Super foods, the ultimate health foods – the benefits of basil, rosemary, oregano and other green herbs
While the market for herbal remedies such as echinacea, gingko and herbal teas is growing exponentially, let's not forget that the culinary herbs that grace our meals can make a sizeable contribution to our nutrition intake - if we eat enough of them. Think of fresh herbs as green leafy vegetables and you'll soon realise that they are in the same class as spinach and Asian greens.
Packed with vitamins and minerals
Like other fresh herbs, basil is a rich source of a number of minerals - potassium, magnesium and smaller amounts of iron and calcium - as well as vitamin C, folate, vitamins B1 and K. It also scores high for fibre and a great many antioxidants.
How the green herbs stack up against fruit and veggies
On a weight for weight comparison, basil and parsley have almost twice as much vitamin C as oranges. While dill has six times more beta-carotene than rockmelon or pumpkin.
However, we only consume at most one or two grams of any herb while we happily tuck into 120 grams of an orange. So it's easy to see why herbs have been deemed ‘insignificant' in the vitamin stakes.
Tabbouli and pesto - packed full of goodness
We can up our intake of green herbs - and the vitamins and antioxidants they contain - by eating tabbouli regularly. With a couple of bunches of parsley in every bowl along with cracked wheat, garlic and tomato, this is a delicious way to prove how herbs can really boost your nutrient intake. Ditto for pesto sauce - lots of basil (or you can use Italian parsley or coriander) blended with toasted pine nuts, olive oil and garlic. Maximum herb, maximum flavour, maximum vitamins, maximum nutrition!
Herbs and antioxidants
Recent research hails herbs and spices as the latest nutritional heroes. Packed with antioxidants - substances that protect our bodies from free-radical damage - and other nutritional goodies, they help protect against heart disease and possibly cancer, aid digestion, boost immunity and reduce the risk of bacteria in food.
While all herbs contribute valuable antioxidants to our diet, those that pack the most powerful punch are oregano (all types), sage, rosemary, thyme, marjoram and mint. Rosemary, thyme and oregano have been found to be rich in polyphenols (phenolics), a diverse group of antioxidants that may cut the risk of heart disease while mint, basil and parsley are high in mono-terpenes, which are thought to have cancer-delaying properties, especially with mammary (breast) tumours.
Parsley is also high in coumarins which are noted for their anti-coagulant and anti-bacterial properties, while extracts of rosemary are being tested to see if they can be used as a natural food-grade preservative.
Get a mood boost with mint
Mint is also a top rating herb for a group of antioxidants known as polyphenols. However it's better known for its menthol, a powerful compound that can give relief from indigestion and increase the flow of bile and other digestive juices. It's also a natural pick me up. It invigorates and refreshes you - which is why it's such a popular flavour in chewing gum and lozenges.
What herb goes with which food?
If you're trying to cut back on salt, use herbs freely to boost the flavour of your meals. Try the following:
- Basil - tomatoes, olive oil, pasta, egg, the base of pesto sauce, bocconcini
- Bay leaves - soup, casseroles, fish or chicken
- Chervil - eggs, salads, sauces, chicken, soft cheese
- Chives - fish, seafood, ricotta, cottage cheese, potato, cucumber, omelette, chicken
- Coriander - chicken, lean beef, mint, salads, avocado, soups, curries, noodle dishes
- Dill - fish, eggs, potato, mushrooms, prawns, scallops, smoked salmon, carrots, risotto
- Lemon grass - -used in teas, soups, curries and sauces
- Oregano - chicken, beef, fish, tomato, pizza, pasta, eggplant, zucchini
- Rosemary - potato, pumpkin, lamb, chicken, pork, rabbit, duck, garlic, scones and breads
- Tarragon - fish, turkey, liver, venison, salad dressing, lentils
Two sprigs of parsley (weighing 2g) supply: Trace of protein, trace of fat, trace of sugars, no starch, trace of dietary fibre, and negligible kilojoules (calories).
Per 100 g raw:
2 per cent protein, trace of fat, trace of sugars, no starch, 5 per cent dietary fibre, and 55 kilojoules (13 calories).
Easy ways to enjoy more herbs
- Add fresh basil or mint leaves to a salad to give it that special zing!
- Basil is a perfect partner for tomato, lamb, bocconcini, eggs, zucchini, fish and pizza.
- Slice up ripe tomatoes and arrange over crusty bread. Top with basil and ground black pepper. Healthy and tasty.
- Make fresh basil pesto with basil, olive oil and pine nuts
- Make a healthy potato salad by combining cold boiled potatoes with chopped basil, pine nuts and olive oil.
- Use plenty of oregano in your Greek and Italian cooking
- Coriander leaves (and often the roots as well) are a feature of Mexican and Asian cuisines. Use them to make great marinades, dressings and salsas.