HERBS

Herbs are the leaf part of a plant that is used in cooking – these can be used fresh or dried. Any other part of the plant, which is usually dried, is referred to as a spice. These include, for example, bark (cinnamon), berries (peppercorns), seeds (cumin), roots (turmeric), flower (chamomile), buds (cloves) and the stigma of a flower (saffron).

Herbs are a fantastic way to add flavour and colour to any sort of dish or drink, whether sweet or savoury, without adding fat, salt or sugars. In addition to flavour and colour, they each also tend to have their own set of health-promoting properties.

Generally, fresh herbs are delicately flavoured, so if adding them to your cooking, do so in the last few minutes. Tasting your dish as you go along will help you tell if you’ve added enough. If not enough herbs are used, then little difference will be made to the flavour of the dish, but if too many herbs are added, their flavour will overpower other ingredients.

Health benefits of herbs

Consuming herbs may help to prevent and manage heart disease, cancer and diabetes. It may also help to reduce blood clots and provide anti-inflammatory and anti-tumour properties. Research is ongoing but studies have shown that: 

  • Garlic, linseed, fenugreek and lemongrass may help lower cholesterol.
  • Garlic is useful for people with mildly elevated blood pressure.
  • Fenugreek can help control blood sugar and insulin activity (as can linseed, flaxseed and cinnamon).
  • Garlic, onions, chives, leeks, mint, basil, oregano, sage and many other herbs can help protect against cancer.
  • Herbs are rich in antioxidants, especially cloves, cinnamon, sage, oregano and thyme, by helping to reduce low-density lipoproteins (‘bad’ cholesterol).

Fresh herbs often contain higher antioxidant levels compared to processed or dried herbs but if you are using herbs in order to harness their health-promoting aspects first and foremost, aim to add your fresh herbs at the end of cooking or as you serve to preserve these properties.

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July 2024
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