Culinary herbs make a wonderful addition to many dishes. We often enjoyed their amazing tastes but we don’t always realise just how many health benefits they bestow. Even better, many of them are really simple to grow in your home herb garden or on a bright windowsill.
Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five favourite herbs to grow at home and explains their numerous health benefits.
Whilst many herbs have a lovely natural aroma, mint is one of most popular scents and it certainly evokes thoughts of summer; think mint as an essential part of summertime Pimms for example!
However, mint delivers some wonderful health benefits and has a long history of traditional medicinal use. It’s very useful for aiding digestive upsets, particularly flatulence and bloating; it seems to control muscle spasms so relaxes the intestines.
If you’re wanting to gain maximum health benefits from mint, then it’s probably best taken in a tea. However, it works really well in either sweet or savoury dishes, particularly accompanying Jersey royal potatoes which are in season right now. It also works brilliantly with roasted aubergine, garlic, plain yoghurt and a little ground pepper.
Parsley is king of green herbs and is often used in green juices and smoothies, for very good reason. It is a great liver tonic and is very cleansing for the body overall. It also helps to calm any troublesome and persistent skin conditions.
Parsley’s ‘claim-to-fame’ is largely down to two of its key components. It contains volatile oils which contribute towards its liver health benefits and also contains antioxidants which help protect the body from many degenerative diseases. Parsley is also a rich source of energising folate and vitamin C, another powerful antioxidant.
Parsley has a wealth of culinary uses in salads, soups, sauces and pesto. It’s particularly lovely very simply used with grilled fish and a little butter.
Rosemary is a perennial favourite herb available all year round and is very easy to grow in a small pot. It will also deliver a wonderful aromatic smell on your patio!
From a health perspective, rosemary is a powerful antioxidant so is great to eat during the summer months to help protect the skin from sun damage. Rosemary also helps support both the immune and digestive systems.
Even better, there are so many wonderful ways that its amazing pine-like aroma and distinctive pungent flavour can be added to dishes. It’s a favourite in lamb or chicken dishes or can be added fresh to egg frittatas. Rosemary can also be crushed and added to olive oil, perhaps with some fresh garlic, and used as a dipping sauce for bread.
Basil is a great go-to herb and will always sit well in any kitchen herb garden. It’s another herb that contains an array of powerful volatile oils which have the potential to protect DNA from oxidation. This process is one of the main causes of body ageing.
These volatile oils also help protect the digestive tract from unwanted bacteria. If you’re planning on travelling abroad or further afield this summer, then it makes sense to try and include basil as much as possible in your dishes. Basil leaves are also a tasty addition to salads.
Basil is probably best known as being the main ingredient in pesto alongside pine nuts, olive oil and parmesan cheese. Plus basil is perfect with mozzarella and tomatoes, as well as when added to soups, salmon or pasta dishes.
They are slightly more sensitive to grow at home, but if you’ve got a warm, sunny windowsill, then it’s certainly worth persevering and growing some chillies. Best known for the ‘heat’ they add to dishes, chillies contain capsaicin which delivers their delicious pungent flavour; the hotter the flavour, the more capsaicin they have.
There’s often a question mark around hot spices and whether they are any good for the digestive system. To the contrary, chilli may actually help protect the gut from stomach ulcers. However, chillies may have an adverse effect on the beneficial gut bacteria. If you’re eating them regularly, then make sure you’re also eating natural yoghurt or other fermented foods which help feed the good gut bacteria. Even better, chillies and yoghurt can be combined into a delicious dip.
Chillies are also known to help with weight loss; they are thermogenic which means they produce calorie-burning heat. They can be added to so many different dishes – think curries, stews and stir-fries. Just remember to wash your hands after chopping and handling them! There’s a wide variety of chillies to grow depending on your requirement for mild to very hot – always do your research and find the chillies which will suit your palette the best.
So enjoy creating your herb garden and bring healthy and delicious herbal additions to your daily dishes.
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