Amazing Health Benefits of Herbs

Herbs, those fragrant culinary delicacies, offer so much more than just flavoring and garnishing our food.  Whether you buy them at the grocery store, a farmer’s market or grow your own, these tender plants harbor a wealth of health benefits just waiting for you to discover.

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Since ancient times, herbs have been used for medicinal purposes concentrated in teas and tinctures.  More recently, herbs health properties have been realized due to the various nutrients and polyphenols they provide.  Think of herbs as an extension of fruits and vegetables – we all know the magnitude of nutrients they provide.  Whenever we use herbs to spruce up the looks of a meal or flavor food helping us use less salt and fat, we gain big time in nutritional value.

Herbs can be used fresh or dried.  Fresh herbs are perishable – wash with cold water, wrap in a paper towel then place upright covered with a plastic bag in a jar of water placed in the refrigerator to help extend their life. Dried herbs are easier to keep and their nutritional strength is sometimes more concentrated than fresh herbs, but they should be used within a year as their flavor potency will wane.  

Following is a list of herbs and what nutritional advantages they offer.  If you’re new to using herbs, use the suggestions on what types of food they pair best with.  However, don’t be afraid to experiment and test your culinary skills. As with any food item, some herbs may interact with certain medications or cause allergic reactions.  Use them in moderation and watch for any unusual symptoms. 

Parsley –

·         Rich in vitamins C, B12, K and A.  Keeps immune system strong, improves bone health, helps flush out fluid from the body supporting kidney function and can help control blood pressure.

·         Add to scrambled eggs, quiche, smoothie, homemade salad dressing or use as a garnish for just about any food.

·         Due to its high content of vitamin K, anyone using a blood thinner such as Coumadin (warfarin) should use it sparingly.

Cilantro –

·         The leaves of the plant are referred to as cilantro and the seeds are referred to as coriander. 

·         High in the antioxidants beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, all good for preventing macular degeneration and better brain functioning.  Also helps clear heavy metals such as lead and mercury from the body by attaching itself to the metals, carrying them out of the body.

·         Pairs particularly well with Mexican dishes and can also be added to vegetable dips or used as a garnish for soups and salads.

Rosemary –

·         Good source of anitoxidants and anti-inflammatory agents that may boost the immune system, improve blood circulation, digestion, and eye health, enhances memory and concentration, and may reduce the formation of cancer-causing substances.

·         This herb pairs well with chicken or lamb and often used in Mediterranean cooking.  Can be used to flavor soups, baked vegetables, salads and meat dishes.

·         Pregnant women should use it in moderation as it may cause miscarriages if consumed in large amounts.

Basil –

·         Rich in vitamins A, C and K, magnesium, iron, potassium and calcium

·         May help treat arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, reduces inflammation, can help prevent harmful effects of aging and is rich in antioxidants.

·         Can be used in pesto sauces, salads, pizza, soups, and fish and seafood.  When cooking with basil, put in at the end of the cooking process as heat can reduce its flavor.

Mint –

·         Contains menthol, a natural decongestant helping to break up phlegm and mucus during a cold and can relieve a sore throat when combined with tea. It can also soothe an upset stomach and indigestion.  Contains the antioxidant rosmarinic acid which may help relieve seasonal allergies.

·         Mint pairs great with fresh fruit, Middle Eastern dishes like lamb, soups and salads, or combine mint with water and cucumber slices.

·         If you have GERD, do not use mint to relieve symptoms as it may make them worse.

Oregano –

·         Rich in vitamin K and antioxidants, it also contains iron, fiber, vitamin E, iron, calcium and omega fatty acids.

·         It has been used to treat urinary tract disorders, menstrual cramps, respiratory tract disorders and gastrointestinal disorders.

·         Often used in Italian cuisine, it can also be used in many other dishes for a bold flavor such as pizza, sautéed vegetables, chicken, beef or lamb, toasted or flatbread or added to a vinaigrette.

Thyme –

·         Contains thymol, an essential oil which has antiseptic and anti-fungal properties. The leaves are packed with potassium, iron, manganese, magnesium, vitamins C, A, K and E and B-complex vitamins.

·         Thyme tea may help relieve coughs, sore throat and bronchitis symptoms.

·         Its distinctive, intense flavor should be used sparingly in recipes.  Can be used to flavor soups, sauces, marinate chicken, fish and meat.


ABOUT CHERYL MUSSATTO, REGISTERED DIETITIAN

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Cheryl Mussatto has over 30 years of experience as a Registered Dietitian and has worked in a variety of settings that cover a wide span of nutrition experience.  Currently she works as an adjunct professor for two community colleges, Allen Community College in Burlingame and Butler Community College in Council Grove, Kansas teaching two courses, Basic Nutrition and Therapeutic Nutrition. Cheryl also is a contributing author for osagecountyonline.com, an online newspaper and Edietitians, a global free nutritional and health magazine. Her articles for both publications pertain to nutrition topics that cover a diversity of health and nutrition interests for the general public.  She is also certified as a health and wellness coach.