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“Food is Medicine”

We have all heard this saying before, but do we really understand what this means?

Therapeutic dietary practices continue to prove their worth. Researchers now refer to foods with therapeutic applications as “functional foods”—they offer an easy and powerful way to take control of our health, and some of them have been right under our noses all along.

For example, researchers have found that parsley is much more than just a flavoring or garnish—this humble herb can offer powerful protection against some of the most common serious diseases, including cancer.

Your herb garden and spice drawer are medicine cabinets

In past articles, we’ve discussed the healing properties of varied herbs and spices. It turns out that turmeric is one of the most effective anti-inflammatories ever discovered, that ginger can fight cancer as effectively (or more so) than chemotherapy, that cilantro can chelate heavy metals from the body, and that oregano is a powerful natural antibiotic.

Research has proliferated around the use of common herbs and spices to prevent or treat cancer. Many of the most common herbs in backyard gardens are potent and sophisticated cancer fighters: oregano, rosemary, thyme, mint, sage, and last but certainly not least…parsley.

Parsley isn’t normally regarded as a health powerhouse—it’s usually used as a disposable garnish, or at most as a secondary flavoring spice. This is a far cry from ancient times, when it was valued as a sacred adornment for tombs, as well as a powerful and versatile medicine.

Modern research has now shown us that parsley deserves every bit of high regard. In order to understand how this underestimated herb can be useful for preventing or treating cancer, we’ll look at a few of its foundational health-supporting properties.

Nutrient density. We’ve written before about the great importance of a nutrient-dense diet, especially in this time of junk foods and depleted soils. Parsley checks plenty of boxes in this category, offering three times more vitamin C than oranges, as well as vitamin A, vitamin K, folate, and a variety of essential minerals. Providing your body with clean, nutrient-dense foods like parsley is always the first foundational step of preventing cancer and other health conditions.

Antioxidant activity. If there’s any principle of healthy eating that’s as critical as nutrient density, it’s oxidative stress prevention. Oxidative stress is one of the main culprits behind the development of nearly every major disease, including cancer. It’s a normal part of biological functioning, but is dramatically exacerbated by inflammatory foods, environmental toxins, unhealthy lifestyle choices (like smoking and drinking), and stress.

While the body does produce its own antioxidants endogenously (such as glutathione and melatonin), managing oxidative stress also requires an antioxidant-rich diet. Studies demonstrate that the flavonoids in parsley effectively increase the antioxidant and chelating capacities of the blood.[1]

Direct anti-cancer properties. Parley’s benefits aren’t limited to preventing cancer before it develops; research also demonstrates that it contains powerful compounds that fight cancer directly. Phenolic compounds such as apigenin, apiin, myristicin, and apiol have been shown to suppress various cancers by “triggering cell apoptosis and autophagy, inducing cell cycle arrest, suppressing cell migration and invasion, and stimulating an immune response.”[2]

These compounds appear to be especially beneficial for the lungs, and as such can protect against the cell-damaging, cancer-causing effects of smoke and other inhaled toxins.

How to use parsley medicinally

In order to enjoy the full health benefits of parsley, you’ll need to consume more than the usual decorative sprig or dash from the spice jar. Think of it as a whole food rather than a side addition. You can add loosely chopped fresh parley to salads, stir fry dishes, chilis, and soups. It’s also an excellent ingredient for homemade dips and salad dressings.

Adding parsley to smoothies is another easy way to integrate it into your life. The wide possibility of flavors and ingredients will allow you to blend up lots of parsley at once—sweet fruits like bananas and blueberries, astringent fruits like lemon and lime, and healthy nuts and seeds (or nut butters) are all great for balancing out the pungent flavor of parsley. For an extra healthy smoothie, add nutrient-dense greens like kale or spinach to the mix! Experiment with different recipes and combinations to see what works best for your palate.

While both fresh and dried parsley offer benefits, it’s usually best to choose fresh whenever possible. Levels of a few nutrients (such as potassium) appear to be more concentrated in dried parsley, but otherwise, fresh parsley is nearly always more nutrient-dense. It’s also much more flavorful, and it has the intangible benefit of being living food.

 


References

[1] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814605004073

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5629766/

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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,[1] 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.[2]

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.[3]

And as an added bonus, the constituents of rosemary have also been shown to provide natural relief from depression and anxiety.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6]   

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.[7]

Sage. In another article, we covered how sage (and the air ions it generates when burned) can clear airborne bacteria,[8] and can even improve mood and performance.[9] 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.[10]

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.[11]

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).[12]

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!

 


References

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19373612

[2] https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/91/5/1180/4597198

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5133115/

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26626245

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4070586/

[6] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-17795-z

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21119249

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17913417

[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3598548/

[10] https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/79/2/183/4690079

[11] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160628114610.htm

[12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2874462/

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