Why We Keep Talking About Herbs

teresa on herbs

I’ve got a thing about herbs

Many of you may have noticed that I’ve got kind of a thing about herbs: I’m always organizing herb classes at the store, promoting herbal products, and talking about things like medicinal herbs and herbal tea and herbal-infused honey. I’ve been known to go on a bit about it, so I want to say a word about why.

I think that staying healthy in the modern world comes down to this: putting less bad stuff and more good stuff in and on our bodies. That means limiting exposure to the bad stuff, by improving your diet and making careful choices about body care and cleaning products and so on. That’s why I teach classes on toxins and chemicals (more on that another day).

Getting the good stuff in can be a challenge. With so much fast, tasty, processed food so readily available, it’s easy to slip into a diet that is lacking. Even if we do eat whole foods, industrial farming has changed the value of the foods available. As a result most Americans are missing out on key nutritional building blocks that are essential for our bodies to function properly. So then we pop a vitamin pill to try and make up the difference -- but lately I’m reading bad news about the vitamin industry (think vitamins made in Chinese labs), so that doesn’t seem like it’s really an answer either.

It's about the nutrient density, stupid

Local food is obviously the answer: grow some of your own, and know your farmer. But good food, well cooked is not necessarily simple for those of us who are amateurs in the kitchen. Let alone the time it takes. So I’m always looking for the most bang for my nutritional buck -- I want to incorporate nutrient-dense foods in my diet as much as possible, because I’m always thinking about how I can get more good stuff in, without it requiring me to be a gourmet.

Enter herbs. Herbs are nutrient dynamos, and for all of human kind they have been a part of our diet -- not just for flavor, but because they add nutritional value. They also offer a myriad of (proven) healing benefits, such as pulling toxins out of our bodies (cilantro), soothing nerves to aid sleep (lavender), or treating an irritable bowel (peppermint). Many herbs are being studied now to take us beyond the traditional knowledge of medicinal value to the kind of evidence we are more comfortable with these days. The results are no surprise to an herbalist -- herbs have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal and even anticancer properties, and they are proving valuable to treat a wide range of ailments, from allergies to prostate cancer.

In pretty much the rest of the world beyond the US, herbs and spices are integrated into the food cultures and herbal tea is a go-to standard beverage for people of all ages, but we’ve lost that here. If you are like me, even if you do actually cook whole foods for yourself, you’ve never been taught about using herbs in your cooking. And nowadays there is little traditional knowledge passed down about the medicinal qualities of even the most common herbs.

Here’s what herbs used to mean to me: a who-knows-how-old shaker of Herbs de Provence in the cupboard (I couldn’t have told you what was in it), those expensive packets of fresh basil in the produce aisle in January when I had some recipe that called for it, and four or five boxes of herbal tea bags that I usually only remembered to pull out when I had a guest who didn’t drink coffee. Maybe you weren’t as bad as this, but I bet you don’t use herbs as often as you could.

If I can do it, you can do it

For the last year or two I have been making an effort to learn about herbs and incorporate them into my diet on a regular basis, and I feel that herbs are one thing that has made a significant positive impact on my health during this time. I have something herby every day: fresh tea, pesto, herb-infused honey, sprinkled herbs, in the summer I have fresh herbs in salad, and in the winter I use many dried herbs. And I swear by a few herbal remedies that helped me survive the cold and flu season. Nowadays my relationship with herbs is all about nettles and peppermint and three kinds of basil, and many more herbs that I've become acquainted with.

Herbs help to keep me in balance, and strengthen my immune system, and soothe my sniffles. Now I want to tell everyone about the nutritional and medicinal value they offer, and I'd like to get you on the herbal bandwagon. It's really not hard (believe me, if it was hard, I wouldn't be doing it).

In Central Ohio we are so lucky to have some amazing herbalists and herb farmers who are growing their own herbs, making high-quality herbal products, and sharing their knowledge. And we [carried] many of their products in the store, including from Dawn Combs of Mockingbird Meadows, Lauren Genter of Ancient Roots Botanicals, and Janell Baran of Blue Owl Garden Emporium. These are the people I've learned from, and these are the products I use.

Here are some resources that highlight the evidence supporting the value of herbs:

American Botanical Council
The Herb Research Foundation
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, About Herbs, Botanicals & Other Products