Article by Christina Krisciunas, RDN, LD
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at KanodiaMD
Herbs have been used for culinary and medicinal purposes for centuries … and for good reason! Not only do they impart flavor and depth to our meals, but there is also emerging science that is starting to reveal just how powerful herbs are. A recent study isolated three specific compounds in thyme and oregano that are shown to have anti-cancer & anti-tumor qualities. These herbs are part of the Lamiaceae family, which consists of over 7,000 species of highly fragrant herbs prized not only for their culinary purposes but for their health benefits and precious essential oils.
Four of our top five herbs are also part of the Lamiaceae family and not only possess anti-cancer properties but they are also antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, rich in antioxidants, and contain flavonoids and polyphenols. This multitude of health benefits affects all of the systems in the body to help stave off chronic diseases.
Our Top 5 Herbs
Like other herbs in this family, thyme has a distinctive “Mediterranean” taste and is often used in soups, stews, potato dishes, and various Italian and Mediterranean dishes. Thyme is a perennial herb, meaning that it survives year after year and is sometimes referred to as “creeping thyme” because it is also used as ground cover. Besides possessing the benefits of the Lamiaceae family, thyme is also considered an anti-spasmodic, which is important in combating respiratory illnesses. Essential oil made from thyme is anti-bacterial and has been shown to kill not only bacteria in the body but acne-causing bacteria on the skin as well. (Please note: Never ingest or put undiluted essential oils directly on the skin.)
Also a perennial herb, this too will survive year after year often becoming a rosemary bush! It is one of the most aromatic of herbs with a lemony-pine-like flavor—perfect for use in poultry and casserole-type dishes. The compounds in rosemary are considered antibacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal, so they are excellent for our immune system and to aid in resisting infection.
Oregano is an extremely popular perennial herb used in Italian and Mediterranean dishes. It is beloved for its bright and pungent “herby” flavor. In addition to its anti-cancer and anti-tumor qualities, it too has potent antioxidant, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties. It has been used to treat a variety of infections dating back thousands of years.
As an annual herb, it will not come back year after year and will thus need to be replanted the next season. Basil is prized in Italian dishes as well as Thai (Thai basil) and Indian cooking (Holy Basil). With a fresh and sweet taste, it lends a lovely flavor to dishes with an equal amount of wonderful health benefits. It is packed with antioxidants, is anti-inflammatory, can help lower blood pressure, is anti-cancer, and is antibacterial. Holy Basil (also referred to as Tulsi) is often sold as a tea or supplement and is a revered adaptogen that can help balance our stress hormones, boost our immune system, improve brain function, increase energy levels, and enhance our overall nervous and organ systems.
Cilantro is in the family Apiaceae along with parsley, carrots, celery, and other aromatic flowering vegetation. Its seeds are referred to as coriander, while the plant itself is called “cilantro.” It too is an annual herb (although if left to flower it will reseed) with a taste that is quite bright and distinctive. Some people actually have a genetic predisposition to sense that it tastes like “soap.” If you enjoy the taste of cilantro, you can enjoy it across many global cuisines—Mexican, Indian, Vietnamese, and Thai. Some of its greatest health benefits are its detoxification properties, particularly of heavy metals. Additionally, its antioxidants can help protect the body from oxidative stress and from cardiovascular disease.
Growing and eating herbs is a powerfully nutritious way to add flavor and interest to a wide range of dishes. I hope you'll consider planting some herbs in your garden … and get cooking! We've got lots of great things cooking at The Nourishing Plate kitchen at KanodiaMD, so be sure to follow our tips, tricks, and demonstrations on YouTube and check back in for new and exciting cooking classes and culinary experiences.
If you're interested in nutritional support or are struggling with other medical conditions, we’re happy to discuss your health needs and how we can help get you feeling better and living better. Just contact our office to set up an appointment.