Common herbs parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme are packed with health benefits.
“Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme ...” There’s a ring of truth in that classic Simon and Garfunkel song, borrowed from a centuries-old English ballad. Every one of the herbs on that list is a storehouse of wellness.
Our ancestors from Eurasia and the Americas knew that not only are herbs delicious, but they can also be used to promote and enhance good health. Fortunately you don’t have to look far to find herbs you can use. They’re in your pantry, your fridge, and the aisles of just about any grocery store in North America. They may not be marketed as pathways to better health, but for thousands of years, that’s exactly how they’ve been seen.
We’ve been conditioned to think of parsley as a filler herb, something you add a sprig of when you want a splash of color and don’t care much about the flavor. But in the cuisine of other cultures, like, for example, the Eastern Mediterranean, parsley’s intense vegetal flavor is front and center—and with good reason. Parsley is packed with the detoxifying and antioxidant properties of vitamin C, flavonoids and carotenoids, the bone-building benefits of vitamin K, and even antibacterial effects.
Use it: Bring all that goodness to your table with a traditional tabbouleh, a parsley-rich salad from the Levant, graced with whole grains and lycopene-rich tomatoes.
Or for a quick, surprisingly sophisticated shot of parsley’s herbal goodness, try this parsley lemonade.
Sage tends to be relegated mostly to holiday use (hello, stuffing), but this silver-leafed wonder deserves to be in your regular rotation all year round. Traditionally, sage teas were used in Asia to calm the digestive tract and refresh circulation; recent studies suggest that it may also help to regulate blood sugar levels, boost heart health, reduce unwanted symptoms of menopause, and support brain health as we age.
Use it: Italians know a multitude of culinary uses for sage, such as this healthy and delicious pairing of sage with zucchini. For a shortcut to sage-based wellness, try a simple and aromatic sage tea.
Listen up, guys—sage may help symptoms of menopause, but did you know there’s an herb to help with androgenetic alopecia, otherwise known as male pattern baldness? Rosemary’s health uses are diverse, but one of the most unique is its property of stimulating hair growth. Although more research is needed, recent studies have shown effects similar to minoxidil when rosemary oil was rubbed into the scalp. For all that, rosemary’s ancient mythic associations bind it to the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, who was said to be wrapped in rosemary when she emerged from the sea. Rosemary is also a powerful aromatic, increasing alertness and promoting memory—a use known to our ancestors and now being confirmed by science.
Use it: Fresh rosemary’s delicious, but pungent flavor means that a little goes a long way. Pair it traditionally with lamb, potatoes, flatbreads, but my new favorite is this easy rosemary-parmesan popcorn.
Thyme is sometimes left out of contemporary lists of healthy herbs, but this delicate plant that grows wild on the sunny hillsides of Europe and the Mediterranean has many health benefits. In classical times, the scent of thyme was believed to fortify courage and impart mental and physical energy. In its essential oil form, thyme contains thymol, a natural antibiotic and antioxidant that can help regulate bacterial overgrowth, clean up free radicals, and reduce inflammation. Thyme teas have also been used for centuries to promote respiratory health and encourage good lung function.
Use it: Thyme and mild-flavored poultry are a match made in taste heaven; try these garlic-thyme roasted chicken thighs. If vegetables are more appealing, grab a bunch of earthy-sweet carrots instead and make these lovely thyme-roasted carrots.
Want more herbs? Discover three ways to use the healing power of comfrey.