Health from your Gardens – VIII, Herbs

There are a large number of herbal plants with rich micro nutrients that can be used in our daily Cuisine, not only to enhance taste and flavor but also to enjoy great health benefits, including protection from the dreaded cancer. Following are some of the useful herbal plants we can grow in our kitchen garden and use them regularly.

Botanical name is Petroselinum crispum; called Ajmood in Hindi, Achu Mooda in Kannada and Seema Nalli in Malayalam. Parsley is a biennial herb with dense foliage and white flowers. It has bright green leaves, finely divided and curled. It is cultivated for its leaves mainly in India and another variety grown for its turnip like roots. The flowering stalk grows up to a height of 1.0 m in the second year. Flowers are yellow or yellowish green, fruits 2-3 mm long, crescent shaped, rigid and has two mericarps. Leaves and seeds are used as spice. The aroma of the herb is characteristic, fragrant and spicy due to volatile oil content. Though used as a garnish in many cuisines, many people keep it aside uneaten, not knowing that it is really a super food

Parsley Plant

Parsley seeds

having protective and beneficial effects against many common diseases like cancer, arthritis and heart diseases. Parsley also acts as a detoxifier, digestive aid and cleanser. Minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals like vitamin C, beta carotene, quercetin and flavonoids like apigenin, luteolin and chrysoeroil serve as potent anti-oxidants against cancer and other diseases.

Nutritional Value of : Per Teaspoon.

Calories – 1
Carbohydrates – 0.26 g
proteins – 0.11 g
Total Fat – 0.02 g
Dietary Fibre – 0.15 g
cholesterol – 0
Sodium – 2.26 mg
Potassium – 19.02 mg
Vitamin A – 50.92 IU
Vitamin C – 0.61 mg
Calcium – 7.34 mg
Iron – 0.49 mg

Uses of Parsley
It is mainly used for garnishing and seasoning of foods. Fresh leaves are incorporated in salads and also in soups, stews and sauces. It is also used in various meat and poultry dishes for seasoning. The roots are used in making soups. Dried leaves and roots are used as condiments.

Medicinal & other uses:

  • Parsley has diuretic, carminative and anti-pyretic properties.
  • Juice of fresh leaves is used as insecticide.
  • Parsley herb oil and seed oil contains an oil called “apigenin” which has been shown experimentally to prevent angiogenesis, which is the hall mark of most cancers.


Dill, botanically Anethum graveolens is an annual herb in family Apiceae and only species of genus Anethum. The plant grows to 40-60 cm height, has slender hollow stems with alternate, finely divided, soft & delicate leaves 10-20 cm long. The final leaf divisions are 1-2 mm broad, almost thread like. Flowers are white to yellow, in small umbels 2-9 cm diameter. The seeds are 4-5 mm long and 1mm thick, straight to slightly curved with longitudinally ridged surface. In India it is called savaa in Hindi, Soa-kura in Telugu, Sada kuppi in Tamil, Chathakuppa or sathakuppa in Malayalam, Sabbasige soppu in Kannada, Suva in Gujarathi, Shepu in Marathi and Konkani and Shatapushpa in Sanskrit.

Dill plant, flowers & seeds

Nutrition value of fresh Dill weed:
Per 100 Gms

Energy – 43 kcal
Carbohydrates – 7 gm
Fat – 1.1 gm
Proteins a – 3.5 gm
Dietary Fibre – 2.1 gm

Vitamins – mainly A, B2, Folates & C, Traces of B1,3,5,6,12
Minerals – mainly Calcium, Iron, Manganese and traces of Mg, Phosphorus, Potassium,Zn & Copper.

Culinary & other uses of Dill:

  • Fresh and dried Dill leaves and also seeds are used in various cuisines, particularly in Europian and Russian cuisines, but also in Asia. For best flavor, fresh Dill leaves are ideal, but freeze-dried dill leaves retain the flavor even after months. Dill seeds are also used as spice
  • In India Dill is prepared like moong dal as a main-course dish.
  • It has very good antigas properties and hence used as after-meal digestive or “mukhwas”.Fresh Dill leaves are also used in many other dishes like “Aloo-methi-soya” or with fermented soya bean & rice in Manipur.
  • It is also traditionally given to mothers immediately after childbirth.
  • Dill oil extracted from the seeds is used in soap making. Oil can also be extracted from leaves and stem.

Rosemary’s botanical name is Rosmarinus officinalis, is a woody perennial herb with fragrant, evergreen needle-like leaves and white, pink, purple or blue flowers. It is a member if the “mint” family Lamiaceae. It may be upright or trailing, former can reach a height of 1.5 to even 2m. The evergreen leaves are 2-4 cm long, broad, green above and white below, with dense, wooly hairs. It flowers in spring and summer in temperate climates. The flowers are white, pink, purple or deep blue.

Flowering Rosemary plant

Nutritions Values:
Of Rosemary per 100 gm of fresh leaves:

Energy – 131 kcal
Carbohydrates – 20.70 gm
Total Fat – 5.86 gm
Proteins – 3.31 gm
Dietary Fibre – 2.1 gm
Cholestrol – 0

Vitamins – A, C, Thiamin, pyridoxine, Folates etc

Minerals – Calcium, Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Zinc, Sodium and Potassium etc
Culinary & other uses:
“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance” in Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Hamlet,iv,5).

  • In myths, Rosemary has a reputation for improving memory and used as a symbol for remembrance in weddings, war memorials and funerals. Mourners would throw into graves as a symbol of remembrance
  • Rosemary contains a number of phytochemicals like rosmarinic acid, camphor, caffeic acid, ursolic acid and betulinic acid. This woody scented herb has some substances that can halt cancer cells reproduction. These terpenes contain some fatty acids that can also kill cancer cells and make chemotherapy more effective too.
  • It is used as a decorative plant in gardens and has pest control effects.
  • The leaves are used to flavor various foods, particularly meats.
  • Leaves may be used fresh or dried, in various cuisines all over the world. They have a bitter, astringent taste and are highly aromatic.
  • Rosemary is also used as herbal tea.
  • Rosemary extract increases shelf life of Omega-3 rich oils preventing rancidity.
  • Rosemary oil is used in body perfumes and room fresheners, shampoos and cleaning products.
  • In traditional medicine in India, extracts and essential oils are used for treating a variety of diseases.
  • Rosemary is high in iron, calcium and vitamin B6, 317 mg, 6.65 mg and 0.336 mg per 100 g, respectively.

Mentha Or Mint belongs to the family of Lamiaceae, member of tribe Mentheae in subfamily Neptoideae. Containing about 65 genera. Mint leaves, without a qualifier like ‘ peppermint’ or ‘applemint’, refers to ‘spearmint’ leaves. These plants thrive near sources of water and cool moist spots in partial shade, but can grow even in full sun. It is a perennial, fast growing plant extending along the surface through a network of runners. Mint makes good companion plant as it repels pesty insects and attracts useful ones.

Healthy Mint Leaves

Nutritional Values of Mint
Per 100gms of fresh leaves:

Energy – 70 kcals
Carbohydrates – 14.79gm
Proteins – 3.75 gm
Total fat – 0.94 gm
Cholesterol – 0
Dietary Fiber – 8.0 gm

Vitamins – A, B 12, Folates;
Minerals – Calcium, Iron, Manganese, Magnesium,Copper.

Culinary and others uses:

  • Fresh mint leaves are preferred to dried and stored ones where ever possible. The leaves have a fresh, aromatic sweet flavor with a cool after taste and is extensively used in cuisines of various countries.
  • It is used in teas, beverages, jellies, syrups, candies, and ice creams for its flavor.
    It is used in many vegetarian and meat preparations too.
  • Even some alcohols use the mint flavor to suit some palates.
  • Mint essential oils and menthol are extensively used in breath fresheners, mouth gargles, tooth paste, chewing gums and candies like mint candies and mint chocolates. Menthol is used to make peppermints, ‘pulegone’ for Corsican mint and L-carvone for ‘spearmint’.

Mint lemonade is a favorite drink

  • Mint was traditionally used as medicinal herb for stomach aches and chest pains. Its use for treating I B S is being researched.
  • Menthol from mint is used in making some cosmetics and perfumes.
  • Menthol and mint essential oil are used in ‘aroma therapy’, particularly useful for post surgery nausea.
  • Mint leaves have some phytochemicals that cut off blood supply to growing cancer cells and hence eaten by cancer patients with some benefit.

The botanical name is Thymus vulgaris; in Hindi Banajwain. It is a hardy perennial shrub growing up to 20-40 cm, dried leaves are curled brownish green in color, and about 6-7 mm long. It is marketed as fresh or dried and ground leaves. Fresh leaves have better flavor but has only a short shelf life of one week. Flowers are light violet, two lipped, 5 mm long with hairy glandular calyx. French, Spanish and American Thyme are available in international market. Leaves have an aromatic and pungent flavor.

Variegated Lemon Thyme plant

A bundle of thyme twigs with leaves

Nutritional contents of Thyme:
In 100 gm of Fresh Leaves:

Energy – 101kcals
Carbohydrates – 24.45gm
Proteins – 5.5 gm
Total fat – 1.68gm
Cholesterol – 0
Dietary Fiber – 14.0 gm

Culinary and other uses of Thyme:

  • Thyme contains Thymol, an essential oil having antiseptic and anti-fungal properties.
  • Throat gargling with tepid Thyme water or Thyme tea helps in control of throat infection and cough.
  • It has many flavonoid anti-oxidants, having one of the highest anti-oxidant levels in herbs.
  • It is packed with many minerals and vitamins and hence has many health benefits including controlling high BP, heart rate and even some cancers.
  • Vitamin B6 in Thyme acts as a stress buster, keeping up levels of GABA in the brain.
  • Thyme has intense flavor and should be added sparingly and at the end of cooking, since prolonged cooking causes evaporation of essential oils.
  • Thyme is used in herbal tea, seasonal soups and sauces.
  • It is used along with other spices in marinating and stuffing chicken, fish and meat.
  • Thymol is the main ingredient of some commercially produced mouth washes like listerine.
  • It is also an important ingredient of all natural, alcohol free hand sanitizers.

The above mentioned herbs and some other herbs in common use are real power houses of various essential micronutrients – phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals having huge health benefits. They are to be used on a daily basis in our cuisine not only to add taste and flavor but also with tremendous health benefits. Use these herbs in every meal and enjoy disease free and long healthy life.

Be knowledgeable, follow healthy life style and enjoy good health,

Best Wishes,
Compiled by Dr M Mohan Rao,
Managing Director and Chief Surgeon (Retired),
Dr U Mohan Rau Memorial Hospital, Chennai.
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