Herbs are a versatile and valuable addition to any kitchen. They are tasty little plants that add vitality to every bite and offer a range of culinary and medicinal benefits and come in different forms and flavours. Whether you’re looking for ways to add a lot of flavour to your food or add some life to a bland meal, adding fresh or dried herbs to your recipes is a way of adding great flavour to your favourite dishes without adding salt.
Follow our helpful beginner’s guide to learn about some of the freshest and healthiest herbs you need in your kitchen for cooking and their health benefits.
What is a herb?
A herb is a plant or a part of a plant used for its culinary, medicinal, or fragrant purposes. They are typically plants with green leaves, and although some may have woody stems or flowers, they have several uses, including seasonings, teas, extracts, and essential oils.
Herbs can be annuals, perennials, or biennials and are typically easy to grow in different environments. The difference between annual, perennial, and biennial plants is:
- Annual herbs are plants that complete their life cycle in one year or less. They grow from root, bloom, set seed and die within a single growing season. Examples of annual herbs include basil, cilantro, and marigold.
- Perennial herbs are plants that live for more than two years, often coming back year after year. They usually die back to the ground in winter and then re-emerge in spring. They may flower and set seeds each year or until their second or third year. Examples of perennial herbs include thyme, lavender, and sage.
- Biennial herbs have a two-year life cycle. They flower and set seeds the following year. In the first year, the plant grows a rosette of leaves close to the ground. In the second year, the plant sends a flowering stem, produces flowers, sets seeds, and dies. Examples of biennial herbs include parsley and caraway.
The most commonly used culinary herbs include basil, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and cilantro. They are often used fresh, dried or frozen for later use. But fresh herbs contain higher antioxidant levels compared to processed or dried herbs.
Beyond infusing the house and your dinner plate with blissful aromas and turning your ordinary meals into something extraordinary, they also have many health benefits when you cook with them as they contain compounds that have antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties, which are used to treat a wide range of health conditions.
Why is it important to use herbs when cooking?
Herbs offer a range of health benefits because of their high nutrient content and unique phytochemicals. Many of them are known for their ability to help reduce blood clots and provide anti-inflammatory and anti-tumour properties. They also help prevent and manage heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Using herbs when cooking is important for various reasons. They include:
- Flavour: Herbs can add depth and complexity to dishes, enhancing the taste and making food more enjoyable. Different herbs have different flavour profiles. Experimenting with them can help you discover new and exciting taste combinations.
- Nutrients: Many herbs contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants beneficial for your health. By using fresh herbs in your cooking, you can increase the nutrient content of your meals and reduce the need for less healthy flavour enhancers like salt and sugar.
- Digestion: Herbs like ginger and fennel can aid digestion by stimulating the production of digestive enzymes and reducing inflammation in the gut. Cooking with herbs can help support your digestive health and promote better nutrient absorption.
- Variety: Cooking with herbs can help you add variation to your diet, making it easier to eat a wide range of the nutrients your body needs.
Herbs are the ideal ingredient for any health-conscious cook. Used for centuries for their medicinal properties and a range of health benefits, they are potent flavour agents that can help you reduce the amount of salt, sugar and fat in your cooking. They give your meals a variety of fabulous flavours and are good for your heart, blood sugar, and waistline. On top of that, herbs have numerous healing and health-promoting properties that make them worth using, including:
- Anti-inflammatory properties: Herbs like ginger, turmeric, and rosemary have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce inflammation in the body; and alleviate pain associated with conditions like arthritis.
- Antimicrobial properties: Some herbs, like garlic and thyme, have antimicrobial properties that can help fight off harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungi and boost the immune system.
- Digestive health: Herbs like fennel and peppermint can help improve digestion, reduce bloating, and relieve symptoms of digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
- Stress relief: Herbs like lavender and chamomile have calming properties that can help reduce stress and anxiety and improve sleep quality.
- Antioxidant properties: Many herbs contain antioxidants like flavonoids and phenolic acids, which can help protect the body against damage from free radicals and reduce the risk of chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease.
- Improved cognitive function: Herbs like ginkgo biloba and rosemary may help improve memory and cognitive function.
Easy-to-grow herbs at home:
There are many easy-to-grow herbs that can be grown at home with minimal effort. We have put together a list of all the easy to care for herbs that you can plant in your garden. These herbs are also an excellent option for beginners or anyone looking to start a herb garden at home. Here are some of the best options:
- Basil is an annual herb that prefers well-drained soil and plenty of sunlight. Keep the soil consistently moist and harvest leaves regularly to encourage new growth.
- Chives are perennial herbs that produce lovely pink edible flowers, and their onion-like flavour makes them ideal for salads and garnishes.
- Mint prefers moist soil and partial to full sun. It grows well in damp and shady places, including in pots.
- Parsley is a biennial herb that is easy to grow from seed or seedlings in a semi-shaded place with moist soil.
- Thyme is a perennial herb easy to grow in plant pots or the garden. Use it as a ground cover, or let it grow over the sides of the plant pot in a sheltered, sunny spot.
- Oregano is a hardy perennial herb that is an enduring herb that grows well in moist conditions in full view of the sun.
The five best herbs to have in your kitchen:
Incorporating herbs into your diet can offer a range of health benefits and help promote overall wellness. Below are the five best herbs to have in your kitchen:
- Basil is an aromatic herb with a sweet, slightly peppery flavour. Great for Italian cuisine, particularly tomato-based dishes like pizza, pasta sauces, salads and pesto. Basil contains antioxidants like flavonoids and phenolic acids, which help protect the body against damage from free radicals. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce inflammation. It is also known to have antimicrobial properties, which can help fight off harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
- Rosemary is a woody herb with a piney, peppery flavour. It’s a common ingredient in Mediterranean dishes and pairs well with lamb, chicken, and potatoes. It adds flavour to bread, marinades, and soups. Rosemary contains carnosic acid, an antioxidant known to protect the brain from damage caused by free radicals. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and has been used to treat conditions like arthritis and asthma. Rosemary also improves digestion and helps soothe an upset stomach.
- Thyme is a versatile herb with a slightly floral, earthy flavour. It’s commonly used in French cuisine and pairs well with chicken, fish, and vegetables. It’s also great in stews, soups, and sauces. Thyme contains thymol, a compound with antimicrobial properties. It is used to treat respiratory infections like bronchitis and pneumonia. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and may help reduce inflammation in the body.
- Parsley is a mild, slightly bitter herb often used as a garnish. It’s great for adding flavour to salads, soups, and stews. It is rich in vitamins and minerals like vitamins C, K, and potassium and contains flavonoids, which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Parsley has been used to treat conditions like urinary tract infections and may help improve digestion.
- Sage is a savoury herb with a slightly bitter, earthy flavour. It’s commonly used in Italian cuisine and pairs well with meats like pork and chicken. It’s also great in stuffing, sauces, and risotto. Sage contains compounds like rosmarinic acid and carnosol, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It may help improve brain function and has been used to treat conditions like depression and anxiety. It is also known for its ability to improve digestion and may help reduce inflammation.
Herbs are a versatile and valuable addition to any kitchen or medicine cabinet. Cooking with herbs can help you create delicious and nutritious meals with flavour and less salt. Limiting your salt intake and choosing low-sodium options like herbs whenever possible to promote good health is a good start. If you’re trying to watch your salt intake, look no further than A.Vogel’s Herbamare for the perfect seasoning salt for cooking and overall health. Every ingredient in Herbamare is as fresh and natural as possible. It is a seasoning salt infused with 12 fresh organic herbs, vegetables, and sea salt.
Herbamare contains celery, leek, cress, onions, chives, parsley, lovage, basil, marjoram, rosemary, thyme and kelp. These ingredients lend flavour to your food but contain less salt. It also offers several benefits, including:
- Enhanced flavour. A.Vogel Herbamare adds a delicious flavour to any dish, enhancing the natural taste of your food. Its unique blend of herbs and spices provides a savoury, umami flavour that can bring out the best in vegetables, meats, and other ingredients.
- Natural and organic: Herbamare is made from all-natural and organic ingredients, making it a healthier alternative to traditional seasoning salts that may contain additives, preservatives, or other artificial ingredients.
- Rich in minerals: Sea salt is the main ingredient in Herbamare. It is rich in minerals like magnesium, potassium, and calcium. These minerals are essential for maintaining healthy bodily functions and can help boost overall health.
- Versatile: Herbamare can be used in many dishes, including soups, stews, salads, and marinades. Its versatility makes it a must-have for anyone wanting to experiment with recipes.
- Easy to use: Herbamare is easy to use and can be added to dishes during cooking or as a finishing touch. Sprinkle it over your food and enjoy the delicious flavour.
Having herbs in your kitchen is an easy and rewarding way to add fresh flavours and aromas to your cooking. By selecting the right herbs and providing them with the proper care, you can have a steady supply of fresh herbs for your favourite dishes. The five herbs highlighted in this article – basil, rosemary, parsley, thyme and sage – are versatile, easy to grow, and offer a range of health benefits. Enjoy the delicious flavours and scents of homegrown herbs in your cooking with this beginner’s guide.
References and additional reading:
- Department of Health & Human Services (2019) Better Health Channel. Department of Health & Human Services. Available at: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/herbs (Accessed: March 29, 2023).
- Leech, J. (2017) 10 delicious herbs and spices with powerful health benefits, Healthline. Healthline Media. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-healthy-herbs-and-spices#TOC_TITLE_HDR_7 (Accessed: March 29, 2023).
- Homes To Love (2022) 10 easy to grow herb plants, Homes To Love. Homes To Love. Available at: https://www.homestolove.com.au/10-easy-to-grow-herb-plants-3214 (Accessed: March 29, 2023).
- Maser, R. (2021) Nutritional benefits of herbs and spices, Clean Food Crush. Available at: https://cleanfoodcrush.com/nutritional-benefits-of-herbs-and-spices/ (Accessed: March 29, 2023).
- Denby, L. (2023) The Ultimate Guide to Cooking with fresh herbs, Taste of Home. Taste of Home. Available at: https://www.tasteofhome.com/article/the-ultimate-guide-to-cooking-with-fresh-herbs/ (Accessed: March 29, 2023).
- Herbamare® Original (no date) Herb and Vegetable Infused Sea Salt. Available at: https://www.avogel.co.za/products/foods/herbamare/index.php (Accessed: March 29, 2023).