Common household herbs and their health benefits

There are many common household herbs that can be easily grown under the hot and humid weather of Singapore. Even with only a limited space in most apartments, herbal plants can thrive as long as there is sufficient light and water. I and my wife are not known to have green fingers. Our first experiment to cultivate herbs at home more than 10 years ago ended with dead plants, hanging miserably in the balcony out of neglect. Lately, my wife has rekindled the interest and started to bring herbal plants into the home again. This time round, she spends ample time watering and taking care of the plants daily. As a result, we now have a small herb garden on our balcony supplying fresh herbs for our cooking as well as making salad and blended smoothie.

Our little herb garden at home

Our little herb garden at home

Here are some of the herbs that we have been cultivating and a brief overview of their health benefits:

Mint

Mint

Mint can help to ease indigestion

Mint (Mentha spp.) is one of the most commonly used herb worldwide. There are many species of mint including garden mint, peppermint, spearmint, bergamot mint, etc. All the variety of mint species contain essential oil with menthol being the most important chemical component responsible for its unique “cool” taste and most of the health effects [1]. Nutritionally, mint is high in vitamin A, C, folate, iron, and manganese. It is also a source of omega-3 fatty acids [2].

Mint has been used in traditional folk medicine to address a vast variety of conditions, including indigestion, constipation, cough, asthma, sore throat, common cold, rheumatoid arthritis, wound healing, headache, general weakness, and many more. Scientific studies have shown that mint possesses antimicrobial activity against various bacteria, yeasts, insects, etc.; has an effect on central nervous system; can relax gut muscles; and exhibit strong antioxidant activity in the body [1].

Curry Leaf/Tree

Curry leaf has many uses in Ayurvedic medicine

Curry leaf has many uses in Ayurvedic medicine

Curry leaf (Murraya koenigii) is an indispensable ingredient for cooking curry in South and South East Asia. This plant is originated from India and has been traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine for the treatment of a variety of ailments, including anorexia, indigestion, diabetes mellitus, and kidney disorders. Curry leaves are also used traditionally to cure piles, reduce body heat, thirst, inflammation and itching. It is considered a multifunctional herb with research showing that it has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, cholesterol-lowering, anti-diarrhoeal, anti-diabetic, anticancer and antibacterial properties. It can also enhance the liver detoxification function [3]. It is also a good source of vitamin A, C, iron, calcium, and phosphorus [4].   

Sweet Basil and Thai Basil

Basil is a traditional herb for cough

Basil is a traditional herb for cough

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) has many varieties. Sweet Basil is one variety commonly used in Italian food, whereas Thai basil (O. basilicum var. thyrsiflora) is a cultivated variety that is commonly used in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. Basil has been traditionally used as a medicine for the treatment of headaches, coughs, diarrhoea, constipation, warts, worms, and kidney malfunctions. This can be due to its strong anti-microbial property. Basil contains essential oil with that is able to kill bacteria, and fungi with minimal concentration [5]. Basil also possesses antioxidant property that can be useful in preventing and reducing oxidative stress in the body [6]. Basil is also an anticancer herb due to its strong antiviral property. It has been shown that basil extract is able to retard the spread of several viruses, including hepatitis B, that may lead to cancer [7]. Fresh basil is high vitamin K, A, and manganese [2].

Rosemary

Rosemary can help to prevent cancer

Rosemary can help to prevent cancer

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is another common culinary herb used in Western cuisine, especially in Italian cuisine. Traditionally, it is used as a remedy to relieve indigestion and mild spasm of the digestive tract [8]. Rosemary contains a variety of polyphenolic compounds that is known to have anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, anti-cancer, and anti-depressant properties [9]. Research has shown that rosemary may have potential benefits in the prevention and treatment of cancer (especially prostate cancer) [9], Alzheimer’s Disease [10], liver conditions [11], inflammatory bowel conditions [12], and drug withdraw symptoms [13]. Fresh rosemary contains vitamin A, C, B6, and Folate. It is also high in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese [2].

Thyme

Thyme is good for respiratory conditions

Thyme is good for respiratory conditions

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is another versatile herb extensively used in cooking. Traditionally, thyme is the main remedy for cough and is administered as a cough syrup. It is especially effective for whooping cough, sore throats, and building up of mucus. Thyme tea is a remedy for controlling fever in common cold. Thyme oil is used as a massage oil for rheumatism and pain. Modern western herbal medicine uses thyme for its ability to relax smooth muscle (spasmolytic), mucus clearing effect (expectorant), antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. Thyme has been tested in clinical trials for treatment of several respiratory conditions, including bronchitis, productive cough, and common cold [14]. Fresh thyme contains vitamin A, C, calcium, magnesium, and potassium [2].

Parsley

Parsley can help to reduce blood pressure.

Parsley can help to reduce blood pressure.

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) originates from the Mediterranean region. It is commonly used as a green vegetable and garnish to dishes. It has been used in folk medicines from many parts to treat conditions including kidney stone, haemorrhoid, gastrointestinal disorder, vision performance, dermatitis, hypertension, high cholesterol, liver toxicity, diabetes, and urinary tract infections [15]. Parsley has been extensively studied and found to possess antioxidant, antidiabetic, analgesic, and antimicrobial properties. It can also help to modulate overactive immune system, decrease blood pressure, and improve digestive function [15]. Fresh parsley is exceptionally high in vitamin K, vitamin A and C. It also contains minerals, including iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sodium [2].

Dill

Dill can ease colic pain and flatulence

Dill can ease colic pain and flatulence

Dill (Anethum graveolens) is another herb that has been used in Ayurvedic medicines since ancient times. Its scientific name Anethum is a derivative of a Greek word means “strong smelling”. Traditionally, dill is a carminative herb useful for digestive conditions, including colic pain and flatulence. Laboratory studies on dill reported antimicrobial and cholesterol reducing effects. It can also help protect the mucous membrane in the stomach and prevent ulcer [16].  Fresh dill is high in vitamin A and C. It also contains calcium, potassium, and manganese [2].

Common household herbs are highly nutritious and have numerous health benefits. It is definitely worth the effort to plant them at home to ensure regular, abundant, fresh supply for daily use. I am glad to have my herb garden at home. Get started to plant some herbs now, you will enjoy it!

References

[1]         P. Mikaili, S. Mojaverrostami, M. Moloudizargari, S. Aghajanshakeri, Pharmacological and therapeutic effects of Mentha Longifolia L. and its main constituent, menthol., Anc. Sci. Life. 33 (2013) 131–8. doi:10.4103/0257-7941.139059.

[2]         SELF Nutrition Data, (n.d.). http://nutritiondata.self.com/.

[3]         P. Bhandari, Curry leaf (Murraya koenigii) or Cure leaf: Review of its curative properties, J. Med. Nutr. Nutraceuticals. 1 (2012) 92. doi:10.4103/2278-019X.101295.

[4]         S. Singh, P.K. Omre, M.S. Mohan, CURRY LEAVES ( Murraya koenigii Linn. Sprengal)- A MIRCALE PLANT, Indian J. Sci. Res. 4 (2014).

[5]         R.K. Joshi, Chemical composition and antimicrobial activity of the essential oil of Ocimum basilicum L. (sweet basil) from Western Ghats of North West Karnataka, India., Anc. Sci. Life. 33 (2014) 151–6. doi:10.4103/0257-7941.144618.

[6]         I. Gülçin, M. Elmastaş, H.Y. Aboul-Enein, Determination of antioxidant and radical scavenging activity of Basil (Ocimum basilicum L. Family Lamiaceae) assayed by different methodologies., Phytother. Res. 21 (2007) 354–61. doi:10.1002/ptr.2069.

[7]         C.M. Kaefer, J.A. Milner, Herbs and Spices in Cancer Prevention and Treatment, CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, 2011. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22593940 (accessed July 12, 2016).

[8]         D.H.P. Ferreira, Assessment report on Rosmarinus officinalis L., aetheroleum and Rosmarinus officinalis L., folium, London, UK, 2010. http://www.ema.europa.eu/docs/en_GB/document_library/Herbal_-_HMPC_assessment_report/2011/02/WC500101693.pdf.

[9]         S.M. Petiwala, A.G. Puthenveetil, J.J. Johnson, Polyphenols from the Mediterranean herb rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) for prostate cancer., Front. Pharmacol. 4 (2013) 29. doi:10.3389/fphar.2013.00029.

[10]      S. Habtemariam, The Therapeutic Potential of Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) Diterpenes for Alzheimer’s Disease., Evid. Based. Complement. Alternat. Med. 2016 (2016) 2680409. doi:10.1155/2016/2680409.

[11]      A. Rašković, I. Milanović, N. Pavlović, T. Ćebović, S. Vukmirović, M. Mikov, Antioxidant activity of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L.) essential oil and its hepatoprotective potential., BMC Complement. Altern. Med. 14 (2014) 225. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-14-225.

[12]      M. Minaiyan, A.R. Ghannadi, M. Afsharipour, P. Mahzouni, Effects of extract and essential oil of Rosmarinus officinalis L. on TNBS-induced colitis in rats., Res. Pharm. Sci. 6 (2011) 13–21. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22049274 (accessed July 12, 2016).

[13]      H. Solhi, B. Salehi, A. Alimoradian, S. Pazouki, M. Taghizadeh, A.M. Saleh, A.M. Kazemifar, Beneficial Effects of Rosmarinus Officinalis for Treatment of Opium Withdrawal Syndrome during Addiction Treatment Programs: A Clinical Trial., Addict. Heal. 5 (2013) 90–4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24494164 (accessed July 12, 2016).

[14]      K. Bone, S. Mills, Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy, 2nd ed., Churchill Livingstone, London, 2013.

[15]      M.H. Farzaei, Z. Abbasabadi, M.R.S. Ardekani, R. Rahimi, F. Farzaei, Parsley: a review of ethnopharmacology, phytochemistry and biological activities, J. Tradit. Chinese Med. 33 (2013) 815–826. doi:10.1016/S0254-6272(14)60018-2.

[16]      S. Jana, G.S. Shekhawat, Anethum graveolens: An Indian traditional medicinal herb and spice., Pharmacogn. Rev. 4 (2010) 179–84. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.70915.

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