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Can Herbs Help You Lose Weight?

It's early spring and a sunny day. You're out getting your garden ready for planting season, and you stop to take a selfie of your smiling, post-winter hibernation face. Up it goes onto Insta or Facebook, and within minutes, someone in your social circle is pushing an essential oil to "help you lose that winter fat." 

Don't take it personally; that same person has herbal remedies to combat COVID-19, Ebola, measles, and cranky mothers-in-law. But are their claims legit? Well, if they're selling you something, you should always corroborate their information. And if they're implying you're fat, you should unfriend their *sses. Immediately. 

Carl Sagan once said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." We sell herb seeds and write about them in our gardening blog, and we feel it's our duty to be as objective as possible. Do we think some herbs, when used as natural medicine, have a direct benefit to our health? Based on current empirical research, yes. Do we believe herbs can help us lose weight? Absolutely! 

You, dear Seed Needs reader, are smart. You know that there's no single, straight-up bottle of unicorn dust that's going to help you shake off that booty before your next class reunion or Tinder hookup. But each of these herbs has shown promise — if not proof — of helping the body (and the mind) shed excess weight. 

Mouth-watering herbs

Most plant-based chemicals (phytochemicals) that produce strong herb flavors can trigger digestive enzymes and fluids. Saliva, of course, is the opening act. But plants don't have to be pungent to require a drool cup — some are subtle and soothing. 

  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
  • Sweet and hot peppers (Capsicum annuum var.)
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
  • Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
  • Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla)
  • Gentian (Gentiana spp.)
  • Spilanthes (Spilanthes acemella)
  • Hollyhock (Alcea rosea)
  • Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
  • Peppermint (Mentha × piperita)
  • Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) and, to a lesser degree, its seeds (coriander)

Herbs that help reduce water retention

According to the Mayo Clinic, there isn't much scientific research to verify the effectiveness of herbal diuretic remedies, but we'll list the usual suspects anyway. Just be aware that water retention can be a symptom of kidney, liver, and heart disease, and reducing edema doesn't mean drinking less water. In fact, the more you drink, the more likely you are to eliminate that puffiness. Eating lots of fresh veggies and getting the blood moving through exercise helps, too.

Once your doctor's certain you won't keel over from an underlying condition, there's likely no harm in experimenting. These herbs have long histories in traditional herbal medicine: 

  • Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
  • Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
  • Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
  • Juniper (Juniperus communis)*
  • Coffee (Coffea arabica) **
  • Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum)

*We at Seed Needs do not endorse a gin diet, even in an election year. 

Herbs that make you feel motivated

Yeah, you knew we were gonna go there. We've got to get exercise and build muscle to burn fat, but sometimes, inertia's got the upper hand. Herbs help put us in the right headspace for physical activity, whether that's going for a hike or putting together a healthy meal.

couple caring for home grown herbs

Fruit sugars give us the boost we need to get off the couch, and some herbs directly or indirectly help motivate us by supporting healthy dopamine levels. Inflammation has a limiting effect on dopamine and energy, and according to behavioral health and psychology researchers at Emory University, this may contribute to depression and lack of motivation. "When your body is fighting an infection or healing a wound, your brain needs a mechanism to recalibrate your motivation to do other things so you don't use up too much of your energy," Michael Treadway, an associate professor in Emory's Department of Psychology, told Science Daily last year. 

And call us members of Captain Obvious' company of mansplainers, but irritated tissues, pain, and inflammation sure as heck don't motivate us to hit the gym. 

Anti-inflammatory herbs

Various compounds found in many, many (ad nauseam) herbs help reduce inflammation. Here are the species that are best known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Try using them in meals or snacks before and after workouts.

  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
  • Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
  • Clove (Syzygium aromaticum)
  • Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)
  • Green tea (Camellia sinensis)
  • Black pepper (Piper nigrum)

Just a reminder that smoking cloves won't give you the same benefits. They'll just make you binge-listen to Morrisey songs. Which, come to think of it, might turn you into a vegetarian, but if you're careful to eat plenty of plant proteins and a variety of fruits, veggies, and herbs, you're likely to lose body fat

Carvacrol and dopamine

Some herbs contain substantial amounts of carvacrol, and studies on these and similar herbs show that, in mice, the compound makes dopamine more accessible to the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. These are the species fans of essential oils generally associate with the compound. You might notice that most of them are in the mint (Lamiaceae) family: 

  • Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
  • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
  • Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)
  • Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)
  • Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
  • Wild bergamot/bee balm (Monarda fistulosa)
  • Savory (Satureja spp.)
  • Black walnut (Juglans nigra)

Herbs that promote metabolism and energy

Chili/cayenne peppers (Capsicum annuum): Capsaicin is the stuff that makes chili peppers hurt both going in and coming out of the human body, Somewhere in the middle, capsaicin helps stimulate the metabolism by triggering brown (adipose) fat to convert to energy. It also reduces fatty deposits in the liver. 

Ginger (Zingiber officinale):  Time published an article about ginger's beneficial effects on digestive and metabolic functions. Here's a tidbit:

When fed to rats, for example, ginger has been shown to significantly reduce body weight and systemic inflammation, lower cholesterol and blood sugar and protect against the harmful effects of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

We'd quote the article itself, but there's a paywall and we spent our research funds on booze. Which leads us to...

Hops (Humulus lupulus): Beer and other alcoholic beverages, when consumed in moderation, temporarily kick start our metabolism in a similar fashion as does capsaicin. There's a tradeoff, though; adult beverages contain calories. That means more time putting up with chipper Zumba instructors. Choose wisely.

Other herbs that fire up the metabolism include: 

  • Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
  • Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
  • Black pepper (Piper nigrum)
  • Green tea (Camellia sinensis)
  • Flax / linseed (Linum usitatissimum)

Herbs, vegetables, and fruits that provide soluble fiber

Soluble fiber nourishes bacteria in the human intestine; in turn, the fecal biome helps reduce belly fat. It also expands as it absorbs fluids, giving us that "I'm stuffed" feeling. If those adorable little factoids don't curb your appetite, these plant-based sources of soluble fiber will:

  • Cinnamon
  • Parsley
  • Turmeric
  • Cloves
  • Ginger
  • Sage
  • Herb seeds such as dill, fennel
  • Oat or rice bran
  • Brown rice
  • Whole grains (including amaranth and flax)
  • Fruit and vegetables with edible seeds (berries)
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Pumpkin
  • Winter squash
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Cloves
  • Oatmeal
  • Citrus fruit
  • Apples
  • Legumes (peas, cooked dry beans)
  • Low-sugar, high-fiber produce 
  • Unpeeled carrots, turnips, parsnips, and other root veggies
  • Potatoes

This is just a partial list and yeah, we got a little tired of adding Latin names. (Sorryus notsorryus.)

You might be stunned to learn that certain herbs and spices, pound for pound, have more fiber than many legumes and veggies. How much you have to eat to match the total nutritional value, however, is another story. 

Any herb that makes healthy food more enticing

We've written about herbs and produce believed to manage stresscontrol glucose levels in diabetics and help reduce hypertension, and as we did then we'll tell you now: Herbal supplements, when used under the guidance of a licensed physician or nutritionist, can make a positive difference but the best road to health is a balanced diet, exercise, and common sense. Herbs don't need to be medicinal to heal. When you use them to liven up a healthy diet of fresh fruit and vegetables and healthy lean animal proteins. you're more likely to achieve and maintain your target weight. 

Fortunately, the herbs that hit all the weight-loss high notes are also versatile culinary seasonings. Just don't top off your gelato with habaneros, clove oil, black pepper, and turmeric and call it "diet food," and if you contact us at Seed Needs, we'll come confiscate your ginger and green tea ice cream. 

Consume herbal hype in proportional servings 

Our customers and readers (we hope!) trust us to share what we know, not what might help us sell herb seeds. Bulls*it belongs in the garden, not here on our gardening blog! Don't get us wrong — we're big on seeking out natural remedies, especially when pharmaceutical and surgical alternatives to weight control aren't an option. But just because something's natural doesn't mean it's good for your particular condition, and we've got no business playing like we're health gurus. 

There's one exception, of course: Growing plants from seed to harvest. For that, we can offer expert advice, and we're 100 percent confident that if you go outside and get dirty in your garden, you'll experience whole-body benefits.

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