11 Nutritious Healthy Herbs and Spices

By Val Silver

Nature provides us with a bounty of flavorful healthy herbs and spices that bestow numerous benefits beyond pleasing our palates. These gifts of nature come from various parts of plants - seeds, leaves, flowers, bark, stems, fruits, and roots. They are often added to beverages, sprinkled in recipes or on prepared dishes, or eaten as part of a meal as a side dish or an addition to sauces, soups, and stews. 

Two examples of green herbs that are eaten as a side dish are nettle and dandelion greens. In order to reap the nutritional rewards of these healthy herbs, you need to consume serving sized portions. Capsules and tinctures are great for medicine, but not for nourishment. 

The same principle holds true for teas. Most herbal teas are too weak to provide vitamins and minerals but they still have medicinal health benefits, especially if you enjoy a few cupsful of healthy herbal teas and nutritious infusions. One exception is yerba mate which provides anti-oxidants and small amounts of 15 amino acids and over 20 minerals and vitamins. 

On the other hand, small amounts of many culinary herbs and spices provide a wealth of health benefits, especially when added regularly to food and drinks. Food would taste pretty bland without the addition of seasoning herbs and spices. Eat the parsley garnish on your plate. Add a generous sprinkle of seasonings, such as oregano, rosemary, turmeric, and cloves for a tasty anti-oxidant boost to foods. 

Healthy Herbs for Food and Beverages

Nettle Leaf - (Urtica dioica or Urtica urens)

Springtime has always been a popular time to harvest and cook up nettle leaves, bitter greens, and young dandelion leaves for spring cleansing and a nutritional boost after a long winter.

Stinging Nettle Leaf is energizing, nourishing and rejuvenating. Its leaves contain a wealth of vitamins, minerals, lipids, proteins, and micro-nutrients.

Nettle leaf shines in its ability to restore adrenal and kidney functioning. It nourishes the endocrine glands, cardiovascular, nervous, digestive and immune systems.

This healthy herb feeds the skin, hair, joints and bones.

Nettle is known to help balance blood sugar, reduce headaches, rehydrate dry tissue in the body and relieve constipation (as many dark green drinks do).

This versatile herb can be eaten or enjoyed as a beverage. 

In the spring, fresh picked nettle leaves can be boiled and eaten as a green vegetable or made into a vinegar. If you are lucky enough to have some growing nearby, pick very carefully to avoid a painful sting. Cooking destroys the stingers.

For ease and year round use, buy nettles cut and dried for herbal infusions and soup stock. One-and-a-third cups of dried nettle leaf (cut and sifted so it looks like flakes) is roughly one ounce.

Some people find nettle tea a bit strong or harsh. You may want to start with a smaller amount of herb or dilute with more water. Or combine it with oatstraw and a little licorice for a milder flavor.

For a rich source of nutrients, drink nettle and oatstraw infusions regularly.

Oatstraw - Avena sativa

healthy herbs

If you have eaten oatmeal, or taken an Aveno bath for itchy skin, you have experienced common uses for the very popular oat plant.

Taken as a tincture or extract of fresh milky tops, oatstraw is a much loved calming, nervine herb.

As an herbal food, oatstraw is rich in calcium, B vitamins, and other vitamins, minerals and herbal constituents.

It helps you build energy, sleep better, be more emotionally resilient and more resistant to stress.

Oatstraw is a wonderful friend to a stressed out nervous system. It helps build healthy bones and teeth, improves circulation and can help stabilize blood sugar levels. It helps keep blood vessels healthy and its moistening qualities relieve tissue dryness. Women report that it boosts their libido.

For a double benefit, use an oatstraw infusion made with dried milky tops in place of the water in your morning oatmeal.

Approximately three-fourths (3/4ths) of a cup of dried, cut and sifted oatstraw is equivalent to one ounce.

Sea Vegetables

A variety of sea vegetables are sold in markets and health food stores. These healthy herbs are rich in minerals and vitamins needed by your bones and the endocrine, immune and circulatory systems.

Seaweeds are wonderful for protecting you from the effects of different kinds of stress. They help protect you from chemicals, radiation, and free radical damage in addition to supporting stressed glands and organ systems.

Kelp, Dulse and Nori are three of the more commonly known sea herbs for health.

Find them and other seaweeds at health food stores or markets. Our Asian market has several varieties. Since there is some concern about contamination, you may want to stick with organic varieties. They are available in whole sheets or small flakes.

Kelp is very rich in minerals, especially iodine. It is sometimes sold as big pieces, flakes and in shakers as a salt substitute. Sprinkle a generous dash of kelp powder or flakes into soups, stews, and sauces for a nutritious boost. It tastes good mixed with white rice, too. I've even seen kelp sold as candy.

If you purchase whole sheets of dried seaweed, rinse them off before eating. If you like the taste, you can eat as is. Add a whole piece to a soup or stew, cook for at least ten minutes, and remove before serving. Or rip the sheets into smaller pieces and leave in.

Dulse has a lighter flavor and texture than kelp. Big barrels of packaged dried red dulse are available at snack bars in Nova Scotia. Add versatile dulse flakes to soup and stew. Hide it in meatloaf and casseroles.

One of my favorite ways to use dulse is in a "DLT". Lightly toast sheets of dulse on the stove. Along with lettuce and tomato it makes a pretty good sandwich. 

Roasted Nori can be found in Asian markets and makes a tasty snack. Nori is often found at sushi bars.

Aim for a half-ounce of dried seaweed a week to enjoy their health benefits.

Healthy Culinary Herbs and Spices 

What would pies, cakes, chili, sauces, and some of our favorite dishes and hot drinks taste like without culinary herbs and spices? Blah! Not only are these gifts of nature tasty seasonings, but they are also health superstars. Here are the benefits of some popular healthy herbs and spices. 

  • Cilantro  is a favorite in Southwestern and Mexican cuisine. It is a good source of vitamins A, C, K and E and antioxidants. It may help fight infections and reduce inflammation and has a reputation for detoxing heavy metals. 
  • Basil and oregano are popular in Mediterranean dishes. They contain antioxidants, phytochemicals, and antimicrobial compounds.
  • Parsley has diuretic properties, which make it useful for treating edema and fluid retention without affecting electrolytes. It provides vitamin C and freshens the breath.
  • Garlic is used in cooking worldwide. It has a strong, pungent flavor and odor. Garlic contains trace amounts of several nutrients. Due to its sulfur content, it is touted as a remedy for shortening the length of colds and lowering high blood pressure, and cholesterol. Keep in mind, though, that these benefits are mostly conferred from consistent supplementation. Freshly crushed or chopped garlic left to set for 5-10 minutes before consuming has the most health benefits. Aged garlic extract and garlic powder are also rich in healthy compounds. Raw garlic infused in honey is a tasty antioxidant-rich treat used as a remedy to ward off colds and flu.
  • Cardamom is a sweet, pungent spice is a staple in chai and pumpkin spice mixes. It is rich in magnesium and zinc. Cardamom soothes an upset stomach and has anti-inflammatory properties. 
  • Cocoa.  Yes, the cocoa bean is a healthy spice. It is full of heart-healthy flavonols, iron, copper, magnesium, zinc and phosphorus. It boosts cognition and mood. The catch? Eat dark chocolate (at least 60-70%) and stick to a 1.5 ounce serving a day. Milk chocolate has a lot fewer benefits and a lot more sugar. 
  • Ginger is known for soothing the stomach, calming nausea, and preventing motion sickness. Raw and dried ginger are both beneficial. Generally, dried ginger is hotter. Ginger makes a tasty tea, candies, cookies, and is also good infused in honey. It is a favorite in Asian cooking. Raw ginger provides vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium, niacin, and phosphorus.
  • Turmeric. This yellow spice is a good source of curcumin, an antioxidant that eases inflammation and pain. Other tasty anti-inflammatory herbs and spices include cinnamon, cloves, ginger, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and rosemary. 

Nutritious Healthy Herbs page updated 12/2020

For Educational Purposes Only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult with your health provider before using natural remedies and/or complementary therapies if you are pregnant, nursing, or you are being treated for a medical condition. Be aware that certain herbs and supplements interact with medications.

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