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  • Writer's pictureLinda Peterson

Growing and Cooking with Herbs

Have you ever stood in front of the herb and spice section at the grocery store feeling overwhelmed and wondering where to begin? Are salt and pepper the only spices you add as you’re cooking? If so, you are missing out on a world of flavor and health benefits. Let’s begin by understanding “what is an herb?”

One definition of an herb is any plant with leaves, seeds, or flowers used for flavoring, food, medicine, or perfume. Botanists (scientists who study plants) define an herb as "a plant that does not produce a woody stem." Spices, on the other hand, can come from any other part of the plant but are usually the seeds, bark, or roots. Spices are often more pungent than herbs, so we use them in smaller amounts when compared to herbs. By this definition, garlic, onions, shallots, ginger, and cinnamon would be examples of spices. Here we will focus on herbs, their health benefits, how to grow them, and how to use them in cooking.

The use of plants as medicine predates written human history. Culinary and medicinal uses of herbs are heralded for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties that support our digestion and immune systems. In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that over 80% of the world’s population relies on herbal medicine for some part of their healthcare. Herbal supplements, or phytomedicines, come in many forms including pills, powders, tinctures, teas, gels, lotions, and creams. Any of these plant-based medicines should be used with the recommendation and supervision of a trained professional such as an Herbalist or Ayruveda Counselor. 

Fresh herbs are readily available in the grocery store and farmer’s market, but growing your own herbs can be incredibly easy, whether you have a large garden area in your yard or small pots on your windowsill. Herbs are perfect for container gardening; some can be brought indoors and will continue to grow and serve you all winter. All you really need to grow all the fresh herbs you could possibly use is some quality soil, good seeds, a little sunshine, some moisture, and a bit of TLC. And any extra herbs can be easily dried, stored and used throughout the year. 

Any meal can be enhanced by using fresh or dried herbs which are filled with nutrients and health benefits. Herbs add flavor, color, and fragrance without adding fat, salt, sugar, or calories. Dried herbs are typically more potent than fresh herbs so be sure to follow your recipe closely. To make it even easier, there are several herb/spice blends available, such as an Italian, and many are salt-free if you are watching your sodium intake. If you are new to using herbs in cooking or confused about where to begin, below is a guide to get you started. 

The use of herbs and spices can bring new culinary adventures to the kitchen, so be brave and try something new tonight. Whether you are using herbs in cooking, essential oils, teas, or supplements, don’t overlook the multitude of health benefits and how using a variety of herbs can add to your cooking and eating pleasure. 

~Dr. Linda Peterson, Life, Health and Wellness Coach 

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Our providers enjoy sharing articles on a wide variety of health and wellness topics.  The information in these articles is intended for general information only, and should not be used to diagnose, treat or cure any condition.  Seek the advice of your medical provider or other qualified healthcare professional for personalized care regarding your unique needs and goals.

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