As a grower, I tend to focus on the more garden-worthy properties of herbs. What attributes it brings to my many garden beds. The impact of those big white blooms of Angelica, the steadfastness of a reliable rosemary hedge, the mystery of Passion Flower, or the stark drama of my Artichoke.
But, as the years go by, my interest in the herbs I grow has extended beyond the garden and into the kitchen or the medicine chest or even my fledgling attempts at DIY. Yes, I’ve even made lip balm! So, in my research, I’m constantly reading about the health benefits of these plants. Look at my bookshelves and you will see that my lifelong interest has been the interplay between the natural world and man.
“Let Food Be Thy Medicine and Medicine Be Thy Food” – Hippocrates
A well-known quote and much used, especially as we become more and more interest in the dynamic relationship between our health, and the nutrients found in our foods. Additionally, a very concerning relationship as we are moving further away from our foraging past towards sophisticated hybridization of food crops to the point where we are ‘watering down’ the physiological punch of plant food.
I am no scientist, nor a physician, just a humble grower with over 35 years of working with plants, soil and an abiding allegiance to working with nature not against it. So, what I’m really focusing on is the fact that we are, in many cases, dumbing down the impact of our important food sources.
The Benefits of Phytonutrients in Our Foods
Foods used to have a lot more phytonutrients; we have the technology now to measure. This is not hocus pocus, this is reliable information based on good science. Phytonutrients are bioactive compounds, found in foods, that promote health. Although they are not considered ‘essential’ as they can be lacking in our diet without harmful health consequences, they are EXTREMELY important in their potential to reduce the risks of some of our most daunting health challenges: diabetes, dementia, cancer and cardiovascular disease.
These phytonutrients work to prevent ‘free radicals’, those damaged molecules that ‘steal’ from healthy cells, by producing components that stabilize them. When you don’t have enough antioxidants in the body the free radicals will take them from healthy cells. In essence, phytonutrients protect healthy cells from damage by neutralizing the free radicals.
This is where herbs come in; herbs are FULL of phytonutrients and play a huge role in the fight against free radicals. Herbs are an excellent source of nutrition, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Herbs help your body’s natural detoxifying abilities, help in the fight against degenerative disease, as well as protect cells from aging and losing their ability to remove and detoxify waste and toxicity.
What You Eat Matters
Although much more research is needed, there is overwhelming evidence that our foods matter, and that herbs are an essential source for a healthy life. According the National Center for Biotechnology Information, there is growing evidence that herbs are important factors in the diet that may lower the risk of cancer as well as affect tumor behavior. Please note: we ALWAYS advise our customer to seek the advice of their physician before using any herb for medicinal purposes. However, in terms of increasing the phytonutrients in your diet, we are recommending the increased use of herbs and spices in your daily diet.
The list of herbs is impressive, and lengthy, so I’d like to focus on an herb that we generally don’t give much medicinal value: oregano. There is a measurement tool, known as ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) that measures the ability of a substance to ‘quench’ oxygen free radicals in a test tube. In lab studies, this herb is shown to have stronger antioxidant properties that the two most common synthetic compounds added to processed foods. It ranks in the top 6 on the ORAC scale! We’ve always admired this herb for its culinary value, but it must be noted among the most important herbs in terms of its medicinal value as well. Along with impressive antioxidant properties, it is also an effective antibacterial; it contains volatile oils that inhibit bacteria.
Who knew? 30 years ago, when I first began to ‘dip my toe’ into herb growing, that I was standing in the midst of some incredibly valuable and vastly interesting plants. My job required me to ‘grow everything’ which included patented plant material that was coming straight out of a lab, but my heart and soul was telling me to look to the source. And, happily, in the course of those years I was able to refocus ‘my job’ to include my passion. I must admit that much of what I am continuing to learn is coming directly from the ‘exchange’ I have with my customers and online community. I am constantly heartened by ‘what’s out there’ and am so fortunate to have found a home among you all.