Herbs are plants with savory or aromatic properties that are used for flavoring and garnishing food, in medicine, or as fragrances. Culinary use typically distinguishes herbsfrom spices. Herbs refer to the leafy green or flowering parts of a plant (either fresh or dried), while spices are usually dried and produced from other parts of the plant, including seeds, bark, roots and fruits.
Herbs have a variety of uses including culinary, medicinal, and, in some cases, spiritual. General usage of the term “herb” differs between culinary herbs and medicinal herbs; in medicinal or spiritual use, any parts of the plant might be considered as “herbs”, including leaves, roots, flowers, seeds, root bark, inner bark (and cambium), resin and pericarp.
Herbs Healthy Benefits:
- Herbs contain unique antioxidants, essential oils, vitamins, phytosterols and many other plants derived nutrient substances, which help equip our body to fight against germs, toxins and to boost immunity level. Herbs are, in fact, medicines in smaller dosages.
- Essential oils in herbs have been found to have an anti-inflammatory function by inhibiting the enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX), which mediates inflammatory cascade reaction inside the human body. The enzyme-inhibiting effect of essential oils in herbs makes it a valuable remedy for symptomatic relief in individuals with inflammatory health problems such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and inflammatory bowel conditions like ulcerative colitis.
- Many novel compounds in the healthy herbs have been found to reduce blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
- Controlled-epidemiological studies have shown that certain compounds in garlic like those that thiosulfinates (allicin) can bring significant reduction in total cholesterol and blood pressure, and thereby, helps cut down coronary artery disease and stroke risk.
- Curcumin, together with other antioxidants in the turmeric, has been found to have anti-amyloid and anti-inflammatory properties. Thus, it is thought to be effective in preventing or at least delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
- The volatile oils, vitamins, and antioxidants in the herbs have cytotoxicity action against prostate, pancreatic, colon, endometrial cancer cells.
- The chemical compounds in the herbs have been found to be anti-spasmodic, carminative, diaphoretic, analgesic, aphrodisiac, deodorant, digestive, antiseptic, lipolytic (fat burning and weight loss action), stimulant and stomachic effects when taken in a proper dosage.
Culinary herbs are distinguished from vegetables in that, like spices, they are used in small amounts and provide flavor rather than substance to food.
Herbs can be perennials such as thyme or lavender, biennials such as parsley, or annuals like basil. Perennial herbs can be shrubs such as rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis, or trees such as bay laurel, Laurus nobilis – this contrasts with botanical herbs, which by definition cannot be woody plants. Some plants are used as both herbs and spices, such as dill weed and dill seed or coriander leaves and seeds. Also, there are some herbs such as those in the mint family that are used for both culinary and medicinal purposes.
Some plants contain phytochemicals that have effects on the body. There may be some effects when consumed in the small levels that typify culinary “spicing”, and some herbs are toxic in larger quantities. For instance, some types of herbal extract, such as the extract of St. John’s-wort (Hypericum perforatum) or of kava (Piper methysticum) can be used for medical purposes to relieve depression and stress. However, large amounts of these herbs may lead to toxic overload that may involve complications, some of a serious nature, and should be used with caution. Complications can also arise when being taken with some prescription medicines.
Herbs have long been used as the basis of traditional Chinese herbal medicine, with usage dating as far back as the first century and far before. In India, the Ayurveda medicinal system is based on herbs. Medicinal use of herbs in Western cultures has its roots in the Hippocratic (Greek) elemental healing system, based on a quaternary elemental healing metaphor. Famous herbalist of the Western tradition include Avicenna (Persian), Galen (Roman), Paracelsus (German Swiss), Culpepper (English) and the botanically inclined Eclectic physicians of 19th century/early 20th century America (John Milton Scudder, Harvey Wickes Felter, John Uri Lloyd). Modern pharmaceuticals had their origins in crude herbal medicines, and to this day, some drugs are still extracted as fractionate/isolate compounds from raw herbs and then purified to meet pharmaceutical standards.
The indigenous peoples of Australia developed herbal medicine based on plants that were readily available to them. The isolation of the indigenous people meant the remedies developed were for far less serious diseases, this was from not contracting western illnesses. Herbs such as river mint, wattle and eucalyptus were used for coughs, diarrhea, fever and headaches.
Certain herbs contain psychoactive properties that have been used for both religious and recreational purposes by humans since the early Holocene era, notably the leaves and extracts of the cannabis and coca plants. The leaves of the coca plant have been chewed by people in northern Peruvian societies for over 8,000 years, while the use of cannabis as a psychoactive substance dates back to the first century CE in China and northern Africa.
As far back as 5000 BCE, evidence that Sumerians used herbs in medicine was inscribed on cuneiform. Ancient Egyptians used fennel, coriander and thyme around 1555 BCE. In ancient Greece, in 162 CE, the physician Galen was known for concocting complicated herbal remedies that contained up to 100 ingredients. Emperor Charlemagne (742-814) compiled a list of 74 different herbs that were to be planted in his gardens. The connection between herbs and health is important already in the European Middle Ages–The Forme of Cury (that is, “cookery”) promotes extensive use of herbs, including in salads, and claims in its preface “the assent and advisement of the masters of physic and philosophy in the King’s Court.