Time and time again, I see clients, friends and family shy away from using fresh herbs in dishes. Whether it’s because of the waste – it’s often hard to use up all the fresh herbs in your fridge – or because in North America, people seem to be generally afraid of adding flavour to their food. Other than hot sauce…
When it comes to nutrition, information is power, so if you’re informed about the many health benefits of fresh herbs, I hope you’ll be more inclined to add them to your meals and make them a greater part of your every day eating habits. These benefits have been used by people around the world for centuries so don’t be shy, chop up some fresh herbs and experiment with them in your salads, soups, homemade burgers, smoothies, desserts and more.
Where to buy fresh herbs?
Te best way to get your hands on fresh herbs is to grown them yourself. Herbs need very little space and require very little tending to; they’re simply happy to serve up their bounty almost year-round. If you live in a climate with harsh winters like me here in Toronto, consider getting an indoor herb grower or move your potted herbs indoors for the winter – be sure to put them in a spot where they will get plenty of natural light with mild temperatures.
However, if fresh herbs aren’t an option for you, prolong their shelf-life with this little trick: After bringing your herbs home, place them in a glass, jar or vase and fill the glass until the stems are submerged just a centimetre or two. Too much water can cause the steams to rot. To protect the leaves from drying out, gently place an upside down produce bag over the tops and secure it lightly with a loose knot. Store your glass of herbs in the fridge and if the water starts to become discoloured or turn brown, simply replace it with fresh water and retie the bag. This will keep herbs fresh for about 7-10 days, depending on the herb.
Lastly, as a general rule when using fresh herbs in your cooking, always add the herbs at the end to avoid them becoming wilted, browned or slimy. With that out of the way, let’s dig in and find out which herbs benefit which health condition.
The most commonly used herb in North America, you may be surprised to learn that basil, just like spinach, is packed with vitamin K, a nutrient crucial in helping to retain calcium in the bones and prevent osteoporosis.
Basil is also high in bioflavonoids, antioxidants and volatile oils, all helping to prevent DNA damage and protect against diseases like cardiovascular disease and cancers.
Basil is highly anti-inflammatory and just like it’s cousin,
holy basil or ashwagandha, it acts as an adaptogen, meaning it helps
the body adapt and cope during times of high stress.
Add basil to your soups, pasta sauces, fresh salads, fish and seafood dishes, or use it to make a deliciously flavourful pesto (like this ah-mazing Walnut Basil Pesto).
Dill weed is one of my personal favourite fresh herbs. It’s so versatile and absolutely delicious, plus it has so many health benefits. Dill helps to reduce menstrual cramps, lower cholesterol, manage symptoms of depression, provide energy and protect your cells against free radical damage and cancer.
I like to use dill in soups and stews (especially those with chicken), add it to roasted vegetables or create a delicious yoghurt dipping sauce with lemon, garlic and dill. I almost always have dill on-hand in my freezer because it keeps well frozen and is easy to chop up and add to stews. I don’t recommend freezing herbs to be used in fresh dishes, however, adding frozen dill to soups and stews works great!
Whether you love it or hate it, the health benefits of cilantro are undeniable. Cilantro is full of vitamin K, important not just for bone density, but also for brain health. Vitamin K helps to prevent neuronal damage in the brain and has been used in helping to treat patients with Alzheimer’s diseases.
Cilantro is also well-known for it’s ability to bind with heavy metals in the body, helping to detoxify these chemicals by promoting their removal.
Cilantro helps to reduce anxiety, promote restful sleep,
lower blood sugar levels, settle an upset stomach
and prevent urinary tract infections.
And as if that weren’t enough, it also supports healthy menstrual function, protects against food poisoning, prevents neurological inflammation and soothes skin irritations. If you’re sold, add cilantro to stirfrys, toss it into your guacamole, sprinkle it over curry stews, and enjoy it roughly chopped in salads.
Mmm, I love the calming scent of peppermint tea. Did you know that peppermint is a hybrid between watermint and spearmint? One of my personal favourites, peppermint lightens up any dish with it’s spicy fragrant leaves. It is also calming and soothing, and has also been used for centuries to aid with upset stomachs, indigestion and IBS symptoms.
The concentrated essential oils extracted from peppermint leaves are great for relieving
headaches and boosting concentration; as well as treating symptoms of
depression and fatigue, and preventing memory loss.
The scent of peppermint is refreshing, helping to clear the throat and nasal passages during respiratory colds. It’s also great for relieving asthma symptoms. And when it comes to consuming peppermint, it’s packed with fibre, anti0microbial properties, anti-oxidants and small amounts of micro-nutrients and minerals like manganese and copper.
While chives are typically relegated to the land of garnishes, they’re actually an incredible nutrition powerhouse.
They’re full of vitamin K, folate, vitamin A and C, magnesium and calcium. And as if that weren’t enough, allium vegetables, like garlic, leeks, onions, scallions, shallots and of course, chives, have been studied extensively for their anti-cancer properties. Particularly when it comes to stomach and colorectal cancers.
In a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers investigated the relationship between allium vegetable intake and prostate cancer in men. They found that men with the highest consumption of allium vegetables had the lowest risk for prostate cancer.
So give they herb it’s rightful place at the time by adding chives to soups, salads – it tastes delicious in potato and egg salads, – omelettes, sauces and more.
One of the most versatile and easy-to-find fresh herbs, parsley makes for a great salad base. Salads like middle Eastern tabbouleh feature parsley as a main ingredient and for good reason.
Parsley is high in free-radical-fighting flavonoids and antioxidants.
It also acts as a natural diuretic helping to fight kidney stones,
urinary tract infections and gallbladder infections.
It also helps to freshen your breath, hence why garlic and parsley are often served together in sauces, as well as helping to relieve bloating.
I love adding fresh parsley to stews, soups, salads and finely chopping it into homemade burgers.
Does anything go better with roast chicken and potatoes then fresh rosemary? I don’t think so. Rosemary is so easy to grow and maintain in the garden. Surprisingly, last year, my rosemary bush survived the harsh Toronto winter. While it did dry out, I was able to enjoy dry rosemary all winter long only to be greeted with tender buds in the spring.
Rosemary is not only fragrant and delicious, it’s also so good for you. It has unique compounds and oils including rosmarinic acid and essential oils which provide amazing anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, antibacterial, and antiseptic properties.
The essential oils improve memory and cleanse the air; while consuming rosemary helps to fight cancer, boosts immunity, soothes the stomach, freshens breath, stimulates blood flow and relieves pain.
Rosemary goes great with roasted vegetables and meats, including steak and can be mixed with softened butter for a delicious treat.
The aromatic scent of oregano always brings gourmet pizza and pasta to mind. I love adding tons of oregano to bolognese sauce, not just for the taste, but also for the health benefits.
Oregano oil is one of the most
powerful natural anti-bacterial oils.
Oregano oil is often used to prevent and treat upper respiratory tract illnesses, gastrointestinal infections like parasites, menstrual cramps and urinary tract infections. Applied topically oregano oil can also be used to treat acne and dandruff.
When consumed, fresh and dried oregano provide antioxidants to boost your immune system, and anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties to prevent coughs, colds and flu. Sprinkle chopped fresh oregano over salads, meat, poultry, fish and gluten-free pasta dishes for a delicious boost of flavour and nutrition.