Mediterranean Medicinal Culinary Herbs
by: Christa Sinadinos

Summer is fast approaching and the delicate green leaves are emerging from perennial herbs such as oregano, rosemary, sage and thyme. Other annual herbs such as basil, cilantro, dill, or parsley can be planted soon (after all danger of frost has cleared) or they may have already been planted in the garden.

There are a number of culinary herbs from the Mediterranean region, which not only enhance the flavor of food and liven the landscape; they have other medicinal and nutritional properties as well. Most of the culinary herbs contain vitamins and minerals, which increase the nutritional value of the food to which they are added.This is especially true for parsley leaves .Additionally, many culinary herbs have carminative properties which improve digestion, as well as reducing gas and bloating.

The Mediterranean culinary herbs enhance the flavor of a salad, a main dish, a side dish, or a salad dressing. One can also infuse the herbs in vinegar, oil, or butter.The culinary possibilities are endless.This article summarizes the nutritional and medicinal uses of several culinary herbs including basil, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, and thyme.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

Basil has a sweet and pungent flavor and an intoxicating aroma.It is high in vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron, and it contains up to 14% protein by weight. In many Mediterranean countries, hot basil tea is used as a folk remedy to break children’s fevers.Basil tea also increases the flow of breast milk.The herb can be useful to relieve mild stomach and intestinal cramps.Basil is said to have a mild calming effect on the nervous system and it may relieve nervous headaches.It is also an aphrodisiac.

Marjoram (Origanum marjorana)

Marjoram is a sweet, aromatic, and pungent culinary herb.It imparts a distinct and pungent flavor to soups, sauces, tomato sauce, salads, vinaigrettes, egg dishes, fish, and meat.The leaves contain up to 13% protein by weight, and are high in vitamin A and C.The leaves also contain minerals including calcium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, and trace amounts of manganese.Marjoram has carminative and smooth muscle antispasmodic properties.It can be added to bean dishes to reduce gas and bloating.It also enhances digestion of food.Marjoram also has antimicrobial properties.

Oregano (Origanum vulgare)

Oregano is a flavorful and pungent culinary herb.It is a flavorful addition to beans, frittatas, omelets, deviled eggs, fish, meats, pizza, calzones, and tomato dishes. The herb contains beta-carotene, calcium, iron, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, and trace amounts of zinc.

Oregano has carminative properties which help to reduce indigestion, gas, and bloating. A tea or the herb cooked in soup stock is useful for respiratory ailments. The herb may be added to the diet to reduce the growth of Candida in the intestine.

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)

Parsley leaf is delicious in salads, tabouli, tomato dishes, baked potatoes, fish, meat, pizza, egg dishes, omelets, and sauces. The leaves contain up to 22% protein by weight. Parsley leaf contains vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and riboflavin, as well as small amounts of niacin, phosphorus, and thiamin. The leaf stimulates digestive secretions and gastric activity.It is both a carminative and a stomachic.Chewing the leaves after a meal will help to freshen the breath. Parsley leaves have anti-galactagogue properties, which can be used to dry the supply of breast milk.

*Contraindications: avoid consuming excessive amounts during pregnancy and lactation.*

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Rosemary contains vitamins A and C, as well as phosphorus, potassium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and calcium. Rosemary is known as “the herb of remembrance” and it is often used in herbal formulas for memory. This herb is commonly used for patients with cerebral arteriosclerosis.It aids circulation and is therefore helpful in cases of chronic circulatory weakness.Rosemary is also a tasty and pungent culinary herb; it can be used both fresh and dried in cooking.It has carminative and cholagogue actions, which enhance digestion.

Sage (Salvia officinalis)

Sage is a warming, astringent herb. The tea can be useful for diarrhea, gastritis, and enteritis. Sage helps aid in the elimination of mucus. It also helps to reduce fluid secretions. Sage will reduce excessive perspiration, and can aid with night sweats. Sage can be used to dry up the flow of breast milk.

*Contraindications: avoid use during lactation, and use in moderation during pregnancy.*

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

Thyme has earned its reputation as a culinary herb.It enhances the flavor of egg dishes, fish, poultry, meat, stuffing, gravy, vinaigrettes, and vegetables.Thyme leaves contain vitamin A, niacin, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc.Thyme has antioxidant properties, and can be used as a preservative agent for foods, oils, and salves.

Thyme also has potent medicinal properties. Thyme also has antitussive actions, and can be helpful for dry, unproductive coughs.

Thyme has carminative properties which help to relieve digestive cramping and gas.It is useful for dyspepsia and sluggish digestion.Historically, thyme was used to expel hookworms.

The Mediterranean herbs listed above thrive in well drained soil with ample exposure to the sun.They attract beneficial pollinators and enhance the aroma in the garden.Most of the herbs are best to harvest in the morning after the dew dries from the leaves.

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