Naturopathic Doctor & author Dr. Doni Wilson explains the health benefits of ordinary garden herbs and suggests how you can use them in meals and drinks.
Did you know that you can use the gorgeous herbs in your garden to improve your memory, fight off infections, soothe your digestion, and boost your resiliency to stress?* In this week’s post, I will share my favorites with you, explain what their health benefits are, and suggest ways you can use them.
It’s well known that lavender is a great calming herb. It can be used in a bath or eye pillow to help calm your nerves and help you sleep. It can also be used at any time of day as a tea, tincture (a liquid form made with alcohol), or capsule to calm anxiety. What you may not know is that lavender is also anti-viral, so it can fight off the pesky viruses that could cause a summer cold.
To make lavender tea
Place 1 tablespoon of fresh or dried buds into a cup or tea ball; pour boiling water into the cup with the tea ball; allow it to steep for ten minutes and then enjoy!
For a relaxing bath
Add a quarter cup of dried lavender flowers directly into your bath, either on their own or perhaps with a cup of epsom salts.
To make an eye pillow
Put a quarter cup of dried lavender with flaxseeds or rice into a piece of cloth and sew it shut.
A favorite with tomatoes and mozzarella, basil can actually reduce stress and symptoms caused by stress, including stomach aches and headaches. It can also be used to help heal a cough or respiratory infection. A type of basil from India called Holy Basil has been proven to be an adrenal adaptogen, helping your body recover from stress.
To make basil tea
Put about two tablespoons of fresh cut basil in eight ounces of hot water and steep for seven to ten minutes, then strain the leaves.
For a basil bath
Throw the same amount of leaves into your bath for a soothing escape.
If you have a cough, sore throat, stomach pain, or diarrhea, thyme can be a huge help because it works as a natural antibiotic, anti-fungal, and anti-spasmodic (to decrease cramping). Thyme also contains high amounts of anti-oxidants, which protects your cells from oxidative stress (a type of stress within our bodies caused when toxins are not balanced by anti-oxidants that has been associated with aging, memory loss, and cancer).
Using thyme in cooking
Thyme flowers and leaves taste great on fish and chicken.
You can also infuse olive oil with thyme.
For thyme tea
Use 1 teaspoon of dried thyme for each cup of hot water and steep for five to seven minutes. Strain the herbs (or use a french press) and add honey and/or lemon if you wish.
Like thyme, oregano also contains anti-oxidants which protect your cells from stress and toxins. In addition, it contains several nutrients, including iron, calcium and vitamin K (for bone health), and tryptophan, which is the precursor to serotonin, a feel-good neurotransmitter. Oregano is anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory, which means it can help your body fight off and recover from infections, hopefully preventing the need for antibiotics. It has been shown to work against antibiotic-resistant strains of a bacteria called MRSA. You can read more about fighting infections naturally here. Use oregano in a tea or capsule form to help with everything from muscle pain, toothaches, and menstrual cramps, to acne, allergies, and bloating.
For oregano tea
Use three teaspoons of fresh whole or cut oregano leaves, or one teaspoon of dried oregano, in a large cup of boiling water; steep for five to ten minutes (the longer you steep, the stronger the flavor).
You can use cooled oregano tea as a mouthwash, or breathe in the steam from the hot tea to help loosen phlegm and to heal a cough (be careful with hot steam).
Of course oregano is delicious in soup and with fish or meat.
One of my favorite herbs to use in cooking, rosemary is so much more then savory. It can improve memory, decrease inflammation (and pain), and prevent cancer. That’s because it’s another herb that contains those powerful antioxidants that protect us from stress and toxins. It can also help with heartburn, intestinal gas, and headaches.
A rosemary bath
Add rosemary to your bath to help with eczema, muscle pain, and wound healing.
Sprinkle rosemary on your chicken, turkey, eggs, and/or vegetables any chance you get!
You can actually make tea with rosemary by putting one teaspoon of leaves in one cup of boiling water for at least five minutes (avoid rosemary tea during pregnancy). It is also nicely paired with lavender and thyme.
Okay, it’s important to know that mint can aggravate reflux, so if you suffer from heartburn, better steer clear of it in your tea and toothpaste. Best to start by healing the reflux—I’m happy to help—click here to set up a consultation. Otherwise, mint is an amazing herb, helpful for irritable bowel symptoms of cramping and bloating, as well as for calming your body from stress.
Mint tea alone, or with other herbs/teas, can be made simply by adding a few sprigs of mint to two cups of hot water and steeping for three to seven minutes. Alternatively, you can throw a few mint leaves into your summer herbal tea, or even on your dessert for a refreshing twist.
Also rich in antioxidants, Sage has been considered a panacea because it helps with so many conditions. Research shows that it helps decrease inflammation anywhere in the body, helps with digestive distress, improves memory (such as word recall), mood, and even helps regulate blood sugar levels which means it can help with diabetes and lowering cholesterol levels (click here to read more about how high cholesterol and sugar are linked).
You can make sage into a tea to drink (for a sore throat), to inhale the steam (for asthma), or to use as a mouth rinse once cool (for gingivitis). You could even freeze the tea as ice cubes for summer drinks.
Sage is perfect to add to soup, eggs, potatoes, and/or poultry.
You may have already suspected correctly that basil, lavender, mint, oregano, and sage are all part of the same plant family, Lamiaceae. Which means that if you are allergic to one, you should be careful with (or avoid) them all.
If you don’t have these herbs in your garden, you can purchase them fresh or dried, often in combination, at a farmer’s market or health food store. Be sure to choose organic in order to avoid toxins which would counter the benefits of the herbs, and to store dried herbs in a dark, cool location, in a glass container. It is best to use dried herbs within two to four years. If they lose their fragrance it’s a sign that it is time to replace them.
If you prefer your herbs in capsule form, you might want to check out these products:
- Zyflamend used to help with inflammation and pain.
- A-biotic intended to help your body fight off infections.
- Holy Basil to support adrenal function and stress recovery.
- Lavela which is lavender in a soft gel to help calm stress and anxiety.
If you’d like to learn more about stress, and how your body is impacted by common stressors, be sure to take my online stress quiz here and check out my book, The Stress Remedy, which includes a full explanation about how stress leads to three problem networks involving digestion, sugar metabolism, and your adrenal glands.
I’d love to hear the ways you are using herbs from your garden to reduce stress and benefit your health. Please do share your inspired recipes and favorite stories using herbs below.
10th July 2014
*Please keep in mind that any and all supplements—nutrients, herbs, enzymes, or other—should be used with caution. My recommendation is that you seek the care of a naturopathic doctor (with a doctorate degree from a federally-accredited program) and that you have a primary care physician or practitioner whom you can contact to help you with individual dosing and protocols. If you ever experience negative symptoms after taking a product, stop taking it immediately and contact your doctor right away.