Growing Herbs for Health
Updated: Apr 29
For thousands of years herbs have been used for cooking and for health. Culinary and medicinal gardens are common to cultures across the globe. What is interesting is that some of the commonest and easiest to grow herbs have powerful long-term health benefits if included regularly into the diet. In this article we will focus on growing herbs at home, for health and some fun.
What Makes Herbs Special?
A herb is typically the leaf of a plant, often a plant that might not have a woody stem. In contrast, spices are normally from the stems, bark, roots, flowers and seeds of plants.
Herbs, both fresh and dried, can have powerful effects on one’s health. Fragrant and vitamin rich they produce health promoting chemicals that are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Take some herbs, rub them between your fingers. The very fragrance you smell comprise the active compounds that promote health. These compounds (also known as phytochemicals) can reduce inflammation, fight cancer, reduce blood pressure, control diabetes, calm the nerves. Some herbs (and especially spices) need to be used with caution - especially those with medicinal properties - but for culinary use this is not a concern.
What and How to Grow
So, what herbs can we grow at home? Where can we make the biggest impact in taste and in health? Consider these:
Chives, Cilantro aka Coriander, Culantro, Curry Leaves
Parsley, Peppermint, Perilla
Thai Basil, Thyme, Tarragon aka Estragon
Vietnamese Mint aka Laksa Leaf
The herbs in bold have been shown to have high antioxidant levels. Do not focus on these alone, it is by consuming a wide variety of herbs you can receive the greatest nutritional health benefits.
If your home has a sunny window ledge, a quiet corner, a balcony or a garden it is likely you can grow something, somewhere. Whether you grow from a seed, buy from the supermarket or nursery, herbs are relatively easy to grow. Try to give the plant a bit of space, both for its roots to grow and its leaves. Use a larger container or pot if you can. Don’t overwater them.
In cities where space is at a premium, hydroponic systems are increasingly popular especially if you want to grow in quantity or have cold winters. With hydroponics much of the work can be done for you: watering, perhaps some grow lights, but you'll still need to attend to your plants for maximum success.
Whatever you choose, watch how the plants grow and adjust the location and plant spacing accordingly. With a bit of trial and error you will work out what works best.
In the Kitchen
Be liberal in your use of herbs, experiment with their flavours. From soups and stews to salads, herbs can and should play a part in your cuisine. Strong herb flavours can reduce the need, the taste, for salt and sugar and thereby support healthy weight loss.
For maximum health benefits don’t overcook herbs as some of the health promoting chemical can degrade with heat; add some herbs at the end of the cooking process.
Another benefit of growing herbs is that of connection to and appreciation of nature. Sometimes, in an urban environment, growing a little friend on the windowsill might be the only time you get to handle and interact with a plant. It’s amazing the relationship that can develop, that growing a plant can bring joy and relive stress.
For children (and their parents alike) this connection can be a valuable lesson, understanding and connecting to nature. Plus connecting as a family and with healthy, real foods that can used in the kitchen. The formation of lifelong habits that promote physical, mental and social health.
If you are enjoying growing herbs, consider growing these other plants, all have health benefits:
Chile (aka Chili)
Scallions (Spring Onions)
Sprouts – from seeds or legumes
We love our little herb plants. We have had successes (and failures) growing in soil and hydroponically. It always takes a while to find what plant likes what spot the best, and, not to overwater. We try to add herbs to our dishes at every opportunity. A half teaspoon here, a sprinkle there, added to salads. Even herbal teas. The most surprising part of the activity is the reaction of friends and neighbours, most people seem to take some interest in growing small things. And that brings joy.
Achieve your Health Goals
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Take the first step. Book a Whole Health Consult to assess, identify and prioritise key factors (known and unknown) that affect your health. And receive personalised recommendations on how to address them.
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AU: The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney herb growing information and resources
SG: Grow herbs in your apartment, some tips from NParks
UK: The Royal Horticultural Society herb growing information and resources
US: The Herb Society of America herb growing information and resources
Aerospring Hydroponics a home grown (pun intended) Singaporean company that designs and manufactures hydroponic systems for home and the office. They sell globally. To be transparent: we know the team, they are lovely people, and have used their products with success.
Carlsen, M.H., Halvorsen, B.L., Holte, K. et al. The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide. Nutr J 9, 3 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-9-3
Milda E. Embuscado, Spices and herbs: Natural sources of antioxidants – a mini review, Journal of Functional Foods, Volume 18, Part B, 2015, Pages 811-819, ISSN 1756-4646
Examples of Bioactive Food Components in Commonly Used Culinary Herbs and Spices
Christine M. Kaefer and John A. Milner The Role of Herbs and Spices in Cancer Prevention J Nutr Biochem. 2008 Jun; 19(6): 347–361.doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2007.11.003PMID: 18499033
Alexandra Adorno Vita, Ryan McClure, Yuliya Farris, Robert Danczak, Anders Gundersen, Heather Zwickey, and Ryan Bradley Associations between Frequency of Culinary Herb Use and Gut Microbiota Nutrients. 2022 May; 14(9): 1981. Published online 2022 May 9. doi: 10.3390/nu14091981 PMCID:PMC9099813 PMID: 35565947