by Tony Isaacs
Those of us who go back a few years likely remember the line about parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme in the huge Simon and Garfunkel hit song about two ill-fated lovers, "Are You Going to Scarborough Fair". Many have speculated that the reference to the four popular herbs was due to their use in Medieval Europe to help cleanse the air and ward off the infamous black plague. Others have thought that the reference to the four herbs was because the combination may have been used as a love potion. Whatever the reason for their inclusion in the popular song, the many health benefits of those four popular spices make them a herbal health quartet worth loving and singing praises about in their own rights.
Parsley is an amazing medicinal herb with a world of health benefits. The root contains calcium, B-complex vitamins, and iron, which nourish the glands that help regulate the uptake of calcium. It is a source of magnesium, calcium, potassium, vitamin A, beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin K.
Among the many benefits reported for parsley are:
*It is a diuretic which helps the body produce more urine to keep the urinary system operating smoothly and helps prevent problems such as kidney stones and bladder infections.
*It is wonderful for removing toxins from the body, such as heavy metals.
*It is an effective breath freshener. It is believed that the practice of including parsley on a dinner plate began due to its breath freshening abilities and not merely for its decorative effect.
*The root and leaves are good for the liver and spleen.
*It helps relieve bloating during menstruation.
*It provides relief for edema, often helping when other remedies have failed
*Parsley root and seeds help relax stiff joints, often making stiff and unmanageable fingers work again.
*It helps remove gallstones when used properly by taking a pint of the tea daily.
*It is beneficial for the adrenal glands.
*It is a powerful therapeutic aid for the optic nerves, brain and sympathetic nervous system.
*Parsley juice is an excellent tonic for the blood vessels.
Note: It is best to avoid large amounts of parsley if you are pregnant, especially the use of the volatile essential oil.
Like rosemary, its sister herb in the mint (Labitae) family, sage contains a variety of volatile oils, flavonoids and phenolic acids, including rosmarinic acid. The oils found in sage are both antiseptic and antibiotic, helping it fight infections.
Besides the antioxidant and other properties shared with Rosemary, sage's other health benefits include:
*It is effective for symptoms of menopause, night sweats and hot flashes, because of its estrogenic action and because its tannins help dry up perspiration.
*Sage helps provide better brain function and has been used in the treatment of cerebrovascular disease for over a thousand years. It helps provide better recall and research has suggested that it may be an effective option to help treat Alzheimer's.
*There's also compelling evidence that sage may be of value to people with diabetes for whom the hormone insulin does not work as efficiently as it should. Lab studies indicate that sage may boost insulin's action.
* The ability of sage to protect oils from oxidation has also led some companies to experiment with sage as a natural antioxidant additive to cooking oils that can extend shelf life and help avoid rancidity.
Rosemary contains caffeic acid and rosemarinic acid, both of which are potent antioxidants as well as anti-inflammatory agents. Rosemary is also a good source of antioxidant vitamin E (alpha tocopherol) and other important antioxidants.
In addition, rosemary contains 19 chemicals with antibacterial action and a number of volatile oils which reduce the airway constriction induced by histamine – the chemical culprit of asthma and other allergy symptoms. Notably, rosemary has long been used to treat asthma.
The volatile oils in rosemary also help reduce inflammation that contributes to liver and heart disease. Herbalists think that rosemary may also help ease breast pain by acting as a natural drying agent to fluid filled cysts.
Some other important health benefits for rosemary are:
Due to its antioxidants, rosemary can help prevent cataracts.
The natural acids present in rosemary help in protecting the body's cells and DNA from free radical damage.
Rosemary stimulates liver enzymes which help inactivate estrogen hormones which can cause breast cancer.
Rosemary extract helps prevent age-related skin damage such as wrinkles.
Rosemary encourages enzymes which flush harmful toxins out of the liver and the body.
When consumed on a daily basis, rosemary extract can improve kidney functions, increase urine flow and preserve essential minerals such as sodium, and potassium.
Rosemary oil is used to stimulate hair growth, boost mental activity, relieve respiratory problems and pain, and reduce disorders in menstrual cycle, menstrual cramps, peptic ulcers, urine flow, prostate, gall bladder, intestine, sperm mobility, leukemia and kidney stones.
Medical professionals recommend to not exceed two 400 mg rosemary capsules up to three times a day.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid large quantities of rosemary. Excessive dosage might affect the fetus and can lead to miscarriage.
Rosemary oil can be allergic, thus it would be advisable to consult with a qualified naturopathic professional before using it.
People who suffer from high blood pressure or epilepsy should not take rosemary supplements.
Thyme has a long history of use for chest and respiratory problems including coughs, bronchitis, and chest congestion. It is an excellent source of iron and manganese, and a good source of calcium and dietary fiber. Thyme contains a variety of important flavonoids and volatile oils, including the important volatile oil thymol.
Thymol increases blood-flow to the skin and some herbalists believe that the increased blood-flow speeds healing. Thymol has been found to protect and significantly increase the percentage of healthy fats found in cell membranes and other cell structures. Dietary consumption of thyme has been shown to increase the amount of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid) in brain, kidney, and heart cell membranes.
Thyme has many beneficial antibacterial actions similar to another important herb, basil, which can help prevent contamination and decontaminate previously contaminated foods. For example, researchers reported in 2004 that thyme was able to decontaminate lettuce inoculated with Shigella, an infectious organism that triggers diarrhea and may cause significant intestinal damage. Washing produce in a solution containing either basil or thyme essential oil at a low concentration of only 1% resulted in dropping the number of Shigella bacteria below the point at which they could be detected.
Notably, the German Commission E agency which evaluates dietary items has endorsed thyme for treating bronchitis. In addition, aromatherapists say that thyme's scent is an effective mood lifter.