Home & Garden

5 healthy herbs: It's easy to grow them

By: Adrienne Robertson

Author: Canadian Living

Home & Garden

5 healthy herbs: It's easy to grow them

By: Adrienne Robertson

A pinch or a dash of one dried herb or a few fresh leaves of another can mean the difference between Italian heat and Spanish flair in your cooking. Best of all, these choices – and countless more – can be as accessible as stepping into your backyard or onto your balcony for fresh herbs. Yvonne Tremblay, former associate food editor of Homemakers and author of Thyme in the Kitchen: Cooking with Fresh Herbs, says herbs make healthy food taste great. They are also easy to grow and a simple way to add variety to meals, especially if they are picked just minutes before you use them. Start your own herb collection in your garden or on your windowsill with a few different flavours suited to all types of meals.1. Thyme
Long valued for its antiseptic properties, thyme is also an antioxidant and is great for your belly: it can aid in digestion and may help treat stomach ulcers. With a slightly pungent, spicy, clove-like flavour, thyme is as easy to use as it is to grow. Be sure to plant in lightweight soil like sandy loam to allow easy drainage. Thyme is what Tremblay calls a "dry herb" and likes its soil to dry between waterings. According to Tremblay, thyme can be used with all meats, vegetables, casseroles and soups. Keep in mind that the herb has a strong flavour, so a little will do.

Recipe to try: Shepherd's Pie2. Rosemary
"Herbs give a taste of authenticity to food," says Tremblay. Rosemary's piney, resinous flavour with a hint of lemon makes it ideal for roasts, especially lamb. It works well with basil or thyme and is also used in baking cookies, biscuits and breads. Like other herbs, rosemary should be grown in full sun to partial shade in a clay pot. Do not overwater -- "herbs don't like wet feet," says Tremblay. If you are using fresh leaves, be sure to chop them finely because they are tough. Rosemary dries well and is worth keeping around because it may help alleviate high blood pressure and headaches. Some people even chew the leaves while driving at night because the herb is said to be a stimulant.

Recipe to try: Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Rosemary Orange Marinade

3. Basil
Tremblay describes basil as spicy, sweet and clove-like. It is a staple in Italian tomato dishes and mixes well with eggs, soups, sauces and dips. Basil is said to aid digestion, lower blood sugar levels and have a calming effect on people, so try using it in a home-cooked comfort meal for someone going through trying times. Basil should be brought indoors on chilly nights because it is more vulnerable to frost than other herbs. Tremblay advises growers to be careful when picking basil. "There will be a little joint, a little baby basil growing in the armpit of the stem," she says. Leave this part because it stimulates the plant to make more leaves, providing you with an abundant supply for the next time you're craving gazpacho or pasta.

Recipe to try: Roasted Vegetable Soup with Basil Cream4. Tarragon
Tarragon has a subtle licorice flavour, but it is discreet enough that even licorice-haters will enjoy it in a mixed-greens salad with other fresh herbs. Drizzle a simple dressing over a mixture of basil, tarragon and chives for a fresh summer salad. Tarragon is beneficial to digestion and constipation and is also considered a mild sedative, and therefore good for insomnia. Its sweet taste also works well with fish and chicken and is widely used in French cooking. One of the only dishes it will not work well with is soups, because it is too pungent. Tarragon is difficult to grow from seed, so this is one herb you might want to purchase from a nursery.

Recipe to try: Tarragon Monkfish Kabobs5. Cilantro
Fresh cilantro has a strong, sharp taste and is widely used in Mexican, Caribbean and Asian cooking. Tremblay compares its flavour to citrus and sage. It's a "very distinctive taste that you can get easily," she says. While its unique flavour forces many Europeans to turn up their noses, cilantro's health benefits place it high on the list of healthy herbs: it is said to lower bad cholesterol, lower blood sugar and aid with digestion. For a regular supply, cilantro needs to be planted about every two weeks. If you prefer to dry the leaves, keep in mind that they will not retain a strong flavour like other herbs, but if you grind them up, you will have a good stock of coriander (the dried, ground form of cilantro).

Recipe to try: Vegetable Samosas

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5 healthy herbs: It's easy to grow them

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