Nutritive herbs, also sometimes referred to as “superfoods”, are nature’s powerhouses, brimming with an abundance of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants) for nourishing us at the cellular level and boosting our vitality or “life-force energy”.
The best part is you don’t need to be an herbalist in order to reap the remarkable benefits of nutritive herbs! You just have to know what they are, and how to work with them.
In this article I’ll share my top 13 favorite types of nutrient-dense plant allies, highlighting their benefits, uses, and some easy ways you can start incorporating them into your daily routine.
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Table of Contents
What’s a nutritive herb?
Quite simply, nutritive herbs are edible/medicinal plants that contain highly concentrated quantities of micronutrients, at relatively small doses (i.e. teaspoons or tablespoons vs. cups).
So, how are they different from fruits and veggies?
While you may notice some overlap between nutritive herbs and certain fruits/veggies, the key difference is that nutritive herbs have exponentially higher levels of micronutrients at much smaller serving sizes compared to most produce.
Herbs also aren’t as palatable or practical to consume in larger quantities.
Nutritive herbal energetics
In traditional folk herbalism and clinical herbalism, nutritive herbs are anecdotally said to taste noticeably sweeter or salter compared to other types of herbs, which may be more bitter, pungent, carminative (hot/spicy) or astringent/tart.
Nutritive herbs also generally tend to be more cooling versus warming to the tissues of the body.
Some types of nutritive herbs can be very drying and dehydrating (like dandelion and stinging nettle leaf), while others are moistening and hydrating (like plantain leaves).
Unpacking their benefits and uses
Nutritive herbs offer a wide range of benefits that can enhance your overall well-being. Below are a few of the many reasons you might want to give nutritive herbs a try!
Vitality and energy boost
The vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and life-force energy naturally abundant in nutritive herbs can help invigorate your body, enhancing energy levels and overall vitality.
Iron-rich herbs like alfalfa, dandelion leaf, moringa, mulberries, parsley, and stinging nettle leaf can help support the production of healthy red blood cells.
Other nutritive herbs are high in B vitamins and vitamin K, which are beneficial for blood-building in different ways than iron.
Nutritive herbs like oat straw and stinging nettle are rich in calcium and magnesium, which helps strengthen bone density.
Healthy skin from within
The high levels of silica, antioxidants, and B vitamins present in many nutritive herbs have been clinically proven to contribute to healthier hair, skin, and nails.
Top 13 nutritive herbs
Let’s explore my favorite 13 notable nutritive herbs, their research-backed benefits, and how you can start safely trying them out at home!
Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)
The leaves and sprouts are what make this blood-building and bone-building nutritive herb famous for its high levels of iron for supporting healthy red blood cells, as confirmed by research such as in a 2018 study based out of Columbia. (1)
How to incorporate it: Add a handful of fresh alfalfa sprouts to your sandwich/salad, or sprinkle a tablespoon of organic alfalfa powder* into your smoothies for a nutritional boost!
Cacao (Theobroma cacao)
From delaying the aging process by fighting inflammation and protecting our skin cells to support better digestion and a healthier heart and lower blood pressure levels, to blood-building… I think it’s safe to say cacao could be considered a “jack of all trades!” (4, 5)
How to incorporate it: Give one of these cacao recipes a try, or try adding cacao to your next smoothie!
I also highly recommend snacking on Hu chocolate* (an all-time favorite) as a sweet treat. :-p
Or you might love sprinkling some cacao nibs* into your next bowl of overnight oats (or hot oatmeal)!
Camu camu (Myrciaria dubia)
Packed with 682 milligrams of vitamin C (that’s 760% daily value) per teaspoon, this Amazonian treasure is a wonderful ally supporting innate immunity and resilience, collagen production, and even an anti-aging elixir – quite literally! (Camu camu has been clinically proven to slow down the aging process by promoting better, faster cell rejuvenation and by protecting our cells from oxidative damage.) (6)
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Often considered a common garden weed, chickweed is a lesser-known but highly nutritious herb.
Fresh chickweed is packed with phytochemicals and minerals -including but not limited to: nickel, zinc, copper, sodium, cobalt, magnesium, iron, and manganese. (7)
How to incorporate it: If you’re fortunate enough to encounter fresh, clean chickweed growing locally, such as in your yard/garden (in an area that isn’t sprayed with any types of chemicals and not too close to the side of the road), consider harvesting the above-ground parts.
You can add fresh chickweed into your next sandwich to add a burst of vitality, or it also goes great in salads or as a springtime garnish!
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
For starters, this medicinal weed is so much more than a common weed! Dandelion a natural treasure which likes to hide in plain sight as a nutrient-dense, iron-rich bitter herb and natural potassium-sparing diuretic. (8)
The diuretic properties of dandelion’s roots and leaves make it a potential ally for people with high blood pressure, and the high iron levels make it a great plant source of iron for people with iron deficiency anemia.
- Warning: Dandelion interacts with diuretics and blood pressure lowering medication, so don’t try it without first consulting a doctor!
As a leafy green, dandelion leaves (like parsley) are also naturally high in vitamin K for supporting healthy blood clotting and bone-building.
If you don’t mind the salty, bitter, and somewhat green, earthy taste, you could also try sipping on dandelion leaf tea infusions a few times a day for the minerals, antioxidants, and natural blood pressure reduction!
Horsetail (Equisetum arvense)
Naturally abundant in silica (11), horsetail may help naturally support healthier hair, skin, and nails.
This ancient, unique-looking herb is also said to make a wonderful bone-building ally, especially for people with osteoporosis. Its bone-building benefits aren’t just because of its naturally high levels of calcium, but also because of a special combination of antioxidant constituents which have demonstrated natural bone-building activity in the body – according to a 2019 study published by the Caspian journal of internal medicine. (12, 13)
Silica aside, horsetail supports healthier skin by naturally increasing collagen production in the body, too! (13) (This may explain why I’ve noticed my skin always seems to look and feel so much better after a few weeks of horsetail tea infusions.) 😉
How to incorporate it: Add horsetail into your herbal tea infusions a few times a day for higher mineral content.
- Consider combining it with oatstraw, nettle, and/or other nutritive herbs of your choice!
Moringa leaves (Moringa oleifera)
Known as the “tree of life,” moringa is a nutritional powerhouse, rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants for longevity, vitality, and overall well-being.
Moringa also happens to grow abundantly in developing countries, so its leaves are able to provide a wonderful source of protein, fiber and micronutrients for people who would otherwise be at increased risk of nutritional deficiencies.
The leaves of moringa offer a wide array of health benefits, taking the meaning of “food as medicine” to whole new levels!
- Avoid moringa if you’re pregnant/trying to get pregnant, nursing, or if you’re prone to hypothyroidism.
- Avoid moringa if you have (or suspect) the hydrogen sulfide sub-type of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) – since the leaves of moringa are very high in sulfur (14) and could make things worse for people with a sulfur intolerance.
- Moringa contains goitrogens, and could be contraindicated if you have hypothyroidism.
Mulberries (Morus alba)
Sweet and chewy, mulberries are a great source of antioxidants and vitamin C, supporting healthy iron absorption and immune function (and lots more!). (16)
Other potential benefits of mulberries (according to a 2021 review) include but aren’t limited to:
How to incorporate them: sprinkle dried mulberries* into cereal, oatmeal, or trail mix, or better yet – bake with them by adding them into muffins!
Oat straw (Avena sativa)
Packed with B vitamins and minerals, oat straw is used traditionally often among clinical herbalists and now backed by research for supporting cognitive function, bone-building, and a healthy nervous system – and even bett(Carum petroselinum)er libido! (17, 18)
As someone who drinks oat straw tea infusions regularly ( it grows abundantly on our land), I’ve also noticed anecdotally that even as a stand-alone tea without the horsetail, oat straw tea infusions seem to help make my hair, skin, and nails stronger and healthier. 🙂
How to incorporate it: Steep 1 tablespoon of organic dried oat straw* into 12 ounces of hot water for at least 20 minutes, and drink it a few times a day. You can also powder it (in a coffee grinder) and add a spoonful to smoothies, for a nutritional boost!
Parsley (Carum petroselinum)
A versatile culinary herb from the Mediterranean region, parsley has an impressive micronutrient profile (rich in iron, vitamin K, chlorophyll, and other antioxidants). (19)
Most recently, this not-so-hidden gem has even been studied and revered for having remarkable anti-anxiety and antidepressant benefits “even better than class drugs” but without the unwanted side effects. (20) (A conversation for another time, perhaps!)
How to incorporate it: Season or garnish your favorite meals with a few sprigs of fresh parsley, add a handful of fresh parsley leaves into your green juice, or consider swapping the handful of spinach/kale for parsley in your next smoothie.
Red raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus)
A popular herb for women’s health, red raspberry leaf has been used anecdotally for centuries as an ally for supporting healthy pregnancy, due to its astringent energetics and possible tissue-toning actions on the uterus
While more clinical studies are needed to verify whether or not the claims about red raspberry leaf’s benefits for pregnancy are accurate, it’s safe to say it is a nutritive herb!
- A 2019 Switzerland study revealed that the leaves of red raspberries are rich in antioxidant polyphenols like quercetin, as well as carotenoids (like beta-carotene and lutein) and chlorophyll. (21)
How to incorporate it: Steep ~1 tablespoon of organic dried raspberry leaves* into ~12-16 ounces of hot water for at least 20 minutes, and drink a few cups a day.
Note: If you’re prone to constipation, this may not be the best option for you! I’ve noticed this tea seems to worsen constipation (anecdotally) in many of my constipation-prone clients.
Spirulina (Arthrospira platensis)
Spirulina is a blue-green microalgae that has caught the attention of many as a dietary supplement, with a pretty impressive nutritional profile!
It’s packed with plant-based protein, and it’s among very few plant-based protein sources including all the essential amino acids our bodies need. (22)
Spirulina is also a wonderful source of vitamins, especially vitamin B12 (which is usually only found in animal proteins) – making it a wonderful ally for people following a plant-based diet. And let’s not forget about minerals! Spirulina has a nice mix of iron, calcium, magnesium, and more. (22)
Nutritional density aside, spirulina is being studied for its potential to help modulate (balance and optimize) the immune system, likely due to its ability to “help cover nutrient deficiencies” according to Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine. (22)
How to incorporate it: Consider adding ¼ to ½ teaspoon of organic spirulina powder* into a smoothie (or smoothie bowl) – if you don’t mind the taste.
(Or if you’re like many of my clients and you can’t stomach the taste or smell of spirulina powder, you may prefer taking these organic spirulina capsules* instead!)
Stinging nettle leaf (Urtica dioica)
This edible and medicinal herb is a natural mineral-rich and potassium-sparing diuretic and rich in iron, making it beneficial for blood-building and urinary health.
The leaves are most abundant in vitamins A, C and K, B vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and sodium. (23)
Nutrients aside, nettle makes a wonderful ally for women’s health (specifically during the menstrual cycle) – not just due to its blood-building qualities, but also because it can potentially help reduce those unwanted symptoms of cramping, bloating, fluid retention and even heavy flow. (23)
Note: Caution if taking diuretics or blood pressure altering medications!
How to incorporate it: My favorite way to enjoy stinging nettle is as a nutritive tea infusion by steeping 1-2 teaspoons of organic dried nettle leaves* into 8-12 ounces of hot water. (Drink 4 ounces at a time, 2-3 times per day)
If you’re brave enough to find and harvest fresh nettle leaves, you can also make cooked nettle as a savory side dish.
Or better yet – order it at a restaurant, if you ever see it on the menu!
- I tried cooked nettle leaves on the side with a salmon dinner at the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington and it was incredible! Highly recommend it.
Recapping the best delivery methods
As you may have noticed by now, Incorporating nutritive herbs into your daily routine can be simple and easy! You might even recognize some of these in the natural/superfood aisle of your local supermarket.
Below is a quick recap of the most practical and effective ways you can try them at home.
Harness the power of nutritive herbs by preparing nourishing herbal tea infusions. (Steep 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of loose herbs into ~8-16 ounces of hot water, for about 20 minutes.)
Dandelion leaf, horsetail, moringa, nettle, oat straw, plantain leaf, and red raspberry leaf make excellent herbal teas!.
Add a nutritional boost to your smoothies or meals by blending in a scoop or nutrient-dense herbal powdered herbs like alfalfa, cacao, camu camu, moringa, stinging nettle, or spirulina.
If you prefer a more quick, convenient option for a busy lifestyle, consider supplementing with high-quality organic herbal capsules for a natural daily boost in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Get creative in the kitchen by sprinkling dried berries (such as mulberries) into your cereal, oatmeal, or homemade muffin recipes.
You can also try adding herbs like parsley and dandelion leaves into fresh salads and juices.
To incorporate chickweed into your meals, consider adding fresh chickweed leaves to salads for a boost of vibrant green color and a mild, slightly tangy flavor. You can also blend fresh chickweed into your favorite smoothie recipes to enhance their nutritional content and introduce a refreshing herbal twist.
Wait – what about tinctures?
While there are lots of benefits to taking herbal tinctures for other clinical purposes, tinctures aren’t the best way for us to reap the benefits of nutritive herbs.
This is because alcohol (the medium for extracting herbal constituents via a tincture) doesn’t extract vitamins or minerals very well. Water does a much better job!
Determining the right dosage
When it comes to nutritive herbs, dosage depends on the specific herb and your individual needs.
As a general guideline, aim for 1 to 4 capsules, 1 to 2 tablespoons of powder, or 12 to 24 ounces of nutritive herbal tea infusions most days, to experience their full benefits.
Keep in mind that when it comes to herbal tea infusions, a “super infusion”(loose-leaf tea infusion of nutritive herbs steeped for longer periods of time, like hours or overnight) will give you more nutrients and a stronger brew compared to a traditional tea brew which is usually steeped for ~5 to 20 minutes.
You can enjoy the benefits of nutritive herbs at any time of the day. Incorporate them into your routine based on personal preference and what works best for your schedule.
Side effects and contraindications
While nutritive herbs offer incredible benefits, it’s essential to be aware of potential side effects and contraindications. Always consult with a qualified healthcare professional before incorporating new herbs into your regimen! (Even if they seem very safe.)
Wanna learn more about evidence-based herbal medicine? If so, you’re in the right place! Here are some more resources on herbs, in case you’re interested:
- My Favorite Herbalism Books for Beginners
- Types of Herbalists: Which are You Most Drawn To?
- A Closer Look at Astringent Herbs
- 5 Blood-Building Herbs for Iron Deficiency
- The Best Herbal Tea for Iron Deficiency Anemia
- DIY Herbal Iron Syrup (Recipe)
- Beginner’s Guide to Adaptogenic Mushrooms
- Intro to Nervines: Your Best Nervous System Allies
- 39 Best Herbs for Leaky Gut & Digestive Health
- What is a Clinical Herbalist & How to Become One
- Micronutrient Testing (a Functional Nutrition Test)
Embracing the power of nutritive herbs is a fantastic way to nourish your body, enhance vitality, and support overall well-being. By incorporating these 13 remarkable herbs into your daily routine through teas, powders, culinary creations, or capsules, you can unlock their abundant benefits and elevate your health to new heights.
Remember to listen to your body, consult with a healthcare professional, and enjoy the journey to optimal wellness with these nutritive treasures from nature!