What’s life…without a little herb ?

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Morning foodies !  Have you ever thought…what’s a wonderful salad without a light dressing ? What’s a roast without all the fixings ? What’s gumbo or jambalaya without a yummy broth or roux ? Potato salad or pasta salad without its tasty goodness ? You feel me huh ? Herbs and seasonings can not only enhance many meals but offer wonderful health benefits. They give a burst of flavor and can help liven up a gravy or sauce and moreover bring a meal together…any meal without is just food :).

As you can tell by the few meals I’ve posted thus far, I’m a big fresh herb, dried herb and seasonings user. My goal is to use a wonderful herb in each meal from thyme to oregano to basil to cumin, anise or curry powder…seasonings and herbs just have a way to liven up any meal and have a great taste in your mouth.

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My family is big on herb gardens. My grandmother and uncles have a small gardens in their backyards in which they grow many things they use on a daily basis in many of their meals. From herbs to fresh veggies such as tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers and zucchini…us ‘southerners’ tend to find a way to grow our own. I love the fact that they usually have so much that I can always go by and take a few snips or two or a handful to take home and use in my meals. My goal is to start my own small herb garden so I can have them of my own. Now, yes while growing fresh herbs in any urban area you have to be careful of critters coming to snack on your homegrown treasures there are ways to keep them away. For example, in order for me to take the pictures above I had to step over and through chicken wire. One of my uncles uses chicken wire to surround his herbs.

Repellents are a good deterrent when planting in urban areas such as the backyards of DC, MD & VA to be specific 🙂 Scent repellents, such as garlic clips, castor oil and predator urine can be effective temporary solutions but they need to be monitored and reapplied to remain effective. Products made with hot peppers can deter nibbling rabbits. Some types of plants, such as castor bean and fritillaria, are said to discourage rodents. Mothballs are sometimes used as a scent deterrent, but must be used with caution as they are poisonous to pets and children.

Visual and auditory scare devices can be used to repel animals. These include ultrasonic repellers, motion-activated water sprayers, noise makers, and visual scare devices such as reflective tape and faux predators. The effectiveness of these devices usually diminishes over time as pests may become familiar with them. Surprise is the effect you’re after, so plan on changing up your strategies.

Here are a few tips on the health benefits of the use of herbs

ImageBasil- Round often pointed leaves looks a lot like peppermint to which it is related. Its highly fragrant leaves are used as a seasoning herb for a variety of foods but has become ever popular as the main ingredient in pesto, the mixture of basil, pine nuts and parmesan cheese. Basil is a very good source of vitamin A (through its concentration of carotenoids such as beta-carotene). Called “pro-vitamin A,” since it can be converted into vitamin A, beta-carotene is a more powerful anti-oxidant than vitamin A and not only protects epithelial cells (the cells that form the lining of numerous body structures including the blood vessels) from free radical damage, but also helps prevent free radicals from oxidizing cholesterol in the blood stream. Only after it has been oxidized does cholesterol build up in blood vessel walls, initiating the development of atherosclerosis, whose end result can be a heart attack or stroke. 

Basil is also a good source of magnesium, which promotes cardiovascular health by prompting muscles and blood vessels to relax, thus improving blood flow and lessening the risk of irregular heart rhythms or a spasming of the heart muscle or a blood vessel. In addition to the health benefits and nutrients described above, basil also emerged from our food ranking system as an excellent source of vitamin K and manganese, a very good source of copper and vitamin C, and a good source of calcium, iron, folate and omega-3 fatty acids.

Whenever possible, choose fresh basil over the dried form of the herb since it is superior in flavor. The leaves of fresh basil should look vibrant and be deep green in color. They should be free from dark spots or yellowing. Fresh basil should be stored in the refrigerator wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel. It may also be frozen, either whole or chopped, in airtight containers. Alternatively, you can freeze the basil in ice cube trays covered with either water or stock that can be added when preparing soups or stews. Dried basil should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place where it will keep fresh for about six months.

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Rosemary– Looking like a small sprig from an evergreen tree the wonderful smell and assertively pine-like fragrance and pungent flavor of rosemary goes a long way to flavor to chicken, lamb, pork, salmon and tuna dishes as well as many soups and sauces. As an evergreen, rosemary is available throughout the year.

Rosemary grows on a small evergreen shrub belonging to the Labiatae family that is related to mint. Its leaves look like flat pine-tree needles, deep green in color on top while silver-white on their underside. Its memorable flavor and unique health benefits makes it an indispensable herb for every kitchen. 

The wonderful smell of rosemary is often associated with good food and great times. But it could just as easily be associated with good health. Rosemary contains substances that are useful for stimulating the immune system, increasing circulation, and improving digestion. Rosemary also contains anti-inflammatory compounds that may make it useful for reducing the severity of asthma attacks. In addition, rosemary has been shown to increase the blood flow to the head and brain, improving concentration. So, the next time you enhance the flavor of some special dish with rosemary, congratulate yourself for a wise as well as delicious choice.

Whenever possible, choose fresh rosemary over the dried form of the herb since it is far superior in flavor. The springs of fresh rosemary should look vibrantly fresh and should be deep sage green in color, and free from yellow or dark spots. Fresh rosemary should be stored in the refrigerator either in its original packaging or wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel. You can also place the rosemary sprigs in ice cube trays covered with either water or stock that can be added when preparing soups or stews. Dried rosemary should be kept in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark and dry place where it will keep fresh for about six months.

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Peppermint– While peppermint leaves are available throughout the year, they are especially good in warm weather when they can give a burst of cool flavor to a summery salad or beverage. Peppermint has greenish-purple lance-shaped leaves while the rounder leaves of spearmint are more of a grayish green color. The taste of both peppermint and spearmint bear a flavor that can be described as a cross between pepper and chlorophyll, with peppermint being a bit stronger and spearmint being a little more cool and subtle.

In the world of health research, randomized controlled trials have repeatedly shown the ability of peppermint oil to relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, including indigestion, dyspepsia, and colonic muscle spasms. These healing properties of peppermint are apparently related to its smooth muscle relaxing ability. Once the smooth muscles surrounding the intestine are relaxed, there is less chance of spasm and the indigestion that can accompany it. The menthol contained in peppermint may be a key reason for this bowel-comforting effect.

Interest in peppermint has extended well beyond the digestive tract, however. Perillyl alcohol is a phytonutrient called a monoterpene, and it is plentiful in peppermint oil. In animal studies, this phytonutrient has been shown to stop the growth of pancreatic, mammary, and liver tumors. It has also been shown to protect against cancer formation in the colon, skin, and lungs. These animal-based studies have yet to be matched by equally sound human studies, however.

Whenever possible, choose fresh mint over the dried form of the herb since it is superior in flavor. The leaves of fresh mint should look vibrant and be a rich green color. They should be free from dark spots or yellowing. To store fresh mint leaves, carefully wrap them in a damp paper towel and place inside of a loosely closed plastic bag. Store in the refrigerator, where it should keep fresh for several days. Dried mint should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place, where it will keep fresh for about nine to twelve months.

While I know I’ve given you a lot to read…here’s your last food for thought, after you’ve got your kitchen or fridge full of herbs and you don’t want them to go to waste, what I like to do is saute them in a frying pan under a medium heat with a little salt and pepper either in olive oil or coconut oil and pour them into ice trays. Once they molds form, I pop them out of the trays and put them in a zip lock bag and label the bag. That way when I want to season my meat or saute a veggie instead of going to my cabinet…I head to my fridge and take a cube or two out. This I call my ‘herby seasoning’ short cut. 

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Hope these tips have helped and provided a little light on life…with herb !

#bonappetite #happycooking

 

 

 

 

 

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