Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor and nothing in this article should be taken as medical advice. Please talk to your doctor before using any of the herbs and/or remedies mentioned in this article.
We all use herbs knowing that they pack a punch of flavor for cooking. When using herbs, you may find yourself in a rut of sticking to a few that you are comfortable with, but there is a handful that you should keep on hand.
Besides the flavor, many herbs also possess medicinal and healing properties when eaten, used for tea, or in herbal medicine. Herbs can protect against oxidative stress since they tend to be loaded in antioxidants.
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Most herbal remedies need more research to be considered scientifically proven. Always do your own research and check with your doctor before trying to treat a medical condition naturally.
1. Bay Leaf
Bay leaf has been used as a flavor enhancer through much of Europe dating back to ancient times in Greece. Widely used in the United States for stews, brines, sauces, meat, and seafood dishes, this little leaf carries an aromatic addition to anything that simmers.
The leaf itself should not be ingested since it is very fibrous to digest. It has been used in the Caribbean for dishes like jerk chicken, and in several Indian dishes making this a herb used around the world.
Less commonly known, you can also drink bay leaf tea by steeping a couple leaves in boiled water. The tea smells spicy and it is tasty to drink on its own. As a migraine sufferer, I found that drinking bay leaf tea in the earliest phases of a migraine onset offered symptomatic relief quickly. I would advise not drinking the tea on an empty stomach.
Bay leaves have a small amount of several vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, C, calcium, magnesium, and iron. Some think that bay leaf has anti-bacterial properties, cancer prevention abilities, and may lower blood sugar.
Because the dried leaf is most used, this is a great staple to add to your spice cabinet.
Basil leaves and flowers are both edible with the fresh leaf most used. Basil is well known for its presence in Italian dishes like pesto, or a basil marinara. Basil is also commonly used in a variety of Asian cuisines.
Added fresh to garnish a dish, or at the end stages of cooking, fresh basil has a sweet but lasting flavor profile. Dried basil, and basil that has been cooked for longer, loses a lot of its strong flavor. Growing this herb is a great way to enjoy it regularly.
Basil has been used for stomach issues like a loss of appetite and gas, snakebites, the common cold, liver purification, fighting infection, and mental health. You can also defuse basil essential oil to help lower stress levels as you relax. You can make your own herbal oil.
Basil is easy to grow in an herb garden, or even a pot indoors. Since it is delicate once it is picked, and best used fresh, this is a great herb to grow and utilize regularly.
Lavender flowers and leaves are both used in culinary dishes spanning sauces, desserts, breads, and some meat dishes. The flowers have a sweeter flavor, where the leaves are a bit more herbaceous and used in dishes that might alternatively call for rosemary.
Lavender tea and lavender essential oil are both used as a relaxation aid. Having some lavender tea will help fight off insomnia and help you unwind. Lavender can also help settle your stomach. Simply steep some lavender flowers in boiling water and then strain to enjoy. Add a bit of lemon because lavender and lemon naturally complement each other.
Because lavender is so pleasantly fragrant, drying the flowers creates endless opportunities to create potpourri, sachets, and other home decorations.
Though you can use dried lavender sprigs in off season, growing lavender is simple and do-able in a pot. If you can add it to a garden, it enhances the visual aesthetic. A bonus to the garden is that the same strong fragrance that we enjoy is a natural deterrent to pesky bugs like mosquitos and flies.
Commonly used around the world as a garnish, added in salads, sauces, vegetable dishes, marinades, and soups, parsley is used enough that it is another to have on hand. This adaptable herb lends to a variety of dishes.
Flavorful fresh and dried, you can use this plant whether you choose to grow it or simply buy it from the grocery store. High in antioxidants and vitamins a, c, folate, and especially vitamin k which helps blood clotting and bone health.
Because of the vitamin c and flavonoid antioxidants within parsley, the herbs can help reduce oxidative stress. When your body has oxidative stress you are more prone to cancers and other diseases which gives this herb some under-rated super powers.
Mint is an herb used around the world due to its aromatic, sweet, and refreshing taste. Mint is used to make cocktails, teas, desserts, meat dishes, curries, mint pesto, and more. Like many herbs, a mint leaf carries the most flavor when used fresh. If you can grow this herb, or buy fresh, you will have the best flavorful results. If you choose to plant, mint is a great herb to grow in a pot since it can easily take up a lot of space, it spreads.
Mint is equally used as an essential oil, fragrance in toiletries, and as an herbal medicine. To sooth an upset stomach, or even just aid in digestion after dinner, steep a few fresh or dried mint leaves in some boiling water to have mint tea.
You can also add fresh mint leaves to a homemade bug repellent and add some fresh leaves as a mulch to other plants with bug problems. Many bugs do not like the smell of mint, so it is a natural deterrent to a handful of bugs like mosquitos, ants, and several garden insects.
Mint essential oil can be mixed with a carrier oil and then rubbed onto sore muscles. You can also add the carrier oil and rub a little bit of mint essential oil onto your temples for a headache.
6. Cilantro (Coriander)
Cilantro seems to be a flavor profile you love, or you just do not. To me, cilantro is one of the most-needed herbs to always have on hand. If you are one who hates the taste, it might be that you are not experiencing the herb like others.
Some people have a variation of genetic olfactory receptor that gives them the ability to pick up on the aldehydes in cilantro that taste like soap. Though this genetic preference may exist for you, there’s hope to still enjoy cilantro! You can help lessen the negative perception by crushing the herb first. Crushing or breaking cilantro will help release the soapy enzyme to become milder for your taste preference.
Cilantro is used around the world. This herb also dates to ancient Greece. Used regularly in a variety of cuisines, there are endless recipes featuring cilantro. We make fresh salsa and guacamole regularly and neither taste as bold nor refreshing without cilantro.
Cilantro is not just a great flavor; it comes with plenty of healthy benefits. If you grow the plant, you can both use the leaves and the seeds that come later. Coriander seed is from the cilantro plant and comes with its own flavor and benefits.
Cilantro is thought to protect against oxidative stress, rid the body of heavy metals, lower anxiety, boost brain health, protect against food-born illness, and boost overall health.
Rosemary feels a bit different than other herbs, as it can grow into a shrub. The woodier branches and pine-like needles make this herb great fresh or dried. Rosemary is incredibly aromatic and flavorful, which makes it a great add to anything roasted or grilled, both which only seem to toast the sprigs and enhance the flavor. The benefit of throwing rosemary on anything you cook on the grill is that the aroma also deters mosquitos.
Rosemary has an ancient history of being used by ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks for a variety of sacred purposes. In Europe and Australia, Rosemary is used in remembrance ceremonies and even highlighted as such in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Rosemary is another herb used medicinally by the leaf and essential oil. It is high in antioxidants aiding in healing oxidative damage. Rosemary also is naturally anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. Rosemary can help improve memory and brain health, joint pain, indigestion, and may promote hair growth.
Oregano is a staple in our home with the dried version regularly added to our favorite homemade salad dressing and as a necessary condiment for any Italian dish, especially pizza! It’s flavor packs punch, and its history is vast. This herb is great fresh or dried, though fresh retains the most flavor.
Another plant with many antioxidants, you are benefitted by eating this and consider utilizing some oregano essential oil, too. Oregano’s history by the Greeks and Romans spans to much of the Mediterranean area not just for its flavor but also, it’s medicinal properties in boosting general health. Another plant that is anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory, oregano helps fight sickness and cancer. It has been used for muscle pain, stomach issues like indigestion, and can even boost your mood!
9. Dill Weed
Dill may make you think of pickles, though its variety and history are much vaster. Dill dates to the ancient Egyptians through being found in pharaohs tombs.
Dill is used around the world across much of Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and the United States through multiple types of dishes. The flavor is strong in fresh dill, and unfortunately much is lost in the drying process. Likewise, the longer you cook dill, the more flavor will be lost so consider adding it to the end stages of cooking for most flavorful results.
As you add your dill, start sparingly and taste before adding more since a little can carry a lot of taste. We love to add it in fish dishes and even toss it into a salad for a fresh change. It is great to add in a salad dressing or pasta salad since it has a bright citrusy flavor.
Dill has vitamins C, A, manganese, folate and iron. It also has flavonoids which has been known to improve heart health. Dill can be used to ease a stomachache, may help lower cholesterol, promote lactation, aid bad breath, and may lower blood sugar.
These delicious herbs are great to have ready-to-use on a whim. Though they are mostly all best fresh, there are some cheats to jump around if you aren’t able to grow each plant. At the grocery store stock up on the herb list knowing that you can add 1-2 in most meals. Don’t just put the herbs directly into the fridge, though.
If you are taking care of soft herbs like basil, parsley, mint, cilantro, dill, or other soft stemmed, leafy herb, treat it like a flower. Fill up a cup with water and make a bouquet of herbs to stick in it like a vase in the fridge.
For hardier herbs, or hard herbs like rosemary, sage, chives, and oregano, you will have a different approach. Wrap the herb in a damp paper towel and put in an airtight container.
Both of these methods will significantly lengthen the fridge life of your herbs so you can effectively have them on hand.
Herbs like bay leaf, oregano, thyme, rosemary, and lavender are great to store and use dried. All dried herbs still have a freshness value. The fresher the dried herb will mean more flavor so consider swapping out herbs that have sat on your shelf too long. If you did grow your own herbs, you can dry your own.
Regardless of dried or fresh, try to add some herbs in your diet every day!
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