By Michelle Tonkin ND
There they are… sitting in your cupboard, your pantry, or hidden in a drawer. You thought they were only for taste. Little did you know they were loaded with powerful nutrients! We call them “Cupboard Champs” because they pack a powerful ‘Punch’ while adding flavor and texture.
Basil is a fragrant herb used in many culinary dishes. Many are familiar with its small delicate size, but it can also grow large enough to be used asr wraps for cooking.
Basil comes in a variety of colors from green to deep purple and blue. Flavoring ranges from sweet to spicy, lemon and even a licorice type can be found.
Basil has a variety of health benefits. One of them being its ability to protect DNA as the antioxidants and phytonutrients are known to protect chromosomes and cell structures from radiation and oxygen based damage.
Basil’s essential oils are also a great tool in providing protection from antibiotic resistant bacteria. Its natural anti-inflammatory properties, Cox enzyme inhibitors work similar to aspirin or ibuprofen in the body.
Basil is also great for cardiovascular health as it provides the body with nutrients that help protect cell walls from free radical damage, improve blood flow and help stop cholesterol from oxidizing in the blood stream.
Basil is a great addition to salads, salad dressings, smoothies, herbal teas or even your favorite pasta sauce!
Also known as Capsicum fruit, Cayenne had its earliest origins in Mexico where excavations at Tamaulipas and Tehuacan contained chili seeds. In fact, Christopher Columbus was credited with finding this bright colored fruit in the West Indies. Columbus thought it was a variety of black pepper and misnamed the plant, bringing it back with him to Europe after his first voyage. From Europe, capsicum was brought to Africa and India. In 1548, Cayenne was brought to England and by 1650 it was soon cultivated throughout northern Europe.
Capsicum is a small and perennial type of shrub that grows in warm climates. It has become a popular condiment and hence different varieties have developed. The most familiar of these varieties are the ones from Central and South America where they use thin skinned, pungent red and yellow peppers.
Some of the milder forms are called paprika. Tabasco sauce is made from the most pungent variety of peppers known as C. frutescence.
Health benefits of this herb are enhanced circulation, digestion and absorption. It’s healing properties have been known to be helpful in arthritis, urinary tract issues, infections, ulcers, and respiratory ailments. It may also be helpful as a thyroid balancer, heart health, and cleansing.
A word of caution: its volatile oil can be pungent and irritating to a variety of mucous membranes in the body. Therefore, it is recommended to start with small amounts and not to use on a daily basis.
Consider adding a dash of Cayenne to your soup or chili to spice things up!
Cinnamon is one of the world’s oldest spices and is native to Sri Lanka. The Cinnamon tree is an evergreen whose bark, leaves, and oil are used for medicinal and culinary purposes. It is a pungent, sweet smelling and warming herb.
Cinnamon has many beneficial and healing properties found in the essential oils in its bark. Some of the many health benefits may include: lowers cholesterol, reduces blood sugar levels, strengthens the cardiovascular system, helps with respiratory issues, relief during menstrual cycle, reduces arthritis pain, helps to stop bleeding, and helps prevent tooth decay and bad breath. It may also act as a brain tonic, digestive tonic, immune support, as it has antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-parasitic, and antiseptic properties.
Try some cinnamon in your oatmeal, on your sweet potato, or even cookies. It’s a great way to add some flavor along with the added health benefits!
Dill is native to southern Russia as well as western Africa and the Mediterranean region. Its green leaves have a fernlike appearance and a sweet, but soft taste. Dill’s name means “to lull” and comes from the old Norse word ‘dilla’. Its name reflects its medicinal use as both an insomnia reliever and stomach soother.
Dill is mentioned in both the Bible and ancient Egyptian writings and was popular in ancient Greek and Roman cultures as it was considered a sign of wealth. Also recognized for its healing properties, Dill was used by Hippocrates in a recipe to clean the mouth and soldiers would also use this herb applying the burnt seeds to wounds to promote healing.
Dill’s volatile oils have demonstrated ability to neutralize particular types of carcinogens, such as benzopyrenes that can be found in cigarette, charcoal grill, and trash incinerator smoke. It has also shown an ability to prevent bacterial overgrowth or bacteriostatic effects. In addition to this, Dill is rich in calcium, making it beneficial in the prevention of bone loss.
Fresh Dill weed is preferable over dried as it is superior in flavor. Dill can perish quickly and will keep fresh for only about two days. Fresh Dill is kept best in the refrigerator either wrapped in a damp paper towel or with its stems placed in a small container of water.
Dill is great in egg salads, sandwiches, fish, or even yogurt!
Garlic is a perennial herb and actually a member of the lily family. The pungent herb is a close relative of onion but unlike the onion, garlic has a bulb which is divided into several distinct cloves.
While used to enhance flavor, Garlic has value as a medicinal herb as is well documented in both folk and scientific literature alike. Hippocrates, who was known as the father of medicine used garlic to treat a variety of health challenges from infections to intestinal disorders as well as wounds, toothaches, leprosy, epilepsy and even chest pain.
Garlic’s healing properties are useful in digestive, respiratory, urinary, and circulatory health. It is also been shown beneficial in lowering blood sugar, blood pressure, and the lower density lipoproteins (bad cholesterol) while raising high density lipoproteins (good cholesterol). In addition, garlic has also shown antimicrobial activity and is therefore good against gram negative bacteria, fungus and certain worms.
Try a fresh clove or two in your salad or even your favorite dish! A little goes a long way, providing plenty of flavor along with some wonderful added health benefits!
Ginger is native to the coastal region of India where it has been cultivated since before written history. Its first mention was in China in about 400 B.C. Ginger has since been naturalized and is now cultivated in Jamaica, China, India, Africa, and the West Indies. Its generic name comes from the Greek “zingiberis” and Arabic “zindschebil” or root of zindschi (India), meaning, “known already to the ancients.” The most common name, ginger was from the Sanskrit “gringa” which means horn and “vera” which means body. This is in reference to the shape of its root.
Its healing properties are helpful for: indigestion, flatulence, diarrhea, loss of appetite, stomach ache, fever, motion sickness, body pain, and nausea.
Try some ginger tea, or add some of this herb to your salad, soup, or cookies for a heartwarming taste for your palate and your stomach!
Marjoram, otherwise known as (Origanum majorana) is an aromatic herb from the mint family originating in Egypt and Arabia. Oregano and Marjoram are closely related but differ significantly in taste as Marjoram is missing the phenolic compounds found in Oreganos essential oil.
Marjoram is now commoningly grown in the Mediterranean region and other gardens around the world. It comes in three different forms: essential oils, fresh or dried leaves, or powder. The powder itself has many uses as it frequently used as a culinary additive to flavor soups, sauces, salads, and meat dishes.
Marjoram is also known to be used in cosmetics such as skin creams, body lotions, shaving gels and bath soaps.
Marjoram also makes a great and soothing tea with a variety of health benefits to include: calming the stomach and digestive system, improving appetite, relieving nausea, eliminating flatulence, curing or preventing basic intestinal infections, soothing painful stomach cramps, relieving diarrhea, and or constipation.
Marjoram is also a wonderful natural antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral agent, making it helpful against: food poisoning, Staphylococcus,Tetanus, Typhoid, Malaria, Influenza, the Common Cold, Mumps, and Measles.
Besides its great antimicrobial benefits, other benefits may include lowering blood pressure, improving circulation, helping prevent build up of cholesterol, helping to regulate the menstrual cycle, aiding as an anti-inflammatory and antidepressant, and warding off fungal infections.
Try Marjoram as a tea or even add it in your recipes where you might normally use Oregano. You may be pleasantly surprised. Marjoram is a great addition to anyone’s diet!
Oregano is known as Origanum vulgare but in Europe is called wild Marjoram as it is closely related to the herbs known as Sweet Marjoram. Oregano is native to northern Europe and grows in the Mediterranean as a perennial plant; but in the harsher climates of North American, Oregano is cultivated as annuals.
In ancient times the Greeks and Romans prized oregano as a symbol of joy and happiness and was their tradition for brides and grooms to be crowned with a laurel of oregano.
Oregano was cultivated in France in the Middle Ages, becoming an important herb in the Mediterranean diet. However this tasty herb didn’t make its way to the America until the early 20th century when GI’s returning from Italy brought with them news of this delicious and aromatic herb to the United States.
The volatile oils in this herb include thymol and carvacrol, both of which have been proven to inhibit the growth of bacteria including Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus. They have also been found to be effective for inhibiting or killing Yeast, E. Coli, Proteus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Listeria, Salmonella, E. Coli, Shigella dysenteria and Giardia lamblia.
Among its antimicrobial properties, Oregano is also a super antioxidant. In laboratory studies, Oregano was shown to demonstrate high antioxidant capability. In fact on a per gram fresh weight basis, oregano was shown to have 42 times more antioxidant activity than apples, 30 times more than potatoes, 12 times more than oranges, and 4 times more than blueberries!
Some other health benefits of Oregano include: anti-septic, anti-spasmodic, carminative, cholagogue, diaphoretic, expectorant, stimulant, antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial.
Try some Oregano in Italian dishes, fish, lamb, salads, vegetables, garlic bread, or anything that you want to spice up. It’s a great herb with a myriad of health benefits!
Parsley is native to the eastern Mediterranean countries, including the United States and Great Britain. This green leafy herb comes in a variety of types and is not only used to add color and flavor, but also as a plate garnish and an after dinner breath freshener. The Chlorophyll which is found in abundance in this herb helps neutralize odors and is why it is used as such.
Its healing properties are helpful for: the urinary system, difficult urination, kidney and gallstones, jaundice, menstrual difficulties, asthma, coughs, indigestion and dropsy.
Try some parsley in your favorite dishes and add a little decoration to your dinner plate, your body will thank you and so will your guests!
There are three species of mint in cultivation which are spearmint, peppermint, and pennyroyal. Spearmint and peppermint are the most popular for flavoring and cooking.
Peppermint is a widely used herb and is found in many products from toothpaste to tea. In fact almost one million cups of peppermint tea are consumed on a daily basis! Now that is a lot of tea! It is in fact the third most popular tea flavor in the world.
Its popularity lies not only its refreshing taste, but also its volatile oil which has been shown to have antimicrobial and antiviral activity.
Peppermint contains an abundance of menthol, clinically proven to aid in digestion, relieving menstrual cramps and nausea. Its healing properties are also useful for digestion, colds, flu, fever, colic, and rheumatism.
Try some tea, enhance the presentation of a dish, or add to a desert for a minty and refreshing flavor!
Rosemary is an evergreen shrub as well as a member of the mint family. Its name is derived from the Latin word “rosmarinus” meaning “dew of the sea,” which is in reference to its light blue flowers and natural desire to grow in wet environments.
Rosemary has been used in Mediterranean cooking as both a food preservative and flavor enhancer. There are also references in history to its use as aromatherapy. The Greek’s would use a twig of the herb under their pillow to help prevent nightmares.
There is also research that suggests that the Native Americans used it topically as insect repellent to help prevent baldness.
Health benefits of Rosemary include memory and cellular health, inhibiting food-borne pathogens, helping to alleviate muscle pain, and aiding in digestion.
Try some Rosemary in your favorite cuisine and reap the benefits of this delicious herb!
Sage is a small evergreen shrub; it flowers in August giving rise to its purple flowers. It is a member of the labiatae or mint family. In Latin Sage means “savior”. This herbal species was formerly thought to be an herbal savior of mankind. In fact, English herbalists believed that the condition of this plant in their garden would determine whether their business prospered or failed.
Sage is native to the Mediterranean region and is now found in kitchens around the world. Its volatile oil is part of its desired medicinal quality as it has been demonstrated to have antimicrobial, antispasmodic, and even antioxidant properties. Sage’s healing properties are useful for fevers, digestive, and stomach complaints.
In fact, its antioxidant properties have been helpful in preserving meat products.
Sage is a great culinary herb and is wonderful in cheese, poultry or meats. Try some and see for yourself, how delightful this herb can be!
Thyme is an evergreen shrub native to the Mediterranean region and is cultivated in southern Europe as well as California. It is widely used in culinary baked goods, meats, condiments and vegetables.
Its generic name thymus comes from the Greek word “thymos” which means strength relating to its invigorating odor. The species name vulgaris is Latin for ‘common’ and was probably applied by those who did not understand it as a symbol for bravery. In ancient Greece, it was a great compliment to tell someone they smelled of this great herb.
Thyme’s healing properties come from its volatile oil, Thymol. Thyme’s healing properties are useful as an antioxidant, antibacterial, astringent, anthelmintic, and carminative.
A little goes a long way with Thyme as its oil can be toxic in large doses. Try a dash or a sprig and enjoy smelling like the hero you are!
Turmeric enjoys its roots in Indonesia and Southern India where it has been cultivated there for more than 5000 years. In fact, it served an important role in many of the traditional cultures of the East. It was introduced into Europe through Arab traders in the 13th century and has only become recently popular in Western society.
Turmeric has a peppery warm and bitter taste and comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant. It has been traditionally called Indian saffron due to its deep yellow-orange color which bears a resemblance to saffron.
Besides being used as a condiment and textile dye, Turmeric has also been prized for its healing properties. Its popularity has been increasing due to its recent researched therapeutic properties and reputation as an anti-inflammatory agent.
Turmeric’s healing properties have been found useful in treating hepatitis, inflammatory bowel diseases, bruises, colic, parasites, yeast, molds, bacteria, ulcers, hemorrhages, and spasmodic dysmenorrhea.
Besides all the health benefits, Turmeric can turn an ordinary dish into an exotic treasure for the taste buds!
Wow! Who knew seasoning our food could reap so many benefits? The next time you grab that Cupboard Champ, think how good it can taste to Keep Healthy!
About the Author
Michelle is a Naturopathic Doctor and has published several books and magazine articles. Her latest book, “Lyme and Co-Infections, the Road to Recovery” is available @ www.lymeroadtorecovery.com
Pederson, Mark. Nutritional Herbology A Reference Guide to Herbs. Wasaw, IN. Wendell W. Whitman Company, 2002.