You may already be using fresh organic produce to create healthy meals, but how often do you include herbs in your dishes? If the answer is “not very often,” then you may want to reconsider — and not just because they can add a flavor punch to everything from tacos to lasagna. Herbs are like forgotten superfoods, and there are literally dozens of healing herbs to choose from, depending on your taste buds and your individual health needs.
It only takes a dash here or a sprinkle there to reap the health and taste benefits of these incredible culinary and medicinal plants, starting with six of my favorites, below.
According to a 2013 report in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, parsley has been used for thousands of years to address an incredibly long list of health concerns, including high blood pressure, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, heart disease, urinary problems, diabetes and a variety of skin diseases.
Parsley is also one of the best-known and most used herbs in many modern households, as it is easy to find in grocery stores or grow in a home garden. This antioxidant and anti-inflammatory herb adds a mild flavor to meats, fish, beans, soups, sauces, salads and more.
As a rich source of vitamin A, vitamin K, folate and potassium, cilantro is undoubtedly loaded with vital nutrients. Cilantro also has many impressive health benefits, including its ability to help the body rid itself of hazardous substances that are known to accumulate in it.
Research to date reveals that regularly adding cilantro to recipes may help to detoxify the body of heavy metal neurotoxins like mercury, as well toxic chemicals like insecticides and phthalates. Green and leafy like parsley, but with a more distinct and vibrant flavor, cilantro is delicious in salads, guacamole, salsa, curries and homemade dressings, like my creamy avocado cilantro lime dressing.
For thousands of years, oregano has been an herb valued not just for its culinary use, but also for its healing properties. When it comes to destroying harmful bacteria, oregano is a top defense. In fact, oregano oil (extracted from the leaves, stems and roots of the plant) has been shown in numerous scientific studies to act as a natural antibiotic agent that can kill off many species of harmful pathogens while also preventing the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. This is an herb that can be easily added to so many dishes — like scrambled eggs, tomato-based sauces, bean soups, lamb and so much more — while also potentially decreasing the risk of antibiotic resistance.
Known as the “king of the herbs” in France, tarragon is another incredible culinary and medicinal way to boost your health. How so? Tarragon is used medicinally to treat poor appetite, digestive issues, water retention and toothaches, plus it may also promote a good night’s sleep. It’s also an excellent source of valuable nutrients that we need on a daily basis, including calcium and vitamin A.
Tarragon’s flavor is often described as bitter-sweet and reminiscent of anise or fennel. Used fresh or dried, tarragon leaves can add a notable pop of flavor to omelets, stews, sauces, fish and chicken dishes. Try it in my recipe for Béarnaise sauce, which is delicious on top of a grass-fed steak.
Sorrel has been used in traditional medicine for the treatment of fevers, liver diseases and high blood pressure, and recent research shows it possesses strong antimicrobial properties that enable it to kill off foodborne pathogens like E. coli. When it comes to sorrel’s use in the kitchen, it’s helpful to know that short leaves are best raw, and larger leaves are better for cooking.
Popular in the middle ages, but often overlooked in modern cooking, sorrel is a cross between an herb and a green. It may be somewhat difficult to find at your local grocery store, but it’s often seen in specialty stores or at farmers’ markets in the spring and summer months. Sorrel pairs really well with salmon and is delicious mixed into a salad.
Sometimes called a spice and sometimes called an herb, cardamom is rich in beneficial phytonutrients and is impressively high in manganese, a trace mineral that helps the body form bones, connective tissue and sex hormones. In fact, just one tablespoon of cardamom supplies 80% of most people’s daily manganese requirements. Additionally, consuming ground cardamom is known to fight bad breath and the formation of cavities, while also boosting antioxidant levels and helping to lower blood pressure.
The flavor of ground cardamom is somewhat sweet, and it is absolutely delicious in oatmeal, chai tea and hot green tea. It’s also a regular component in pumpkin and apple pie spice blends.
These are just some of the many herbs you can choose from not only to make your homemade meals more delicious, but also to reap the incredible health benefits of these medicinal plants. I like fresh, organic herbs best, but dried versions are very convenient, long-lasting and just as healthy.