The Health Benefits of Herbs (and how to use them!)
Herbs, fresh or dried, are an excellent addition to your home cooked dishes. They are great for seasoning and often help to bring out the flavors of other ingredients in your dish. If you are trying to limit your sodium intake, herbs can help increase the flavor without all the added salt. Not only do herbs bring more complexity to your meal, but they also increase the nutritional value! Check out the health benefits of some of our favorite herbs to cook with:
This herb is commonly used in French cooking and goes particularly well with poultry. You will often see thyme added to roasted chicken or in chicken noodle soup. The essential oils found in thyme have strong antibacterial properties and are often used to treat sore throats or mouth infections. It is a member of the mint family and has cancer-fighting properties. Thyme doesn’t have to be reserved for chicken; if you’re vegetarian try thyme in this delicious Spinach Thyme Soup!
If you ever buy green juices from your local health food store, you’ve probably noticed that they always throw some parsley into the juicer. That’s because it’s very rich in vitamins C, B 12, K and A. It also helps remove excess fluids from your body, so it’s great to add into your diet if you are feeling bloated or need to detox. Next time you make a green juice or smoothie at home, add a bit of parsley into the blender.
Fresh basil and tomatoes are the epitome of summer! The sweet flavor of basil makes it a great addition to salads or sprinkled on top of any Italian dish. Not only are the bright great leaves tasty, but they are also rich in beta-carotene and other carotenoids, which promote heart health. The anti-inflammatory properties of basil oil are great for regulating the digestive tract and for treating skin conditions such as acne or psoriasis. For a fresh take on basil, try this Red Snapper with Basil Sauce.
This herb is commonly used both fresh and dry in Italian sauces. It’s rich in antioxidants and has a surprisingly strong antibacterial property. In fact, oregano has been proven to treat the digestive disease giardia better than prescription medications. If you are making pasta for dinner, give this awesome Five Herb Pesto a try for a healthy dose of oregano, or sprinkle dry oregano into tomato sauce as it cooks!
This refreshing herb is a bright addition to salsa or tacos. Cilantro is used a lot in Mexican and Spanish food because the freshness lends itself well to many of the spicy flavors often used in dishes from these regions. Cilantro is rich in magnesium and iron, helps this body fight against salmonella, lowers blood sugar and is a good source of fiber. Try these Vegan Asparagus Tacos next time you want to use cilantro in your dish.
If you’re trying to decide if you should use fresh versus dry herbs, it’s a good idea to use the same rule of thumb that you may use when buying other produce. Buy what is in season in your area. Like most produce, herbs are available year round, but they can be expensive. When the herb you need isn’t in season, it’s OK to buy it dried instead!
With that said, there are some instances when it is better to use dried herbs instead of fresh, and vise versa. Dried herbs are generally better in sauces and dishes that bake or simmer for a long time because the flavor gets stronger as it cooks. Fresh herbs are great chopped up and added to a dish at the end, or even sprinkled on top of a salad.
What is your favorite herb to cook with?