Herbs pack big health wallop


Fresh herbs with the same

antioxidant activity

as ONE apple:

      1 tablespoon of oregano

      3 tablespoons of dill

      4.5 tablespoons of thyme

      7 tablespoons of sage

      8 tablespoons of parsley

WASHINGTON – Herb, those tasty little leaves that make almost any food a treat to eat, are now emerging as a quick and easy way to get a concentrated source of antioxidants without all the extra calories of whole foods.

Researchers with the USDA research center in Beltsville, Md., have discovered that herbs have higher antioxidant activity than fruits, vegetables and some spices, including garlic.

The findings appear in a recent issue of the “Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry,” a peer-reviewed journal of the American Chemical Society.

“Some herbs should be considered as regular vegetables,” said Shiow Y. Wang, Ph.D., the study’s lead researcher and a USDA biochemist. “People should use more herbs for flavoring instead of salt and artificial chemicals.”

Using various chemical tests, Wang studied and compared the antioxidant activity of 39 commonly used herbs – 27 culinary and 12 medicinal herbs – grown in the same location and conditions.

Healthy oregano. In what may be good news for pizza lovers and Italian food connoisseurs everywhere, the herbs with the highest antioxidant activity belonged to the oregano family. In general, oregano had 3 to 20 times higher antioxidant activity than the other herbs studied, said Wang.

On a per gram fresh weight basis, oregano and other herbs ranked even higher in antioxidant activity than fruits and vegetables, which are known to be high in antioxidants.

In comparison to the antioxidant activities of a few select fruits and vegetables, the potency of oregano ranks supreme.

Oregano has 42 times more antioxidant activity than apples, 30 times more than potatoes, 12 times more than oranges and 4 times more than blueberries.

Other herbs also appear to pack a significant antioxidant punch. Among the more familiar, ranked in order, are dill, garden thyme, rosemary and peppermint.

The most active phenol component in some of the herbs with the highest antioxidant activity, particularly oregano, was rosmarinic acid, a strong antioxidant, the researcher said.

Herbs and spices have been used for thousands of years to flavor foods and treat illness, but only recently have they become the focus of formal research into their health benefits.

Herbs and spices. The two differ mainly by source. Herbs typically come from the leaves of plants. Spices come from the bark, stem and seeds of plants.

Wang has also compared the antioxidant activity of herbs to a few select spices, including paprika, garlic, curry, chili, and black pepper. Herbs always came out on top, she said.

Herbs are typically consumed in a variety of ways. Some prefer to drink herb extracts, made by adding herbs to hot water to make herbal teas. Others use concentrated herbal oils available in some health food stories. Most people have used herbs as spices, adding a little dash or sprinkle of the dried or fresh leaves to favorite meat and vegetable dishes to add flavor.

In general, fresh herbs and spices are healthier and contain higher antioxidant levels compared to their processed counterparts. For example, the antioxidant activity of fresh garlic is 1.5 times higher than dry garlic powder, Wang said.


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