Chlorophyll is responsible for the green color of plants. With sufficient light, plants rely on chlorophyll to produce food. Humans are also able to leverage the power of this verdant compound, helping us to detoxify the body and protect the heart. But just because a plant is green, it doesn’t mean it’s a powerful contender among the superfoods we’ll soon discuss.
Remember, it’s easy to market some particular ingredient or compound for all sorts of health benefits, but compounds inherent in plants never work in a vacuum—they are a part of a rich repository, a network, of all compounds found in the plant, working together intelligently.
Today, we’ll discuss three green herbs, moringa, spirulina, and yerba mate, which contain unusually dense amounts of nutrients, vitamins, and health promoting compounds, elevating these relatively unknown plants to the top of the charts.
In this health-conscious age of the newest and hottest “superfoods” claiming to be the panacea to all ailments, we must remain objective and true to long term holistic approaches to health and longevity. There are no magic pills or even magic herbs. There are only ways of living—day in and day out. We hope you explore these herbs, and if they’re right for you, incorporate them into your life.
Moringa (Moringa oleifera)
This tropical/subtropical shrub is native to the Himalayas, northwest India. Left on its own, the green leafy tree can grow tall but it’s usually kept short for commercial purposes. On a recent trip to Jamaica, I noticed the locals had a few plants in their yard. Jamaicans claim that the plant is a cure-all, helping to restore the body from all manner of diseases. In Africa, moringa is becoming a reliable supplement to fight malnutrition and disease.
Almost the entire plant is edible. The leaves can be sauteed like spinach, made into a salad, or dried for loose-leaf tea. Becoming increasingly popular, leaves are also ground into a fine powder. The powder can be stirred into a glass of water, added to soups, or used to enhance smoothies.
The fresh flowers are used for tea. Bark and stems are also used in tea and powders. The bean pod can be prepared just like string beans. Less common, the roots are used but mostly for specific treatments and less as a food / supplement. Nothing is spared—even the seeds are rich with essential oils and nutrients.
Aptly referred to as the “Miracle Tree” and “Nature’s Medicine Cabinet,” Moringa is one of Earth’s most nutrient-dense plants. Brimming with antioxidants, minerals, and nutrients, don’t ignore this hidden gem.
Health Benefits of Moringa
- Natural energy booster (without the caffeine).
- Detoxifies the blood.
- Promotes healthy skin and used topically to treat cuts and burns.
- Anti-inflammatory (reducing swelling of muscles; fights fevers and infections).
- Immune system booster.
- Promotes digestion.
- Helps to heal ulcers.
- Lowers blood pressure.
- Helps lower blood sugar (for diabetics).
- Induces relaxation and wellbeing.
Ounce for ounce, moringa has seven times the Vitamin C found in oranges, four times the Vitamin A of carrots, three times the iron of spinach, four times the calcium in milk, and three times the potassium of bananas.
Moringa is literally the difference between life and death in poor nations. Being relatively easy to grow, the herb is becoming a reliable dietary supplement in nations where clean water and a consistent supply of food is severely limited. In the United States and Europe, health food stores and homeopathic doctors are just starting to catch on to this obscure plant with an impressive resume of health properties.
Spirulina (Arthrospira platensis)
Used by ancient civilizations of Mexico, such as the great Mayans, spirulina has been a food source for hundreds, potentially thousands of years. Don’t let this lowly “pond scum” fool you. Spirulina is actually at the inception of the food chain.
Billions of years ago, these single cell organisms evolved long before complex multicellular organism such as land animals. Slowly learning to leverage the power of the sun, this blue-green algae remains at the forefront of photosynthesis, making it one of the most efficient energy converters in the world as sun is literally turned into food.
Not fully an plant, as spirulina lacks the tough cellulose membrane characteristic of all plants, it remains on the evolutionary cusp between plants and animals as a “nuclear plant.”
Humbly floating at the genesis of all plant forms, spirulina is one of the cleanest, most naturally sterile foods known to man. Naturally occurring in warm high pH waters teeming with nutrients and minerals, this organism flourishes in places that are, interestingly, too healthy for other forms of life.
Health Benefits of Spirulina
- Help maintain normal blood glucose levels.
- Increases red blood cell volume to fight anemia.
- Boosts the liver’s recuperative powers.
- Cure or reduce ulcers.
- Healthy for eyes.
- Immune system booster.
- Prevents loss of white blood cells (i.e., for people with radiation and chemotherapy treatments).
- Removes toxins and heavy metals from the body.
- Fights and helps prevents Alzheimer’s disease.
Yerba Mate (Ilex paraguariensis)
As you’ve heard me praise time and time again, yerba mate’s health benefits are seemingly above and beyond most herbs on the market. It’s been vehemently declared as the most nutritious plant on the Earth, and as we’re starting to uncover the compounds found in mate, science is coming closer to supporting these claims.
A holly shrub native to Eastern Paraguay, mate is a versatile herb that has as much to do with social bonding as it does healing. The Guaraní Tribe of Paraná revered the plant for its natural energy that was slowly released throughout the day. Mate, traditionally, has also been used as a social lubricant. More accurately, it’s a social bonding plant. Shared amongst family and friends, mate has the magical ability to bring people closer together.
Traditional methods of preparing yerba mate require a yerba mate gourd and bombilla, but the loose leaf can be enjoyed like green tea with a tea pot or infuser.
Health Benefits of Yerba Mate
- Helps protect the heart.
- Boosts immune system.
- Fights depression and anxiety.
- Strengthens bones.
- Regulates glucose levels.
- Lowers bad cholesterol.
- Normalizes blood pressure.
- Shown to destroy colon cancer cells (in vitro).
- Enhances memory, alertness, and cognition.
- Enhances comprehension.
- Detoxifies the body.
- Promotes healthy digestion.
- Curbs hunger.
- Promotes relaxation.
- Boosts metabolism.
Hope these green herbs piqued your interest. Keep on exploring and experimenting. Not every herb will appeal to every person. I implore you to build a relationship with the plants that most resonate with you. Some will rely on green herbs for curing, other will harness their protective powers to prevent disease, but beyond any application, as I’ve said, health and wellness comes down to the philosophy of your life. The daily choices you make and the level of commitment you’ve taken towards living a happy, healthy life. Inside and out. Salud!
- Elvira de De Mejia, “Yerba Mate Tea (Ilex paraguariensis): A Comprehensive Review on Chemistry, Health Implications, and Technological Considerations,” Journal of Food Science 72, no. 9 (2007): R138–R151.
- Jack Joseph Challem, Spirulina, The microscopic nutrient powerhouse and how it protect and restores health, 1981.
- Sanford Holst, Moringa, Natures Medicine Cabinet, 2011.