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  • Beth Chiodo, MS, RD, LDN, CHWC

Herbs for Everyday Health

Article written for the November edition of The Shuttle, Weaver's Way Co-op's online newspaper.

The earliest documentation from ancient civilizations points to the use of herbs and spices to enhance everyday life. Herbs and spices were used to protect and preserve food, add flavor, and also provide a wide variety of health-giving and medicinal uses to their communities. Today, many of us are interested in using herbs and spice but might not know exactly how. The truth is these plants can be used in a magnitude of ways to enhance our living and promote overall health and wellness.

Herbs refer to the leaves of a plant and are often used in cooking. Spices, on the other hand, refer to the other parts of the plant, like the berries, seeds, bark, roots, etc. Herbs and spices are powerful antioxidants and can be used in so many ways to improve our health. Let’s take a look at a few you can use starting today!

Cinnamon. While not necessarily an herb, cinnamon is frequently used as an ingredient in many different types of recipes and baked goods, especially this time of year. Pumpkin spice anyone?! Cinnamon has potent antioxidant activity and may help reduce inflammation. It is also known for it’s impact on reducing blood glucose levels. The compound responsible for these effects is called cinnamaldehyde. Ceylon cinnamon is the type recommended for these health benefits. Try adding cinnamon to oatmeal, pumpkin muffins, or scones. I drizzle my beets and squash with olive oil, a little maple syrup, cinnamon, salt, and pepper (yes, all of them) and roast them for 45 minutes at 400F. It’s absolutely delicious!

As we move into the fall months, I can’t get enough sage! Sage literally gets its name from the Latin word Salvere, meaning “to save.” Current research suggests that sage may play an important role in improving brain function and memory in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. Sage is a delicious addition to roasted winter squash. It pairs beautifully with sweet potatoes, butternut squash, pumpkin and so many others. Drizzle the leaves with olive oil and roast them along with your favorite squash for a real treat!

Another herb I really like to cook with this time of year is thyme. Thyme is one of the primary herbs in my favorite butternut squash soup recipe found here. Thyme is part of the mint family and is known for its antibacterial properties. Thyme may be used to treat acne and may have a beneficial effect on blood pressure. I love to roast thyme with my vegetables or throw a sprig or two in my soups and let it impart its flavor while the soup simmers. Just be sure to remove it before serving. Thyme may also be effective at boosting mood.

Rosemary is another one I use this time of year a fair amount. Rosemary contains the active ingredient rosmarinic acid, which may suppress allergic responses and nasal congestion. It is anti-inflammatory in nature, which may account for these benefits. Rosemary is delicious roasted on potatoes and it also goes really well in marinades. Rosemary leaves can also be steeped in boiling water and made into a tea.

Herbs originated in ancient times, but they are ever prevalent today as we all strive to be more connected to the earth and to improve our health in a natural way. Try some of these suggestions above. Make your goal to try one new herb this week and see all the different ways you can use it. Enjoy!!

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