Five Powerhouse Herbs You Probably Have in Your Pantry and How they Support Wellness
If you study the history of herbs or aromatherapy you'll discover that nature has long offered quite a pharmacopeia to support wellness. Plants after all, live in the dirt and have to contend with bacteria, fungi, viruses, and environmental onslaughts daily.
So it makes sense that they make compounds to stand their ground against germs and environmental impacts. And what's amazing is that when we consume plants the compounds the plants produce can support our health and wellness as well.
Many plant compounds are excellent at fighting germs, easing aches, relaxing the body, and much more. And when we ingest them or use them topically, we benefit from these compounds much like we do if we use a medicine, albiet their effects may be gentler, take longer, and require more intake.
As a certified aromatherapist I understand and continue to explore how the chemistry of essential oil offers therapeutic benefits. Likewise herbs offer therapeutic benefits due to their chemistry. In creating teas, tinctures, syrups, pestos, and other herbal preparations we not only get the aromatic compounds found in essential oils but also the water soluble compounds.
Herbs are important to cooking, many are easy to grow or find fresh in the grocery store, and many are commonly dried and readily available for cooking or teas.
It's easy to overlook just how powerful herbs can be and adding herbs into our diet as tea or tinctures or in cooking they can offer tremendous support for wellness. Of course we can't neglect that our bodies also function at their best when we get adequate sleep, eat real food, reduce toxic load, and take time to care for ourselves.
You probably already know that eating plants offers many benefits to both our bodies and the planet, but let's take a closer look at a few herbs you likely have in your pantry, counter, or refrigerator and how they can support wellness.
Garlic: When I taught high school biology I had my students test the antimicrobial properties of garlic in a petri dish experiment. Garlic was a powerhouse. Garlic is rich in alliin, aromatic compounds (aka essential oils), sulfur compounds, vitamins and minerals. Garlic is generally regarded as safe but can be strong for some people's systems and can be irritating for young children. Garlic is excellent for supporting the body during cold and flu season. It stimulates the immune and digestive systems and has anti-microbial properties. It also supports the circulatory system. And it just plain tastes good! Garlic works well in pestos and added to soups, sauces, stir fry, salad dressings, and the like. Garlic retains many of its benefits when cooked but for the biggest impact using it crushed and raw is best -- just be careful not to over do it and upset your stomach. Using the fresh bulbs vs dried powder will give the most benefits. While garlic doesn't make a tasty tea, adding it to broth would be a lovely way to enjoy the herb.
Rosemary: This is one of my favorite herbs. I love brushing against it and enjoying its gorgeous aroma, adding it to roasted meat and vegetables, adding it to pasta sauce or using it in dressings. Rosemary is another potent antimicrobial, supports memory, eases headache, and aids the circulatory system. It's rich in aromatic compounds, flavinoids, tannins, bitters, rosmarinic acid, camphor, and vitamins and minerals. The herb is very safe and has a long history of use. I find it very easy to grow.
Thyme: Make time for thyme! Thyme is another wonderful, easy to use tasty herb that is useful for teas, syrups, and in cooking. Thyme offers aromatic compounds such as thymol, linalool, cineole, and borneol), flavinoids, and tannins. Thyme is a potent antimicrobial and can be use to soothe sore throats, support the body when fighting coughs or respiratory conditions, and has a tonic effect to the body. It's also a relatively easy herb to grow or find fresh. I enjoy using thyme in soups, stews, roasting, and salad dressing, as well as in teas and syrups.
Cinnamon: There are several types of "cinnamon" available for cooking. Most common are Cinnamomum verum or "true cinnamon" and Cinnamomum cassia or cassia cinnamon and the two can be used interchangeably. Cinnamon is regarded as safe although it may have slight emmenagogic properties (it stimulates the uterus). Cinnamon is warming and thought to boost vitality, support circulation, and digestion. Cinnamon also offers antimicrobial benefits and of course is delicious. It's useful in baking and can be used to spice up savory dishes as well. I add cinnamon to my daily tea to improve the taste of other less palatable herbs. Cinnamon offers aromatic compounds, tannins, magnesium, zinc, mucilage, and coumarins. Cinnamon is also thought to help regulate blood sugar.
Ginger: Rich in aromatic compounds, gingerol, and oleoresin this herb is popular for teas, soups, and stir fry. Ginger is useful for easing joint and muscle aches, offers anti-inflammatory benefits, and supports the digestive system. It is often use to squelch nausea and also has antimicrobial properties. It's warming and delicious. I love adding ginger to my tea, juicing fresh ginger, and of course cooking with ginger.
While there are so many wonderful herbs available to us now a days these are five that are easy to obtain and use, and taste great. I suggest you check out the resources below to learn more about the benefits and uses of herbs.
Recipes: There are countless recipes that use herbs for winter wellness. Steeping herbs in vinegar creates a tasty tincture that can be used in salad dressing, taken by the teaspoon, or added to food. Here is a version of an herb infused vinegar along the line of "four thieves" vinegar that uses several of the tasty herbs above.
Powerhouse Herb Vinegar
8 oz Apple cider vinegar
4-5 garlic chopped garlic cloves
6-10 sprigs of fresh rosemary
6-10 sprigs of fresh thyme
5- 10 sage leaves
1/2 tsp peppercorns or to taste
strainer or cheese cloth.
clean mason jar
Warm the vinegar gently (don't boil) and place the herbs in the mason jar. Pour the warm vinegar over the herbs making sure they are covered. Allow the herbs to steep several weeks then strain. Return the liquid to a glass jar and label.
To make a vinaigrette add equal parts vinegar and olive oil, a dash of salt, 1/4 part brown mustard, and 1/8 part or less of honey. Mix well to combine and use on salads or sandwiches. You can also use the vinegar as a tincture to fight off colds or use to flavor foods.
I also love thyme syrup for soothing sore throats or supporting the respiratory system.
Tasty Thyme & Ginger Syrup:
2 - 4 oz fresh thyme or dried thyme
1-2 T fresh or dried ginger
2 cups water
1 cup raw or organic honey*
strainer or cheese cloth
8 oz glass bottle
Add the water and herbs to the sauce pan and bring a gentle simmer to reduce the volume by half. Turn off the heat and allow the herbs to steep an additional 20-30 minutes. Strain the mixture and return to the sauce pan. Gently warm the mixture and add an equal part of honey. Stir to incorporate the honey. Pour the mixture into a glass bottle and label. Take 1 tablespoon of the syrup to support the body during cold season or use small amounts (1-2 tsp) often (every few hours) to help fight a cold or sore throat. *Honey is NOT recommended for children under 1 year of age.
Sweet and Spicy Tea:
1tsp or more ginger
1 tsp or 1 stick or more cinnamon
honey to taste
8 oz hot water.
Steep ginger and cinnamon in hot water for 2-5 minutes, remove the herbs, add honey if desired for a sweet and spicy treat that supports the digestive and immune system.
Herbs offer so many wonderful benefits. Add them to your food, drink as tea, or create your own syrups and tinctures. It's a tasty way to support wellness.
What are your favorites "everyday" herbs and how do you use them? Have you tried any of our teas or DIY herb kits?
Aromatic blessings my friends,
Gladstar, Rosemary, Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide Storey Publishing