Which herbs should we consume every day?

Power of herbs

Knowledge of the effects of herbs and spices goes back a long way in history. Scholars and physicians in the early high cultures of Mesopotamia, alchemists in Egypt and China or the nuns in the European Middle Ages developed a comprehensive herbalism. Hildegard von Bingen described around 250 plants, many of them indigenous to Central Europe. This gave them a popular name for the first time and some of them can still be found in Grosi's home remedy pharmacy today. In the meantime, a science has established itself, phytotherapy.

Are herbs and spices one? Here is a quick table of definitions: Spices are the aromatic or hot-tasting parts of plants such as leaves, flowers, bark, onions, seeds or fruits. Herbs are therefore leafy spices such as basil, thyme, marjoram or rosemary. Anise and fennel belong to the fruit spice category and lavender to the flowers. Enough of the quibbles.

In culinary art, herbs and spices are primarily aimed at one goal: to bring the essential oils they contain to full development and thus to give the dish that special spin. This is because the volatile aromatic substances ensure the delicacy of taste that we perceive retronasally. The aroma profile reaches the olfactory receptors in the nasal cavity via the throat. That is also the reason why we don’t "taste" anything when we have a cold.

Fennel, aniseed, dill and lovage are very rich in essential oils, as are the mint thyme, marjoram, lavender and sage.

Healthy flavor bombs

The essential oils are not only responsible for their typical smell and taste, but also for their health effects. For example, the thymol in thyme unfolds its healing properties when coughed as a tea or as a component of cough syrup. At the same time, it also has an antibacterial effect, which is why thyme is used as a gargle against inflammation in the mouth and throat. The antibacterial effect continues in the stomach. There thyme seems to help to stand up to the harmful stomach germ Helicobacter pylori and thus to protect against stomach ulcers and stomach cancer. The anethole and fenchol of the fennel seeds help with digestive problems such as bloating and gas by stimulating the flow of saliva and gastrointestinal activity. They also have an expectorant effect and promote expectoration in the case of respiratory infections. The menthol in peppermint provides relief from tension headaches.

Thyme, rosemary, marjoram and sage - along with other spices - can also protect the body's cells from harmful radicals. Their secondary phytonutrients such as flavonoids (e.g. rosmarinic acid) or phenols (e.g. carnolic acid in sage) have an antioxidant effect. Strongly fragrant herbs and spices such as bay leaf, fennel and anise have always played an important role as aphrodisiac in magic and ritual customs.

And basil? It is the royal herb. Allegedly Alexander the Great took it with him from one of his campaigns to Europe, and it is said that it owes its name to him. Because literally translated it is the “king plant”, from the Greek “basileus”, the “king”. Basil is quite a flamboyant herb. It looks different depending on the variety. But not only that: It also smells and tastes very different. The most common in Central Europe is relatively poor in essential oils, but due to its bitter substances it stimulates the appetite and aids digestion. Bitter substances are also found primarily in rosemary, sage, oregano and thyme and promote the production of saliva, gastric and bile juice as well as intestinal peristalsis. The bitter substances from wormwood and dandelion leaves also stimulate digestion.

Especially the herbs from the mint family, i.e. sage, thyme and marjoram, contain high amounts of tannins. Wine drinkers know them as tannins and their astringent effect. In addition, they have antibacterial properties. In the past, herbs were used specifically to preserve food.

Incidentally, garlic is also one of the spices, and if you are already talking about the health aspects, you should definitely not ignore it. It has always been considered a healthy spice. In ancient Egypt, for example, the builders of the pyramids were supplied with garlic to keep themselves fit. Louis Pasteur proved its antibacterial effect in the 19th century; today it is used medicinally for intestinal infections, and it is just as protective against Helicobacter pylori as thyme. Its effect on the heart, blood and arteries has now also been proven. Consumed regularly, it lowers high blood pressure, improves the flow properties of the blood, protects against arteriosclerosis and thus overall reduces the risk of heart attacks. It also strengthens the immune system. About half a clove of garlic a day - raw or cooked - can therefore significantly promote health. But all other herbs and spices are also healthy, especially if they are used sensibly and in a varied way. Overdosing - especially with aromatic oil - is not recommended. In general, we eat primarily because it tastes good. And herbs and spices make a significant contribution to this!

From Falstaff Magazine No. 05/2017

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