Eat, pray, herb
Kitchens are blessed with herbs, which are vital for a healthy mind and body, writes Riham Adel
Herbs do not only add taste to food. They also have numerous health benefits, notably because they contain vital antioxidants and vitamins. "Herbs cannot replace medicine, but they can help us live healthier lives," said Mohamed Maher, a specialist.
Some people still misunderstand the purpose of using herbs, considering them as some kind of alternative medicine, he said. "But in fact herbs do not claim to heal. Instead, they can be used as a complementary health treatment, for example by strengthening the immune system."
Herbs can be used in various ways to get the maximum benefit out of them, depending on their kind and the purpose of using them. Maher gave a list of common herbs that can be used in cooking and in drinks and that have various kinds of health benefits.
Burdock is one common herb that has beneficial effects on health, in this case as a blood purifier that clears the blood of toxins. It also assists liver function and can help with the symptoms of gout, which is caused by poor nutrition. "Burdock prevents the absorption of iron, and it can be ingested in liquid form two to three hours before or after meals." It can be either boiled in water and drunk or eaten as a vegetable.
Echinacea can have real benefits to the immune system, helping the body to fight off viruses and inflammation. In addition, echinacea benefits the respiratory system and can help with colds and sore throats. "The herb activates the white blood cells, which is why it is very useful against all kinds of infection," Maher said.
Saw palmetto has great benefits for men's health, notably by maintaining a healthy prostate. The herb inhibits the production of dihydrotestosterone, a hormone that can cause enlargement of the prostate. "It modulates the hormone metabolism system in men and women, and it helps encourage healthy hair growth," Maher said, adding that for this reason it is often used to prevent hair loss. It is also valuable in promoting a healthy urinary system, and it can be used as a diuretic.
Red raspberry leaf is valuable for promoting women's health. This herb contains many vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, B, C and E, as well as the minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium. It helps to strengthen the uterine wall, and it can help particularly during the menopause. In general, it helps to preserve healthy skin, teeth, bones and nails. "Women can also fight off morning sickness by drinking a cup of red raspberry tea," Maher said.
Ginkgo, the "smart herb", as Maher calls it, can help improve brain function, including memory, by enhancing blood flow to the brain and to the nervous system more generally. It is also valuable in treating depression and boosting mood.
While goldenseal shouldn't be used during pregnancy, it has multiple benefits on health. It can be used as an antibiotic, for example, owing to its activity against bacteria and inflammation. "It can also be used to benefit the digestive system, and it stimulates the immune and lymphatic system, the colon, liver and pancreas," Maher added.
Stevia is a natural sweetener. Refined sugar can be harmful to health, notably because of its high calories. The use of stevia can help people to avoid gaining weight, while maintaining normal blood sugar levels. One teaspoon of stevia is the equivalent of four teaspoons of sugar, but provides only four calories. Stevia can also replace sugar in cooking as well.
Lavender is useful for combating anxiety, and it can be an efficient cure for tension and pressure of all kinds. It is recommended that lavender be drunk in an infusion before bed, helping the individual to sleep deeply and healthily. Lavender can also be used for general fatigue and to help relax the muscles. When added either as oil or as dried herbs to a hot bath, it can help to ease the muscles and relax the body. "It is also a useful skin relief if you suffer from skin irritation or burns," Maher said.
Cinnamon is used in cooking and in drinks. It is rich in calcium, magnesium and iron. It has various benefits on health, helping to lower so-called bad cholesterol in the blood, for example, and helping with blood clots, diarrhea and nausea. Cinnamon can also be useful for diabetics, because it lowers the sugar levels in the blood and increases the production of insulin. It is a useful remedy for migraines and headaches, and it can even be used to treat some cancers, notably leukemia and lymphoma. Pregnant women should avoid it, however.
Sage has been known for its therapeutic benefits for millennia, at least since the time of the ancient Egyptians. Maher recommends its use in women who are suffering from the menopause as it reduces the symptoms of a lack of the hormone estrogen. "It is also a good treatment for stomach and digestive complications, and it is recommended for people who suffer from excessive sweating," he said. Sage can also have an impact on mental functioning.
Green tea is a very rich source of antioxidants and energy. Drinking two cups of green tea every day has many benefits on health, among them helping the body to burn off fat and to increase metabolism, leading to weight loss. "Adding lemon to green tea can multiply its benefit on the immune system 13 times," Maher remarked. Drinking green tea an hour after eating helps to slow the rise in sugar levels in the blood, and it can enhance blood-vessel functioning against changes in blood pressure, helping to maintain a healthy heart.
Because green tea is very rich in antioxidants, it can help the body's immune system to kill cancer cells and keep tissues safe and healthy.
Aniseed is recommended for digestive disorders and stomach pain. It can also help to control the heart rate and blood pressure, owing to its rich vitamin and mineral content, which enhances cellular function. It also contains antioxidants that stimulate and enhance the immune system.
"Challenging yourself to change your lifestyle starts from changing your nutritional habits," Maher said. "Enjoying a healthy lifestyle should be our goal, and herbs can help with this."