Healing herbs have many benefits

July 23, 2009 Herbs are popping up in gardens and flower pots in many households. Fresh herbs look, smell and taste great. They may also have medical benefits that can help build your body's defenses against many viruses and diseases.

"Research is constantly underway proving that herbs have medicinal properties and are valuable for our health," says Syeda Farid, a registered dietitian at Swedish Covenant Hospital and Galter LifeCenter.

Farid points out the health benefits of some common herbs:

  • Basil acts as an anti-inflammatory.
  • Peppermint improves digestion and alleviates headaches.
  • Parsley helps keep a heart healthy and protect against rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Garlic helps reduce high cholesterol, blood pressure and the risk of heart disease.
  • Oregano is an effective anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant.
  • Sage is often administered for sore throats and coughs, and sharpens the senses and/or improves the memory.

What's more, the calories in herbs and spices are far less than those found in breading, batters, sauces and fried foods, but they can be just as -- or more -- flavorful, Farid adds.

Health benefits of herbs and spices: Q&A with Syeda Farid

  1. What are the health benefits of adding herbs and spices to your diet?

    Herbs have been traditionally used for their medicinal purposes in many cultures, and in recent years science is proving these health benefits. Remember that all medications come from herbs, so they certainly have healing properties.

    Some examples include:

    • Cinnamon may lower blood glucose levels and reduces cholesterol and triglyceride levels
    • Capsaicin, the hot component of chili peppers, has been shown to be a powerful addition for pain management of arthritis and musculoskeletal disorders.
    • Ginger is an anti-inflammatory and can calm nausea and ease migraines. It is now also being used along with chemotherapy.

    Studies have also shown that fresh herbs have greater antioxidant activity by weight than berries, fruits or vegetables. These servings of herbs provide the antioxidants in 1 medium sized apple:

    • 1 tablespoon of fresh oregano
    • 3 tablespoons of dill
    • 4 1/2 tablespoons of thyme
    • 7 tablespoons of sage
    • 8 tablespoons of parsley

  2. Are there any health benefits from simply replacing sugar and salt with different herbs and spices?

    Yes, simply replacing sugar and salt with herbs can help retain flavor while reducing fat and calorie intake.
    To reduce or eliminate sugar, try sweet spices such as cloves, ginger, cinnamon or nutmeg.
    To reduce salt, try savory flavors such as cumin, black pepper, onion, garlic powder, dill seeds or basil.

  3. Are there any risks to consider?

    As long as you use herbs and spices in a normal ratio with the foods, there are no harmful health effects from them.

  4. What is better for you, dry herbs or fresh herbs? What is the difference?

    Fresh herbs have more nutritional value and very high vitamin values. They are also usually very fragrant and add a great deal of flavor to dishes.

  5. What advice would you give to someone looking to add more herbs and spices to their diet?

    Start with a reliable recipe from a trusted source, and experiment to determine your personal preferences on types and amounts of spices.

  6. What are the proper proportions?

    As with most foods, the key is moderation and balance. The proportion of herbs to use depends on the amount of food you are preparing as well as personal preference.

  7. What are some different ways to use them?

    Try pairing your proteins and vegetables with the following herbs and spices:

    Beef: Season with bay leaf, marjoram, nutmeg, onion, pepper, sage or thyme
    Chicken: Season with ginger, marjoram, oregano, paprika, rosemary, sage, tarragon or thyme
    Fish: Season with curry powder, dill, dry mustard, marjoram, paprika or pepper

    Carrots: Season with cinnamon, cloves, dill, ginger, marjoram or nutmeg
    Corn: Season with cumin, curry powder, onion or paprika
    Potatoes: Season with dill, garlic, onion, parsley
    Tomatoes: Season with basil, bay leaf, dill, onion, oregano, pepper or parsley

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