How often, when you’re shopping for ingredients in a recipe do you hover in front of the fresh herbs and question the value of fresh herbs? Is it worth paying $ 3 – 4 dollars a bunch? It may be my Scottishness, and because we have the space to grow fresh herbs, but I often question the value of herbs until I am reminded of their extraordinary health benefits. Fresh herbs have the power to cure specific conditions, improve digestion, and balance the flavour in meals to satisfy the palate and prevent overeating.
Most people are aware of the medicinal potency of fresh herbs even if they don’t know exactly which herbs are good for what. Historically herbal medicine is recognised as one of the major influences of healing in cultures all over the world with records from Roman, Egyptian, Persian, and Hebrew times to prove that herbs were used to treat practically every known illness.
While herbs are pretty easy to grow, for many inner-city unit dwellers, finding a premium piece of sunlit space on a kitchen benchtop makes growing herbs, even in the smallest pots, prohibitive.
If you don’t have an outside herb garden or space on your balcony or kitchen windowsill do you buy fresh herbs? A lot of people don’t see the value of paying an extra $3 – $4 for a small bunch of leaves compared to what you pay, for example, for a whole head of broccoli.
Essential oils in herbs
Take a bunch of fresh herbs, gently rub the leaves between your hands and hold them to your nose. The aromatic smell comes from volatile essential oils which contribute to the herbs’ flavour and healing properties. Parsley for example contains the essential oil eugenol used as a natural oral antiseptic. Eugenol may also lower high blood sugar levels. The sweet fragrance of basil comes from a combination of volatile oils including eugenol, citronellol, linalool, limonese, and terpineol. Combined they are said to have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Thyme contains thymol which has antiseptic and antifungal properties and mint contains menthol, an essential oil we are most familiar with, known for its ability to cool and slightly anesthetise a sore throat.
Flavour in herbs
Beyond their direct association with medicine, flavours in herbs can indirectly improve your health through eating less and improving digestion.
The three most dominant flavours in modern cuisine are sweet, sour, and salty. Take the classic McDonald’s burger and chips as an example: The bun is sweet, the chips are salty and the burger has a sour-tasting dill pickle on the top. When we eat a Mcdonald’s and fries – which hopefully you don’t do too often – we’re often left with wanting something else. The human palate is quite sophisticated and needs more than a hammering of salt, sugar, and vinegar to be satisfied. In the ancient Indian healing practice of Ayurveda, practitioners believe that complete digestion does not occur unless all the flavours of the palate are met. They include bitter, pungent and astringent tastes as well as sweet, sour and salty. Whether it’s because we’re not meeting the needs of our palate and as a consequence, we eat too much, or because we are not meeting the needs of our digestive system and can’t fully digest our food, both roads lead to weight gain and ill-health.
By adding fresh herbs to most meals we can complete the 6 flavours needed to balance a meal and stimulate complete digestion.
Flavours in popular herbs
Parsley – Pungent
Coriander – Bitter, Pungent and Astringent
Mint – Bitter and Pungent
Thyme – Pungent
Sage – Bitter, Pungent and Astringent
Herbs are also rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fibre
How to store fresh herbs
The great thing about fresh herbs is that you don’t have to be restricted to a recipe. If you use half a bunch of basil to make a fresh pesto one evening, you can toss the rest of the leaves into a salad or stir fry the next day or chop the leftover leaves finely, spoon them into ice trays topped up with water and store them in the freezer.
Fresh coriander is delicious in salsa with chopped tomatoes, olives, Spanish onion, fresh chilli and lemon juice but if you don’t use it all in one night, it’s also great with avocado and lime juice on toast the next morning. Don’t forget the roots either; finely chopped and blended with ginger, garlic, chilli and sesame oil, and lemon juice is a great way to boost flavour in a homemade, healthy stir fry sauce
Fresh herbs will store well wrapped in damp kitchen paper in plastic snap-lock bags in the crisper section of the fridge.
If you’d like to learn more about the power of fresh herbs visit www.happyherbshop.com.au