10 Fresh Herbs With Surprising Health Benefits

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While some herbs simply enhance the flavor of the food you cook, others can go above and beyond to benefit your health. “The term ‘herb’ has a fuzzy definition,” says Michael Castleman, author of The new medicinal herbs. “What we call medicinal herbs contain chemical compounds that have drug-like effects.” Use caution when taking these herbs as supplements in pill form, as some are associated with side effects and drug interactions, and always check with your doctor before taking Here we explain how you can use some of these fresh and dried herbs.

1. Basil

If you thought basil was just for making pesto or topping on pizza, think again. Basil is the family name of more than 100 different species. Two of the most well-known varieties are sweet basil and holy basil. Researchers studying basil found that it may help control blood pressure and that its scent relieves stress and reduces anxiety. Clinical studies focusing on holy basil found that participants experienced reduced stress, anxiety, sexual problems, and depression. However, both studies were conducted in a lab, so the benefits may not translate to home use.

Tip: As with other fresh herbs, add basil late; it loses its flavor if overcooked.

2. Dill

Dill is known for its feathery foliage and seeds, and both are used for pickling and cooking. The seeds flavor pickles, flavor borscht, and complement fish. However, dill has much more to offer. Penn State University researchers recruited 71 men and women with risk factors for heart disease and provided daily meals flavored with about a teaspoon of herbs and spices, including dill. After 12 weeks, the participants had both lower systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure.

Tip: If you want to get rid of bad breath, chew a handful of dill seeds

3. Garlic

Though widely used as both an herb and a spice, garlic — a member of the lily family — is botanically a vegetable. Its pale yellow flesh has been celebrated for its ability to ward off colds. (Though research hasn’t taken grandmother’s advice.) Some research has found that garlic helps lower blood pressure and prevent hardening of the arteries.

Tip: To activate its health-promoting compounds, chop or crush garlic five to 10 minutes before cooking it or adding it to other ingredients.

4. Ginger

Some call ginger an herb, others a spice, but no matter what you call it, it has a slew of impressive health benefits. Research has found that ginger can relieve knee osteoarthritis pain, suppress nausea associated with motion sickness and seasickness, improve muscle recovery after exercise, and lower high cholesterol. Ginger can even help at the dentist. Patients who have had an impacted molar removed have found that ginger powder is as effective as ibuprofen at controlling pain after surgery.

Tip: The juice that is left over from grating ginger has a lot of flavor. Save the juice and include it in your recipe, it’s recommended chefs illustrated.

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