Fun Facts About 8 Common Herbs
Updated: Jan 1, 2022
For centuries, herbs have been an integral part of every culture offering a variety of uses including culinary, medicinal, and in some cases, spiritual.
Of course, we’re all familiar with using the following common herbs in our kitchens, but here are some “fun facts” about their origin, history, and medicinal uses that you may not know about:
The herb thyme has been associated with courage for hundreds of years and its name is actually derived from the Greek word for courage, Thymus. The Romans and the Scottish Highlanders believed in the herb’s strengthening properties, and knights of the Middle Ages embroidered sprigs of thyme on their tunics to bring them courage and strength when going into battle. In medieval France and England, thyme was often thought to attract fairies, and it was believed that cooking with it could allow you to see them.
Medicinal use: Thyme is known to have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant effects that may be useful in treating everything from intestinal infections to skin conditions.
Originally used for its medicinal benefits, rosemary was known as the herb of memory and energy. Washing with rosemary was said to be a method of retaining one’s youthful looks, and scholars were known to wear garlands of rosemary on their heads to improve their capabilities while studying. Since the late 1500s, rosemary has often been associated with remembrance, and to this day sprigs are often laid upon graves to show that a beloved friend or family member will not be forgotten.
Medicinal Use: Rosemary is a rich source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, which are thought to help boost the immune system and improve blood circulation. It is also considered a cognitive stimulant boosting alertness, intelligence, and focus.
While most herbs have their roots in natural remedies, sage was the holy grail of medicinal herbs. Its name even comes from the Latin salvare, meaning ‘to save’. When the plague raged across Europe, sage was one of the main ingredients in Four Thieves Vinegar, an herbal concoction said to protect against the disease. There is an old English proverb that states, “he that would live for aye, must eat Sage in May”!
Medicinal Use: Sage has been used to treat a wide range of ailments including coughs, asthma, bronchitis, angina, inflammation, depression, digestive and circulation disorders as well as other diseases.
Mint takes its name from the mythological Greek nymph Minthe, who was transformed into the plant by Hades’ wife, Persephone, after she attempted to seduce him. Mint has been associated with hospitality for centuries and in ancient Greece it was rubbed on tables to welcome visitors. To this day, in the Middle East mint is still offered to guests upon their arrival in the form of tea.
Medicinal Uses: Mint’s health benefits range from improving brain function and digestive issues to relieving breastfeeding pain, cold symptoms, and even bad breath.
Often referred to as the “King of Herbs” (probably due to its resemblance to the Greek word for king, basileus) basil is shrouded folklore. In India, it was used to ward off evil and in the Middle Ages, it was believed that basil caused scorpions to spontaneously appear, and if you took too big of a sniff of the plant they’d pop up in your head. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that basil would only grow if you loudly cursed and shouted while you sowed your seeds.
Medicinal Uses: Basil has been shown to boost your body's health in a variety of ways. It can help protect against infection, lower your blood sugar, lower your cholesterol, ease joint pain, and protect your stomach.
Meaning “joy of the mountains” in Greek, you might be surprised to learn that the familiar herb, oregano, is steeped in love! It is believed that the Ancient Greeks would make laurels of oregano for brides and grooms to ensure happiness in their marriage, and that anointing yourself with the herb would bring sweet dreams of your future spouse.
Medicinal Uses: Studies have confirmed oregano to be antimicrobial, antiviral, anti-fungal, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, and have cancer suppressing properties.
Legend has it that parsley sprang from the blood of the Greek hero Archemorus – whose name means ‘Forerunner of Death’ – after he was slayed by serpents. Throughout history this association with death has been attached to parsley and it was often used during ancient Greek and Roman funeral rites. The phrase “De’eis thai selinon”, or “to need only parsley”, was another way of saying that someone has “one foot in the grave”. Young men and women were warned never to cut parsley when they were newly in love because the herb could sour their feelings.
Medicinal Uses: Extremely rich in vitamins A, C, and K, parsley may improve bone health, protect against chronic diseases, and provide antioxidant benefits.
The ancient Romans offered wreaths of bay leaves as a symbol of triumph and peace. Athletes of ancient Greece were awarded laurel garlands that were given to winners at Olympic games since 776 BC. Doctors were also crowned with laurel, which was considered a cure-all. It was also considered to be sacred for the Greeks and a protector from disease, witchcraft and lightning. To this day, some colleges around the world crown graduates with a laurel wreath as a symbol of victory, in terms of academic achievements – baccalaureate means “laurel berries”.
Medicinal Uses: Bay leaves have antidiarrheal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-diabetic properties and are generally good for the immune system.