Did you know that many common herbs we use in our Kitchens are part of the herbal medicine apothecary? We just take them for granted to culinarily enhance our food, but used in the right way they can pack a therapeutic punch and be wonderful for boosting our immune systems.
When we design a supplement, we use what is referred to as a ‘therapeutic’ amount - this is the quantity used that has been shown to exert a therapeutic effect in the research of the herb or nutrient. This does not mean however, that the regular intake of certain plant compounds even at a low dose cannot have these effects, albeit at a milder level... Remember we are what we eat and absorb, so consistency is key, as is preparation!
Here we explore some of the most ubiquitous culinary herbs, how they can be beneficial for us and how to get the best out of them.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Thyme is a wonderfully medicinal herb, the oil obtained from its leaves contain high levels of thymol which is a powerful antiseptic due to anti-microbial properties. One recent study demonstrated the oil’s amazing ability to eradicate over 120 different strains of bacteria isolated from patients with infections of the oral cavity, respiratory and genitourinary tracts.
As such, it is also effective in treating the symptoms of a sore throat as either a gargle or a tea. To help coax out the oils, simply steep a bunch of organic (or thoroughly washed) thyme in boiling water for ten minutes.
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
A staple herb of many cuisines around the world, not many are aware of the antibacterial power of its oil which is one of the most effective in the world, second only to thyme. A member of the mint family, it contains the compound carvacrol which has even demonstrated some antiviral properties in studies, although the research is in its early days. The dried stuff retains just as many nutrients as fresh and seeing as you use more in the overall quantity as the dry - it's the best way to go.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Potent and fragrant no matter which type and there are many, including sweet Italian, the smaller-leaved Greek, and holy basil otherwise known as Tulsi used in Thai and South-East Asia. Holy Basil has been found to be extremely useful for immunity, in fact a four week study in 24 healthy adults supplemented with 300mg capsules of the extract significantly increased immune cell levels which may help fight many types of infections.
If you love Asian cooking the licorice-scented Thai basil is a wonderfully authentic addition to curries, salads and stir-fries, whilst the Italian and Greek varieties are perfect for Pesto which further concentrates the amount you’re getting in a serving as well as increasing the bioavailability of the nutrients.
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
Peppermint has long been used for its role in coughs, colds, and congestion. It just feels right, helping to clear nasal passages and open the lungs, it is literally one of the most used herbs today - often being brewed as tea or used in its essential oil form. Its many constituents of rosmarinic acid, flavonoids including eriocitrin, luteolin, and hesperidin, as well as the volatile oils menthol and menthone have been extensively researched, demonstrating antibacterial, antiviral, and antioxidant properties.
Ginger (Zingiber off)
What can’t ginger do? Its warming, spicy qualities lend itself to far-reaching therapeutic effects on the body, from helping to calm inflammatory states and easing digestion, to stimulating circulation and improving immunity. Fresh ginger especially contains specific antimicrobial properties and is therefore the best way to consume it for immune purposes, sip on it daily steeped in hot water and sweetened with honey and add regularly to a whole range of dishes from curries to soups.
With a bit of extra time on our hands of late, it’s a great idea to start growing some herbs ourselves! It’s a super easy introduction into gardening as herbs are small and manageable, most can be grown in a small area including single pots. This way we have access to these medicinal and culinary gems whenever we fancy, and best of all – we can grow them organically! Alternatively, these household herbs are obviously readily available at grower’s markets and grocers, so make use of them with all the extra cooking everyone is getting into right now and reap the benefits.
- Siekiewicz M et al. Antibacterial activity of thyme and lavender essential oils. Med Chem 2011 Nov; 7(6): 674-89
- Gilling DH et al. Antiviral efficacy and mechanisms of action of oregano essential oil and its primary component carvacrol against murine norovirus. Jappli Microbiol. 2014 May; 116(5): 1149-63
- Fournomiti M et al. Antimicrobial activity of essential oils of cultivated oregano (Origanum vulgare), sage (Salvia officinalis), and thyme (Thymus vulgaris) against clinical isolates of Escherichia coli, Klebsiella oxytoca, and Klebsiella pneumoniae. Microb Ecol Health Dis. 2015
- Mondal S et al. Double-blinded randomized controlled trial for immunomodulatory effects of Tulsi (ocimum sanctum Linn) leaf extract on healthy volunteers. J Ethnopharmacol 2011 Jul 14; 136(3); 452-6
- McKay DL, Blumberg JB. A review of the bioactivity and potential health benefits of peppermint tea (Mentha piperita L). Phytother Res 2006 Aug; 20(8): 619-33
- Chang JS et al. Fresh ginger (Zingiber officinale) has anti-viral activity against human respiratory syncytial virus in human respiratory tract cell lines. J Ethnopharmacol. 2013 Jan 9; 145(1): 146-51