While getting the proper intake of fruits, veggies, lean proteins, and good fats is essential to a healthy diet, you may be missing one key component — fresh herbs. Though you may only buy your herbs for special occasion dishes or when you’re entertaining guests, consider putting away the dried parsley flakes and reaching for a few snips of fresh herbs for everyday use. Though adding that sprinkle of basil over the top of your pasta dish or chives onto your salmon dish may not seem like a boost to your health, you may be surprised to find that, like other greens, herbs can help ward away cancer, protect your heart, improve brain function, and fight infection. Here are seven of the best herbs for your health.
Though sage may not be in your usual repertoire of herbs to include in your meals, it pairs excellently with turkey and chicken dishes and with herb stuffing, making it a staple right around Thanksgiving. While it was originally known for its healing properties and its aid in plague prevention in the 1500s, Authority Nutrition explains how studies are currently showing that sage may aid in proper brain function and memory.
This may be especially useful for those suffering from Alzheimer’s — in a four-month study outlined within the Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics, a fixed dosage of sage extract (60 drops per day) was shown to significantly improve brain function in those with Alzheimer’s disease.
Peppermint isn’t just the flavor of your holiday candy canes anymore — drinking peppermint tea or adding mint leaves into pesto dishes, salads, and couscous is the perfect way to reap the health benefits that this small plant has to offer. There’s a reason that peppermint tea is consumed worldwide and is considered to be one of the most beneficial teas to sip on. The Global Healing Center explains that when steeped in hot water, just a single tea bag of peppermint leaves offers antioxidants that can help prevent illness and chronic disease.
Peppermint can also help with irritable bowel syndrome, as it supports digestion by increasing bile flow and assisting in the break down of fats. This also means that it helps support proper liver function, as it can help reduce the bad cholesterol that can slow the liver down. If you’re feeling nauseous, forget the OTC medicines and try reaching for some peppermint instead, as it can help relieve gas, indigestion, and vomiting.
While you may be used to sprinkling a bit of dried rosemary over your beef, chicken, pork, or lamb, you’re actually doing your body a bigger favor than you realize by consuming this herb.
You’ll want to be wary when boiling, frying, or grilling meats at high temperatures, as this can produce dangerous carcinogens, or substances that are known to cause cancer. Prevention explains how the use of powdered rosemary extract has been shown to reduce the levels of these carcinogens — you can even toss this powder with your proteins before cooking to lower your carcinogen intake. J. Scott Smith, Ph.D., lead researcher at Kansas State University, says that rosemary contains carnosol and rosemarinic acid, which are two antioxidants that are known to destroy the specific type of carcinogen produced from cooking meats. Aim to marinate your proteins in rosemary and any other herbs and spices of your choosing before you begin cooking to get the most benefits.
4. Holy basil
You may think you recognize this herb as the basil you know and love that might be sitting on your countertop or in your garden right now, but holy basil is different than the sweet or Thai varieties often found in popular dishes. Holy basil is native to Southeast Asia, and it’s been cultivated for its medicinal properties for centuries. This particular type of basil is a member of the mint family but can also be cooked in the same ways as other basils, its flavor is much the same as other types of basil as well. Including holy basil in your pesto, your pasta dishes, and in a sauce for your proteins is the perfect way to incorporate it into your diet.
Medicine Hunter explains how holy basil is an antioxidant with both anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties. Though there has not been much formal scientific research dedicated to holy basil in the past, it is garnering much attention from the medical community in recent years because of its natural therapeutic effect.
Mexican food may come to mind immediately when thinking of cilantro, but this herb is more than just a taco topper. While the taste of cilantro has a love-it-or-hate-it reaction from many, those who love it should feel free to pile it high on their rice and bean dishes or even add plenty of it into your favorite juices and smoothies for that extra punch of flavor and health boost.
Cilantro is known for its ability to cleanse and heal the body from the inside out. Natural Health 365 explains that cilantro has an array of antioxidants and can also aid in digestion, and it is a fungicide and aphrodisiac that can also help with healing and warding away infections. It is also high in vitamins A, K, C, and has traces of B vitamins as well as being rich in iron and manganese. Though cilantro is rich in the vitamin and mineral department, its most coveted trait is the fact that it can help remove heavy metals from the body like mercury and aluminum. When consumed for long periods of time, cilantro will assist in removing mercury from tissue.
6. Milk thistle
Though you may not have considered adding milk thistle into your salads to replace greens like spinach, this flowering herb has amazing benefits to the liver that you can reap just by eating the herb itself, steeping it to create a tea, or taking an oral milk thistle supplement.
Silymarin is the active ingredient in milk thistle that protects the liver, and the herb was approved in 1986 to treat liver diseases like alcoholic fatty liver, cirrhosis, both alcoholic and viral hepatitis, and liver poisoning. This ingredient also works as an anti-inflammatory agent and encourages the growth of the liver as well. Herbwisdom.com explains how milk thistle works to detoxify chemicals that enter the body, and these chemicals can be in the form of medicines like acetaminophen to recreational alcoholic beverages to heavy metals. If you’re feeling like you may have had too much to drink at the bar the night before, it’s not a bad idea to consume some milk thistle the next day to help your liver repair itself from the damage.
Oregano is another common herb that we all know, love, and sprinkle atop many Italian, Greek, and Spanish dishes. While it’s the perfect accompaniment to pizza, fresh salads with feta and olives, or vegetarian dishes, one tablespoon of the fresh herb has the same antioxidant super power as a medium-sized apple, says Vegetarian Times. With such a high concentration of antioxidants, consuming this unassuming herb may help ward away cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure while also preventing cellular damage. Its antimicrobial properties are also of the utmost importance, as oregano can prevent fungal and bacterial infections.