Growing and Using Fresh Herbs

Herbs can turn ordinary foods into mouthwatering delights without adding a single calorie.

Herbs do not contribute to high blood pressure as salt does, nor to glucose spikes the way sugar does. They do contribute to our well-being by providing disease-fighting phytochemicals.

Flavoring with herbs also helps those on a diet feel satiated when consuming restricted amounts of food. People enjoying meals with herb-nuanced tastes tend to eat slowly, increasing their sense of fullness and satisfaction.

Cooking with Fresh Herbs: The Basics

With just a bit of information, anyone can experiment with using fresh herbs to enhance meals.

  • Dried herbs are concentrated and give a more powerful taste boost than more delicately flavored fresh herbs.
  • Recipes calling for herbs are referring to the concentrated dried variety; when substituting with fresh herbs you will need to increase the amount added.
  • Go easy with the herbs when making delicately flavored foods such as white sauces, seafood or eggs. Hearty foods such as meat dishes require heavier doses.
  • Milder tasting herbs include chives, parsley, mint and chervil.
  • Medium flavor herbs include tarragon, basil, thyme and oregano.
  • Strong flavor herbs include bay leaves, rosemary and sage.
  • Store fresh herbs in your refrigerator either wrapped with a damp paper towel in a sealed plastic bag or in a glass of water.
  • Fresh herbs are best added near the end of the cooking process.

If you feel daring and want to create herb combinations, try balancing strong herbs with milder ones until you get a feel for what goes well together.

If you are feeling even more adventurous, consider growing your own herbs.

Growing Herbs: Easy As 1-2-3

According to gardeners, growing herbs is both fun and easy. As a non-gardener thumbing through herb gardening web pages, even the basics seem a bit daunting.

Maybe the best advice on the web for absolute herb growing beginners comes from a blog called The Herb Gardener. The advice is to just get started:

  1. Dig a hole in your soil and fill it with potting mix. Choose a sunny spot near your garden hose so the herb is convenient to water. Or, put the potting mix in a plastic or crockery pot with a drainage hole at the bottom.
  2. Buy an herb plant. Choose an herb you often purchase at the grocery store to flavor your food – something you know you will use. (If you seldom buy fresh herbs consider planting basil, parsley, rosemary or mint.)
  3. Make a hole in your prepared soil and stick the herb plant in it. Cover the roots with soil.

Congratulations, you have made a start. The first year’s yield may not be spectacular, but you have started an anxiety-free, inexpensive herb garden that may give you an itch to plant more next year. Harvest some leaves to flavor your favorite dishes, and enjoy.

Sources: WebMD; The Herb Gardener
Photo credit: Kate Ter Haar / flickr creative commons

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