Health Benefits of Herbs and Spices

“Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme …”  This line is a part of the lyrics to the popular 1966 Simon and Garfunkel song, “Scarborough Fair,” but they could also be the herbs you plant in your flower or vegetable garden this year to give your favorite foods that extra pizzazz this summer. Enhanced flavor and improved health benefits are two great reasons to use fresh herbs. Herbs, even in small amounts, add a boost of flavor without adding salt or fat to the food.  Some herbs contain disease-fighting anti-oxidants which can provide an added health benefit.

Technically speaking, herbs are a plant or plant parts (such as leaves, flowers or seeds) that are used for their flavor, scent or therapeutic properties. In the culinary sense, herbs are often the leaves of plants that can be used either fresh or dried to season food. Spices are flavorings too. Most spices originate from plant fruits (for example mace, nutmeg, black pepper and cardamom), but spices can also originate from the leaf, bulb, bark, root, berries, seeds or stigma of the flower. Spices are generally dried.

Now that the gardening season is finally here, you might want to consider putting in your own little plot of fresh herbs and spices to enhance your food this summer and beyond, just plant enough to dry and save. It doesn’t take a lot of space and you don’t even really need a garden plot. If you have a big pot and a sunny spot, you can grow your own herbs quite easily.

Some easy herbs to plant to get you started might include:

Oregano

This is a great seasoning for spaghetti and tomato-based products. It also tastes good on grilled cheese sandwiches. Did you know that ½ teaspoon of dried oregano has as many anti-oxidants as three cups of fresh spinach?

Chives

These are easy to grow and all you have to do is snip off the tops to make a tasty garnish for a baked potato or salad. You can also mix them into biscuits or put on meat for a sweet, oniony flavor. Chives are rich in vitamins A and C, calcium and iron.

Thyme plantThyme

This herb is tasty in soup or stews or as part of a spice and herb rub for meat. How about fixing turkey on the grill with a tasty rub made with thyme? Thyme is a good source of iron, manganese and vitamin K along with containing many anti-oxidants.

Rosemary

This woodsy herb pairs nicely with thyme or can be used on its own. It makes a great ingredient in a rub for meat and adds savory flavor to soups and stews. Rosemary is often used in Europe to relieve indigestion and in ointments applied to sore muscles and joints.

Basil

This herb is a staple in many kitchens. Its sweet taste enhances tomato-based entrees or salads and boosts the flavor of salads and soups. Basil is an excellent source of vitamin K and a good source of iron, calcium and vitamin A.

If you’re new to growing herbs, these five will give you a good place to start and are quite easy to grow. There are lots of other herbs to experiment with as well. If you end up having a bountiful crop and want to preserve them for use in the fall and winter, then they can be dried, ground and stored in an air-tight container.

Now is the time to experiment. The flavors of fresh herbs are great. It might help you cut back on salt, fat and sugar and encourage variety in your diet. Herbs might even provide some health benefits with the anti-oxidant properties that they contain.  To think you can get all that with a few seeds, a pot, soil, sun and some water. That sounds like a great investment to me!

By Cheryl Rude

Registered Dietitian at Avera Marshall

, , ,