If you’re a fan of herbs, you can vouch for the rich flavor they add to your food. What you may not be familiar with are their proven medicinal qualities.
With this article, we’re excited to present five delightful herbs, some of which may be new for you.
When they aren’t in season, their dried versions are likewise healing. In either form, using these herbs in your meals will enhance your eating pleasure. Plus, when you swap herbs for salt, you’ll see how much better you feel!
NOTE: The following information relates to fresh and dried herbs. It doesn’t apply to herbal essential oils, extracts, or supplements, which can cause side effects, due to their high potency.
When you’re feeling tense, taking a whiff of rosemary will usher calmness. Meanwhile, you’ll become more alert, with sharper focus and recall.
Rosemary leaves resemble pine needles, being short and slender, growing on spiky stems. The needles are dark green and shiny on top and silvery-white beneath.
Pungent and assertive, rosemary tastes piney, with hints of lemon and mint.
- strengthens your immunity
- lowers your cancer risk
- helps shield you from eye disease
- boosts your circulation
Perk up pasta, potatoes, and popcorn with sprinkles of dried rosemary. Use it as a topping for pizza and Italian focaccia bread. Rosemary pairs especially well with cheese, mushrooms, parsnips, tomatoes, grains, and egg dishes. Also, add fresh leaves to marinades, soups, casseroles, and beans.
- Here’s a collection of hearty recipes using rosemary.
Since the fresh leaves are hard to chew, dice them finely before use. Unlike most herbs, rosemary can weather the heat of cooking, retaining its zesty flavor. Plus, the longer you cook rosemary, the stronger it becomes. Still, to avoid a bitter aftertaste, use rosemary sparingly.
Furthermore, overdoing rosemary can prompt side effects. Possible symptoms are vomiting, seizures, uterine bleeding, miscarriage, stomach inflammation, lung irritation, and coma. High doses of rosemary can also interfere with blood-thinning medications, such as aspirin and warfarin.
Still, as a light seasoning, rosemary is entirely safe.
There are countless basil varieties. Supermarkets commonly sell sweet basil, a classic option for Italian cuisine. Some grocers also carry opal basil, often used in Vietnamese and Thai dishes.
Sweet basil leaves are oblong, green, velvety, and shiny. Their puckered surfaces cause the blades to bend downward. Opal basil is likewise glossy. However, its hue is breathtaking — either burgundy or deep purple!
Sweet basil is slightly minty and peppery. Opal basil is more savory, with undertones of anise and lemon. If you’ve never had the herb anise, it tastes like licorice, only sweeter and citrus-like.
- improves digestion
- soothes stomachaches
- battles coughs, colds, and viral infections
- helps to ward off cancer
- fosters cheerfulness
Fresh basil complements all types of dishes. Since dried basil is more intense, go easy with it.
Garnish pizza, soup, and vegetable dishes with fresh leaves. Use them to dress up bruschetta, the garlicky bread Italians serve as an appetizer. Also, tuck fresh basil leaves inside wraps and stuffed peppers, and blend them into pesto.
Stir dried basil into tomato sauce, and sprinkle it over salads and pasta. Opal basil is dazzling in salad dressings, tinting them the color of red wine!
- Here’s a bevy of recipes starring fresh basil, including pesto.
At this point, I’d like to give you the recipe formula for converting fresh herbs to dried, and vice versa. It applies to all types of herbs. The guideline is that one tablespoon of fresh herbs equals one teaspoon dried.
Since dried herbs are more potent than fresh ones, you need less of them to flavor foods. For example, one tablespoon of chopped fresh basil equals one teaspoon of the dried form.
When cooking with basil leaves, add them during the last few minutes. Otherwise, the heat will weaken their taste. As a garnish, dress your dishes just before serving.
Ingesting basil is fine in small quantities. Large amounts can interfere with blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin.
This herb is a cousin to oregano. However, its flavor is much milder, which is why it’s also called “sweet marjoram.” Merely inhaling marjoram can jumpstart your digestion. That’s because the aroma stimulates salivary flow.
The leaves of this bushy plant are spoon-shaped and fuzzy, colored light green or greenish-gray.
Marjoram has a delicate floral taste, with notes of citrus and sweet pine.
- eases bloating, cramping, and constipation
- helps kill infections caused by viruses, bacteria, and fungi
- regulates menstrual periods
Dried marjoram is great in marinades, salad dressings, soups, gravies, sauces, and sprinkled on pizza. Marjoram and eggs are a heavenly match!
The fresh leaves are ideal for cooked vegetable dishes. In particular, they jazz up carrots, green beans, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, corn, sweet potatoes, and lentils. For more on yummy lentils, see this article.
When using fresh marjoram, chop the leaves, but discard the stems. To protect its flavor, add marjoram at the end of cooking time.
- For how to chop marjoram expertly, watch this brief video.
- Wield your dicing skills in these fantastic marjoram recipes.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should not consume marjoram, as it can affect their reproductive hormones. Those taking diabetic medicines and blood thinners should consult with their doctors before eating marjoram.
If you’re scheduled for surgery, three weeks before your operation, discontinue marjoram. It can thin the blood, preventing normal clotting.
Dill is famous for its use in pickles and potato salad. The term “dill weed” refers to the leaves, to distinguish them from dill seeds, a spice.
This herb is especially pretty, with its delicate, feathery fronds. Dill blooms with small umbrellas of bright yellow flowers. All parts of the plant are fragrant, smelling like fresh-cut grass.
Unlike many herbs, you can buy fresh dill year-round!
Dill tastes grassy and buttery, with undertones of anise and lemon.
- freshens breath
- helps prevent infections
- subdues hiccups
- eases arthritic pain
Dill perks up the taste of spreads, such as cream cheese, hummus, and sour cream. Use it to make tzatziki, a delectable cucumber-yogurt dip, hailing from Greece. Dill also enlivens salads and enriches eggs.
Do you like ranch dressing? If so, make it yourself, using dill and buttermilk. For a buyer’s guide to tangy buttermilk, see this article.
- This array of dill recipes includes various salads, soups, and sauces, such as one for quinoa cakes. If you’ve never had quinoa, here’s an introduction to this nutty seed.
- For how to make tzatziki, watch this enticing video.
When cooking with dill, to preserve its bouquet, add it at the last minute. In recipes, one tablespoon of diced fresh dill equals one teaspoon of dried leaves.
Anyone taking lithium should not eat dill. It can render lithium retention and consequent overdosing. Dill can also cause pregnant women to miscarry and may adversely affect breast milk.
The most appealing variety of this herb is French tarragon. Strangely, its flowers are sterile, producing no seeds.
Thus, you can only grow French tarragon by dividing its root clumps or taking leaf cuttings. The tarragon seeds sold commercially are either from Russian or Mexican tarragon. With both these varieties, the licorice flavor is too strong for most people.
French tarragon leaves are bright green, long, and slender, curved upward as though celebrating life! You can buy fresh tarragon during spring and summer, usually from supermarket chains and farmers markets.
As with all dried herbs, you’ll find tarragon in the spice aisle of grocery stores. Natural food stores may also carry it.
The French variety is pleasantly sweet, with hints of anise and vanilla.
- aids digestion
- reduces arthritic pain and stiffness
- kills bacteria
- regulates blood sugar
- invites sleep when brewed as tea
Tarragon, both dried and fresh, brightens the flavor of oils, marinades, sauces, and vinegar. Add it to dips, such as hummus. Stir it into soups and stews.
This herb pairs wonderfully with tomatoes, eggs, salads, steamed asparagus, and baked potatoes. It also complements mustard. Tarragon is a component of fines herbes, a blend used widely in French cuisine.
Since tarragon can easily overpower dishes, use it sparingly. Start with a small amount, sampling your food before adding more. When cooking with tarragon, add it when nearly done.
Tarragon can trigger reactions in those allergic to ragweed, daisies, marigolds, or chrysanthemums. Since tarragon can slow blood clotting, if you’re scheduled for an operation, stop eating the herb three weeks prior. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should not take tarragon.
- Impress your family with these tarragon recipes, including cabbage rolls, quiche, and stuffing.
Buying Fresh Herbs
You’ll find fresh herbs at grocery stores, ethnic markets, fruit and vegetable stands, and farmers markets. In supermarkets, shop for them in produce departments.
Choose specimens with strong stems versus sagging ones. Leaves should look vibrant, not shriveled, wilted, yellow, or brown. Plus, they should smell pleasant, not foul.
Examine plants closely, passing on those with moldy or slimy parts. Also, check soils for a crust of white fuzz, indicating mold.
Avoid buying herbs with broken stems or torn leaves, as their taste will also suffer. That’s because the piquant oils in herbs escape through sites of plant damage.
Storing Fresh Herbs
Place live herbs in moderate sunlight or bright artificial light. Water them when the surface soil is dry to the touch. Or, if you have a garden, plant them outdoors.
If you buy herbs in plastic containers, store them in your fridge for up to a week. Before use, make sure they’re fresh-smelling and mold-free.
Herbs sold in bunches need some TLC to stay edible. Upon your arrival home, snip a half-inch off the stem bottoms, using sharp scissors or pruning shears. Also, remove any leaves from the lowermost stems.
If you have enough fridge space, stand the bunch upright in a large jar or vase. Fill the vessel with enough cool water to submerge the stems by roughly 2 inches. If any leaves are underwater, remove them to prevent rotting. Then, keep the herbs in your fridge, changing the water daily.
What if the cuttings are too tall for your refrigerator shelves? After stem trimming, wrap the herbs loosely in moist paper toweling. Lastly, puncture a plastic bag with three small holes, seal the herbs inside, and refrigerate them.
With either storage method, the herbs should stay fresh in your fridge for at least a week. Before use, rinse them in cool water.
Buying Dried Herbs
Dried herbs are available year-round, sold by grocery stores, ethnic markets, natural food stores, and online. Check the expiration dates on packaging, choosing those with distant dates. Avoid stocking up on herbs, along with spices. Otherwise, they could be tasteless by the time you’re ready to use them.
By the way, at this juncture, I’d like to explain the difference between herbs and spices. They vary by the plant parts used for culinary purposes. Herbs are plant leaves, whereas spices come from the seeds, roots, and bark of plants.
Storing Dried Herbs
Keep the containers in a cool location, away from heat, light, and moisture. When stored properly, dried herbs should stay fresh until their labeled expiration dates.
Five savory herbs with healing effects are rosemary, basil, sweet marjoram, dill, and French tarragon. When cooking with these herbs, except for rosemary, add them at the end of cooking time. This practice will help to preserve their flavor and nutrients. Rosemary is unique for its ability to withstand the heat of cooking.
Attention pregnant and breastfeeding mothers! Remember that it’s not safe for you to eat marjoram, dill, or tarragon. Basil and rosemary are okay, provided you consume them in small amounts.
Whenever possible, flavor your food with herbs instead of salt. Your arteries, organs, and taste buds will cheer!
NOTE: This content should not be misconstrued as professional medical advice. For your safety, when under the care of a qualified clinician, follow their instructions over anything posted on this website.