Herbs have been around since the dawn of civilization. Ancient people gathered herbs to flavor foods, which were often spoiled, and to use as natural health remedies. Today, we still use herbs to enhance the flavor of our foods.
Herbs can also be thought of as health promoting. Replacing salt with herbs has been used by many cultures in the Mediterranean, South America, Asia and Europe. Although sodium plays an important role in the body too much salt is can cause hypertension and fluid retention. Experts recommend that we not consume more 2400 mg (teaspoon) to prevent hypertension and cardiovascular disease. We are not born with a taste for salt but we develop it with our diet. A preference for salt can be unlearned by gradually lowering it in our diets. Fortunately, herbs are fat-free and often sodium free so that you can spice up your dishes with sacrificing flavor and nutrition.
In addition to being low-sodium, research suggests that culinary herbs are health promoting in other ways. A diet in which culinary herbs are used to flavor food provides a variety of active phytochemicals that may protect against chronic diseases.
Herbs should used sparingly so as to not overwhelm the flavor and fragrance. Herbs can be used as fresh or dried. To substitute dried herbs for fresh, the general rule is to use 1/3 teaspoon of ground or 1 teaspoon of crumbled dried herbs for 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs.
Fresh herbs can easily be grown in containers with lots of sunshine and water. When harvested, bunches of fresh herbs can be stored in the refrigerator with their stems in water. To dry fresh herbs, tie stalks into small bunches with a string and hang upside down in a paper bag punched with holes. Store the bag in a warm, well ventilated place. Once the herbs are dried they should be stored in tightly closed glass jars and kept in a cool dry place.
Here are some ways to use the following herbs:
Allspice: Use in pickling, baked apples, puddings, cakes, cookies, meat and fish.
Basil: Use in soups, stews, eggplant, squash, tomatoes, sauces, egg dishes, stuffing, tossed salads and potatoes.
Bay leaves: Provides a pungent aroma and flavor. Use in stews, sauces, and salad dressings.
Cayenne: Use in stews, sauces and salad dressings.
Chili Powder: Provides a hot flavor. Use in stews, boiled eggs, chili, and other Mexican dishes.
Thyme: Add carefully; very penetrating. Use in soups, stews, meat loaf, onions, carrots, beets, stuffing and sauces.
Oregano: Use in tomato sauce dishes, egg dishes and salads.
Paprika: Use in potato dishes, shellfish, and salad dressings.
Parsley: Is mild and versatile. Use with meat, vegetables, soups, eggs, and potatoes.
Growing herbs can be a family affair. Childhood obesity rates are at all time highs and many children will suffer from chronic disease in early adulthood. Many diseases are preventable if lifelong habits of physical activity and healthy eating are adopted. Involving children in the process of growing, harvesting, and using herbs could foster an interest in life-long interest in cooking and healthy living.
Sources: “Spice Up Your Life with Herbs” by Jennifer Even. OSU factsheet SS-208-02.
“Health-Promoting Properties of Common Herbs”, by Winston Craig. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 70, No. 3, 491S-499S, September 1999.
Writer: Dan Remley, M.S.P.H., Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Field Specialist, Family Nutrition and Wellness, Ohio State University Extension, Remley.firstname.lastname@example.org
Reviewer: Michelle Treber, M.A., L.D., Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Pickaway County, Heart of Ohio EERA, email@example.com