Wonders of Leafy Spices: Medicinal Properties Ensuring Human Health
Background: Leafy spices include coriander, fenugreek, curryleaf, bayleaf,
basil, mint, rosemary, marjoram, thyme, etc. As fresh and/or with value addition,
they not only impart diverse flavors, colors and tastes to foods, but also offer
a host of powerful phytonutrients which enhance health and well-being. Though
many researchers found wonderful medicinal properties of leafy spices contributing
towards human health, literature is almost scanty on a comprehensive review
attributing the spicy wonders. This review will highlight such spicy wonders,
in detail. Results: Coriander contains carbohydrate, fat, protein, vitamin
A and C including energy. It aids in digestion, reduces flatulence, improves
appetite, helps relieving spasms. Fenugreek leaves are enriched with Calcium,
Iron, vitamin C and K, energy and protein. Curry leaves, also rich in minerals
and vitamins, used as herbal tonic, prevents hair loss, aids in eye disorders
and prevents diabetes, skin problems. Bay leaf, containing polyphenols and antioxidants,
can prevent infections, diabetes and skin diseases. Mint is rich in vitamins
and minerals and having anti-inflammatory, antiseptic effects. The essential
oil of thyme consists of 20-54% antiseptic thymol, which is the main ingredient
of mouthwashes and medicated bandages. Marjoram is used to relief from indigestion,
asthma, stomach pain, headache, dizziness, colds, coughs and nervous disorders.
Rosemary, extremely high in iron, calcium and vitamin B6 is believed
to improve memory. Conclusion: It may be concluded that herbs and medicinal
plants are rich sources of beneficial compounds including antioxidants and functional
foods. Comprehensive research is necessary to process plant materials into medicine.
The culinary world would be lifeless without spices. Spices, like their
botanical leafy counterparts-herbs, impart diverse flavor, color and taste to
various foods around the world. They also offer a host of powerful phytonutrients
that can enhance human health and well-being. While culinary spices are having
been used for thousands of years for their numerous health benefits1,
extensive research in the last two decades has been able to explore and explain
the vistas of hidden magical wonders within them. In fact, they may prevent
chronic illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other
serious pulmonary, neurological and autoimmune conditions2.
Spices are popularly known for their flavor in the domestic and international
markets all over the world. With the growing awareness of ill effects of synthetic
chemicals, drugs and medicines, people are now switching towards traditional
system of medicines where spices are also an inseparable component. Among wide
ranges of spices known so far, leafy spices like coriander, basil, fenugreek,
curry leaf, bay leaf, rosemary, marjoram, thyme, etc are important for their
wide acceptance by the consumers around the world both in terms of imparting
taste, flavor and aroma to the food as well as taking care of the human health
since time immemorial.
The World Health Organization3 reported
that chronic under nutrition affects over 200 million people or 42% of the population
in Sub-Sahara Africa. The long-term malnutrition problem of the poor nations
cannot be solved by food aid or food trade with the affluent countries but rather
by the adequate utilization of indigenous plant foods4.
identified and documented the traditional leafy vegetables and spices of Ebonyi
State, Nigeria and assessed their nutritional values with a view of enhancing
their selection as components of cooked food. Results identified twenty-seven
traditional leafy vegetables and five spices from 23 plant families. The 33.3%
of the leafy vegetables were tree species, 30% were herbaceous plants and 23%
were climbers, while 13.3% were shrubs. The 60% of species were propagated by
seed, while 36.7% were propagated by vegetative means. Three of the vegetables
analyzed were good sources of micro-nutrients. Their calcium content ranged
between 54.06-90.10 mg 100 g-1, while zinc and lead which are antioxidants
were absent. The ash content of the three plants ranged from 8.10-6.30%, while
protein ranged from 5-10% of fresh weight or 13-30% for dry weight. Their fiber
(roughage) content was high and will promote digestion and prevent constipation
when consumed. In spite of several researches in this direction in different
areas of the world, information for a comprehensive knowledge base is still
very insufficient to grow general awareness and interest for the leafy spices.
With this in view the following study has been conceptualized envisaging the
numerous heath benefits as well as value addition of leafy spices.
Coriander: In the United States, leaves of the coriander (Coriandrum
sativum, Apiaceae) are known as cilantro. Coriander leaves
provides only 39 cal 100 g-1, but their phyto-nutrients profile7
is no less than any high calorie food source; be it nuts, pulses or cereals
or meat group. Green leaves basically contain protein 3.3%, fat 0.6%, calcium
0.14%, phosphorus 0.06%, iron 0.01%. Leaves are the rich source of vitamin A
and C. Research has shown that coriander leaves can also aid in digestion8.
Coriander leaves have long been used to treat anxiety.
Coriander herb contains no cholesterol but is rich in anti-oxidants and dietary
fiber which help reduce Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) while increasing the more
acceptable High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) levels. The leaves and seeds contain
many essential volatile oils such as borneol, linalool, cineole, cymene, terpineol,
dipentene, phellandrene, pinene and terpinolene. The leaves and stem tips are
also rich in numerous anti-oxidant polyphenolic flavonoids such as quercetin,
kaempferol, rhamnetin and epigenin. The herb is a good source of minerals like
potassium, calcium, manganese, iron and magnesium. Potassium is an important
component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure.
Iron is essential for red blood cell production. Manganese is used by the body
as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase. Coriander is
one of the richest herbal sources for vitamin K. Vitamin-K has potential role
in bone mass building by promoting osteotrophic activity in the bones. It also
has established role in the treatment of Alzheimers disease patients by limiting
neuronal damage in their brain. The coriander seeds oil have found application
in many traditional medicines as analgesic, aphrodisiac, anti-spasmodic, deodorant,
digestive, carminative, fungicidal, lipolytic (weight loss), stimulant and stomachic.
Basil: Basil (Ocimum sanctum, Lamiaceae) contains many different
and powerful flavonoids, which protect against cell damage and have strong antioxidant
as well as antibacterial properties9. Studies
have confirmed that basil contributes to heart health by improving circulation
and reducing heart disease. It also acts as an antibacterial agent to even the
more antibiotic-resistant types of bacteria, particularly those found in produce10.
Small-scale herb growers may also market value-added products such as pesto,
basil vinegar and fancy-packed dried basil for sale in specialty shops. Greenhouse
herb plants can also be sold as herb bedding plants for transplanting to gardens.
Curry leaves: An analysis of curry leaves (Murraya koenigi, Rutaceae)
shows them to consist of moisture 66.3%, protein 6.1%, fat (ether extract) 1.0%,
carbohydrates 16.0%, fiber 6.4% and mineral matter 4.2% 100 g-1.
Their mineral and vitamin contents are calcium, phosphorous, iron, nicotinic
acid vitamin C. Fresh leaves on steam distillation under pressure yield a volatile
oil. Besides the oil, the leaves contain a residual glucoside named as koenigin.
Curry leaves posses the qualities of herbal tonic. They strengthen the functions
of stomach and promote its action. They are also used as a mild laxative. The
leaves may be taken mixed with other mild tasting herbs. Curry leaves health
benefits also include relief from kidney pain, arresting the premature graying
of hair, treatment of minor superficial skin injuries and managing diabetes.
A liberal consumption of curry leaves is believed to be beneficial in nourishing
the roots of the hair thus preventing further hair loss. Some communities in
the Indian subcontinent steep fresh curry leaves in hot coconut oil and use
it as a medium for nourishing the hair roots. It is believed that by doing so,
premature graying of hair can be stopped. As a treatment for diarrhea and dysentery,
tender green curry leaves to work effectively when with honey. As an external
application curry leaves can be used as a poultice to treat skin eruptions and
minor skin infections. The fresh juice of curry leaves are also used as an eye
treatment for certain eye disorders, especially in arresting the development
of cataract. Tender curry leaves are valuable remedy for treating diarrhea,
dysentery and piles. They should be taken, mixed with honey. Eating ten fresh
fully grown curry leaves every morning for three months will help to prevent
diabetes due to heredity factors. It also cures diabetes due to obesity, as
the leaves have weight reducing properties. As the weight drops, the diabetic
patients stop passing sugar in urine. Curry leaves can be used with gratifying
results to treat burns, bruises and skin eruptions. They should be applied as
a poultice over the affected areas. Fresh juice of curry leaves suffused in
the eyes makes then look bright. It also prevents the early development of cataract.
The value added product of curry leaves are volatile oil and dehydrated curry
Fenugreek: Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum L.) is an erect
annual herb belongs to the family Leguminosae. Fenugreek leaves are enriched
with minerals like potassium, calcium and iron. One hundred grams of fenugreek
leaves comprise only 49 calories. The leaves have good dietary fiber and are
enriched with vitamin C. The vitamin K from fenugreek leaves is comparable to
spinach. Fenugreek leaves are bitter in taste. People have also recognized the
leaves of the plant as a powerful herb. Fenugreek has slender stems and the
tripartite, serrated leaves appear in light green color. The leaves are refrigerant
and aperients are given internally for vitiated conditions of pitta. Fenugreek
leaves add flavor and zest to cooking and can be added to any kind of cooking
that involves dal, vegetable, rice, or atta (chapathi flour). Anemic patients
can consume fenugreek leaves regularly as they are a rich source of iron. Fenugreek
leaves paste applied on palms and soles alleviates burning sensation. A cup
of fenugreek leaves decoction added to honey and a teaspoon of ginger powder
clears the phlegm and cures cough. Fenugreek leaves paste applied on swellings,
sprains and burns heals them effectively. Fenugreek leaves consumed regularly
tones your respiratory system, nervous system, reproductive system and neuromuscular
system. Fenugreek leaf powder significantly increases the antioxidant system
Fresh fenugreek leaves paste and coconut milk applied over the scalp is believed
to prevent hair-loss, promote hair growth, preserve its natural color, delay
graying of hair and make it silky soft. A pimple and blackhead prone skin when
treated with the paste of fenugreek leaves and turmeric, improves the skin tone.
Fenugreek leaves also has anti ageing properties. Make a paste of fenugreek
leaves and add boiled milk to it. Applying this to your face delays the appearance
of fine lines and face wrinkles. It not only improves the complexion but also
makes one look years younger. Fenugreek leaves paste when applied on acne affected
area every night and washed away the following morning with warm water prevents
fresh breakouts of acne. The value added products are fixed oil, volatile oil
and oleoresin. The fixed oil consists of fatty acids like linoleic, oleic and
linolenic acid which has marked drying properties.
Bay leaf: Bay leaf, with its scientific name of (Laurus nobilis,
Lamiaceae) is a popular leafy spice used in seasoning food. Commonly found in
many kitchens, bay leaves are used in stews, soups and other savory dishes.
According to the USDAs Nutritional Database, a one pinch of crumbled bay leaves
weighs just 0.6 g. Within that amount, bay leaves have 0.45 g carbohydrates,
0.05 g proteins and 0.2 g dietary fiber. The remaining portion is made of other
nutrients and water.
Bay leaf has medicinal property that helps in curing outside infections and
skin diseases. They have strong and distinctive fragrance repelling unwanted
bugs away from the room. Application of bay leaf paste is the best medicine
for curing minor cuts and insect bite. In case of muscle soreness, bay leaf
oil relives from soreness plus enhances the blood circulation too. It also has
antibacterial and antifungal properties that can cure dandruff effectively.
A regular intake of bay leaf in diet cures cold and urinary infections. It has
been believed that bay leaf offers health benefits to our body. Indian researchers
from Annamalai University11 estimated the
total polyphenolic content of Indian bay leaf and it was 6.7 mg gallic acid
equivalent 100 g-1. Bay leaf extract displayed scavenging activity
against superoxide and hydroxyl radicals in a concentration-dependent manner.
Spanish researchers determined the active aroma of bay leaf to be eugenol, elemicin,
spathulenol and beta-eudesmol12. Researchers
from Kyoto Pharmaceutical University, Japan, found the methanolic extract from
the leaves of Laurus nobilis (bay leaf, laurel) could inhibit nitric
oxide production in lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-activated mouse peritoneal macrophages.
Seven sesquiterpene lactones (costunolide, dehydrocostus lactone, eremanthine,
zaluzanin C, magnolialide, santamarine and spirafolide) potently inhibited LPS-induced
NO13. In addition to its high content of
antioxidants, it may have potential health benefits on diabetic people. Researchers
from Agricultural Research Service14 found
that bay leaf has insulin-like biological activities.
Mint: Mint (Mentha arvensis, Lamiaceae) is closely related to
other aromatic herbs such as basil, rosemary and sage. It is rich in vitamins
A and C and has a small amount of minerals such as manganese and copper as well.
Mint has an anti-inflammatory, antiseptic effect on the body. It is a powerful
antioxidant and helps against the formation of cancerous cells. Additionally,
it also helps improve the functioning of our immune system. Mint can help relieve
symptoms of heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome by relaxing the muscles in
and around the intestine. It can be consumed in the form of capsules or drops.
Its digestive properties are beneficial for the liver and it helps dissolve
gravel in the kidneys and the bladder. When chewed on a daily basis it works
as effective antiseptic toothpaste and the chlorophyll in the leaves combined
with its antiseptic properties kills odor causing bacteria. The nutrients present
in it prevent tooth decay, premature falling of the teeth and pyorrhea. A decoction
of mint and salt when gargled is known to cure hoarseness that comes from shouting
or singing in varying pitches. Mint that is brewed in tea or mixed in milk and
warmed is sometimes used to relieve abdominal cramps and pains. Mint is a spice
used extensively in cooking and the plant has delicate, dark green leaves which
are fragrant and have underground modified stems. The leaves are rich in a variety
of vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin C, D, E, iron, phosphorous, calcium
and trace amounts of vitamin B complex. Mint is popularly known as a carminative
that is used to provide relief from gastric discomforts, while also working
as an antispasmodic, a stimulant and a stomachic that aids in providing a better
appetite. Mint oil is extracted from the leaves and flowering tops of this plant.
Menthol, a key component of mint oil, has been used to relieve nasal congestion
and ease breathing during cold and coughs. Mint oil is believed to help against
headaches and body aches. Gargling with mint oil and warm water is effective
against toothache and gum problems. Mint leaves are diuretic, thus increasing
the rate of excretion from your body and cleansing your body. Mint leaves are
also used as mouth fresheners to cure bad breath. Mint creams have bee proven
to have a relaxing and soothing effect on the body. Applying fresh mint juice
can help cure acne, pimples and even insect stings and eczema. Mint oil is often
applied on the body during outdoor activities to repel insects due to the strong
and pungent smell of this herb. An excellent appetizer, the juice extracted
from freshly plucked mint leaves combined with a teaspoon of honey and fresh
lime juice is known to aid in digestion and treat colic, morning sickness, summer
diarrhoea, biliousness, flatulence and thread worms. The anti-pruritic or anti-itch
properties of mint helps cure the irritation and rash caused by insect bites
and stings, when mixed with a little camphor. Since mint is a strong diuretic,
it helps to eliminate toxins from the body while also relieving congestion especially
related to common cold or sinus problems. It controls the growth of harmful
bacteria and fungus in the body and helps cure asthma and other allergic conditions
to some extent. For older children suffering from abdominal pain, a quarter
teaspoon of seeds can be given to be chewed and then swallowed with water. The
juice extracted from mint leaves can be applied onto the face and left overnight
to cure pimples and keep the skin sufficiently moist. Eczema, contact dermatitis
and scabies are conditions which can be cured by the application of mint juice.
It is nevertheless important to remember that mint is not a remedy for any advanced
case of illness and will require a doctors consultation. It can however
be consumed as a supplemental treatment to speed recovery15.
Rosemary: Rosemary ( Rosmarinus officinalis L., Labiatae), with
distinct flavor and scent, typically grows by the sea. Hence the name has been
derived from the Latin rosmarinus, meaning dew
of the sea.
The fragrant leaves of this plant look like tiny evergreen needles.
Rosemary leaf contains important phenolic components such as rosmarinic, chlorogenic
and caffeic acids and a host of health-promoting flavonoids that possess strong
antioxidant properties. The terpenoids in rosemary, such as rosmarinic acid,
rosmanol, carnosol and ursolic acid provide effective anti-inflammatory benefits,
while ursolic acid conveys anti-tumor properties. The volatile oil of rosemary
has some antiseptic properties. It contains a high percentage of 1, 8-cineole
(providing the fresh eucalyptus-like fragrance) and other major terpenoid components
including-pinene, -terpineol and camphor.
The fresh or dried leaves of rosemary are used for a variety of medicinal benefits.
In traditional European medicine, rosemary has been used internally as a tonic,
stimulant and as a carminative to treat flatulence. It is also used to treat
dyspepsia, mild gastrointestinal upsets, colds, headaches and nervous tension.
In India and China, rosemary leaves are used to treat headaches. Rosemary is
extremely high in iron, calcium and vitamin B6. It also contains
a large number of polyphenolic compounds9 that
can inhibit oxidation and bacterial growth. In cancer prevention studies, rosemary
has been found to protect the blood against radiation exposure16.
It may even help with memory loss; a recent study found that when the scent
of rosemary was pumped into workplace cubicles, people exhibited improved memory17,18.
Rosemary oil is known to have anti microbial property. The oil is the only
value added product of rosemary. Rosemary oil can be distilled from the leaves
of the plant, mixed with a vegetable oil and used for massage. Applied externally
this oil is used for relief from muscular and arthritic pain. In Europe, rosemary
oil is used to treat rheumatic conditions, bruises and circulatory problems.
When applied externally the oil appears to stimulate an increased blood supply.
In addition, rosemary oil or some freshly cut sprigs can be added to bath water
to soothe aching muscles and joints. These leaves are most frequently used as
kitchen spices, but many believe that brewing them into a tea can have a beneficial
effect on the body and brain. Rosemary leaf tea, with its pine-like flavor,
is said to bear a number of useful nutrients, including vitamin A, beta carotene
Marjoram: Marjoram (Majorana hortensis Monech, Lamiaceae) is
an aromatic, perennial herb which contains water, protein, volatile oil, minerals
like K, Ca, Na, P, Fe, Si, Mg, Mn etc. It is very much useful as an external
application for sprains, bruises, stiff and paralytic limb, tooth ache and in
cases of acute diarrhea. Sweet marjoram is one of very popular herb especially
in Mediterranean countries. Marjoram is considered to be a carminative, expectorant
and tonic. It is reported to be useful in treating asthma, hysteria and paralysis.
The oil obtained from the leaves has antimicrobial property.
The herb contains many notable phyto-nutrients, minerals and vitamins that
are essential for optimum health and wellness. The herb parts contain certain
chemical constituents like eugenol sabinene, α-terpinene, cymene, terpinolene,
linalool, cis-sabinene hydrate, linalyl acetate, terpinen-4-ol and terpineol.
These compounds are known to have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.
Fresh herb has high levels of vitamin C (ascorbic acid); provide 51.4 μg
or 86% of RDA per 100 g. Vitamin C is one of the powerful natural anti-oxidant
help remove harmful free radicals from the body. Ascorbic acid also has immune
booster, wound healing and anti-viral effects. Marjoram herb contains exceptionally
high levels of beta-carotene, vitamin A, cryptoxanthin, lutein and zea-xanthin.
Carotenes, xanthins and lutein are powerful flavonoid anti-oxidants. Together,
these compounds help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free
radicals and Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) that play a role in aging and various
disease process. Vitamin A is known to have antioxidant properties and is essential
for vision. It is also required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and
skin. Consumption of natural foods rich in vitamin A and carotenes are known
to help body protect from lung and oral cavity cancers. Zeaxanthin, an important
dietary carotenoid, selectively absorbed into the retinal macula lutea in the
eyes where it is thought to provide antioxidant and protective light-filtering
functions. It has proven beneficial action against Age Related Macular Disease
(ARMD) especially in the elderly. Sweet marjoram is one of the richest herbal
sources for vitamin K; provides about 518% of recommended daily intake. Vitamin-K
has potential role in bone mass building by promoting osteotrophic activity
in the bones. It also has established role in the treatment of Alzheimers disease
by limiting neuronal damage in the brain. Marjoram herb has good amount of minerals
like iron, calcium, potassium, manganese, copper, zinc and magnesium. Potassium
is an important component of cell and body fluids which helps control heart
rate and blood pressure. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the
antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase. Its leaves are an excellent source
of iron, contains 82.71 mg 100 g-1 (about 1034% of RDA). Iron is
an important co-factor for cytochrome oxidase enzyme in the cellular metabolism.
In addition, being a component of hemoglobin inside the red blood cells, it
determines the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. The essential oil is the
main value added product. Marjoram oil is extracted from the fresh and dried
leaves and flowering tops of the plant by steam distillation and yields 0.5-3%.
The main chemical constituents are sabinene, α-terpinene, γ-terpinene,
p-cymene, terpinolene, linalool, cis-sabinene hydrate, linalyl acetate, terpinen-4-ol
Thyme: The herb Thymus vulgare Linn, Labiatae is pungent in taste
and contains moisture, protein, fat, crude fibre, Ca, K, Na, Fe, P, vitamin
A, B1, B2 and vitamin C etc. The main constituent of the
oil extracted from thyme is thymol. The herb is also a rich source of many important
vitamins such as B-complex vitamins, beta carotene, vitamin A, K, E, C and folic
acid. Thyme provides 0.35 mg of vitamin B-6 or pyridoxine; furnishing about
27% of daily recommended intake. Pyridoxine keeps up GABA (beneficial neurotransmitter
in the brain) levels in the brain, which has stress buster function. Vitamin
C helps body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful,
pro-inflammatory free radicals. Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin and antioxidant
that is required maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin and is also essential
for vision. Consumption of natural foods rich in flavonoids like vitamin A and
beta-carotene helps protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.
Thymus oil has antiseptic, antispasmodic and carminative properties. It is
used in mouth washes and gargles. It is also used in veterinary medicine. The
leaves are said to possess laxative, stomachic and tonic properties. It has
an insect repellent property. The herb is good for kidneys and eye and is blood
purifiers. Thyme contains many active principles that are found to have disease
preventing and health promoting properties. Thyme herb contains thymol, one
of the important essential oils, which scientifically have been found to have
antiseptic, anti-fungal characteristics. The other volatile oils in thyme include
carvacol, borneol and geraniol. Thyme contains many flavonoids, phenolic antioxidants
like zeaxanthin, lutein, pigenin, naringenin, luteolin and thymonin. Fresh thyme
herb has one of the highest antioxidant levels among herbs, a total ORAC (Oxygen
Radical Absorbance Capacity) value of 27426 μmol
TE 100 g-1.
Thyme is packed with minerals and vitamins that are essential for optimum health.
Its leaves are one of the richest sources of potassium, iron, calcium, manganese,
magnesium and selenium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body
fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is used
by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
Iron is required for red blood cell formation. Volatile oil, oleoresin and thymol
are the value added products of thyme herb. Thymol (also known as 2-isopropyl-5-methylphenol,
IPMP) is a natural monoterpene phenol derivative of cymene, C10H14O,
isomeric with carvacrol, found in oil of thyme and extracted from Thymus
vulgaris as a white crystalline substance of pleasant aromatic odor andstrong
The herbs and medicinal plants are rich sources of beneficial compounds
including antioxidants and components that can be used in functional foods.
Comprehensive research is necessary to process plant materials into medicine
that are safe for human use. There is an increasing trend to use natural drugs
for health issues. There are many Institutes/Universities in India carrying
out research on herbal drugs and medicinal plants. Using reverse pharmacological
approach, several Institutes carry out basic and clinical research on the potential
health benefits of herbal drugs. Newer approaches utilizing collaborative research
and modern technology in combination with established traditional health principles
will yield rich dividends in the near future towards improving health.
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