I recently attended a talk by Jekka McVicar on ‘Herbs for Health’ which was fascinating . She believes that herbs are one of the best things in the world and after listening to her rave about their many benefits you cannot help but agree with her. In this day and age, varieties of herbs we used to think of as quite exotic are now readily available in our supermarkets and if you use herbs on a regular basis, you will have tastier food and be a healthier person for it.

1. Basil

Hugely flavourful and healing for the digestion with flavonoids that help protect cell structure and function. High in vitamin K which strengths bones. Use in pesto, salads, soups (especially tomato), stir-fries and even tea.  Add at the end of the cooking process.

2. Coriander

Leaves or seeds. This power-packed anti-inflammatory can reduce blood sugar and cholesterol and help digest fats. It is used to help the loss of appetite and is good for the digestive system reducing flatulence and stimulating the appetite by aiding the secretion of gastric juices. The roots are high in potassium and iron. Use in salads, curries, guacamole, couscous, soups. Add the ground seeds to meat, lentil and grain dishes.

3. Parsley

Extremely high in chlorophyll, vitamin C, folic acid, iron and other minerals. Parsley has anti-inflammatory flavanoids that act as free-radical scavengers and also it has blood-sugar-reducing effects. Parsley is a youthing essential, Eat regularly! Add to soups, salads, smoothies, tabbouleh, casseroles, stir fries, in fact, add to most things! Add the leaves near the end of cooking to retain the nutritional value.

4. Rosemary

This herb stimulates the immune system and helps improve digestion. It is excellent for treating stomach cramps and flatulence. It strengthens tiny blood vessels good for the skin and blood flow to the brain which may be why it is called the herb of remembrance.  Add to roasted meats, vegetables and fish. It is delicious in breads, crackers and salads. Drink as tea or to favour nut milk.

5. Thyme

A great antioxidant that also (like rosemary) helps brain function and boosts immunity in the gut. Its essential oil – thymol – is one of the main ingredients of commercial mouthwashes because of its antiseptic qualities. Thyme is a traditional ingredient of a bouquet garni (a bundle of herbs) and is delicious in soups, casseroles, fish, meat and egg dishes. Use the herb fresh if you can, when the thymol and other powerful flavonoids will be stronger.

6. Mint

Mint is the cooling refreshing herb our digestive systems need. Fabulous in both sweet and savoury dishes. Fantastic for digestion as it stimulates the salivary glands, encouraging the production of digestive enzymes to help break down food in the first stage of digestion. It is antiseptic and antibacterial, and is the herb of choice for oral hygiene as well as acting as a decongestant when fighting a cold. Use fresh leaves for peppermint tea.

7. Cinnamon

I use this liberally as it reduces blood sugar levels and when eaten with sweet foods it helps stabilise sugar spikes. It has been proven to reduce insulin resistance in those with diabetes and it is a great addition to the diets of those trying to lose weight as it encourages the uptake and utilization of sugar in the bloodstream. It is very high in anti-inflammatory antioxidents, it has a reductive effect on LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream and when mixed in drinks, it can be very soothing to the digestive tract.  Add to indian curries, cakes, breads, smoothies or eat with fruit.

8. Cumin

A good detoxer and free-radical scavenger, cumin may also help with nutrient uptake as it stimulates the production of pancreatic enzymes. It is the secret ingredient in many Middle Eastern dishes. Use liberally in soups and rice, grain and bean dishes. Good in breads, crackers and smoothies. Buy as seeds or ground spice.

9. Fennel

Whether vegetable bulb or seeds this is anti-inflammatory and extremely good for the digestive system because it is anti-fungal and antibacterial. It is also high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.  Fennel seeds are a great aid to constipation and also offer a great big mineral containing bang for your buck with iron, selenium, copper, calcium, manganese and magnesium.  Eat the raw bulbs in salads or you can barbecue and roast it too. Great with fish. Sprinkle seeds in smoothies and sauces. Make a fresh tea with fennel seeds.

10. Ginger

Soothing on the digestion, anti-nausea and anti-inflammatory, so good for joints. Ginger is loaded with the active compound gingerol which has been shown to ease menstrual cramps, reduce digestive discomfort and bloating and stave off bacterial infections. Extremely versatile in sweet and savoury foods, great as a tea. Use fresh root or ground ginger.

Aside from the above, turmeric and garlic and nutmeg definitely feature regularly in my cooking. There are so many wonderful herbs and spices available that one could write forever but I hope this encourages you to explore this world of culinary additives that are natural and medicinal in so many ways.

*Flavonoid – Flavonoids are a group of plant metabolites thought to provide health benefits through cell signalling pathways and antioxidant effects. These molecules are found in a variety of fruits and vegetables.