As a lover of healthy home-cooked food, as well as being a Nutritional Therapist, I’m always searching for ways to make things taste great whilst also reaping the maximum health benefits from each meal. Using Herbs in our cooking is the perfect way to do this, as they not only add aroma and flavour to cooking, they also provide lots of nutritional punch.
Herbalists have used herbs for many centuries to cure ailments, mainly in the forms of teas and tinctures but their use in cooking for health promoting benefits is much more of a recent development. Herbs add flavour to cooking, meaning for those reliant on salt to enhance their taste of a meal, it’s a great way to help them cut back on salt intake.
But the true power of Herbs lies in their anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects on the body. They contain plant compounds called polyphenols, which studies have shown can be protective of certain diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Certain herbs are also anti-microbial and anti-bacterial, meaning they help protect us from harmful bacteria.
One recent study in 2016, saw a team of scientists from a university in Rome try to discover the secret to the longevity of a tiny village in south west Italy, where more than 1 in 10 of the 700 population are over 100. After spending 6 months in the region the team discovered the villagers had unusually good blood circulation for their age. This has been mainly attributed to their diet and lifestyle, particularly their consumption of large amounts of the local Rosemary, which the people of the region use in abundance in their cooking.
This study is just one example of how herbs have potent health benefits. So here are some of my favourite herbs to use in cooking and why they are so beneficial:
High in vitamins A, C and K, this herb is great added to salads and stirred into the end of soups and stews. Don’t skimp on the amount and use it as you would a salad leaf or leafy green vegetable, rather than simply a garnish. Due to it’s potent compounds it’s a particularly good nutrient to nutralise carcinogens. The various flavonoids in parsley have anti-oxidant effects and its high vitamin A content in the beta-carotene form make it protective against many conditions including cancer and arthritis. It’s also a good source of folate, making it an important nutrient for heart health.
Rosemary is a great herb to include in soups, stews, with roast Chicken or on potatoes. It improves digestion, is great for increasing blood circulation and stimulating the immune system. It has potent anti-inflammatory compounds, so great for use in conditions of inflammation such as asthma, arthritis and auto-immune conditions. Rosemary is also reportedly good for brain health, as it contains a substance called carnosic acid, which is able to help fight free radical damage in the brain. There is also some evidence it helps to fight brain aging, which could be significant for conditions such as Alzheimer’s.
Great added to roasts, stews or even mixed into scrambled eggs or omelettes, this herb is high in Vitamin K, essential for blood clotting. It also has anti-bacterial qualities, making it important in preventing the growth of harmful bacteria. It contains several anti-oxidant phytonutrients helping to prevent oxygen-based damage to our cells. It is also a nutrient dense herb, providing significant amounts of dietary fibre needed for the health of our gut and the removal of toxins from our bodies.
This fragrant herb is probably best known as a pairing with Italian food. As well as forming the base for a homemade pesto, it’s great stirred into pasta, with tomato based dishes and also added to salads. Basil is high in Vitamin A making it important for our immune systems to help fight inflammation within the body. The Flavanoids found in basil mean it is protective at a cellular level and helps protect both cell structure and chromosomes from oxygen-based damage and radiation, meaning it could offer important DNA protection. It is anti-bacterial plus provides good amounts of magnesium, an essential mineral for the relaxation of our muscles and blood vessels.
Herbs are one of the easiest health additions to your cooking and so easy to grown in pots on windowsills or in your garden. Include these nutrient powerhouses in your cooking on a daily basis and reap the rewards.