Herbs Add More than Just Flavor

Author: Linda DiBella

When many of us think of herbs, we think of flavor enhancers that are added to foods.  What you may not realize, though, is that when used even in small amounts, many herbs have powerful health properties, whether they’re used fresh or dried.

Here are some that are relatively easy to grow or are readily available in most supermarkets:

Parsley

Parsley is probably one of the most widely used herbs to garnish a dish. It is also a practical tool for cleansing the palate and freshening the breath after eating, so in that way, it plays multiple roles on the plate.  However, limiting parsley in the diet to a sprig at the end of a meal greatly limits its true health benefits as an anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, and digestion aid.

Just two tablespoons of fresh parsley provide 1.5 times the recommended daily value for vitamin K, high amounts of vitamins A and C, as well as folate and iron.  This is one herb that tends to lose its flavor when dried, so fresh is best.  To incorporate more parsley into the diet, add it to scrambled eggs or omelets, sprinkle it onto grain dishes near the end of cooking, flavor sautéed vegetables, include it in soups and stews, mix it into salads and use it in your favorite pesto recipe.

Oregano

Oregano is another herb that acts as an anti-inflammatory, an antioxidant, and an antibacterial agent.  What also may surprise you is that its antioxidant capacity is actually greater than blueberries thanks in part to two volatile oils, thymol and rosmarinic acid.  Even dried, oregano is a good source of vitamin K, manganese and iron and also provides calcium and vitamins A and C.  It also provides fiber, and don’t forget, green herbs like oregano and parsley are sources of chlorophyll, which helps to purify the blood.

To add it to the diet, combine oregano with other fresh herbs in egg dishes, add it to sauces and soups, mix it into vegetables, and use it in marinades and dressings.

Garlic

Most of us know how good garlic is for us but there also may be times that we want to avoid it for fear of garlic breath.  Still, it should be a part of our diets whenever possible.  It’s a powerful antibacterial, it also exhibits antiviral and antifungal properties and can be used to fight and prevent a cold.  As an anti-inflammatory, it has been shown to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease by reducing the oxidative damage done to blood vessel walls, lowering the accumulation of plaque.
When using garlic, it should be crushed or chopped and allowed to sit for a few minutes for the conversion of alliin to allicin, one of its main, active ingredients.  Although some people may not be able to tolerate the heat of raw garlic, it’s best to eat it as raw as possible to get the most of its health benefits.  Adding it into dishes at the end of cooking is one way to achieve this.  Still, it is also wonderful roasted in the oven or sautéed in dishes.

Garlic can be minced and added into dressings and marinades, included in sauces and soups, the bulbs roasted whole then spread onto bread, and soaked in oil to flavor it.  The tender shoots, or scapes can also be used any way that garlic is prepared.

Ginger

Ginger is probably best known for treating conditions such as motion sickness, nausea and upset stomach.  It is also used to relieve gas, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. Ginger also contains compounds called gingerols that act as anti-inflammatory agents and are believed to help relieve the pain and swelling of arthritis.  Gingerols are also believed to act as potent antioxidants.

Ginger is a warming herb that can induce sweating and help fight an oncoming cold or flu.  Try making a tea by grating a small piece of ginger then squeezing the juice into hot water.  Add lemon and honey.  Powdered ginger is often added to baked goods.  It can be chopped and added to stir-fries, juiced along with vegetables, and crystallized or candied and eaten as a snack.

Here are a few recipes for adding herbs into your daily diet:

This chicken soup recipe includes a wonderful pesto as a garnish made with parsley, garlic, and basil.

Try juicing two carrots, a cucumber, 1 green tart apple, 2 stalks of celery, ½ a lemon, and a 1 inch piece of ginger for a refreshing drink.

Here is a quick recipe for red bell pepper, spinach and goat cheese salad with a simple oregano dressing.

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