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By Evelyn Wambua

The restorative and healing powers of herbs

Any plant whose leaves, flowers, seeds and roots are used as food, medicine, flavoring or fragrances is called an herb. According to Jekka McVicar, the leading herb grower in the U.K., we become what we consume. We do not doubt that vegetables and fruits contain a wide range of minerals and vitamins, yet we overlook the medicinal properties and nutrient content of herbs. Their restorative and healing powers are quite impressive, and WHO (World Health Organization) estimates that over 80 percent of the world's population uses herbs and plants as remedies to good health. Here is a low-down on how herbs may help.

They ease digestion

Herbs such as thyme, oregano, mint and rosemary release a sweet aroma when heated, and that makes our mouths water. This triggers the salivary glands to produce saliva. The enzymes found in saliva begin the digestion process of starches and fats. If starches and fats are not broken down before reaching the stomach, digestive problems like constipation, bloating, irritable bowel and diarrhea may result. These enzymes also promote healthy and strong teeth.

They have anti-cancer properties

Many herbs such as onions, sage, chamomile, rosemary, thyme, ginkgo, dandelion, green tea and milk thistle contain nutrients called flavonoids. They are thought to reduce the risk of cancer, heart attack and stroke. Flavonoids also enhance the anti-oxidizing properties of vitamin C, killing the free cancer-causing radicals.

They prevent tumors

Some herbs such as caraway, dill, lavender, spearmint, coriander, rosemary, thyme, chamomile, sage, basil, cardamom and peppermint contain phytochemicals known as terpenoids, whose anti-oxidizing properties inhibit the formation of tumors.

They boost our immune system

Herbs that contain high amounts of flavonoids also have anti-inflammatory qualities. Onions, garlic, green tea, rosemary and milk thistle are thought to stimulate white cells to attack invading micro-organisms. They also promote the lymphocytes' activity to eliminate invaders like viruses.

They reduce cholesterol

Some herbs, such as Rosehip tea, contain pigments called anthocyanins, which are responsible for pink, purple, blue and red shade of flowers and fruits. These pigments prevent the formation of cholesterol, hence reducing the risks of cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke.

They can heal

Over the centuries, apothecaries and herbalists have been using cures from herbs and plants. For instance, aloe vera glutinous gel has been used for many years to cure skin conditions such as burns, frostbites, sunburns, cold sores and psoriasis. It has also been used to treat itching, inflammation, fever, bowel diseases and osteoarthritis. Other herbs with healing qualities include: chamomile for easing insomnia; peppermint, lemon and dill for indigestion; elderflower for relieving cold; and rosemary for improving concentration and prevention of bad breath.

They are natural antiseptics

Before the invention of refrigerators, many households preserved cold meat by wrapping it in freshly harvested sage leaves and storing it in cellars, covered with salt. They also hanged fresh meat along with fresh thyme to make it tender and add flavor. The antiseptic properties of sage, bay leaves and rosemary helped prevent digestive problems such as bloating, constipation and diarrhea.

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