cleaning products for their anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and uplifting or calming qualities. But the true power of herbs lies in their wealth of protective polyphenols—plant compounds with strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Studies have shown that polyphenols in herbs have been linked to combatting diseases as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and more.

Affordable, and easy to find in any grocery store, consider adding more herbs to your cart next time you’re in the produce aisle. Try using them in a pesto, salsa verde, or chimmichurri sauce, sprinkling in salads, adding to omelets, and incorporating into homemade burger patties.

Chef Divya Alter, co-owner of Divya’s Kitchen in New York, uses herbs as a cornerstone of her vegetarian, Ayurvedic-inspired cooking. From an Ayurvedic perspective, herbs are necessary for cooking to support digestion and to remedy imbalances we accumulate due to a challenging diet, lifestyle, and living environment. We asked her about the best way to cook and eat them.

What are the benefits of eating herbs?

Herbs and spices contribute not only adding exquisite flavors, but to promoting energy balance, kindling the digestive fire, and eliminating impurities from the body. They also make a dish or a meal complete with all six tastes of food.

Which herbs do you most love to eat and cook with?

I love cooking with herbs such as basil, cilantro, parsley, dill, thyme, curry leaves, rosemary, and more. I use them not only as garnishes, but also in a more concentrated form in sauces and dressings, for their health benefits and also to enhance presentation.

Are dried herbs beneficial or is it better to use fresh?

Both are beneficial. Dried herbs, when cleaned, dehydrated, and stored properly to protect their vibrational strength, are used as remedies and also in cooking. They are three times more potent (concentrated) than fresh herbs. Fresh herbs are best used in cooking and in tea remedies.

What is the Ayurvedic perspective on herbs?

The ancients called herbs and spices vehicles” equipped with the blueprints for healing. The minute they enter the body, they start to clean up the digestive tract, paving the way for nutrients to reach their final destination.

How can one incorporate more herbs into their diet?

If you don’t use many herbs and spices, then I suggest that you start adding new ones gradually. Start garnishing your food with fresh herbs. I always prefer using organic herbs because they are less chemically processed and non-irradiated. Purchasing whole spices and grinding them fresh when you cook is the best — you will get the full medicinal benefits. If you don’t cook much, purchase small quantities and restock timely — after a year for whole spices and after a couple of months for ground. It best to store your herbs and spices in airtight jars, in a dark and dry place — a closed cabinet is better than a counter top rack. For grinding spices, I use a granite mortar and pestle and an electric grinder. A coffee grinder works well, too

A quick fact sheet of healthy herbs to consider

Known to have anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties (Opens in a new window). The most commonly used Italian basil is said to contain high levels of antioxidants, magnesium, and vitamins. Studies have shown its potential to act as a natural adaptogen, helping the body adapt to stress.

Cilantro is known to be rich in phytonutrients, flavonoids and phenolic compounds, including folate, potassium, and vitamins A and K. Studies show it can help to remove heavy metals from the body. It has also been linked with promoting calm and improving sleep.

Known to have antibacterial properties and has been known to settle the stomach. It is high in calcium and vitamin C, and contains excellent amounts of other phytonutrients such as fiber, niacin, phosphorus, copper, riboflavin, vitamin B6, magnesium, and potassium. It is also said to contain beneficial flavonoids including kaempferol and vicenin, and the monoterpenes carvone, limonene, and anethofuran.

Known to help calm digestive troubles, relieve nausea, and refresh the breath. Mint is also known to help alleviate allergy symptoms such as congestion and respiratory discomfort as well as helping to relieve nausea and headaches.

Known for its anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and antibiotic properties, oregano has been used in herbal medicine as far back as ancient Greece. Today, its purported medicinal uses include the treatment of respiratory tract disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, menstrual cramps, and urinary tract disorders.

Known to contain significant amounts of vitamins A, C, and K. Studies show it may help regulate digestion and reduce bloating.

Known to contain a high concentration of the antioxidant carnosol, which research shows may have benefits in cancer treatment and healthy digestion and use of cholesterol. Water boiled with rosemary can be used as an antiseptic.

Known to contain thymol, a potent antioxidant, which has been shown to destroy harmful organisms, such as infectious bacteria. One study from 2010 suggests that thymol can help reduce bacterial resistance to common drugs, including penicillin. It has also shown promise in cancer prevention and treatment as well as yeast infections, high blood pressure, and common skin problems.

Articles from The Natural should not be considered medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please consult a medical professional.