Want a quick easy way to boost your nutrition? Create a herb garden on your kitchen windowsill. Herbs are easy to grow, offer a wealth of culinary uses and, because they’re rich in phytochemicals and vitamins A and C, countless health benefits. Use them liberally in cooking as a healthy alternative to salt and add flavour.
While most people think of spices, seasonings and herbs as the substances that make our food taste good, these colorful ingredients also pack a nutritional punch. To get the most benefit in both taste and nutrition, be sure your spices are fresh and, whenever possible, use fresh herbs rather than the dried versions.
Parsley is a traditional tonic for the kidneys and blood vessels, and a remedy for bad breath (chew the leaves). It’s also a strong diuretic, which makes it a great remedy for water retention and bloating (try it as a tea). It’s best used fresh in a salad or, in its flat-leaf form, in vegetable and Middle Eastern dishes. Avoid if you have a history of kidney problems.
Best known for the great flavour it gives Italian dishes, basil has long been used as a medicine. Its oils relax the digestive system, so it’s used to ease digestive cramps and bloating, while its antioxidant and antimicrobial properties mean it’s great for sore gums and throats when taken as a tea. Use it raw in salads and pasta dishes.
Rosemary is one of the most popular culinary and medicinal herbs. In the form of essential oil, it’s famed for stimulating the circulation and boosting the mind. As a herb, it’s great for easing digestive cramps and, thanks to its high levels of antioxidants, for calming inflammation. Add to roast vegetables, potato dishes and breads.
Mint is a wonderful palate cleanser and remedy for every type of digestive discomfort, thanks to its powerful essential oils. Shred the leaves and add to fruit and savoury salads, cool drinks and yoghurt dips. For digestive problems, infuse the leaves in boiled water for 15 minutes, then drink – add ginger for an extra kick.
The leaves of this herb are tiny, but they pack a punch. Thyme has strong antioxidant, antifungal and antiseptic properties. Add it to pasta dishes and pizzas at a late stage to deliver flavour without damaging its chemistry. For coughs, make a tea with 1tsp crushed thyme in half a cup of boiling water. Steep for 10 minutes, then strain.
A sacred herb in many cultures, sage has strong antiseptic and antibiotic properties. Its powerful essential oil can kill oral bacteria – it’s often used in herbal mouthwashes and breath fresheners. It also has a reputation for calming menopausal hot flushes when used in a tea. Use it fresh in salads, soups and vegetable dishes.