Why is it that so few people today are cooking their meals with fresh herbs? Well as a matter of fact consumer demand for culinary herbs is actually beginning to rise however we are yet to see this trickle down to the supermarket shelves in most cases.
On the whole, the at home use of fresh herbs in cooking just isn’t something that’s done by everyone as it once was back in our grandparent’s day because we no longer need to grow any of our own food at home in our own gardens. But this now is something that also is beginning to swing back in the other direction as growing homegrown produce is becoming increasingly more and more popular at the moment as people begin to realise the importance of living sustainably as well as organically. Poor herbs are still often getting neglected though as they are not the most essential item in a meal, so it can be very easy to leave them out, especially when budgeting your grocery shopping.
Unfortunately, when people make the decision to skip the herbs aisle they are usually not aware of all of the incredible health benefits that come from adding herbs to your dishes. Instead, we now focus mostly on what is going to ‘fill us up’ with fibre rather than with nutrition. Herbs are in fact special, they contain much higher amounts of antioxidants than fruit and vegetables as well as many beneficial plant compounds that help to protect us from disease and sickness. Just 1 tablespoon of fresh oregano for example contains anti-cancer properties, reduces inflammation, fights bacteria and has as much vitamin C as one whole apple.
And it’s also the whole out of sight out of mind thing. Since there often isn’t a very prominent herb section at the supermarket most of us simply don’t think to use them. This is why I personally love keeping my herb garden inside rather than out in my garden. I used to always forget to cook with herbs myself even though I was actually growing them! But once I’d set up my herb plants on display in the kitchen where I’m looking at them as I prepare my meals, I never forget. Plus using them this way gives me a really good feeling to be so connected to the source of my food, rather than just buying everything all the time.
A hundred years ago, the herb garden was an essential part of home gardening. It provided flavour and sustenance for households. But with our busy lives today most of us no longer have the time to keep a garden. If this is you then growing a herb garden could be the best way for you to get started. Because herbs are so small and easy to grow there really is no reason why you wouldn’t benefit from doing this for yourself. Besides enhancing the flavour of your meals, using more culinary herbs is going to boost nutrition without adding any extra calories to your dishes.
Yes, you could just buy packets of dried herbs from your supermarket but the flavour will be seriously lacking and you’re not going to get the same nutritional benefits either. It’s a fact that dried herbs contain much fewer antioxidants and active beneficial compounds. They are also probably not going to have any vitamins and minerals left in them either. Fresh herbs often are very high in essential vitamins and minerals such as basil which contains 30% of your daily vitamin C intake, 10% of iron and 16% of magnesium per 100g. However, vitamins die off in food quickly as it sits on the self or is dried out. And so fresh is the only way to go, if you want your herbs to be a superfood that is.
So if you’re not used to cooking with herbs and you aren’t quite sure where to begin, don’t worry I’m going to make this really easy for you. You won’t need to change your diet or start looking for totally new recipes. All you need to do most of the time is add a generous sprinkle of fresh herbs to your existing favourite dishes to both beautify them and supercharge the nutritional value of your meals.
Below is a cheat sheet I’ve put together to help you decide which herbs go well with different types of foods.
Which Herbs to Use for Cooking (cheat sheet)
CHEESE DISHES – oregano, savoury, tarragon, time, sage.
OMELETTES – chervil, parsley, chives, basil, tarragon, chives.
PASTA – basil, sage, garlic, tarragon, oregano.
PIZZA – thyme, marjoram, oregano, basil, rosemary.
SOUP – bay leaf, tarragon, chervil, marjoram, parsley, rosemary, savoury.
ASIAN & CURRIES – curry lear, chives, coriander, lemongrass, Thai basil, cilantro.
CASSEROLE and STEWS – sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano.
SALAD – parsley, chervil, chives, lemon balm, basil, mint.
RICE – chives, parsley.
POTATOES – chives, dill, fennel, rosemary, tarragon.
WHITE SAUCE – chervil, parsley, fennel, dill, chives.
TOMATO BASED SAUCE – basil, fennel, marjoram, oregano.
MUFFINS and SCONES – thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano.
BREAD – caraway, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, thyme.
STUFFING – thyme, sage, savoury, marjoram, mint.
BARBECUE and ROASTS – oregano, sage, thyme, rosemary, savoury.
BEEF – bay leaf, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme.
PORK – basil, marjoram, parsley, rosemary, sage, savoury, thyme.
LAMB – basil, dill, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary.
POULTRY – bay leaf, dill, marjoram, sage, tarragon, thyme.
FISH – basil, bay leaf, chives, dill, fennel, oregano, parsley, thyme.
The Bottom Line
If you take anything away from this article it should be to be aware that herbs are in fact superfoods and superfoods are herbs. They do provide beautiful garnishes and aromatic flavours to our meals but they are not just for gourmet chefs, they should also be for anyone out there who’s trying their best to make health-conscious choices when it comes to cooking.
Think of it this way: Fruit and vegetables are your main source of vitamins and minerals and then herbs are for getting antioxidants and boosting our immune systems. Something that I personally feel that I can’t afford not to do with the number of threats to our health that we face in today’s world.
As Hippocrates, the Godfather of Medicine once said “Let food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food”.
Recipe – ‘Put it On Everything’ Herb & Cashew Dip
1 cup of raw cashews
1/2 cup of fresh herbs of your choice (Just one type of herb will do but combine 2 or 3 for the best possible flavour such as parsley, cilantro, dill, sage or basil)
1 tablespoon of rice or white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon of natural sea salt
2 tablespoons of olive oil
- Rinse the cashew nuts and leave them to soak overnight in some water.
- Rinse them again and blitz in a food processor or blender with the rest of the ingredients (rinse the herbs first).
Tip: For sauces you can either just dollop some on food or heat the dip in a pot and thin it down by adding a little water, nut milk or organic cream.
This tasty dip makes an excellent spread as well, I like to eat it plain on crackers. It also makes a very delicious addition to sandwiches or spread on toast.