Herbs and spice make everything nice

Herbs and spice make everything nice

Are you looking for a way to add some zip to your meals this summer? Or perhaps you have high blood pressure and would like to lower those numbers to a healthier level. Something that may help with both can be found right in your garden or kitchen cupboard — herbs.

The word “herb” comes from the Latin word “herba,” which means grass. Herbs are nonwoody plants with savory or aromatic properties used to season foods. They provide flavor without adding salt. Herbs are often used as dried seasonings to add zest to foods when cooking, like adding oregano to tomato sauce. Fresh herbs also are a delight to the taste buds. Fresh herbs are milder tasting, so if you substitute fresh for dried herbs in a recipe, about three times as much will be needed. For example, if a recipe calls for one teaspoon of dried oregano, substitute one tablespoon of fresh oregano — 3:1 ratio. Three parts fresh is equivalent to one part dried.

To up your herb game in the kitchen, here are some flavor hacks:

—Use herbs as a main ingredient in salads, like this cucumber salad recipe found at www.celebrateyourplate.org/recipes/cucumber-salad.

—Substitute 1/2 of the greens in lettuce salads with herbs such as parsley, dill and basil. My garden has a bumper crop of lemon balm, which is a nice addition to salads.

—Mix handfuls of fresh chopped herbs into cold potato and pasta salads.

—Top soups with fresh herbs when serving.

—Garnish an entire dinner plate with fresh herbs and then eat the garnish.

—Make a sandwich with herbs. Grilled cheese with tomato and basil is a classic combo but feel free to be creative.

—Add fresh herbs to drinks, like mint-infused water, rosemary iced tea and fresh chamomile in hot tea.

—Use fresh herb sauces with pasta or on top of cooked meats, like pesto in pasta and fresh dill yogurt sauce on fish or chicken.

—Sprinkle lavender buds or mint leaves on fresh fruit.

So now we have mastered adding zip to meals. But how does adding herbs to food benefit health?

Blood pressure is the force of blood flowing through the blood vessels. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is when your blood pressure is consistently higher than normal. Nearly half of adult Americans have high blood pressure. Many may not even be aware of this as there are often no noticeable symptoms. When left untreated, the damage that high blood pressure does to the circulatory system can contribute to heart attack, stroke, vision problems and other serious health conditions.

Shaking the salt habit can help. Using herbs in place of salt can reduce sodium intake and help control hypertension. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams per day. In addition, using fresh herbs in larger amounts when preparing food provides additional minerals such as potassium and magnesium, which help lower blood pressure.

And just like green leafy vegetables, fresh herbs contain large amounts of vitamins A, C and K. Many herb plants also contain polyphenols. Polyphenols are plant compounds that have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities to help protect from disease. Several herbs and spices have properties that may affect thinking and mood also.

Fortunately, fresh herbs are easy to grow either in the garden or in a container on a windowsill. Growing your own herbs makes it handy to clip and use them more frequently. Some things to consider when growing herbs at home:

—Most herbs need a sunny location. A few herbs like parsley and mint can be grown in a partly shaded area.

—Herbs grow well in any good garden soil.

—Herbs do not grow well in wet soil and need good drainage.

And best of all, SNAP benefits can help get the herb garden started as participants can buy both seeds and edible plants using their EBT card. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates for every $1 spent on seeds, home gardeners can grow an average of $25 worth of produce.

What’s not to like? Herbs can add zest to your meals, reduce high blood pressure while providing many other health benefits and offer a great return on the dollar. Summer in Ohio is a great time to try fresh herbs. Enjoy!

Sharon Rebmann is a SNAP Ed program assistant in Wayne and Holmes counties and may be called at 330-264-8722.

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