Best medicinal herbs: spice up your cooking and improve your health

Best medicinal herbs recommends not waiting for the evil day, but make sure you include some of these basics in your diet on a regular basis; then, simply the flavour they impart to your cooking, quite apart from their health benefits, makes them worth all the effort. And just to confuse you, I'm going to throw in our favourite spices; the distinction is technical.

Herbs and spices make up a vital and huge subject, worth a site all on their own; these are just a few of Bernard Preston's favourites. Should you be only starting out, and it's astonishing how many folk never add any of these gems to their food, then just where do you begin?

Perhaps I should call this a starter's guide to the best medicinal herbs in our garden.



All foods have one great enemy; oxygen. Once you pick them from the plant, remove their skins or shells, oxidation starts and they rapidly lose their essential value. So I strongly advocate against buying an array of herbs in bottles that will sit in your kitchen and the dregs used only years later.

Rather grow them yourself and enjoy them fresh from the garden, and freeze them; or regularly buy small quantities at a herb shop and make sure you finish them within a few months at most.

For example, I recently ran out of paprika in our freezer; it's midsummer and the fruit in our garden is still grass green. Scratching around in the kitchen cupboard I found an old half full bottle; so, desperate, I added a teaspoon to our authentic hummus recipe; it was utterly tasteless. I might as well have not bothered.

In fact, hummus is good place to introduce the subject of herbs and spices in your cooking. No doubt about it, we've been conned into believing we need only eat those foods that are appealing to our tongues. It's a terrible lie and an utterly ingenuous way to approach picking out items in the supermarket and greengrocer's shelves.

But the fact is, our families reach for foods that tickle their taste buds, and eschew those that are rather tasteless.

The chickpeas in hummus are the most important protein source in the world, but it really is a largely tasteless legume. So tradition has it that we add herbs and spices to dicky it up. And at the same time cash in on the best medicinal herbs.

We'll use them as a kicking off spot for our favourite herbs and spices.

Best medicinal herbs

Best medicinal herbs gives you a guide to a few of our favourites.

Parsley

Parsley is one of the most important herbs in your garden, and it's used in all traditional hummus recipes. A rich source of the vital substances, magnesium, folate and vitamin B6, all needed to breakdown toxic homocysteine in the blood, this one of the best medicinal herbs, is a veritable capsule of health.

We enjoy the nutritional value of parsley virtually every day in our diet; whether it's chopped up in a summer salad, sprinkled on scrambled eggs, or in our hummus, for example, it is one of the most important herbs to lower cholesterol, so that I can have my butter and eat it; cake almost never.

As a parsley pesto it will dicky up any green salad that your family may find rather boring.



Paprika

Paprika is without a doubt one of the world's most loved spices, and along with laughter definitely fits in with best medicine. Most folk use it dried and I believe lose out on many of its great benefits. Whenever we have a surplus in the garden, or see them going cheap at the green grocer, we simply chop them up, including the seeds and placenta which is where the capsaicin is found, and powerful anti inflammatory agent, and freeze them in well labelled packets.

You need to know how to preserve jalapeno peppers, for example.

Then you can add whole chunks of jalapenos, sweet bell peppers, peppadews or cayenne peppers to your cooking, depending on how spicy you want it. A slither always finds its way into our otherwise rather dull hummus.

Spice up your cooking with the best medicinal herbs.

Cumin

Cumin is one of the best medicinal herbs used by the ancients, mostly in relation to its anti-inflammatory properties in regard to the sexual organs; it also apparently helps with the nausea of pregnancy, and enhances memory and cognition, but this has only been proved in rat studies; its needed regularly by young and old.



We love it for its pungent, slightly bitter flavour; I especially love the day, perhaps every two or three weeks, when I roast the seeds prior to grinding them and storing them under olive oil. I can get high with a little help from friends like cumin; the warm, aromatic scent is of heaven, not unlike an incense.

Do yourself a favour and don't buy a bottle and keep it in your spice rack where it gets old and stale; roast and grind it regularly and store it in the refrigerator. (2)

Cumin is an essential ingredient of any authentic hummus recipe; so you could say that we enjoy it almost daily. For more details, read what is cumin?

Mixed with honey, cumin is often used as an aphrodisiac in the Middle East. (1)

Coriander

Coriander has an important place in our best medicinal herbs chest, and our kitchen menu.

It has a host of proven properties from containing a compound called dodecenal which is twice as effective as antibiotics in controlling infections Salmonella, especially important for those keeping hens, but it also lurks in the meat and eggs from the supermarket; it's proven to lower blood sugar and the bad cholesterol; and then it contains many phytonutrients like kaempferol (3) that have been proven to reduce the risk of getting cancer.

Just as important freshly ground coriander seeds are delicious in many of our spicy and curry dishes, and the fresh green cilantro in our salads.

It's our philosophy that having small amounts of herbs and spices like coriander regularly in our diet is what gives us protection against these nasty diseases. We glibly trot out that prevention is better than a cure, but it's rarely practised.

By growing coriander in your own garden, it thrives like a weed, sowing itself, you will enhance your food and health and protect yourself against dread disease; what known as a 'functional food.'

Sweet basil

Whilst often hard pressed to make a choice, sweet basil is simply my favourite best medicinal herb; the scent on your fingers as you pick it, the flavour it imparts to your cooking and its healing properties are simply divine.

If you're unconvinced, then read what is basil? It will grow indoors but like all herbs likes the sunlight, and will have the added advantage of not getting mildew.

It has two particular properties which I love. Firstly, any herb that will inhibit the action of the COX-2 enzyme will impress a chiropractor; it acts like Brufin as an anti inflammatory 4; it's in the herbs eugenol oil.

Secondly, any lover of good food will know that an easy pesto recipe will turn a dull green salad into a wonder.

Thyme

For me the real value of thyme herb benefits is the outstanding flavour that it lends to what might be rather dull tasting food. Take roasted butternut, for example; I love it but by the end of a long autumn, with fifty giants from the garden, it becomes a little boring. You press on eating it because of all those beta carotenes, but just a sprig of thyme, a couple cloves of garlic and a whole peppadew in the bowl makes such a difference.

It's also a part of the daily anti-inflammatory regimen that we should all be taking every single day, or suffer from even more pain in our joints and muscles.

It's used in cancer patients to reduce candida and the ancients even believed it gives you courage!

I'd rather enjoy these best medicinal herbs than visit the chiropractor or physiotherapist twice a week, wouldn't you? Give you some fight back when faced with an overly bossy manager too!

Mind you, it keeps me in business that folk refuse to exercise their bodies, and eat good wholesome food like our grannies once served up!

Ginger

There are two ways to take these best medicinal herbs and spices like ginger, for example. The first is to take it as a specific remedy for a complaint; you may want it for an attack of sinusitis. Perhaps better still, though, is simply to include these plants regularly in your cooking.

Try and avoid using the dried condiments in bottles and packets unless you finish them fairly quickly. Once oxygen gets to them, they lose their value.

Ginger is reputed to help everything from allopecia to athlete's foot! I'm kidding of course, but there is research indicating its powerful anticancer properties.5

But obviously don't wait until you have a tumour and expect a miracle; think preventative medicine and include it regularly in your cooking. We would regularly put a few slithers into our easy butternut soup recipe for example. Another is the peanut and ginger sauce which will add some zing to any dull green salad.

  1. Bernard Preston
  2. Best medicinal herbs

Sources and references

1 Cumin seeds @ World's Healthiest Foods

2 Ground cumin vs ground cumin @ Tastessence

3 Kaempferol

4 Eugenol suppresses cyclooxygenase-2 expression in lipopolysaccharide-stimulated mouse macrophage RAW264.7 cells

5 Anti-Oxidative and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Ginger in Health and Physical Activity: Review of Current Evidence

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Slow food, made fast:

Quick salsa

Ingredients:

1 very ripe large tomato

1 spring onion

1 peppadew, pips and all

Handful of cilantro

1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice

S&P

A squirt of spring water


Do it:

Simply chop up all the ingredients, rather finely except the tomato. Personally I use the pulp of the lime too, that's where more than half of the goodies are to be found.


Quick hummus

Ingredients:

1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

3 Tbsp spring water

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 clove garlic

1 slither chili including a few pips

1 spring parsley

1 tsp cumin

1Tbsp tahini

1/2 lemon, including pulp

2 Tbsp sweet fruit like mango

Do it:

Stick blend all the ingredients bar the chickpeas.

When smooth and foamy and add the chickpeas; blend.

Add more or less water for your favourite consistency.
































Quick pesto

Time: 5 minutes.

Ingredients:

1 handful fresh basil leaves

1 Tbsp toasted pinenuts

2 Tbsp grated Parmesan

1 Tbsp olive oil

Optional: Garlic, chili

Do it:

Basil and pinenuts in a small container.

Mix in the grated cheese.

Stir in the olive oil.

Stick blend it.

Add salt to taste.

Enjoy it on bread, add it to a green salad and mix what's left at the end of the meal into the next savoury dish. It won't keep.


Roast butternut

See our roasted butternut recipe