A little blast from the past there (if you’re about my age and in the UK!) The Herbs aired on British TV in 1968 and my relationship with these tasty little plants has evolved a bit since then.
I think I took to fresh herbs fairly slowly – dried were easier to manage somehow, not so intense. I can remember the first time I spooned fresh parsley onto soup and then thinking it was way too bitter to actually eat! Likewise, ordering pasta with pesto in Italy because I’d heard of it and then finding it totally disgusting ….
Maybe growing my own was what turned it around. I love growing food and, of course, nothing is easier or quicker than herbs. My personal favourite is coriander (cilantro) – it goes beautifully with anything Asian, from Pakistani curries to Thai coconut sauce, thrown in towards the end of the cooking time or sprinkled fresh on top. Basil comes in a close second, particularly with anything involving tomatoes (and yes, I did come round to pesto in the end – I’ve even made it myself a couple of times and fresh pesto is mind-blowing!)
In terms of health, I think there are three ways of looking at herbs – the movement value of growing them; the additional variety they bring to our diets; and their medicinal value.
Growing your own herbs probably won’t give you much in the way of movement if you just have a couple of pots on the windowsill, but if you’re growing bigger quantities outside or in a greenhouse or polytunnel, you’re going to have the movements of lifting and carrying water, and squatting or bending to tend to the plants and pluck what you need for dinner, as well as an excuse to get outside for a little while.
Variety in our diets is the best way to make sure we get all the nutrients we need and in ways that they can work synergistically together. Diversity also supports a healthy gut microbiome, which affects our health in all sorts of ways from digestive issues to depression to autoimmune symptoms to obesity. Eating locally, seasonally and organically is also great for the microbiome and growing your own herbs ticks all those boxes (shop-bought pots of herbs are likely to have been sprayed though, so planting from seed or buying from a local organic grower would be the ideal). Adding some fresh herbs to a dish is a really easy way to increase the diversity of foods we’re eating.
And finally, using herbs for their medicinal value – that is not just another blog post, it’s several large tomes for your library! However, just to mention a few:
- Parsley is helpful for urinary tract infections
- Tarragon can be used for toothache and upset stomachs
- Basil stimulates the appetite and also soothes upset stomachs
- Dill helps with sleep, as do chamomile and lavender
- Oregano is used for respiratory conditions
- Sage can take on menopausal symptoms
- All the mints are helpful for the lower digestive tract, for flatulence, bloating or griping
- Rosemary can ease headaches and migraines, and menstrual problems
Often for medicinal use though, using the fresh herb in food is not enough and the herb needs to be made into a tea, a tincture, or a salve. If you’re interested in using herbs in this way, here are a few links to take you much further than I can:
- 10 Culinary Herbs and their Medicinal Uses
- Medicinal Uses of Culinary Herbs
- Make Your Own Herbal Medicines
So there you have it – the humble but mighty herb! Are you a herb lover? Do you grow your own? Are you tempted to have a go at making some remedies? I love using fresh mint to make tea – it’s soooo much better than a mint teabag. In fact, I think I’ll go and brew some up now …. see you next week!
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