Best Way to Improve Your Health with Herbs

Why do we use herbs in food? In the past, some herbs – such as garlic – acted as preservatives as well as giving flavour. This double duty was useful in the days before refrigeration. Today the main reason for using herbs is to provide flavour that enhances food. Herbs also supply small amounts of vitamins and minerals for healthy eating, and some aid digestion. It is important to remember that not all plants classified as herbs are edible; some are even deadly poisonous

In addition to the culinary herbs, other herbs that are used as food rather than seasoning include greens of chickweed and dandelion (raw or cooked), stinging nettle greens (these lose their sting when cooked), elderberry flowers and berries, flax seeds, nasturtium flowers and immature seed pods, and wild strawberries. Chicory leaves, sometimes called endive, are eaten in salads. Roots of dandelion and chicory are sometimes roasted and brewed as a coffee-like beverage. Marshmallow, whose roots were made into the original marshmallow candy, also has edible shoots and roots.

Herbs1 Best Way to Improve Your Health with Herbs

Choosing a range of herbs assures a variety of textures and tastes that are pleasing to the eye-as well as the palate. Celery is crisp and crunchy; feathery dill looks irresistibly light and fresh; purple-leaved forms of basil or sage add dramatic colour as well as flavour to foods. Many herbs contribute an enticing fragrance. The distinctive scents of French tarragon, lemon balm, and the mints are good examples. Their delicious smells (produced by volatile oils in the herbs) do more than make food appetizing. They can actually improve digestion, because they initiate an anticipatory flow of digestive juices before a mouthful is eaten. Herbs can brighten a jaded palate, and stimulate appetite in invalids.

Herbs often bring a dish to life and boost the experience of eating. Strong herbs contrast nicely with bland staples. Sage works wonders on roasted potatoes, spearmint on bulgur, basil on mozzarella. When tart sorrel or pungent nasturtium is included in a salad, you do not need to use as much vinegar in a vinaigrette. The strong, sweet flavour of basil is so effective-that a plain tomato salad needs no other herb accompaniment. Lemon balm brings a zingy freshness to a salad of early summer leaves.

Herbs are not just for taste, but also for health. Those who must cut back their use of salt will find that strong herb flavours can take-its place as a flavour enhancer. For example, garlic crushed into a salad dressing makes a delicious replacement for salt. If you do not like the smell of garlic on your breath, try chewing leaves of parsley or coriander to cleanse your palate. Some herbs are rich in vitamins, though the amounts used for seasoning contribute only minute quantities. Parsley contains significant amounts of calcium, vitamin C, and vitamin A precursor (beta-carotene). (But parsley comes with a caution: if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant it is inadvisable to eat large quantities.) Sorrel also contains vitamin C. One of the best sources of vitamin A is dandelion; a handful of fresh leaves are sufficient to meet the daily dietary recommendation for an adult. The vitamin content of herbs is greatest when they are used fresh and raw, as in a salad, or added at the last minute. Cooking destroys much of the vitamin C.

Herbs 11 Best Way to Improve Your Health with Herbs

Some herbs have a slightly bitter quality. As well as providing a further taste contrast, this aids digestion by stimulating the flow of bile from the gall bladder, important for digesting fats. Including chicory or its relatives Belgian and curly endive in a salad is therefore a smart as well as a tasty practice at the beginning of a rich dinner Similarly, the slightly bitter volatile-oils in sage also stimulate the flow of bile, and this makes sage an ideal accompaniment to fattier meats such as pork, goose, or duck. A number of herbs, including caraway and peppermint, contain volatile oils that help to calm the digestive tract.

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