Worth a Mint! Herbs Can Jazz Up Food, Add Health Benefits

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  •     I’ve been in a cooking mode recently, and the fresh produce from my garden as well as the items we've purchased at the farmer’s market have resulted in several yummy meals. Interestingly, though, almost all of the recipes that I opted to use include one or more herbs. It turns out that eating these herbs (many of which are plentiful at this time of the year) can be beneficial to your health.
        The July/August 2010 edition of AARP magazine includes an article entitled, “Grow Herbs, Feel Better,” by Holly St. Lifer. “Wild herbs were used as healing remedies long before records were kept…and they’ve been an integral part of Eastern medicine for centuries,” St. Lifer wrote. “Today modern medicine is beginning to realize that herbs may ease the symptoms of many aliments, from the common cold to arthritis, because they contain important health-promoting compounds such as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories.”

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        So what herbs are good for you? And which ones help with specific ailments?  The AARP story identifies five herbs that are easy to grow and also have few side effects (although if you are on blood thinners or have a serious medical condition, be sure to check with your doctor). These herbs are:

    • Peppermint, which helps to settle upset stomachs when eaten and ease muscle cramps and bug bites when applied topically.
    • Lemon balm, which dispels anxiety and improves mood and may have cognitive benefits when eaten.
    • Rosemary, which increases memory and eases joint pain when applied topically. You also can eat this herb. And the smell is amazing!!!
    • Valerian, which helps encourage sleep and is a sedative. Smelling this herb can be effective can help one sleep.
    • Sage, which eases sore throats and freshens breath.

          In her book “The Herb Garden Cookbook,” herb expert Lucinda Hutson describes other herbs’ health benefits. These herbs include:

    • Chives, which are rich in calcium, phosphorus, sulfur, iron, vitamins A and C, and pectin. The nutrition value and flavor are diminished by cooking, so be sure to sprinkle freshly chopped chives over food right before serving.
    • Cilantro (also known as coriander), which were used by early monks due to the herb’s digestive properties.
    • Dill, which has several minerals. The World’s Healthiest Foods notes that the herb has iron, manganese, and calcium.
    • Epazote, which rids the body of intestinal parasites.
    • Marjoram. “During the Middle Ages, marjoram was renowned for its preservative and disinfectant qualities in cooking meats that had passed their prime,” Hutson said.
    • Parsley, which is rich in minerals (especially iron), chlorophyll, and vitamins A and C.
    • Sorrel, which is rich in vitamins A and C, potassium and calcium. Hutson also noted, “…its  inherent potash salt supplies flavor for those on salt-restricted diets; however, as is true of all plants that produce oxalic acid, sorrel should be consumed with moderation.”
    • Thyme, which can be used as a fumigant and an antiseptic.

           Other herbs that have healthful properties, according to Carolyn Dille and Susan Belsinger in “Herbs in the Kitchen”, include:

    • Bay, which is considered an anti-rheumatic.
    • Garlic, which has been used as a disinfectant and has been noted for its antiseptic and digestive properties.
    • Cress (most often watercress), which is a good source of iron and vitamin C.

        Herbs can be really easy to grow, even for the beginning gardener. You can easily grow many of them in containers on a patio or put them in flower beds. Currently, I’ve got containers going with several types of basil, parsley, mint, bay, oregano, thyme, and tarragon. And I’ve had good luck in growing dill, basil and chives in my raised beds. I really like that as I get to a certain point in a recipe, I can run out and cut some fresh herbs instead of resorting to the dried version. I’ve found these plants are a great way to flavor food naturally (and their health benefits are an additional bonus).

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Published On: July 28, 2010