Herbs and spices: More than just for flavour

Daniel Lim

With concerns on the continuous rise of pollution leading to environmental side effects such as heavy smog, water pollution, and more, cases of individuals suffering from asthma, bronchitis, breathing issues and allergies has gone up in unison.

At the same time, the number of cases where people suffer from these conditions early on is also on the rise.

According to certified health coach from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, New York Preety Tyagi, “Our diet plays a very important role in keeping us healthy with these ongoing changes in the environment.”

Specialising in gut health, which is focussed on the health of the digestive system, she shared with the Bulletin that the food we eat has the power to be our own medicine and a preventive cure as well.

She highlighted that there is one component in our food that is often ignored and not given much attention to while deciding a meal – herbs and spices.

Preety Tyagi

“Herbs for healing diseases have been known in Ayurvedic medicine long ago.

“These potent herbs have the healing properties to prevent us from many diseases and allergies.”

As such, she outlined the list of herbs used as natural remedies for allergies over decades.

One such herb is tulsi, which she described as “an excellent herb for healing diseases. It is known to help relieve the symptoms of allergies, breathing problems and bronchitis.”

In addition, she also noted that tulsi can also be consumed as a tea, with herbal supplements of tulsi being widely available these days. She advised to go for naturally sourced ones.

“Garlic has also been used as a natural herb for healing diseases, particularly cardiovascular disease, because of its anti-inflammatory properties.

“Since asthma and allergy is an inflammatory disease, garlic also helps relieve asthma symptoms,” she continued, noting that at the moment, the use of garlic as an alternative treatment for asthma is, however, still being studied.

Another herb that she highlighted was ginger, noting that a recent study showing that oral ginger supplements were linked to improvement in asthma symptoms and can be taken as a detox drink, in the form of ginger tea.

“It’s very relieving to throat infections as well. It can be had as concoction of ginger and honey with a bit of black pepper. It’s an excellent reliever of breathing related allergies and helps in clearing the nasal passage immensely,” she continued.

Turmeric powder is a great herb for healing diseases, as well as being effective against allergic conjunctivitis.

Among the benefits of turmeric includes helping to reduce inflammation in the eyes which stems from its antibacterial properties.

“Soak a piece of cotton or cloth to a pot of boiled turmeric water. Use the soaked cloth piece as a warm compress to treat allergic conjunctivitis.

“Turmeric also has anti-inflammatory properties and helps in curing asthma, bronchitis as well,” she said.

Another type of herb is butterbur, which has a well-respected reputation as a natural remedy for migraines. It is shown in numerous studies to have significantly improved unpleasant allergy symptoms.

In addition, researchers have also concluded that butterbur is a smart choice for anyone looking to improve their allergy symptoms while avoiding the sedative effects of antihistamines, though Tyagi noted that this particular herb has some side effects associated with it, and over consumption is not recommended in any case.

While this herb has some inflammatory effects on the skin if used carelessly, stinging nettle is known as a perennial flowering plant that has been used medicinally for ages, dating back as far as ancient Greece.

“Regarding seasonal allergies, stinging nettle has been shown to have excellent anti-inflammatory abilities. This is important because it is those inflammatory events that cause seasonal allergy symptoms.”

In terms of herbs normally found in various local stores, fresh and dried rosemary is a popular addition to many culinary creations and, in recent years, research has also shed a light on rosemary’s ability to help fight allergy symptoms and provide relief to asthma sufferers. “According to a study, this popular herb contains rosmarinic acid, which has both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

“The study also reveals that rosmarinic acid is a free radical scavenger that can suppress the inflammatory responses of certain white blood cells, as well as allergic antibodies,” she noted.

As such, the presence of rosmarinic acid can help to improve seasonal allergy symptoms; though she advises that if one were to take rosmarinic acid as a supplement, it may be helpful to take it with food to prevent a potential mild stomachache.

Lastly, another herb that is well-known and readily available in stores is oregano, an Italian herb that is commonly used in everyday kitchens.

“It is also available in the form of supplements for certain health benefits.

“Those supplements include oregano oil extract,” she said, sharing that it is available as a pill and as a softgel capsule.

She noted that supplement forms of oregano include diluted oregano oil, since in its concentrated form, is very potent, with oil enclosed in a capsule which can be taken orally, or cut open and applied to the skin, provided they’re not in full strength and are in diluted form.

“Oregano oil is also available as a highly concentrated essential oil that comes in liquid form. The oil may come premixed with a carrier oil or it may be purchased full strength,” she said further noting that if it is not premixed, users will have to dilute it themselves by combining it with a carrier oil, such as coconut or olive oil; which usually comprises five to six drops for every ounce of carrier oil.