A German proverb tells that a garden is the poor man's apothecary. While your garden can't replace your local pharmacy for everything, you can create a garden full of delicious and healthful herbs. It turns out many of the herbs with the most flavour also contain a good dose of antioxidants and other essential vitamins and nutrients. Let's take a look at some of the tastiest and most beneficial plants.
Basil: Vibrant, fragrant basil blossoms with white flowers and soft, pointed leaves. Those soft leaves can be ground, dried, or powdered to be used as a spice, but it is with the freshest leaves that one can harvest the most nutritional benefits. Basil is a great source of the antioxidant vitamin A, which helps to protect cells from damage due to free radicals. It also provides iron, calcium, vitamin C, and magnesium, a vital component to healthy blood flow. Basil can burgeon with a bit of attention, plenty of room to grow, good sun exposure, and frequent watering.
Chamomile: Often brewed as a tea, chamomile can help to reduce the cramping symptoms of menstruation, gas, stress, and other digestive upsets. Chamomile prefers sandy soil and lots of sunshine.
Cilantro: Cilantro is definitely an acquired taste. A fixture in many of the world's cuisines, the herb goes by several names, including coriander and dhania. The plant can be eaten from root to tip, so some people sprinkle the leaves into salsas or curries and others use the seeds to add a warm, citrus flavour to foods. It has been used as a medicine for centuries in the Middle East and research is underway to find out its potential as a regulator of blood sugar and cholesterol levels and as an antibacterial agent. Short-lived and fussy, cilantro needs sunlight but flourishes in cool temperatures, and sometimes it needs a bit of mulch to keep the soil cool. It aids in digestion and helps to cleanse heavy metals and other toxic agents from the body.
Mint: Mint grows in many varieties and the leaves and oils of the plant find their way into many foods, teas, gums, and – obviously – mints. The menthol derived from mint oil has long been added to medicines to treat sore throats, congestion, itching, and minor aches and pains. The oil of peppermint also helps soothe stomach upset by calming muscle spasms, like the ones that come with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Peppermint added to foods and beverages may offer some of the herb's benefits, and it will definitely add a cool, minty flavour. Mint is rich in vitamin A. This herb thrives in moist, shady spots, but they can grow in full sunlight. They're tenacious growers, so keep them in a pot so they don't overpower other plants.
Oregano: Get a whiff of oregano, and you may be transported to pizzeria memories. This Mediterranean spice tastes warm and slightly bitter, and complements tomato sauces and vegetables. Its benefits go beyond flavour and zest. Gram for gram, oregano also supplies a hefty serving of antioxidants, fibre, iron, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin K, a vitamin that contributes to healthy, functioning blood. To harvest oregano's health benefits, give plants plenty of sun, and water sparingly.
Parsley: You should never overlook that sprig of parsley on your dinner plate. Plain and simple old parsley provides folic acid, an important B vitamin that supports heart health, men's fertility, and helps to prevent some kinds of cancer. Parsley is also rich in vitamins A, C, and K, and it makes a great breath freshener in a pinch. Its flavour can liven up salads, soups, and sauces, and it is a key ingredient in the popular Middle Eastern dish tabbouleh. Parsley grows well indoors, so keep it in a warm, sunny spot, tucked into compost-enriched soil.
Sage: Savoury sage turns out to be aptly named, as research reveals it can help to boost brain power. Its oil helped enhance research participants' instant recall, and compounds in its roots may help to inhibit the growth of brain plaques that form in Alzheimer's disease. Grow this peppery herb to add zest to meats, cheeses, and soups. It's an evergreen, but it loves full sunlight and needs some periodic pruning to keep it healthy.
Rosemary: Rosemary holds antioxidant power in its pungent, minty, pine-flavoured leaves. An active ingredient in the herb may even protect your brain from stroke, Alzheimer's disease, and other age-related degenerative conditions. To grow rosemary, start with a cutting from an already grown plant. Rosemary needs drainage and lots of sunlight. Once you have a healthy plant, snip the leaves into small pieces to release the flavour and aroma. Rosemary often complements starchy foods like potatoes and breads, and it inserts a savoury note to ice creams or puddings. Add it to food or make your own tea by grinding dried-up leaves and steeping them in hot water.
Thyme: Sprinkle thyme onto your food and you add a sharp, pungent flavour that's powerful without being overpowering. Thyme thrives in full sunlight and dry soil. Like its Mediterranean neighbour, oregano, it grows low to the ground. And like oregano, thyme provides your meals with an antioxidant kick. Thyme may also support healthy brain function by boosting omega-3 fatty acids in brain cells. Thyme works flavour wonders in soups, stews, vegetables, and lots of slow-cooked dishes.
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