The healthy herbs that can ease menopause symptoms, reduce hangovers and improve your bladder health

Could healthy herbs be a straightforward way for you to boost your immune system?

different types of herbs pegged to a line
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We all know that a scattering of healthy herbs, such as coriander, sage, or rosemary, on your favorite dishes can have a big impact when it comes to flavor. But that’s not all. They also offer a range of benefits for your body and mind. 

The wide use of healthy herbs in countries such as France, Spain, Greece, and Italy, is thought to be one reason the Mediterranean diet is considered the healthiest in the world. If you have concerns about nutrient deficiency, eating a variety of spices and herbs can contribute towards a more balanced diet overall. We asked nutrition and herbal experts which herbs can boost our overall health, and what's the best way to eat, drink and use them.

Prefer meals with less spice or flavor? Then you could try a supplement instead. “Many herbs used for flavoring in the kitchen also have medicinal benefits,” says Dr Sarah Brewer, a health journalist, and expert on sensible supplementation. “However, sometimes it’s better to take them in supplement form as this helps to provide a consistent dose.” You can also reap the benefits of herbs by breathing in their scents in essential oil form—take a look at our guide to the best essential oils for a more detailed guide. 

7 healthy herbs to boost your mind and body

Healthy herbs can be used to treat a range of everyday ailments—and they also may help to prevent more serious health conditions. So, whether you’re struck down with a virus, buried under a mountain of stress, or experiencing joint pain or lower back pain, it’s time to upgrade your herb garden, spice rack, or supplement drawer with these powerful allies and say hello to better health.

1. Sage

A bunch of fresh sage and leave in pot of oil

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What it is: 

“Sage is a very useful herb containing essential oils, polyphenols, and various bitter compounds,” says Dr Chris Etheridge, medical herbalist, and chair of the British Herbal Medicine Association.

Traditionally prized for its antispasmodic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and calming properties, as well as its hormone-balancing effects, sage is called the Queen of Herbs. 

What it’s good for: 

Medical herbalists swear by sage for menopausal symptoms. “Sage is a very feminine herb and is used specifically for hot flushes during menopause,” says medical herbalist Hannah Charman. “The saying goes that where sage grows well in a garden, the woman rules the roost!” In fact, a small Swiss study affiliated with A. Vogel Bioforce AG found that a daily dose of fresh sage leaves helped ease the severity and frequency of hot flushes by 50% within four weeks.

“Sage is also linked to wisdom, and I often give it to my female patients who are caught in a dilemma and need to access the wisest part of themselves in order to move forward,” says Charman. 

US studies at Oregon Health and Science University have even found it could be useful in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease. “It’s especially good at aiding memory and concentration,” adds Dr Etheridge.

How to drink it: 

“Sage tea can be made from chopping 3-4 fresh leaves, steeping them in boiling water for five minutes, and straining,” says Charman. “Allow the tea to cool before drinking.”

2. Rosemary

sprigs of rosemary in test tube next to medicine bottles

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What is it: 

Rosemary belongs to the same plant family as sage and also contains essential oils, bitter compounds and polyphenols.

“It loves to grow in warm climates and full sun, which really helps it to create the essential oils that give it its characteristic smell,” says Charman. “In folklore, it was always associated with remembrance and, in some areas, a sprig was placed on top of a coffin at funerals.”

What it’s good for:

Rich in iron, calcium, and vitamin B6, this fragrant herb isn’t just good for our taste buds. In fact, according to Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, the aroma can improve concentration, performance, speed, accuracy, and even mood. Plus, the Anticancer Effects of Rosemary study, carried out in Canada, found it could be beneficial to cancer patients. 

“As well as jazzing up roast potatoes, rosemary is wonderfully uplifting,” says Charman. “We now know that rosemary improves circulation to the head, which aids memory, concentration, and even mathematical ability.” 

And that’s not all. “It’s used to enhance liver activity, treat bacterial infections, prevent cardiovascular disease, treat headaches, and can be used on the skin for myalgia, sciatica, wound healing, and hair loss. It’s even worth considering using rosemary if you’re looking for home remedies for cold sores,” says Dr Etheridge. “The latest research by Pharmacognosy Research Laboratories & Herbal Analysis Services UK shows that it may be useful against Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ADHD and slowing the aging process.” 

Love it with lamb? Due to rosemary being very high in antioxidants, Food Safety Consortium studies at the University of Arkansas suggest that it may prevent carcinogenic compounds (which are potentially cancer-causing) in meat that has been cooked on high heat.

How to eat it: 

Add rosemary to everyday meals—from Greek yogurt and honey for breakfast to roast lamb. Plus, you can add it to a bubble bath as it has a stimulating and uplifting effect (so just don’t use it before bed). Fresh works best, but add dried to a tea strainer and let it infuse.

“Dried rosemary can be bunched into smudge sticks to burn around your home at New Year,” says Charman. “Simply hang some branches upside-down for a few days to dry slightly, bind them with cotton string and burn one end."

3. Thyme

Glass jar with fresh thyme and white label tied with string

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What it is: 

This ancient evergreen is from the Mediterranean, where it’s used when roasting meat, making stuffing and in many other dishes. Thymus x citriodorus ‘Fragrantissimus’ has a spicy orange scent when bruised and is great for chicken dishes.

“Thyme also belongs to the sage family and therefore also contains essential oils, bitter compounds and polyphenols (including the potent antibacterial thymol),” says Dr Etheridge.

What it’s good for: 

Perfect to add flavor, thyme is packed with vitamins C and A, making it great to boost your immunity—which is why we recommend it in immunity supplements if you want to fight a cold or flu virus.

“Thyme has expectorant, muscle relaxant and antimicrobial activities, and is therefore used to treat colds, coughs, catarrh, sore throats, asthma, bloating and indigestion, diarrhoea and stomach irritation,” says Dr Etheridge. “It can be used as a gargle for tonsillitis, sore throats, gum disease, bad breath and halitosis, and on the skin for fungal infections.”

How to eat it: 

Add a pinch to cheese scones, or mix with garlic, olive oil and lemon to flavor pork chops. Use fresh or dried in soups, sauces and casseroles. Thyme goes well with oregano, marjoram and rosemary.

“Plus, it can be taken as a tea or tincture,” says Dr Etheridge.

4. Parsley

a bunch of fresh parsley on a circular wooden board

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What it is: 

One of the super herbs! Hamburg parsley has a celeriac-flavored root, as well as strong leaves. An antioxidant, it clears toxins and has a high vitamin and mineral content, so eat regularly. Plus, parsley butter will add a superb zing to simple boiled potatoes.

What it’s good for: 

Not just a garnish. “Parsley seeds contain an essential oil that is antimicrobial, diuretic, a muscle relaxant, digestive and anti-rheumatic,” says Dr Etheridge. 

Parsley may be recommended for urinary tract infections. Plus, it’s said to help break down kidney stones and may be used during labor to encourage contractions. “It can be used for bladder disorders, fluid retention, colic, menopausal and perimenopausal symptoms,” says Dr Etheridge. 

Scientists in Russia found apigenin, a flavonoid in parsley may help reduce tumor size in breast cancer patients, in their study on Apigenin Inhibits Growth of Breast Cancer Cells.

How to use it:

Chewed raw after strong foods such as garlic, parsley is useful in removing breath odors.

“The leaves have some effect, but weaker, and can be used as a tea or added (in large amounts) to food,” says Dr Etheridge. “However, large amounts should not be taken by those with kidney disease.”

5. Oregano

sprigs of oregano on white background

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What it is: 

Closely related to marjoram, Origanum vulgare has strong-tasting leaves and is a key ingredient of bouquet garni and herbes de Provence. Perfect sprinkled on pizzas and roast vegetables or used to marinate halloumi with olive oil and vinegar. “It contains an essential oil, bitter compounds, and polyphenols,” says Dr Etheridge.

What it’s good for: 

“It’s a potent antimicrobial, digestive tonic, expectorant, and muscle relaxant that can be used to aid digestion, coughs and colds, and tension headaches,” says Dr Etheridge. “Marjoram oil is available as a capsule to treat gut infections and other gut health and anxiety imbalances.” 

How to use it: 

“Topically, it can be used to treat skin wounds and used as a gargle for sore throats,” says Dr Etheridge. “The leaf can be drunk as tea.”

6. Coriander

fresh coriander on a white chopping board

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What it is: 

The leaves and roots taste sharp, aromatic and slightly astringent—a sort of citrusy herbaceous flavour, which some people find a little soapy. Every part of coriander—Coriandrum sativum—is edible, and often used in soups, beans and curries.

What it’s good for: 

A study entitled ‘Inhibitory Activity of Asian Spices on Heterocyclic Amines Formation in Cooked Beef Patties’ found that coriander may help prevent heterocyclic amines (HCA) from forming in meat during cooking. High consumption of foods containing HCAs is associated with a higher risk of cancer. 

It’s good for skin too—a study in the Journal of Medicinal Food by Kyung Hee University found it helped prevent skin photo-aging..

How to eat it: 

It can spice up any meal but works well in Thai green curry. Combine with lime and chilli to flavour grilled fish. Sprinkle on curries and soups and use to flavour prawn noodle dishes.

7. Basil

Fresh basil in planter

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What it is: 

Used in traditional Tamil and Ayurvedic medicine, it’s a herb popular in Indian culture. Holy basil is part of the family of adaptogen herbs, which means it can help your body adapt to stress and promotes mental balance. 

Italian essential basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a tender annual. The variety ‘Sweet Genovese’ has the classic licorice flavor, but there are others with different flavors, such as cinnamon, and ‘Mrs Burns’ lemon basil, which has a citrus tang.

What it’s good for: 

According to a study titled Protective Effects of (E)-β-Caryophyllene (BCP) in Chronic Inflammation by Italian researchers, basil can be useful in treating arthritis and inflammatory bowel diseases. Tulsi, known as ‘holy basil’, can also support the immune system and improve the body’s performance. 

“It’s the perfect antidote for the pressures of modern life,” says Pukka Herbs’ Sebastian Pole. “As well as helping to relieve anxiety and reduce stress, it supports cognitive function and enhances memory and concentration.”

How to eat it: 

Chop and add to cream cheese for a tasty bagel topping. Perfect with tomatoes, pasta, and risotto. Drink it in tea form.

woman&home thanks Dr Sarah Brewer, working with Healthspan, Dr Chris Etheridge, chair of the British Herbal Medicine Association, medical herbalist Hannah Charman, and Sebastian Pole from Pukka Herbs, for their time and expertise.

Faye M Smith

Faye M Smith is an award-winning journalist with over 15 years experience in the magazine industry. Her continued work in the area of natural health won her the coveted title of the Health Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA) Journalist of the Year Award 2021. Currently Health Editor across several brands including woman&home, Woman and Woman’s Own, Faye specialises in writing about mental health, the menopause, and sex and relationships.