The Antioxidant Benefits of Herbs
Herbs have been used since ancient times for their medical properties. Now, both fresh and dry herbs are commonly incorporated into food to enhance flavor. These include parsley, basil, mint, rosemary and more. Herbs not only add enticing aroma and fresh flavour to food, they also bring many health benefits. In this Skin Food series, we will delve into the various health and skin benefits herbs can provide.
History of herbs
Herbs are essentially fresh and dried leaves generally of temperate plants, and are usually green in colour. Since ancient times, herbs have been well-known for their preservative and medicinal properties. Their value as a food ingredient was gradually discovered over the years. Before modern medicine, the ancient Greeks used herbs such as thyme and coriander for their healing properties – many of which are still used today as holistic remedies for fevers, aches and pains. Current research increasingly shows that many herbs possess properties that can aid in mitigating symptoms of severe diseases. In fact, their true benefits lies in their protective polyphenols, which are plant compounds with potent antioxidant abilities.
What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are essential molecules that help fight free radicals in the body which can be found in the food we eat. Antioxidants from herbs are a group of bioactive compounds consisting of flavonoids, phenolic or sulfur-containing compounds, and vitamins.
Antioxidant benefits of herbs
There are several antioxidant benefits of herbs. Herbs and spices are widely considered to be functional foods. Functional foods generally refer as foods that provide benefits beyond basic nutrition.
Flavonoids in herbs
Flavonoids are the main phenolics in herbs that possess antioxidant activity. They have the ability to scavenge free radicals and form complexes with catalytic metal ions, hence rendering them inactive. You can commonly find flavonoids in aromatic herbs such as rosemary, parsley, and thyme. Furthermore, flavonoids can also inhibit the enzymes responsible for the cause of oxidative rancidity (e.g when meat goes bad) in foods – lipoxygenase and cyclooxygenase.
Lower risk of chronic diseases
Oxidative stress refers to an imbalance between the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). These are highly reactive compounds which oxygen produces, and the defense systems which can readily detoxify them. Oxidative damage and free radicals are related to severe diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer and diabetes. Antioxidants such as polyphenols can help to prevent or delay the process of some of these diseases by inhibiting oxidative stress-mediated toxicity. Furthermore, polyphenols are anti-microbial as well, hence they can serve as protective agents from harmful bacteria.
Anti-aging and photoprotective properties
The epidermis, the upper layer of the skin, functions to protect against external aggressors while maintaining the flexibility needed to ensure tissue renewal. However, oxidative stress can damage this layer of the skin, leading to skin aging. Factors include the sun’s harmful UV rays, as well as chemical hazards in the environment. Acne scars can also become darker with increased sun exposure due to the UV radiation which triggers the production of melanin that leads to darkened pigmentation in existing scars.
Furthermore, UVA is predominantly involved in skin ageing and pigment darkening whereas UVB also has additional dangerous effects of increasing the risks of skin cancer. Apart from sunscreen, other forms of photoprotection exist. Keratinocytes in the epidermis play a big role in skin aging, hence it is important to protect them against oxidative stress. Polyphenols in herbs can help to suppress the harmful cellular processes of UV radiation in keratinocytes. This occurs by inhibiting UVB-induced keratinocyte injury, DNA breakage, and ROS production. Hence, this contributes to the antioxidant benefits in herbs.
Ways to include herbs in your diet
Besides the many health and skin benefits of herbs, they are also incredibly delicious and easy to incorporate into your diet. Here are several ways you can use herbs to colour your everyday menu. Most ‘soft stemmed’ herbs like basil, parsley and dill can be included in salads, on sandwiches and in pasta sauce. You can easily add other fresh herbs like mint, rosemary and thyme, in smaller amounts to flavor your dishes too.
- Pasta dishes: Include basil to elevate the taste, especially for tomato bases; basil to make pesto
- Salad: Add chives, dill or tarragon to give salads a dash of additional colour and flavour
- Stir-fried or steamed Asian dishes: Ginger is a well-loved ingredient here!
Just like green leafy vegetables, herbs also contain large amounts of Vitamin A, C and K. Fresh, organic herbs are expensive, and can come with large amounts of unnecessary plastic packaging. The best way to have fresh herbs at your convenience, is to grow them yourself. This way, you can wait to cut them only when you need them. Fresh herbs are also easy to cultivate.
Grow your herbs in the Solar Alga Urban Farm Tower. It is the first urban farming system on wheels based off the principles of soil-less hydroponic system. The roots are drip irrigated and oxygenated via the aeroponic technique, ensuring optimal root oxygenation and growth. The compact, easy-to-set-up modular system has near-zero water wastage.
The first certified organic system, the SOLAR-ALGA Organic Urban Tower Farm is a compact hydroponic and aeroponic system that grows 45 different plants in just 0.14sqm of space.
The easiest herbs to grow in a hydroponic system like the SOLAR-ALGA are:
- Basil – one of the fastest and easiest herbs to grow, it is a popular choice for hydroponics because this herb is ideal when fresh, to hold on to the aroma and flavor.
- Vietnamese Coriander (Laksa Leaves)
Yashin, A., Yashin, Y., Xia, X., & Nemzer, B. . Antioxidant activity of spices and their impact on human health: A review. 2017;6(3): 70. doi: 10.3390/antiox6030070