Fresh herbs can not only spice up your meals, they may also help you maintain good health all year long.
During dreary winter months, fresh herbs can add vibrant flavor to your cooking. Even better, many herbs have health benefits. So why not bring your herb garden indoors?
Many plants fare well on a sunny windowsill or kitchen counter, even as the snow and ice pile up outside. According to gardening expert Kim Pezza of the blog New Century Homesteader, there’s still time for many of us to take cuttings from our gardens. “And of course,” she adds, “there are always plant-swapping parties.”
If you don’t have access to plants or if it’s too late to take cuttings, visit a garden store for new seedlings or seeds. Choose perennial herbs, and you can even move your plants outdoors when springtime comes.
Gardening expert Angela Price of Eden Condensed says you should grow the herbs you like and will use. “Basil, thyme, rosemary, and mint are popular and easy-to-grow choices,” she says.
Basil is common in world cuisines—from Italy (it’s the primary ingredient in pesto sauce) to Thailand—and it can add a kick to many salads.
Basil is rich in vitamin K, vitamin A, potassium, and calcium. A recent study suggests that varieties of basil commonly used in Ayurvedic healing reduce inflammation and may potentially be effective in treating arthritis.
Because of its concentration of carotenoid pigments, such as beta-carotene—a powerful antioxidant—basil may contribute to cardiovascular health, and basil essential oil has been shown to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria.
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Thyme has long been prized in cooking (it’s used to flavor poultry and pork, as well as tomato sauces) and as a medicinal herb.
A generous source of antioxidant compounds, thyme has long been taken for sore throats, for upset stomachs, as a diuretic, and even as a germ killer in mouthwash.
Some evidence suggests that thyme’s essential oils provide relief from the inflammation and airway constriction caused by COPD. Researchers recently showed that it helps to clear mucus from the airways of animals. It may also help airways relax, which can improve airflow into the lungs.
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A fragrant, flowering, perennial herb, rosemary is used to flavor roasted meats and stuffings, and it’s become a staple herb in many kitchens, turning up in everything from bread to ice cream.
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia says, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance”—and recent studies show that Shakespeare might have been onto something: in a series of tests, researchers found that smelling rosemary oil increased the chances of people remembering to do things by between 60 and 75 percent. A similar study found that the scent of rosemary oil improved mood. In addition, rosemary has long been a popular home remedy for migraines, digestive problems, and other ailments.
Mint has a distinctive taste but is incredibly versatile; it adds character to both savory dishes and sweet ones.
And it’s not just for fresh breath. Mint is rich in vitamin C and iron. Teas brewed from peppermint or spearmint leaves can ease digestive problems, including irritable bowel syndrome, thanks to mint’s antibacterial and antifungal properties. These properties also help reduce asthma and allergy symptoms.
Many people believe that mint is a mental stimulant, as well as a digestive one. Mint has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory powers.
Price offers the following tips for growing an indoor herb garden:
- Pick the appropriate containers: Pots should be at least four inches deep and have drainage holes. Place a tray underneath to catch the water runoff.
- Give them sun: “A sunny window is key,” Price says.
- Water them only when the soil is dry: If you are not sure, stick a finger in to the dirt. Too much water may “drown” the plant and attract gnats or mildew.
- Trim herbs regularly to encourage new growth.
And she has one final word of advice: “Don’t forget to experiment and have fun!”
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.