Herbs and spices are your kitchen’s best friend! They’re healthy because they boost food flavors without adding fat or sodium. It’s easy to grow your own leafy green herbs, but if you purchase fresh herbs, you can keep them longer by placing their stems in a glass of water and then keeping the glass in the refrigerator. This works especially well with basil!
The world’s healthiest herbs and spices include the following:
Basil – Fresh basil is a good source of vitamin A (called pro-vitamin A) through its concentration of carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, and helps protect against free-radical damage. It’s also a good source of magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, and vitamin C. Basil has anti-inflammatory effects and promotes cardiovascular health. Basil leaves are tastiest (and healthiest) when fresh and are a great addition to tomato-based dishes, in pesto, in Thai and Vietnamese foods, and in salads.
Black pepper – Black pepper has antioxidant and antibacterial properties and improves digestion, helps prevent intestinal gas, is diaphoretic (promotes sweating), and diuretic (promotes urination). The outer layer of peppercorns also stimulates the breakdown of fat cells. Black pepper has good amounts of manganese, vitamin K, iron, and dietary fiber. Black pepper is easiest found dried and ground and can be added to any dish for a mildly hot flavor.
Cayenne pepper – An excellent source of vitamin A, Cayenne pepper and Tabasco sauce can increase metabolism and fat-burning ability by up to 25 percent! It also contains capsaicin (also found in chili peppers and paprika), whose anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects may lower the risk of cancer, has pain-reducing effects, can help prevent ulcers, and clears mucus from your stuffed-up nose or congested lungs. Cayenne can be found dried and ground or fresh and finely chopped. It has a fiery hot flavor, so be sure to use it sparingly. The seeds provide most of the spicy heat, so remove them if you want to remove some of the spiciness. As with all hot peppers, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling.
Chili Pepper, red – Red chili peppers are a good source of vitamin A, dietary fiber, vitamin C, potassium, and iron. Red chili peppers also contain capsaicin (also found in cayenne and paprika), whose anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects may lower the risk of cancer, has pain-reducing effects, can help prevent ulcers, and clears mucus from your stuffed-up nose or congested lungs. As with all hot peppers, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling. Red chili peppers can be found dried and ground or fresh and finely chopped. It has a fiery hot flavor, so be sure to use it sparingly. The seeds provide most of the spicy heat, so remove them if you want to remove some of the spiciness. As with all hot peppers, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling.
Cinnamon – Cinnamon is an excellent source of manganese and also has dietary fiber, iron, and calcium. Cinnamon is often used as an antidote for diarrhea and stomach upset as well as a metabolism booster. The essential oils found in cinnamon bark have anti-clotting, anti-microbial, and blood sugar controlling properties. Cinnamon is available in dried sticks or ground powder. Use it sweet dishes, desserts, stews, and curries.
Cloves – Cloves are dense with nutrients, known for having an extremely high amount of manganese, and a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin K, dietary fiber, vitamin C, magnesium, and calcium. It also has mild anesthetic (numbing), anti-bacterial properties, and its volatile oils have anti-inflammatory properties. Cloves can be found dried whole or ground. Add to sweet dishes or as a contrast in stews and curries.
Coriander / cilantro, seeds and leaves – Coriander is known for being anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, and cholesterol lowering. It increases HDL (the “good” cholesterol), and may help reduce free radical production. Coriander is a good source of dietary fiber, manganese, iron, and magnesium. The leaves of the plant, commonly known as cilantro in the United States, may have anti-microbial and anti-bacterial properties. Coriander can be found dried and ground. Dried coriander is used in cakes, cookies, breads, and as a pickling spice or in curry mixtures. The leaves (cilantro) are best when fresh and are perfect for Middle Eastern, southeast Asian, Chinese, Latin American, and Spanish cuisines. It’s a common ingredient in Mexican salsas.
Cumin – Cumin has iron and manganese and promote healthy immune functions, good digestion, and may help prevent some forms of cancer. You can find cumin both ground and whole. Ground cumin is a tasty spice that easily blends well with many Middle Eastern, Latin American, and Spanish cuisines. It’s also a great addition to soups and stews.
Dill – Dill has iron, manganese, and calcium. It may help protect against free-radical damage and has anti-bacterial properties. You can find dill fresh, you can also get dill seeds and ground dill. Dill is a great addition to dips, soups, potatoes, breads, salads, and sauces. Dill seed is used pickling and to make dill-flavored vinegar.
Fennel – Fennel bulb is considered a vegetable, but the leaves can be used as an herb. Raw fennel is a good source of vitamin C, dietary fiber, potassium, manganese, folate, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and vitamin B3 (niacin). Its an antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties. It may also help prevent cancer. You can find fennel leaves fresh or ground. Fresh fennel is a tasty addition to salads and vegetable dishes. Ground fennel can be used in soups or stews.
Garlic – Regular consumption of garlic can decrease blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It also aids digestion and prevents flatulence. Recent research shows garlic to be beneficial in the treatment of diabetes. It also destroys cancer cells and may disrupt the metabolism of tumor cells, says Karen Collins, RD, nutrition advisor to the American Institute for Cancer Research. “Studies suggest that one or two cloves weekly provide cancer-protective benefits.” Garlic has manganese, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin C, selenium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin B1 (thiamin), copper, and protein. You can find garlic fresh, canned, granulated, and ground. Garlic has a distinctive taste and is great flavoring for pasta sauces and marinades.
Ginger – Ginger is a root and has potassium, magnesium, copper, manganese, and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). Ginger speeds metabolic rate, plus it inhibits nausea and vomiting often caused by morning sickness or motion sickness. Ginger can also hinder blood clotting, so if you’re about to have surgery or are taking blood thinners or aspirin, be sure to talk to your doctor first. Ginger is available in root form or ground. Ginger is commonly used in cakes, breads, cookies, and many Asian dishes.
Mustard seeds – Mustard seeds are a stimulant that can be used to relieve respiratory complaints and has shown anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Mustard seeds have selenium, omega-3 fatty acids, phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, dietary fiber, iron, calcium, protein, vitamin B3 (niacin), and zinc. You can find brown and yellow mustard seeds whole and ground. Brown mustard is commonly used pickling, as a seasoning, and in preparing Oriental mustard sauces. Yellow mustard, is primary ingredient in American-style prepared mustard.
Oregano – A USDA study found that, gram for gram, oregano has the highest antioxidant activity of 27 fresh culinary herbs. Oregano is also great for food preservation. According to Catherine Donnelly, Ph.D., professor of nutrition and food science at the University of Vermont, “Oregano is one of the best bacteria killers” because its phenols, a type of antioxidant, destroy the cell membranes of bacteria. Oregano has vitamin K, manganese, iron, dietary fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin C. You can find oregano fresh, ground, or chopped. Oregano can be found fresh, dried, and ground. Oregano is a popular addition Italian dishes, vegetable dishes, and soups.
Peppermint, fresh – Peppermint is used to treat gastric and digestive disorders, as well as tension and insomnia, and has anti-microbial properties. Peppermint is an excellent source of manganese, vitamin C and vitamin A (through its concentration of carotenoids, including beta-carotene). Fresh mint is a tasty addition to vegetable dishes and salads.
Rosemary – Rosemary may stop gene mutations leading to cancer and may help prevent damage to the blood vessels that raise heart attack risk. Rosemary also contains substances that are useful for stimulating the immune system, increasing circulation, and improving digestion. Rosemary has dietary fiber, iron, and calcium. Rosemary can be found fresh, dried, and ground. It’s a common ingredient in many gourmet breads and Italian seasonings.
Sage – According to the June 2003 issue of Pharmacological Biochemical Behavior, sage is an outstanding memory enhancer. It also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Sage has dietary fiber, vitamin A (carotenoid), calcium, and iron. Sage can be found fresh, dried, or ground and is a great addition to stuffings and warmer dishes.
Thyme – Thyme is an excellent source of vitamin K. It also has good amounts of iron, manganese, calcium, and dietary fiber. It’s a wonderful antioxidant, and it’s also been shown to have anti-microbial properties. Thyme can be found fresh, dried, or ground. It’s a good addition to stews, bland soups, and as flavoring for green salads and vegetable dishes.
Turmeric – Turmeric is an antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals and therefore protects against cancer. Additionally, “…the compounds in turmeric have demonstrated antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cholesterol-lowering properties—all thought to be involved in the onset of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Sally Frautschy, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine and neurology at UCLA. Turmeric has manganese, iron, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), dietary fiber, and potassium. Ground turmeric is easy to find. Although it doesn’t add much flavor, it makes a great all-natural food coloring, adding an appealing yellow-orange color to any dish. Turmeric is popular in curries and East Indian recipes. Turmeric is also a primary ingredient in American-style mustard.
Growing Your Own Herbs Indoors
Fresh herbs are incredibly healthy for you—but they can be very expensive to purchase. Fortunately, it’s extremely easy, inexpensive, and fun to grow your own! Best of all, you don’t even need to have a garden—most herbs can be easily grown indoors in a “container garden.” Here’s how.
What you need:
Herb plants (Purchase some of your favorite small herb plants from your local nursery. Choose herbs that don’t grow too wide or tall. Basil, chives, dill, parsley, oregano, peppermint, rosemary, sage, and thyme are good choices. If you’re patient, you can also try growing from seeds.)
Pots or containers (At least 6 – 12 inches deep. You can plant multiple herbs in a wide or long container or use at least a 6″ pot for individual plants.)
Potting Mix (You may want to choose a soilless potting mix to avoid soil-born diseases. Be sure the mix is light and will be well draining.)
Fertilizer (Make sure the fertilizer is labeled as being safe to use with edibles.)
Sunny window (Make sure you have a sunny windowsill where your herbs will survive. A south or southeast window would be perfect if it gets at least 5 hours of sun per day and is away from drafts. Fluorescent lights can be used if you don’t have a sunny window. They will need to be placed close to the plants [18″] and kept on for about 10 hours/day.)
Plant your herbs:
- Put a 2 – 3 inch layer of potting mix into the bottom of each container.
- Position the herb plants in the container.
- Finish filling in with the potting mix, firming it gently around the plants. Leave about an inch at the top of the container for watering.
- Water sparingly. Herbs don’t like to sit in wet soil!
- Feed once a month with a fertilizer labeled for use on edibles.
- Allow the plants some time to acclimate. Once you see new growth, you can start using your herbs.
- Snip and use your plants often to encourage them to grow full and bushy, but never trim more than 1/3 of the plant’s foliage.
The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images and information, contained on or available through this web site is for general information purposes only.