They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but I beg to differ. Growing up a country girl and marrying a man from Pennsylvania Dutch country, I learned to cook with the basics – lots of salt, sugar, real butter and cream and lard. I’d cleaned up my act a lot when it came to watching fats and cholesterol, but salt was still a big issue.
The real wakeup call was when the doctors told Jim he really had to watch his salt intake. Translated, that meant I had to watch his salt intake. Let’s face it, food just tastes bland without salt, so we needed to find alternatives. That’s how we discovered the wonderful world of fresh herbs.
Growing your own herbs is practical, good for your health, takes very little to get started and can be lots of fun. They are filled with antioxidants and essential nutrients and they add a punch of flavor to your favorite dishes without the sodium. An added bonus is that you can harvest small amounts when you need them because half the nutritional value of plants is lost within the first 30 minutes of harvesting.
Most herbs are relatively easy to grow and can be grown directly in the garden or in container pots either outdoors or indoors. I prefer them indoors because they are easily accessible to snip off a few sprigs when you are cooking, many add delightful fragrances to the home and they give off oxygen. It’s a win-win-win situation. All you need to get started are some pots, organic potting soil and seeds or small starter plants.
Following are 10 of the healthiest herbs and some of their characteristics:
Rosemary contains carnosic acid, which is known to fight cancer cells. Merely touching it releases the fragrant aroma that may help to improve memory. It has a woodsy flavor that enhances roasted meats like chicken, pork and salmon. It also pairs well with spinach, tomatoes and mushrooms. It likes lots of sunshine and frequent watering.
Thyme has been used for a long time (just couldn’t resist the wording!) for respiratory problems and adds a boost of flavor to soups, salads, beans, eggs, lamb and veggie dishes. It blends well with bay seasoning and parsley. Some daring folks even add it to champagne. It stays small and likes plenty of sun.
Although it adds a splash of color, lavender is more than a pretty face. Its fragrance is soothing and is added to many soaps and toiletries. It has long been used as a sleep aid and has antioxidants known as polyphenols that fight belly bloating. It needs at least eight hours of sun a day and likes well-drained soil so be sure there are drainage holes in the bottom of its pot.
Basil is known to calm nerves, is a good source of fiber and has a detoxifying effect on the liver. But beware, a little goes a long way when flavoring white meats, stir fries, pesto, and fruits like raspberries and strawberries. Add it at the end of the cook time because cooking ruins its flavor. Easy to grow, it requires watering only every other day.
Parsley is that little green sprig served alongside the main dish on your plate that most people leave behind. Better off to eat it though, as it offers doses of vitamins A and C and one tablespoon provides half the recommended daily intake of vitamin K, the nutrient for maintaining healthy blood. It adds flavor to fish, chicken, potatoes and pasta dishes. It is a slower grower, not requiring much sunlight or maintenance, just don’t let it get too dry because it rarely recovers.
Sage helps fight against early aging, thus it is used in many beauty products. It is also a natural remedy for anxiety and fatigue. With a slight peppery flavor, it adds zip to sweet fruits and veggies like apples and squash, as well as sausage and cheeses. It can cook for long periods of time making it perfect for use in slow cookers. It needs plenty of light and good soil.
Cilantro is not only a good source of fiber and iron, but naturally clears toxic metals like mercury and lead from tissues. It is excellent in salsa and guacamole, and its seeds are the coriander seeds that add flavor to soups, fish and smoked meats. It needs deep soil to thrive and can be a challenge to grow.
Chives are part of the onion family and helps boost the immune system. Studies show that, like scallions and garlic, chives can help lower the risk of developing certain cancers like prostate, stomach and breast. It is easy to grown indoors and doesn’t require much light.
Move over pickles and share the nutrients in dill. It provides a good source of antioxidants such as beta carotene. It enhances the flavor of stew, salmon and veggies like cucumbers and carrots. It needs a large pot and full sun.
Mint is a rich source of vitamin A and is good for digestion, nausea, headaches, asthma, pimples, fresh breath and generally just plain good for you. Essential oils of peppermint have a positive effect on respiratory rate and blood pressure. It takes off fast, needs plenty of space to grow and will choke out everything else near it.
Herbs are easy to process. Just snip a few leaves off, wash under running water or swish in a pan. Use them for cooking, or they can be frozen by patting dry and wrapping in freezer wrap, or chop, put in an ice cube tray, fill half full of water and freeze. When frozen, transfer to a freezer bag.
Herbs are so versatile, you can basically grow a medicine cabinet in your home. It helped us cut our sodium intake without sacrificing flavor. Now if there were only an herb that would work on our sweettooths and help us cut sugar.