Gardening season is right around the corner. If you’ve always thought of growing some of your own food and medicine but have never gotten around to it, take the plunge this year! Tending your own garden is a wonderfully rewarding and centering activity—and there’s nothing quite like fresh fruits, veggies, and herbs plucked straight from your backyard.
Starting an herb garden is particularly easy: lots of common culinary herbs are hardy in most growing zones throughout the United States, don’t require a lot of upkeep, and are perennials. You can even grow them in a windowsill pot if you don’t have outdoor space. For a surprisingly small amount of work, you can enjoy the delicious flavors and medicinal benefits of herbs all year long (pick them fresh in the warm months, and dry some for use during winter).
The best part is that many of the culinary herbs we know and love are also powerful natural medicines—they aid detoxification, balance endocrine function (and thus combat the disastrous effects of endocrine-disrupting industrial chemicals), and even fight cancer.
Let’s look at some of the top herbs for healing cancer and balancing overall health (with a focus on those which you can easily grow in your own garden).
Oregano. We’ve written before about why oregano is one of the most underestimated herbs. It’s positively packed with vitamins, and has been shown to be anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immune-boosting, antibiotic, antifungal, antiviral, anti-parasitic, and anti-mutagenic (i.e. cancer-preventing).
Studies have demonstrated that oregano extracts induce apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells, and another fascinating study showed that adding oregano to oxidative-stress-inducing and potentially carcinogenic foods (like hamburger meat) can protect the body from oxidative stress and its many ill effects.
Rosemary. Besides its rich aroma and flavor profile, rosemary also boasts an abundance of beneficial phytonutrients like caffeic acid, carnosic acid, and rosmarinic acid. These powerfully antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds protect your body’s cells against oxidative stress and damage, and thus help prevent the cell mutations that lead to cancer development and proliferation.
Thyme. In a past article, we talked about how thyme can help modulate serotonin levels, balance mood, optimize energy metabolism, and regulate sleep cycles, thanks to its high levels of lithium (a mineral that functions as a co-factor for the production of tryptophan in the brain).
Thyme also contains rosmarinic acid (one of the compounds that makes rosemary such a potent cancer fighter), as well as thymol, ursolic acid, and terpenoids, all of which have been shown to exhibit anti-cancer properties.
Mint is not only delicious, beautiful, and incredibly easy to grow in your garden, but also has lots of tricks up its sleeve when it comes to preventing and fighting cancer. For starters, it’s no coincidence that most toothpastes are mint-flavored, because mint inhibits oral bacterial growth, which is linked with increased cancer risk.
Furthermore, for those who are already battling cancer, multiple species of mint can help block the growth and spread of tumors, and are also exemplary at protecting against the negative effects of radiation.
Sage. In another article, we covered how sage (and the air ions it generates when burned) can clear airborne bacteria, and can even improve mood and performance. But smudging is far from sage’s only beneficial application.
When used internally in the form of a cooking ingredient, tea infusion, or extract, sage is also a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory (it contains many of the same beneficial compounds discussed above). It also contains high levels of phytoestrogens (estrogen-mimicking plant compounds that bind to some of the body’s estrogen receptors). Many researchers believe that these compounds can help protect against the development and spread of cancer.
Parsley is an anti-cancer powerhouse hiding in plain sight. The phytonutrients in parsley have been shown to inhibit cell division in cancerous tumors, induce cell death in cancer cells (without harming the body’s healthy cells), and even change the expression of genes that are associated with cancer growth.
One study even identified apigenin (an oil found in parsley) as a critically important flavone for killing breast cancer and pancreatic cancer cells (or preventing the formation of cancerous cells in the first place).
A few best practices for your medicinal garden
This probably goes without saying, but never use pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, or other chemical gardening products when growing your own herbs. Regardless of what the packaging and propaganda says, you cannot assume that any of these products are safe (either for you or your plants). Stick with chemical-free, organic gardening, and you can’t go wrong.
When it comes to harvesting and using your herbs, the sky’s the limit. You’re probably already familiar with many of the culinary applications of the herbs discussed above (i.e. flavoring and garnish for soups, curries, stir fry dishes, guacamole and other dips, pasta, pizza, salad dressings and more).
Don’t forget, though, that you can also add herbs to juices and smoothies, or make herbal teas. There’s nothing like drinking iced mint tea in your garden on a hot summer day!