iStock_000014052512_MediumI LOVE using both fresh and dried herbs on a daily basis in my meal preparation.

From a cooking perspective, herbs enhance the flavor of what you are eating.

But, that’s not the only reason they have been traditionally used in cooking; herbs actually promote digestibility of food, plus improve our overall health and vitality as well.

There is a wide variety of savory, sweet, spicy and pungent culinary herbs to choose from. Below are my top ten favorites and some of their traditional medicinal benefits.

  1. Basil – member of the mint family, has a sweet flavor and blends well with most anything, even fruits (especially tomatoes). The leaves are rich in vitamins A and C. This herb helps relax intestinal spasms and relieve gas.
  2. Chives – member of the Allium family (onions & garlic), has a spicy, pungent flavor, and is rich in sulfur compounds. Ripe with vitamin C, historically chives were used to treat, colds, flu, and lung congestion. Chives pair well with potatoes, butter, dips and spreads.
  3. Cilantro – member of the parsley family. Cilantro soothes the stomach and intestines and can bind with mercury allowing a gentle detoxification. Add this herb at the end of cooking to help retain its distinct aromatic flavor. Cilantro tastes great in salsas, beans, and salads.
  4. Dill –cooling energy, and has been used traditionally to relieve gas and calm the digestive tract. Dill is a common herb used in pickles and pickled foods, salad dressing and fish dishes.
  5. Mint – both spearmint and peppermint have been used traditionally to treat gastrointestinal disorders, nausea, and cramping. The natural menthol flavor is also good for clearing congestion. Mint is excellent in desserts, sauces, salads and jellies.
  6. Oregano – long history of use in Italian, Greek and Latin cuisines, oregano contains essential oils that are naturally antiseptic, antibiotic and antifungal. Traditionally, it’s been used to kill intestinal worms and improve digestion. Oregano pairs deliciously with cheese, tomatoes, beans, pasta and meat.
  7. Parsley – Parsley contains a wealth of nutrients: calcium, chlorophyll, iron, and vitamins A and C. Naturally diuretic, parsley has been used to treat urinary tract infections and kidney stones. Use this herb to flavor stews, sauces and stocks, or as a garnish for a little zing of freshness to any plated dish.
  8. Rosemary – anti-inflammatory and rich in antioxidants, rosemary has been traditionally known as a promoter of good memory. Rosemary oil contains natural camphor that helps soothe the nervous system. It’s also highly revered for its ability to improve circulation to the heart and brain. The pungent, pine-like flavor pairs well with roasted meats and vegetables.
  9. Sage – this evergreen shrub has a lemony, bitter flavor. Sage has anti-microbial properties and is a traditional remedy for sore throats and coughs. Some studies have shown that sage helps reduce hot flashes and night sweats.[1] Sage can be added to sausages, meats, poultry dishes, stuffing recipes and cooked with vegetables.
  10. Thyme – rich in oils that have powerful anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and anti-spasmodic properties, thyme is a natural decongestant and expectorant. Traditionally used to ease coughs, bronchial spasms, and clear congestion from colds and flu. Thyme is used with long-cooked poultry, meat and vegetable dishes.

Want to learn more about the various qualities of herbs and how you can use them for food and healing? Watch my cooking demo and lecture to discover delicious recipes and traditional herbal infusions: Culinary Herbs as Medicine  

The next time you get into the kitchen use herbs in your food and remember that you always have potential medicine at your fingertips.

[1] 21st Century Herbal, Michael J. Balick PhD, Rodale 2014, pg. 258