Herbs and spices are not only essential to great tasting dishes, they are also a whole new dimension of nutrition and biochemistry. Herbs are sources of vitamins and minerals, but their active ingredients, called secondary metabolites, have been known and used for millenia.
In this case, ” . . . secondary metabolites are compounds which have no primary function in the life processes of the organism which synthesized them” (Bell 1981). Simply put, we don’t require them to thrive.
“Secondary metabolites are thought to be biologically active in organisms . . . each individual should have the molecular machinery to breakdown these compounds” (Berenbaum 1995).
Although more than 3,000 alkaloids have been isolated from about 4,000 species of plants, their function and the functions of other secondary compounds in plants is still a topic of debate. But what about humans?
We know quite a bit about herbs, the medicine that evolved beside us.
Below are 10 herbs used commonly at HealthSavor. The more I learn, the more I keep discovering new benefits from our recipes. As I write this, I am currently taking an herbology/botany course at my institution. It has been long awaited, and I was excited to see that our first week’s homework was to do a brief analysis of 10 herbs. Criteria included: Latin name, common name, active ingredients, uses, warnings/interactions.
There are many new and unique terms in this information. I’m just now learning what they all are. I’m once again humbled by the infinite ways that our body reacts to our environment.
The biological effects of sulfur compounds in garlic and onions are known to form disulfide bridges between proteins and therefore modulate their form and function. The main compound most commonly used in supplements and therapeuics in garlic is Allicin. The protein Aliin is degraded by the enzyme aliinase to become allicin.
Garlic extracts, usually made up of allicin, are used to lower blood lipids, and to improve age-related vascular changes. Popularly used as expectorant, antiviral, antispasmodic, and antiseptic. Antibiotic and antimycopic applications have been successful, but more studies are needed.
May interact with anticoagulating agents such as warfarin.
Zingiberaceae is the name of the ginger family, which consists of flowering plants yielding aromatic herbs with creeping horizontal or tuberous rhizomes. The active constituents are gingerol, shagoal, vallinoids, galanals, as well as zingerone.
By far the most effective and popular use of ginger is as a digestive stimulant, but it has been studied for many other uses. A comprehensive study of the pharmodynamics of ginger demonstrated that “ . . . 6-, 8-, and 10-gingerols and 6-shogaol showed efficacy in anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antipyretic, antilipidemic, antitumorigenic, and antiangiogenic effects. In addition, 6-gingerol was shown to inhibit leukotriene A4 hydrolase and suppress anchorage-independent cancer cell growth in colorectal cancer cells” (Yu, et al. 2011).
Due to its ability to increase stomach acid production, ginger, in therapeutic doses, may interfere with antacids.
Cassia Co-op, Jambi, Sumatra, Indonesia
Sri Lankan workers scrape cinnamon sticks at a plant in southern Sri Lanka
Cinnamon is a member of the laurel family, Lauraceae.
Its use as a spice requires grinding of the inner bark of Cinnamomum trees. As with most herbs, we have selectively bread desired characteristics over time. The most commonly consumed version in North America today is known as Cassia, while Cinnamomum verum is considered to be true cinnamon.
Active constituents include Cinnamaldehyde, eugenol, cinnamic acid and cinnamate. It has received accolades over time as a good anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-ulcer, anti-microbial, anti-diabetic, memory enhancer and more.
A review in 2012 on the pharmacological effects of cinnamon showed that it may lower LDL significantly, along with triglycerides. When prepared in a savory application, it can also reduce blood sugar and is even used to help treat type II diabetes. A true testament of its power, the review also showed that “ . . . as little as ½ teaspoon of cinnamon per day it can improve the insulin resistance and it can help in weight control. Due to its antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral, antiparasitic and antiseptic properties it is effective in fighting vaginal yeast infections, oral yeast infections and stomach ulcers and head lice. Eases menstruation cycles: Cinnamon has also been found useful for women’s health as it helps in providing relief from menstrual cramping and other feminine discomforts” (Vangalapati, 2012).
Other than possible irritation of mouth and lips, and potential reactions in those with allergies, cinnamon does not pose a toxicity risk. Interactions, however, do create the need for caution.
Since it lowers blood sugar, medication for diabetics may need to be adjusted. They could also interact with antibiotics, blood thinners, and may cause liver problems in those with pre-existing liver condition.
Thyme contains many active principles have shown promise for disease prevention and wellness promotion. Thymol is the most important essential oil found here, as it has been found scientifically to have antiseptic, and anti-fungal characteristics. The other volatile oils in thyme include carvacolo, borneol, and geraniol.
More than just oils, however, raise the benefit of thyme in foods and as essential oil. Flavonoid phenolic antioxidants like zeaxanthin, lutein, pigenin, naringenin, luteolin, and thymonin are present. Fresh thyme herb has one of the highest antioxidant levels among herbs.
It is also packed with vitamins and minerals, and can be used in a tea infusion for bronchitis or coughs, and topically to treat acne. Its antiseptic capabilities have been known for quite some time. One may have noticed it is the main active ingredient in Listerine mouthwash, or perhaps passed down through ancestors is the use of thymol to medicate bandages before modern antibiotics were produced.
Another herb from the family of mints, Lamiaceae, basil is sometimes known as Saint Joseph’s Wort in Europe.
The different varieties of basil (ie: thai, sweet) have various scents due to unique combinations of essential oils found in each. In sweet basil, most commonly found in Italian cuisine, has a strong clove scent that is derived from eugenol, the same chemical, no coincidence, as actual cloves. Citral is the most concentrated oil in lemon or lime basil. Licorice basil, also known as “anise” basil, contains the same chemical that makes anise smell like licorice, known as anethole.
In India, basil is traditionally used for supplementary treatment of stress, asthma and diabetes. Research has been ramped up recently on the health benefits of essential oils of basil. In vitro studies have concluded that compounds in basil oil exhibit potent antioxidant, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties, and potential for use in treating cancer.
Although basil contains estragole, which is a known teratogen and carcinogen in lab mice and rats, a human exposure of 100 to 1000 times basic supplementation dose still poses minimal to no cancer risk.
Curcuminoids (diferuloylmethane), demethoxycurcumin, and bisdemethoxycurcumin. are the most important chemical component of turmeric. Other compounds include turmerone, atlantone, and zingiberene. Resins are also present.
Curcumin is the most studied substance, with demonstrated antimicrobial and antifungal uses, particularly against Helicobacter pylori and Candida species Paracoccidioides brasiliensis. Current studies are also ongoing for Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, several types of cancer, kidney disease, cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, irritable bowel disease, and more.
Interactions and warnings for therapeutic doses of turmeric are as follows: (turmeric does not cause these conditions, but may interact with them, their symptoms, or treatments)
Gallbladder problems: Turmeric can make gallbladder problems worse. Do not use turmeric if you have gallstones or a bile duct obstruction.
Bleeding problems: Taking turmeric might slow blood clotting. This might increase the risk of bruising and bleeding in people with bleeding disorders.
Diabetes: Curcumin, a chemical in turmeric, might decrease blood sugar in people with diabetes. Use with caution in people with diabetes as it might make blood sugar too low.
A stomach disorder called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Turmeric can cause stomach upset in some people. It might make stomach problems such as GERD worse. Do not take turmeric if it worsens symptoms of GERD.
Hormone-sensitive condition such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, endometriosis, or uterine fibroids: Turmeric might act like estrogen. If you have any condition that might be made worse by exposure to estrogen, don’t use turmeric.
Infertility: Turmeric might make it difficult to conceive. Turmeric should be used with caution in people trying to have a baby.
Iron deficiency: Taking high amounts of turmeric might prevent the absorption of iron. Turmeric should be used with caution in people with iron deficiency.
Surgery: Turmeric might slow blood clotting. It might cause extra bleeding during and after surgery. Stop using turmeric at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
Contains carvacrol (40-70%) p-cymene and y-terpin.
Oregano, particularly the oil, is used as a potent antimicrobial, antifungal supplement. The essential oils interfere with the cell membranes of bacterial, fungi, and viruses. Also used as an anti-inflammatory, as well as treatment for colic, flu, cold, and oral health.
The oil is so potent as to have the high or long term dose potential to disrupt gut flora populations and induce a state of imbalance, much akin to modern antibiotics. Long term internal use of oil is to be avoided.
The Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family is known as the parsley, carrot, or celery family. It is native to the central Mediterranean region, naturalized elsewhere in Europe
Parsley in particular contains essential oil with very high levels of apiol, myristicin or allyl-tetramethoxybenzole, biologically active flavonoids, and traces of furano-coumarins.
Leaf and root are used to treat gastrointestinal and urinary tract disorders, can chelate heavy metals in the bloodstream, and applied topically as emulcent and itch-relieving treatment for skin problems.
The Theaceae family, primarily shrubs and trees of flowering plants, also includes Camellia sinensis, whos leaves and buds are used for tea.
The majority of teas, from white, to green, to black are all harvested from one of two primary sources: Camellia sinensis is the base for Chinese teas, and Camellia sinensis-assamica is used for Indian Assam teas. The different ways these are processed through oxidation and/or heat determine the characteristics.
Their chemistry, comprised of single calcium oxalate crystals, ellagic acid, flavonols and proanthocyanins, as well as L-theanine, make this composition stand out as very distinctive.
Theanine was discovered in 1949 and isolated in 1950 from gyokuro green tea leaves, which have come to be known for their high theanine content. The mechanism of action has been studied for psychoactive properties, as it can directly induce pharmacological effects by crossing the blood/brain barrier.
Natural Medicines, formerly Natural Standard, reports that it is likely safe in doses of 200–250 mg up to a maximum daily dose of 1,200 mg (2014). While therapeutic doses of theanine, rather than tea, are used to help with anxiety, blood pressure control, mood, and cognition, the evidence of isolated L-theanine is inconclusive at best, and therefore more studies are needed. Theanine in particular has displayed no toxicity in any study thus far.
Another likely scenario is that all of the natural constituents of tea, especially the ones we are not even aware of yet, work synergistically and cannot produce the same effects when isolated. Case in point; perhaps you’ve heard of an infamous study where isolated beta carotene (vitamin A) from carrots raised the incidence of lung cancer and the study was discontinued, while we also know that a whole carrot could never do this. The reality is quite the opposite. New ways of measuring biomarkers in clinical trials of whole foods are what is really needed, rather than focusing only on isolated substances.
You Can Too!
HealthSavor customers enjoy the benefits of all of these herbs, besides the tea, every single week! We look forward to delving deeper into herbology and botany throughout our evolution. Below is a link to a powerpoint that gives a basic overview of herbs, as well as a video that can help save you time if you are chopping herbs the hard way.
About Chef Brandon
Chef Brandon Schlunt is co-owner of HealthSavor, a Cincinnati Ohio based healthy, organic, gluten-free meal delivery service, created to help busy families, individuals and children eat nutritious meals easily and affordably. Chef Brandon focuses on helping his customers lose weight, lower their blood sugar and feels very honored to have earned the trust of many doctors, students, parents, athletes, and on-the-go businessmen and women all over the city. Brandon also enjoys playing music, hanging out with his daughter and fiance, and continuing his endless journey in nutrition.Join The HealthSavor Newsletter Here ORDER TODAY!