What are Herbs?
Herbs are plants with fragrant or aromatic properties (Alfaro, 2020). They are commonly used as herbal supplements (can be found in the form of: pills, powders, liquids, or tinctures), in cooking for adding flavor, healthy teas, essential oils, lotions/gels/creams, and fragrances.
An herb is often defined as the green, leafy part of a plant used to add flavors to foods, but not added as the main ingredient. For example, spinach and lettuce are the green parts of the plant, but they are considered vegetables because they can be used as main ingredients instead of flavor additions. Examples of herbs include basil, lavender, oregano, mint, cilantro, parsley, thyme, rosemary, etc.
How are Herbs Different from Spices?
Spices come from all the parts of the plant that are not the leaf or green part of the plant. They can come from roots, berries, seeds, bark, twigs, or other plant pieces. Another difference, is that spices are always used in dried forms, whereas herbs are consumed both dry and fresh either chopped or whole. Both herbs and spices have been used since prehistoric times for medicinal purposes, and for use in preserving foods.
What are the Health Benefits of Herbs?
Herbs are commonly used in natural medicine as herbal supplements. They often provide many essential vitamins. But the true power of herbs lies in their wealth of protective polyphenols — plant compounds with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects (Krieger, 2015). Polyphenols are also anti-microbial, so they help with combating harmful bacteria. Many studies show that due to the polyphenols in herbs, they can help fight off diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and more.
Although many of the studies on herbs’ effects have involved concentrated solutions of the leaves’ active components, there is evidence that their benefits still apply when they are cooked and eaten as part of a regular meal, too (Krieger, 2015).
Safety Concerns for Herbal Supplements
Herbal supplements are not all created equal, make sure you pick a reputable brand or buy from a reputable company. It is also recommended to check with a doctor trained in working with herbal supplements for dosage information, along with whether or not the supplement is a good choice for your health condition. Some herbal supplements do not interact well with certain medications. To read more about safety precautions and choosing quality herbal supplements view our content on Supplements.
History of Using Herbs for Natural Medicine
Herbs have been used since prehistoric times. There are cave paintings in France showing herbs which date back to 13,000 to 25,000 B.C. Herbs have been used in traditional Chinese herbal medicine for centuries. They are also the basis for the Ayurveda medicine system in India. While many of our herbal remedies today derive from Ayurveda, Chinese, Roman and Greek sources, all ancient civilizations, including the Mayans, Aztecs, and Egyptians, employed herbs in treating illness (Planet Natural). Hippocrates, known as the father of Modern Medicine, mentioned around 400 herbs commonly used in the 5th century B.C. Along with the ancient medical systems, herbs are also used today in naturopathy medicine.
Planet Natural Research Center/Herbs in History. Retrieved from: https://www.planetnatural.com/herb-gardening-guru/history/
Krieger, Ellie. (2015, April 14). The Washington Post/The health benefits of herbs. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/the-health-benefits-of-herbs/2015/04/13/4668c73a-dd59-11e4-acfe-cd057abefa9a_story.html
Alfaro, Danilo. (2020, January 10). The Spruce Eats/What are Herbs?. Retrieved from: https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-are-herbs-995714
Hogeback, Jonathan. ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA/What’s the Difference Between an Herb and a Spice? Retrieved from: https://www.britannica.com/story/whats-the-difference-between-an-herb-and-a-spice
JOHN HOPKINS MEDICINE/Herbal Medicine. Retrieved from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/herbal-medicine