Health Benefits of Herbs
Herbs have long been used for their medicinal properties. Most often they’ve been used in teas and tinctures, but in more recent years, their value as a healthy food ingredient has become more recognized. Herbs not only add colour and beauty to a dish, they also add incredible flavour that comes with remarkable health benefits.
Their power lies in their high contents of essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Many studies show that polyphenols (plant compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects) in herbs help fight diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and more. While many of the studies involved concentrated solutions of herbs’ active compounds, there is evidence that their benefits still apply when they are cooked and eaten as part of a regular meal, too.
Buying and Storing
The best way to enjoy fresh herbs is to grow them yourself, either in pots on your windowsill or patio, or in your garden. Growing them in and around your home allows you to enjoy their beauty and scent and harvest them whenever you need them.
Sweet Valley makes growing your own herbs easy, as we sell potted herbs that are ready to be transplanted into your window pots or garden. With our herbs, the hassle of trying to seed and germinate your own plants is eliminated.
Harvest your herbs just before cooking as this will ensure they are as fresh as possible. Herbs are quite perishable and most varieties don’t keep for longer than a week in the refrigerator, although some like rosemary, thyme and oregano may last up to a couple weeks. So, only cut what you need and allow the plants to continue producing.
If you find that your herbs are growing faster than you are using them, you can preserve fresh herbs by freezing them or making an herbal vinaigrette to capture their flavour and freshness. Basil pesto is another great way to preserve an abundant crop of basil, and this recipe can be frozen for later use! You can also try replacing the basil in your pesto with arugula, oregano or mint.
What’s the Difference in Cooking with Dried Herbs vs. Fresh Herbs?
Herbs tend to lose their flavour and nutrients in the drying process and in storage. They are a great alternative if fresh herbs are not available, but they won’t ever give quite the same depth of flavour or nutrient content that fresh herbs offer. We always say, “fresh is best” simply because fresh herbs will always have the most flavour and greater health benefits.
Understandably however, there will be times you’ll simply need to pull out the dried herbs when cooking a meal. You can dry fresh herbs at the end of the growing season for use during the winter. If you’re buying dried herbs, get them in small quantities that can be used up in less than a year as they’ll lose flavour the longer they are in storage. And lastly, if you’re substituting dried herbs for fresh herbs, a good rule of thumb is that 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs = 1 teaspoon of dried herbs.
Health Benefits of Herbs
Here are some of the amazing health benefits of seven of the most popular culinary herbs.
Health Benefits of Basil
Basil is one of the most popular culinary herbs and is commonly used alongside tomatoes in Italian cuisine. It’s very aromatic and has a licorice-clove flavour, sometimes with a hint of mint or anise. When fresh basil is incorporated into cooking, it can provide many essential vitamins such as calcium and vitamins A and K, as well as minerals like manganese, magnesium, iron, zinc and potassium.
Basil has traditionally been used to treat snakebites, colds and inflammation. Its high concentrations of antioxidants also help to prevent cancer, heart disease, arthritis and diabetes.
Try these simple ideas to add more basil to your diet:
- Layer basil with fresh mozzarella cheese and tomato slices, add some fresh cracked black pepper, and drizzle with olive oil.
- Make a basil butter or basil vinaigrette.
- Try our savory basil scones recipe for a unique herby pastry.
- Make a batch of basil pesto.
- Mix it into a garden salad or pasta salad.
- Garnish vanilla ice cream with a couple of small basil leaves
- Make a tomato basil frittata for breakfast.
- Add basil to your sauces and pasta.
- Try these delicious grilled fruit kebabs with basil for dessert.
Health Benefits of Oregano
Oregano originated in the Mediterranean area and is now grown world-wide as a culinary herb. But its little leaves are also powerhouses when it comes to nutrients and antioxidants. They are high in vitamins K and E, calcium, iron, manganese and fiber, and their high levels of antioxidants help to prevent cell damage and fend off heart disease, stroke and cancer.
In fact, an analysis by the American Chemical Society found that just 1 tablespoon of fresh oregano has as much antioxidant activity as a medium apple. In addition, oregano has 20 times more antioxidant power than many other herbs, and four times more than blueberries, which have been regarded as one of the richest sources of antioxidants.
Oregano has long been used to treat skin sores, achy muscles, colds, asthma and overall health.
Here are a few ways you can add oregano to your diet today and harness the powerful health benefits of this herb:
- Sprinkle fresh oregano leaves on chicken or any other meat while cooking.
- Use fresh oregano leaves in marinades and stuffings.
- Add fresh oregano leaves to your salads.
- Chop oregano leaves and mix them into bread or pizza dough for an herbaceous flavour.
- Make a lemon verbena and oregano vinaigrette.
- Sprinkle onto slices of tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, and drizzle with olive oil.
Health Benefits of Parsley
Commonly used as a garnish and flavouring in American, European and Middle Eastern cuisine, parsley is high in vitamins A, C and K and many other antioxidants. In fact, parsley has often been labeled as one of the most powerful disease-fighting plants. Adding it to your diet may help to prevent cancer, reduce bloating, prevent heart disease and diabetes and improve blood pressure. The vitamin A in parsley improves eye health, and its high levels of vitamin K promote bone health by supporting bone growth and bone mineral density.
Parsley is a versatile herb that provides a concentrated source of nutrients. It’s an easy herb to grow and it’s even easier to incorporate it into your cooking.
- Use parsley as a garnish for almost any dish.
- Add parsley leaves to your salad for added flavour.
- Mix finely chopped parsley leaves into your salad dressing.
- Use fresh parsley and other herbs to make an herb coating for lamb and other meats.
- Add parsley to your homemade tomato sauces.
Health Benefits of Peppermint
Peppermint has been used to treat medical ailments for thousands of years. Records from ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt mention that it was used for digestive disorders and other conditions.
Research today indicates the minty aroma may help to lift mood and improve mental function. And the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology reports that peppermint seems to help to soothe an upset stomach and ease pain from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
In aromatherapy, peppermint oil is promoted for treating coughs and colds and reducing pain and stress.
The best way to enjoy the health benefits of this delicious herb is by brewing up a kettle of hot peppermint tea! But peppermint can also be used in cooking and as flavouring and garnish for desserts and drinks.
Health Benefits of Rosemary
Rosemary is loved both for its flavour and its fragrance. Its woodsy pine-like scent helps to improve concentration and memory performance and can even boost mood. It is high in iron, calcium and vitamins A, C, and B-6. In fact, recent studies suggest that it may help prevent cognitive decline in older people, even when used in small amounts, such as seasoning in cooking.
Rosemary is also high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, and is known to help digestive issues, improve blood circulation, promote a healthy immune system and prevent bacterial infections and diseases like cancer. In addition, its nutrients promote a healthy scalp and increased hair growth and helps to protect skin cells from damage caused by the sun.
Here are some ways you can include more rosemary in your diet:
- Use fresh rosemary to season chicken, beef and pork dishes.
- Boil fresh rosemary leaves with water to make rosemary tea.
- Add rosemary to roasted vegetables while cooking. This butternut squash and rosemary dish is amazing!
- Rosemary paired with potatoes is an especially popular combination.
- Use fresh rosemary as a pairing with pasta dishes.
- Mix rosemary into your butter and spread it over bread.
- Add sprigs of rosemary to lemonade for a refreshing take on a classic beverage.
- Get creative and add rosemary to your desserts! Here’s a lemon rosemary cookie recipe to get you started.
Health Benefits of Sage
This one might surprise you. While sage is a wonderful culinary herb with a strong flavour, it’s also full of nutrients you might not expect. It’s very high in vitamin K and also contains important minerals like magnesium, zinc and copper. In addition, sage has many antioxidants that have been linked to benefits such as improved memory and brain function, balanced cholesterol levels and reduced risk of cancer. It has also been known to improve oral health and is used to treat problems like cold sores.
Sage can also be easily incorporated into your diet:
- Sprinkle sage leaves on your soup as a garnish.
- Add chopped sage to tomato sauces.
- Use sage in your Thanksgiving or Christmas bread stuffing.
- Make a sage butter by combining chopped leaves with butter.
- Use sage as a rub for meats.
- Sage also makes a great seasoning for roasted vegetable dishes.
- Try making a tropical pineapple sage salsa for a refreshing dish.
Health Benefits of Thyme
Thyme is a shrubby trailing herb with an intense flavour and aroma. Native to the Mediterranean, it was one of the most commonly used herbs in ancient remedies. While it adds instant flavour to cooking, it also boasts a wealth of health benefits. It’s rich in vitamins A, B and C as well as many vital minerals. It helps to support the immune system, promotes healthy cells and bones, and improves respiratory and gastrointestinal health. Thymol, one of the main oils in thyme, fights inflammation in the body. And its aroma has been known to improve mood and relieve stress.
Thyme has a delightful flavour that is savory but also sweet and has notes of mint, citrus and toned-down rosemary. It can have a woodsy yet floral taste as well that makes it wonderful in cooking.
- Use fresh thyme and other herbs to make an herb coating for lamb and other meats.
- Sprinkle fresh thyme on your potatoes for an herbaceous and earthy flavour.
- Use sprigs of fresh thyme to season your oven baked chicken.
- Sprinkle fresh thyme leaves into your garden salad or pasta salad.
- Add fresh thyme to your salad dressing for added flavour.
- Add finely chopped thyme to your bread or pizza dough for an herbaceous bread.
- Thyme can also be used as a garnish for desserts.
So there you have it! Herbs certainly are powerhouses when it comes to nutrient content and health benefits. If you’re looking to add healthy ingredients to your cooking, herbs are a great place to start! It’s as easy as ordering yours and growing them on your windowsill! Go ahead, get fresh!