Updated: Jul 29, 2021
Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with an upset stomach or felt that “scratchy” sensation in your throat, signalling the imminent arrival of a cold on a Sunday evening, when no place is open to get help? Don’t despair; relief maybe just a few steps away – in your kitchen herb & spice drawer.
Many of our culinary herbs and spices have the wonderful advantage of not only being great for flavouring our food, but also for treating a range of health conditions. While herbs such as garlic, ginger, oregano and mint have gained a reputation for their health supporting abilities over the last few years, there are many other common culinary herbs that are equally helpful.
Here are just a few of the many culinary herbs and spices you can reach for when you're in need of some health benefits too.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Parsley leaf is delicious in a range of dishes and is also widely used as a garnish. The reason it gained popularity as a garnish is because the leaf can help stimulate digestive secretions and gastric activity, while chewing the leaves after a meal will also help to freshen the breath. Parsley is an excellent remedy to take as a tea at the first sign of a urinary tract infection, as it has an antiseptic and diuretic action which kills the infection and flushes out the system. In addition, parsley is also valued as a medicine that is useful in stimulating a sluggish menstrual period as well as in easing menstrual pain and discomfort.
Cilantro/Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
The leaves (called cilantro) and the seeds (called coriander) of this flavourful herb definitely have a place not only in the kitchen, but in the medicine cabinet too. The preventive effect of cilantro leaf on lead toxicity has been proven in experimental studies in which it was found to significantly decrease lead deposition in the body. Cilantro also accelerates the excretion of mercury and aluminum from the body though the urine. So next time you want to detoxify, add a little cilantro-rich salsa to your diet! Coriander seed is a commonly used domestic remedy in many parts of the world, where it is valued especially for its effect on the digestive system, treating flatulence, diarrhea, spasms in the gut and counters the effects of nervous tension.
Dill Seed (Anethum graveolens)
In the early US colonies it was called “meeting seed” because it was chewed for breath freshening during long church meetings. Dill is mostly used as a culinary herb today, but it does have value in medicine, mostly as a stomach soother and anti-gas remedy. It is also said to increase mother’s milk and help treat breast congestion from nursing. It is mild, and makes a very good remedy for colic in babies (and adults too!). In addition dill seed can help with those suffering with colds and flu as it can be taken as a tea to break fever and ease congestion. Dill seed is also rich in calcium, with 100 mg in a tablespoon.
Cloves (Eugenia carophyllata)
For centuries cloves have been used to sweeten bad breath and settle upset stomachs. Clove is the active ingredient in many over-the-counter toothache remedies because it has both anesthetic and antiseptic properties. Eugenol, a type of volatile oil found in cloves (and in many other spices), relieves pain and for this reason it is often used in liniments for arthritis, or to deaden the nerve in toothache and or for such conditions as headaches, muscle pain and neuralgia. Clove also acts as a strong germicide, and has been used for its antiseptic properties to treat wounds and infections. It is good in teas for colds and flu where it helps kill germs, stimulates expulsion of mucus and breaks fevers. Cloves can relieve nausea, indigestion, and cramps and may relieve diarrhea caused by intestinal bacteria. Cloves are also effective against such disease-causing fungi as those that cause athlete’s foot.
Savoury (Satureja hortensis)
This wonderful herb has a good reputation for easing gas and indigestion especially from the consumption of beans. It can be combined in the cooking of beans or taken afterwards to ease the symptoms. It has also been used to help ease the discomfort of bronchitis and to kill bacterial chest infections. It is a good astringent and can relive the discomfort of bee stings when applied to the site in a poultice and it is also a good anti-fungal herb for for Candida and other fungal infections. Savoury is said to have derived its botanical name because of it’s mythological connection to satyrs and is often referred to as the Herb of Love as it is thought to be a possible sexual stimulant, especially for women.
Allspice (Pimenta dioica)
This yummy spice gets its name from the unique combination of aromas in its fruit, a blending of the tastes of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg with just a little peppery heat. Like many of the other spices mentioned it contains the volatile oil, Eugenol and has medicinal actions associated with this. Bet you didn’t know that gram for gram, the antioxidant content of allspice is greater than most other berries, fruits, and vegetables! Allspice is rich in the flavonoid quercetin, in quantities sufficient to make the herb useful in preventing allergies. So making a tea with a bit of allspice will not only taste good but will be a good allergy treatment. It can be used to assist digestion and prevent belching, bloating, flatulence, and indigestion and it can even help ease diarrhea. It can be tinctured into a liniment or infused in oil for aching muscles. This wonderful spice can also be used as a steam for chest congestion.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Thyme is widely used as a culinary herb but also has potent medicinal properties. It has antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-fungal properties, and can be used in the treatment of numerous conditions of the respiratory tract including colds, flu, bronchitis, asthma, sinus infections, and whooping cough. Thyme also has expectorant and antitussive actions, and can be helpful for wet, phlegmy coughs. Thyme has carminative properties which help to relieve digestive cramping and gas. It is useful for dyspepsia and sluggish digestion. Internally, the antioxidant actions of this herb prevent free radical formation, strengthening the immune system, and improving cardiovascular health.
Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum)
This exotic seed pod has been highly valued both as a spice and a medicine since ancient times. Throughout history, cardamom has been used for the relief of digestive problems, especially indigestion, gas, and cramps. In Ayurvedic medicine cardamom is used for many conditions, including asthma, bronchitis, kidney stones, and poor appetite. In China, cardamom is taken for urinary incontinence and as a tonic. It has been used for bad breath, (and when taken with garlic it helps to reduce garlic’s strong smell). It also helps to support the nervous system, easing anxiety and stress and has a long-standing reputation of use for balancing reproductive hormonal function and easing menstrual cramps.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Basil has a sweet and pungent flavour and an intoxicating aroma. It is high in vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron, and it contains up to 14% protein by weight. In many Mediterranean countries, hot basil tea is used to break children’s fevers and ease cold and flu symptoms. The herb can be useful to relieve mild stomach upset and intestinal cramps. Basil is said to have a mild calming effect on the nervous system and it helps relieve nervous headaches. Some studies have shown that basil acts upon the limbic system elevating mood and acting to ease mild depression.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Sage is a warming, astringent herb and is great for drying up excess secretions in the body. The tea can be useful for diarrhea, gastritis, and enteritis and as a gargle for sore throats, laryngitis, tonsillitis, or ulceration of the mouth. Sage is an expectorant, and aids in the elimination of mucus. It is used to reduce excessive perspiration, and can help with easing night sweats, especially those associated with menopause. Sage can also be used to dry up the flow of breast milk when weaning a child.
Bet you didn't realize the powerful apothecary you have right in your kitchen cupboard. Feel free to refer back to this article whenever you need a remedy in a pinch!
All material contained herein is provided for general information purposes only and should not be considered medical advice or consultation. Contact a reputable healthcare practitioner if you are in need of medical care.