Herbs and HealthHerbs and spices have always been central to our lives and provided us with rich and global heritage of herbal medicines. Ranu Mishra-Singh provides a low-down on the essential herbs and spices for our households.

We can thank our parents, grandparents, and ancestors for their insights into the successful use of many indigenous foods, spices, and plants as medicines. I can personally confirm that my dad who suffers from diabetes successfully controls it with the consumption of bitter melon drink, commonly known to us as karela. Every month I will be bringing you information on herbs and spices and how these assist us in our daily lives to fight illnesses. And most of these would be commonly found in our cupboards or pantry. Having said this, most of you may know this already; however, others may not. The information presented in this article is mainly researched from the internet, library, or books that I have at home: The Top 100 Herbal Remedies by Anne McIntyre and Herbal Remedies by Andrew Chevallier. I hope you enjoy the read and hopefully learn a thing or two.

Garlic (lesun): Effective throughout the digestive, respiratory, and urinary systems and an ideal remedy for coughs, colds, and flu. It also contributes towards a healthy stomach and bowel system by preventing infections. Garlic stimulates the secretion of digestive enzymes and aids the body’s absorption of nutrients. It also enhances the pancreas’ production of insulin, making it useful against diabetics. It lowers blood pressure and cholesterol and stimulates antioxidant and anti-tumour activities, which help rejuvenate the body and protect against cancer.

Cinnamon (dhalchini): It stimulates the circulation and causes sweating, which helps us to overcome flu, colds, and fevers. It also helps dry up nosebleeds and lighten heavy periods. Apply it locally to ease the pain of arthritis, toothache, and headaches. You can also use cinnamon as an antiseptic to wash wounds, stings, and head lice. I personally love using cinnamon in lamb curries. It enhances the flavour and smells divine.

Coriander (dhania): Coriander leaves are rich in vitamin A and C, as well as potassium, calcium, and iron. This herb has been known as a tonic for the brain and nerves, and its cooling effect calms fevers and inflammations such as sore throats, cystitis, hay fever, and arthritis. It also reduces hot flushes. Coriander tea makes a great gargle for sore throats, and the leaves or its juices aid in hot, itchy skin rashes when applied externally. And of course, the leaves used as garnish in foods give a wonderful smell and taste.

Fennel (saumph): This spice fascinated me because I learnt that for centuries people ate fennel to lose weight and look young. However, fennel seeds are best for digestion or settling the stomach and aiding in relieving colic and wind, indigestion, and heartburn. This spice also helps boost the appetite. It helps increase the milk production for breast-feeding mothers. However, this will interest most I believe that using fennel on your skin will help reduce wrinkles. You can make a paste out of fennel seeds by soaking them in water and then apply the paste to the skin.

Basil (tulsi): Did you know that Basil is part of tulsi family? I use this herb a lot in my foods and I can definitely confirm that the smell resembles tulsi. Most importantly though, basil can be used if you feel stressed or exhausted. It aids in other symptoms such as headaches, indigestion, muscle tension, and nerve pain. Many have used this herb either as a tonic or in tea for memory boost. It aids as an antiseptic and cleansing agent, helping the body overcome infections. Hot basil tea reduces fevers and clears phlegm from the chest and nose and eases colds, flu, coughs, and sore throats. There are many other symptoms relieved by basil, and I guess you could surf the internet for more information.

Parsley: Ideal for those that are anaemic, this herb is packed with nutrients, especially vitamin C, which improves immunity and assists the body’s absorption of iron. Parsley stimulates the kidneys, thus  helping to detoxify and soothes the digestive tract if suffering from colic, indigestion, and wind. I prefer the Italian parsley to the common curly type; however, they both do the same work. Parsley is delicious in salads and I also chew on the leaves to help with bad breath, especially after a spicy meal. You should try it.

Rosemary: The sweet smell and taste of rosemary adds flavour to many meals; however, I personally enjoy a few fresh leaves in my tea. This herb is ideal for meat dishes, especially in a good roast. It also has herbal attributes such as relieving anxiety and lifting one’s spirits. Rosemary strengthens the nerves and soothes them, especially if you are feeling rather low. It improves the flow of blood to your head and hence your concentration or mental clarity is brighter. You can use rosemary tea to stimulate digestion and promote the production of bile in the liver. After a big night out or party, rosemary can help with hangovers. I usually add some fresh leaves to a jug of water and not only it freshens the smell and taste but helps as herbal medicine.

Sage: Also known as ‘herb of immortality’, sage is one of the most effective remedy for a cold or flu. Sage tea helps clear the body of toxins and is very useful for arthritis and gout. Sage helps to regulate periods, relieve period pains, and ease symptoms of menopause, especially hot flushes. It is also an excellent digestive and bitter-liver remedy, increasing digestion and absorption of nutrients.

These are some basic information gathered from various places and in the next edition I will bring you more information on Liver especially the important role of the liver in our body and how Bitters strengthen and improve our organs.

Gallery of Herbs