A healthy immune system is constantly functioning to maintain homeostasis within the
body. Aiding in the immune response are antioxidants.
Antioxidants are crucial to health, as they constantly combat the detrimental action of
free radicals, which are highly reactive molecules created from normal and essential metabolic processes in the body.
Though free-radicals exist due to normal metabolism (cellular respiration, immune system activation, etc.), the rate of free radical production can be increased by radiation, pollution, pesticides, heavy metals, toxins, tissue injury, inflammation, and diet. When the generation of free radicals overwhelms the capacity of antioxidant systems, oxidative stress ensues.
This can lead to cell and tissue damage, and ultimately, diseases including cancer, heart disease, stroke. Oxidative stress can also lead to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Thus, the more free radicals circulate in your body, the more antioxidants you will need to protect yourself. Enter: PLANTS!
The health-maintaining process of antioxidants is common in both plants and animals.
Many plants have powerful free-radical scavenging action, with strong protective action against oxidative cell damage. The most notable examples are traditional medicinal plants, including culinary herbs. Plants are constituted by compounds, many of which are considered antioxidants, or free radical scavengers. Polyphenols are a notable family of
antioxidants abundant in plants. In a blog post earlier this month, Simon discussed Vitamin C, a
powerful antioxidant, which coexists with a specific category of polyphenols called flavonoids.
Together, Vitamin C and flavonoids work to create a powerful antioxidant action, with flavonoids aiding in the absorption of vitamin C into the body. Other notable antioxidants found in plants are Vitamins A and E, selenium, glutathione, and beta-carotene, though the complete list is
Because we now know that antioxidants are vital in preventing cancers, reducing damage to neurons in the brain, and reducing cell damage caused by chronic disease, the more anti-oxidant foods and herbs we can consume, the better. I cannot list all the antioxidant-rich herbs in this blog - there are just too many! In truth, it appears most medicinal herbs contain an antioxidant of some sort. So, I will only discuss the details of a few (and while you read, perhaps Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Scarborough Fair’ will get stuck in your head, as it did with me).
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum), a herb often found in the culinary scene, but sometimes
forgotten in the medical herbalism scene, has beautiful healing action. Rich in flavonoids and
vitamins, this plant is a loaded antioxidant. One study noted that those who consume it regularly
had a significant reduction in oxidative stress. In addition, Parsley helps the body eliminate
water-retention, stimulates the menstrual process, and eases stomach discomfort due to, for
example, flatulence and colic pains.
Sage (Salvia officinalis), a delicious flavour addition to sauces and breads, is also a stomach-
soothing, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant herb. It contains the antioxidants
rosmarinic, caffeic, and labiatic acids, and salviatannin. Sage is effective in soothing mucous
membranes of the mouth, throat and tonsils, as well as being beneficial in the treatment of
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a fragrant evergreen herb, which, like most culinary herbs, aids digestion function and relieves upset stomach. It is loaded with antioxidants, including carnosol, carnosic acid, ursolic acid, and rosmarinic acid. Rosemary is a circulatory and nervous
system stimulant, helping with poor circulation and neuralgia. It is calming to the digestive system and relieves headaches.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a flavourful anti-microbial herb with antioxidant action, which is high in caffein and labiatic acid. Thyme contains volatile oil, which is strongly antiseptic. This makes it valuable in wound healing, as well as in the treatment of respiratory and digestive infections. Thyme helps bring up stuck mucous in coughs, and reduces spasming. Thyme also makes a wonderful children’s medicine for diarrhoea and bedwetting, as well as for sore throats. Straying from Simon and Garfunkel now…
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is frequently touted, for good reason, as a calming agent for
digestive upset, including gas, bloating, nausea, or motion sickness. A constituent it contains,
called gingerol, is anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Ginger is helpful in treating poor circulation
and cramps, and helps sooth sore throats. It also promotes beneficial sweating in fevers.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) has many wonderful functions (also makes food delicious!). It is
a powerful antioxidant known for its anti-inflammatory properties, for both acute and chronic
ailments. Turmeric is often used for body pains, and is assimilated into the body best when
combined with black pepper.
Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) is rich in flavonoids and other antioxidants. Hawthorn is most notably used as a heart medicine, specifically for cardiovascular disease. Hawthorn improves coronary circulation, and reduces the likelihood of angina attacks. If angina attacks do occur, it can also relieve related symptoms. Part of this action is due to its anti-oxidant rich nature, though it is important to note studies have shown that the constituents of the plant are not nearly as effective when isolated, as they are when the whole plant is used as nature intended.
I hope you enjoy making flavourful meals or sipping herbal formulas full of goodness, while
aiding your body in scavenging for free radicals!
Lauren Truscott Waddell, RHT, CHHC