- How can we follow prevention to stay away from the actual illness?
- 18 Herbs and plant products that are very good to include in our diet routine
Before we had medicines we had herbs, concocted through recipes and recommendations passed down through the generations and something that our older family members swear by even today. While we are all grateful for the advances of modern medicine such as prosthetics and vaccinations, the truth is that most of our healthcare systems are curative rather than preventive. We go to a doctor only when we feel unwell, not because we want to remain at the prime of our health. Even the most basic preventive measure of regular medical checkups is something that we seldom abide by.
Thus, while we might rely on doctors for our illness, our wellness and health is our own burden. And while numerous supplements, diets, and fad products have been produced by the markets, their ill effects have raised concerns about their regular use and consumption. After all, why would you take a vitamin pill that carries more cautions than benefits?
Here is where our accumulated wisdom comes in, where we can go back to our ancestral roots and rely on natural herbs which not only provide you in a purer form all the benefits of supplements but also do not carry excessive negative side effects. Don’t know where to start? Here are some highly trusted herbs and plant products that you can start integrating for an effective, plant-based diet.
- Ginger– This humble root can be found in nearly every household of India, and not just for its tangy taste. Ginger, whose consumption originated in China, has long been a part of oriental medicine. It is an effective remedy against nausea, cough and cold, and indigestion. Modern research on the spice has also shown that it may help against the fight with both cancer and high cholesterol levels. Indeed, ginger seems to benefit nearly all aspects and organs of the body, making it a true superfood. The best way to have ginger daily would be to add it to your cup of tea, which will add a little invigorating zest to your beverage too. Even superfoods have their limits, however, so do not consume excessive amounts. Some categories of people, like those on diabetes or blood pressure medications, women in the last trimester of their pregnancy, or people with blood disorders like haemophilia should avoid ginger consumption.
- Garlic– Garlic bread may be a staple favourite of the younger generation, this flavouring agent also packs a powerful punch when it comes to medical benefits. Studies have shown that garlic can act as a protective barrier against both lung and brain cancer, while also providing antibiotic protection and strengthening the heart. The product is also a popular and effective remedy when it comes to the common cold. The high sulphur content of the herb also helps in flushing out toxins, and even clearing the skin. Since the Indian cuisine often uses garlic for both aroma and flavour, you might already be enjoying its taste and benefits. For something extra, you can consume pieces raw too, and it is recommended that you bite the garlic clove to let its extracts flow before you down it with water. However, the inflammatory nature of garlic means that it might not be ideal for those who suffer from problems such as ulcers or acid reflux.
- Ginseng – A very popular medical herb in Asian countries like Korea and China, ginseng has long been revered for providing great benefits to the body. Now, western research has backed up eastern cultural experience, with many studies showing that ginseng has great anti-inflammatory properties, and is rich in antioxidants too. Moderate improvements in brain functions, and significant boosting of the immune system are other proven benefits. Regular consumption can also help improve your energy level, and lower your blood sugar. Since ginseng is not native to India, getting your hands on the raw roots can be difficult and expensive. While there are supplements available, it may be better to invest in ginseng tea, as the latter is likely to be less processed and packaged. Safe for most, those with diabetes should seek medical recommendation before integrating ginseng into daily diet. For pregnant and breastfeeding women, unclear science means it may be best to stay off the herb.
- Turmeric– Perhaps the most commonly used home-remedy in India, turmeric has been considered as a solution for everything ranging from wounds to stomach problems – and for good reason. Research has found surprising and wide-ranging benefits of curcumin, the chief ingredient of turmeric. Anti-inflammation, cancer prevention, heart disease protection, better skin, and brain benefits such as alzheimer’s prevention and depression alleviation are just some of the benefits that turmeric provides. Rich in antioxidants and capable of eliminating radicals from the body, turmeric is a literal golden drink for youth. The only drawback is that curcumin in turmeric is not easily absorbed [refer] into the bloodstream – a problem easily remedied through natural supplements like black pepper (it can go up by 2000%). These two, mixed into warm milk, may be an ideal drink for a healthier you. Turmeric tends to be blood thinning, so caution may need to be applied in its consumption in some cases, such as before surgery.
- Chamomile– Found extensively in tea form, chamomile includes several types of flowers, few of which have been associated with beneficial medical outcomes. Above all, chamomile is known for its soothing, calming nature, providing drinkers with relief from fatigue and stress. Sleep and relaxation are associated benefits, and reduced inflammation is also believed to play a part in this soothing effect. Some benefits regarding cold treatment and skin conditions have also been noted, but these are still not completely supported by studies. Despite the fewer research support, chamomile can easily be enjoyed by almost everybody, as it lacks any negative effects to the body. However, those with allergies to pollen should avoid this flower-based product, and young children are also best kept away from it – chamomile may occasionally be infected with botulism spores that young children may not be able to fight off.
- Cinnamon – A fragrant product that is often served as a garnish on everything from buns to tea, cinnamon’s liberal usage in our food may also have a medical justification. Studies have indicated both anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in the herb, meaning that it can help in the maintenance of an illness-free body and a robust immune system. It is also a promising food item for those with diabetes, as it can help in controlling blood sugar levels, and increase sensitivity to insulin. To gain the best of these benefits, ensure that you add moderate amounts of this herb to your food intake – the flavour is an added bonus. Do look out for possible allergies, and remember that consuming too much cinnamon may be toxic for you.
- Cumin – Known as jeera in the Indian subcontinent, this spice is perhaps one of the most iconic of South-Asian food and a staple in almost all dishes prepared in our kitchens. This versatile spice also boasts of a number of medical benefits, prominent among them being cholesterol control, and better health indicators for those who suffer from diabetes. As an antioxidant, it also benefits the body and the mind by reducing stress, and studies have shown promise for it as a weight-loss companion too. Best consumed in its natural form, cumin may also be soaked in water overnight and taken in the morning if you wish to increase your intake.
- Cardamom– Known commonly as elaichi, the benefits of this small green spice are very well known across the country. The spice can help in proper digestion, boosts metabolism, and its antioxidant properties have been linked to a healthy heart. Its diuretic properties further enhance circulatory functioning, and it has shown its impact on asthma symptoms, blood pressure, and oral health too. Indeed, the impact of cardamom is very holistic and it can be added to virtually any dish or beverage, ranging from tea and masala lassi to curries and chicken and mutton dishes. If you wish to increase intake or have a more concentrated dose, drinking water boiled with cardamom is an excellent option.
- Fennel – This much-loved spice is often served at the end of meals, and not just for the refreshing taste that it leaves in the mouth. The health benefits of fennel, known as sauf, are well known, and research is now backing up cultural knowledge. Fennel has been found to have a positive impact on blood pressure, and acts as a diuretic, thus helping in flushing out excess water and toxins from the body. Alongside its cleansing properties for the blood, it also aids in clearing out the digestive system, aiding constipation, indigestion, and bloating. Tea made with fennel seeds is also a great remedy for winter troubles such as cold and blocked sinuses.
- Liquorice – (aka- Jethimadh or Mulethi) Noted for its taste and medical properties even in ancient civilizations such as those of Egypt and China, liquorice root, when consumed in its natural form instead of as a highly processed sugar supplement, can give a number of benefits to the body. The root is helpful in alleviating stress by soothing the adrenal glands, and ironically, the sweet product contains excellent antibacterial properties which can help tooth decay and even skin problems like eczema. Liquorice consumption also promotes the development of healthy mucus, which can aid those with respiratory problems. Here are a list of problems it can help with – digestion related, canker sores, maintains and protects the liver, aids weight loss, oral health, diminishes skin blemishes, eczema and dermatitis. It can also help to boost immunity, memory, has skin brightening effect, can heal acne, acts as a natural sunscreen and protects the immune system. It can prevent hair loss, can treat dandruff issues, and boost hair growth. You can integrate this wonder root into your diet via powders and teas.
- Rosemary – Fragrant, flavourful, and packed with medical benefits, rosemary is truly a must-have for all kitchen counters. The herb is rich in antioxidants, thus helping in maintaining a youthful body free of toxic radicals. It is also anti-inflammatory, helping in the maintenance of an effective immune system. Known also for its effect on indigestion, tentative research has also suggested some benefits to the brain and neurological functioning. Easily integrated into daily food items such as curries, soups, and mains, this poses nearly no side effects, unless taken in very large amounts.
- Cocoa – Today, most of our cocoa consumption comes from chocolate, which is perhaps why the benefits of this plant are often masked out by excessive sugar and processing. However, taken in more natural forms, cocoa presents a number of benefits. It is extremely rich in antioxidants which help in reducing blood pressure and inflammation, and regulating blood sugar levels. Alongside decreasing the risk of heart attack and stroke, it also benefits the brain and neurological functioning, cocoa can also help in alleviating mood problems such as depression. Studies have also found support for cocoa as an aid for asthma symptoms, diabetes, and even weight loss. Cocoa is best added to daily diet by small but regular consumption of dark chocolate, or adding cocoa powder (sugarless), to various sweet treats such as fruit bowls and smoothies.
- Cayenne Pepper – Red hot chilli peppers are not just a great indulgence for your mouth as controlled consumption of this fiery spice can also provide many medical benefits. Cayenne pepper helps in boosting metabolism and can also help reduce hunger pangs, making you feel fuller for longer periods of time. It can also improve digestion, and in ointment form, the capsaicin found in peppers provides great pain relief. These medical benefits however, carry some caution. Recognized as a very potent spice, cayenne pepper may cause stomach pains and inflammation if consumed in excessive amounts. Thus, it is best to add moderate amounts to your daily food, especially if you are not accustomed to eating spicy food.
- Peppermint – Some major health benefits of peppermint are already quite well known – peppermint tea is a common and effective suggestion for indigestion, stress and headaches. Additionally, peppermint promotes good breath and its antibacterial properties promote oral health and help in fighting infections, relieves clogged sinuses and helps remedy cold symptoms, and improves energy, sleep, and provides relief from menstrual cramps. Indeed, peppermint is an all-round health champion, and very easy to consume in the form of peppermint tea – which also happens to be calorie free!
- Basil – Revered in Hindu tradition as a sacred plant, the basil or tulsi can even today be found in most households, and is used liberally in tea making. Like many other sacred plants, it seems that the tulsi came to be revered because of its many benefits to humans. A great herb for skin cleansing, its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties also work great benefits inside the body, ranging from elimination of toxic free radicals to alleviating symptoms of cough and cold. Great for digestive ailments, basil also helps in diabetes management and cholesterol levels, and boosts liver activity too. Basil leaves can be eaten raw (but thoroughly washed), and added to numerous drinks and foods as garnish.
- Oregano – Yes, this exotic green herb is much more than just pizza and pasta garnish. Like many other herbs in this list, oregano plant packs excellent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, and is also a great source of fibre, vitamins and minerals. In oil form, oregano has been successfully used to treat colds, joint pains, and indigestion. While dried oregano is commonly used, you might be better off investing in an oregano plant, which provides you a natural source you can use more easily and in many more forms, such by creating oregano tea or allowing sprigs of the plant infuse into oils
- Sage – Another extremely popular cooking herb, sage also carries numerous benefits. Consumption of sage can help in lowering blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and may also have some anti-inflammatory benefits. Extremely high in antioxidants, it also helps in reducing sodium usage in food preparation. Though not very well supported by research, long standing traditions of burning sage have been used across the world to get rid of negative emotions, promote sleep and healing, and bring positive vibes to a place. Consumption of natural sage has no known side effects, but some may be allergic to this herb.
- Parsley – Uncommon to the Indian subcontinent, parsley has nevertheless made it to our cooking due to its taste and usage in many western dishes. Parsley is rich in antioxidants and a great source of many vitamins and minerals. Alongside this, parsley also contains components that support bone and eye health and also promote a stronger heart. It has antibacterial properties too. With its subtle taste, parsley can be easily added as a garnish to any savoury dish.
There are many more herbs that we would like to cover and write about, please share your suggestions with us.
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