Medicinal Benefits of Culinary Herbs

medicinal culinary herbs cover


Did you know that most common culinary herbs also have medicinal benefits?


Enliven your food with easy-to-find fresh herbs this summer. Fresh herbs often have a more potent flavour than dried herbs,  and, not only do they taste great, they’re also very nutritious. They are loaded with biologically active compounds, and they’ll add a boost of vitality to your daily diet. Many are used as medicines by modern day herbalists, it makes one wonder where to draw the line between food and medicine. 


When cooking with fresh herbs, the leaves should be bruised by rubbing them in your hands before chopping or snipping with scissors. They are best added to the pot a few minutes before the dish is done, or sprinkled over food before it is served; fresh herbs lose their flavour if cooked too long. To store, roll the herbs in a wet paper towel inside a plastic bag, and leave in the crisper of the refrigerator for up to one week. With the herb left over from your recipes, add a handful to your teapot and become further acquainted with their unique characteristics.  


Medicinal Benefits of 10 Culinary Herbs


Thyme Thymus vulgaris

Research has determined that of the 75 known phytochemicals found in thyme, 25% are antioxidants. A valuable medicinal food, this herb contains a flavonoid that counteracts the activity of dietary carcinogens formed during cooking. Medicinally, it is used primarily to treat respiratory complaints such as bronchitis, asthma, cough due to colds, and sinus congestion. It is also used for topical bacterial and fungal skin infections. The tea makes a good mouth rinse and gargle. It is of value in gastrointestinal disorders including dyspepsia, colic, flatulence and diarrhea. Extracts of thyme have demonstrated significant inhibition of Helicobacter pylori, thus it is used in the treatment of peptic ulcers.


Parsley Petroselinum crispum

It is a shame to see this nutrient-dense herb regarded as a mere garnish, because parsley has many medicinal benefits. It is one of the richest food sources of vitamin C, and also exceptionally high in magnesium, calcium, iron, and chlorophyll. Parsley leaves make an excellent breath freshener, especially to combat garlic breath. It is beneficial to the urinary system, and is used for bladder and kidney complaints. Its diuretic action can be applied to conditions such as gout and rheumatism to facilitate the removal of uric acid from the joints. The leaves eaten with any meal help prevent gas. 

Safety: It is not to be used medicinally when pregnant.

Here’s a fresh tabouleh recipe from Cookie & Kate.


Sage Salvia officinalis

This herb is useful as a gargle for sore throat, laryngitis and mouth ulcers.  It provides relief to singers who have strained their voices. Digestive aid, memory aid. 

Due partially to its estrogenic properties, it is used to relieve the night sweats and hot flashes of menopause. For this it is best taken as a cold infusion. To make, steep 1 tsp. herb in one cup boiled water, covered for 10 mins. Strain and drink 1/2 cup 3 times daily, or as needed. 

Safety: It is not to be used medicinally when pregnant or in epilepsy. Reduces milk flow in nursing mothers.


Fennel Foeniculum vulgare

Like most of herbs with high volatile oil content, it acts as a carminative – a remedy for gas pains and flatulence. It is a treatment for upper GIT disorders with gas, nausea, belching and heartburn, and for IBS and colitis, and is an excellent remedy for babies with colic. Fennel is a galactagogue, which means it increases milk flow in nursing mothers. It is also useful for cough, and used internally and externally to improve eyesight and to treat inflammatory eye disorders such as conjunctivitis.

Instead of after-dinner mints, India has something called saunf ( fennel) or mukhwas (mouth scent), that is a mix of candied seeds, featuring fennel seeds. You’ll often see a little dish of this near the register in Indian restaurants, and it’s common to take a spoonful to freshen the breath and aid digestion after a meal. 


Cilantro   Coriandrum sativum

Coriander and cilantro are the same plant, but where we are, the leaves are usually called cilantro, and the seeds are known as coriander.

It is cooling in nature, thus a good summer seasoning.

Cilantro is a chelator – it binds with and removes heavy metals from the body. It is also carminative and diuretic. Add the leaves at the end of cooking, or use plenty of raw cilantro as a garnish in Latin American or Tex-Mex cooking. It’s also used in Indian cuisine as a garnish. 

This creamy sauce from Oh She Glows (my favourite cookbook, btw) made with fresh cilantro is a unique addition that goes well with Latin American dishes. 

Many people either love or hate cilantro. Did you know that genetics play a role this strong reaction to it? A particular genetic trait makes cilantro taste like soap to some people. This trait is less prevalent in people of Latin American, South-East Asian, or Middle Eastern descent, explaining its relative popularity in those cultures.*


Oregano Origanum vulgare

This herb originates from the Mediterranean region; it becomes more pungent with more sun, and is popular in Italian and Greek cooking. Greek cooks believe it is best used dry, and in fact is the only herb worth drying. It is used medicinally for indigestion and as an antiseptic wash, and is heating and a diaphoretic. Bees and butterflies love its flowers.


Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis

A powerful medicine – improves blood flow to the brain, hence its usefulness as a memory aid, it is uplifting, anti-depressant, helpful for headaches, aids liver and gallbladder  function, strengthens blood vessels and is used to treat arteriosclerosis. Use it as an infused oil as a scalp massage for hair loss and rub for sore muscles.


Garlic Allium sativum

It is a potent antibiotic and immune stimulant and is useful for respiratory conditions, digestive disorders, cardiovascular disease, and cancer prevention. It is my first choice as an antibiotic; bacteria do not become resistant to its powers. Not only does it destroy bacteria, but it is also anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-parasitic.   

To unlock the anti-cancer benefits,it is best crushed and let sit for 15 minutes. This causes an enzyme reaction that boosts the beneficial compounds.  It’s best eaten raw for medicinal use.


Turmeric Curcuma longa

Preventative and treatment for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. Anti-inflammatory for RA and OA, eczema, psoriasis, asthma. Improves gastric and liver function, hyperlipidemia.  Antioxidant. High doses not given in combination with anticoagulant drugs.

Turmeric has skyrocketed in popularity in recent years for its anti-inflammatory effect. 

If you like Indian cuisine, you probably already eat a lot of turmeric, but if you’d like to increase your intake, a popular way to take it is in a hot beverage. It is fat-soluable, so you want to take it with fat, and black pepper increases its bio-availability. 

Here’s a yummy vegan Golden Milk recipe   to get your turmeric in the most effective delivery. I use coconut oil or MCT oil in mine, and you can also add a pinch of cayenne if you like the heat.


Basil Ocimum basilicum

Contains high levels of vitamins A and C. Used for nervous irritability and has anti-depressant effects. It eases indigestion, stomach upset and nausea. Stimulates milk flow for nursing mothers. The fresh juice has been used to treat warts and bug stings. A pot of basil in the kitchen is known to discourage flies.

Here’s a refreshing summer recipe for Blueberry Basil Lemonade. Basil might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you want to make lemonade, but you’ll love this. 


Herbal Remedies for Anxiety

Don’t Panic!

We all experience fear and anxiety from time to time.  At times we may feel overwhelmed by life’s responsibilities – work, family, our health, finances, the environment etc.  At other times emergency situations, traumatic events, or other stressful situations can induce feelings of anxiety.  For some people the symptoms are mild and easily managed, for others anxiety is replaced by stupor from prescription drugs.  The following tools are proven safe and effective for promoting calm and reducing anxiety.

Symptoms of anxiety include poor concentration, persistent worrisome thoughts, shortness of breath, indigestion, headache, trembling, restlessness, sweats, and palpitations or accelerated heart rate.

Sage – a recent clinical trial has shown oral doses of this common herb to reduce anxiety.  It does so by inhibiting enzymes that break down neurotransmitters in the brain that effect mood.  It has a fortifying effect on the nervous system and is especially helpful for women experiencing menopausal symptoms related to stress.  It has a strong flavour and is best combined with other herbs in a tea or tincture formula.

Lemon balm – has anxiety reducing properties, acting like sage by affecting the life span of neurotransmitters in the brain.  It has a special affinity for the nervous component of the digestive system and is valuable for indigestion and intestinal spasm triggered by stress. It has a gentle calming and uplifting quality.  It is a pleasant tasting tea and easy to grow in the garden.

Kava – this strong acting herb decreases anxiety and relaxes the body without loss of mental alertness.  It is fast acting for times of acute need; I use it with people who experience regular panic attacks.  It helps to relieve muscle tension and headaches associated with stress.  Unfortunately, access to this herb is limited; most herbal practitioners carry it in their dispensaries.

Valerian – this herb has a tradition of use for nervous unrest dating back thousands of years.  It is a popular remedy for insomnia due to stress and anxiety.  It has a strong and quick acting action, like kava, for panic attacks.  It also settles the digestive system that is agitated by stress due to its soothing effect of smooth muscle.  It is best taken in tincture form, in 30 drop doses as needed, or as part of a sleep regulating herbal program.

Rescue Remedy – this is a combination flower essence that is intended for acute stressful situations such as accidents, bad news, dental visits, flights, performances, nightmares in children, etc.  I have had excellent results with this remedy with people and pets.  Good addition to any first aid kit.

Aromatherapy – essential oils give plants their aroma.  Essential oils have been extracted from plants for thousands of years for use in perfumery and healing.  When inhaled they have a direct affect on the brain thus giving relief too many psychological states.  The effects are usually instantaneous.  Essential oils are easy to use – they simply need to be smelled.  Small bottles can be carried at all times and sniffed often or as needed directly from the bottle.  They can be used in oil burners to spread the aroma throughout a room.  They can be diluted and added to the bath or applied to the skin.  Pure essential oils are generally well tolerated by those sensitive to perfumes and other chemical scents.  What better way to promote wellbeing than from a beautiful, aromatic essence!  Sample the oils at aromatherapy shops or health food stores to find one that you resonate with.  The following oils promote calm and reduce anxiety: Lavender, rose geranium, clary sage, rose, ylang ylang, jasmine, balm, cedarwood, lemongrass, vetiver, rosewood.

In addition to our herbal helpers, it is important to remember the value of deep breathing and exercise as tools for managing anxiety and stress.  When we are stressed we tend to take shallow breaths which only compound the problem.  A minute of deep belly breathing can take the edge off of any stressful situation.  When stressed and anxious we produce the hormones adrenalin and cortisol; these can build up in the body and contribute to more chronic stress states.  Exercise is a sure way to burn off these excess hormones in the system.  A brisk walk works wonders for relieving anxiety.

These valuable self-help tools are very effective for those with occasional anxiety.  I recommend that those with regular anxiety or anxiety disorders consult with a herbal practitioner to obtain a more comprehensive treatment strategy.