In Cooking With Herbs (Part 1), we talked about how to clean herbs, store them, and use them in cooking. Today, we’ll dive deeper into herbs and talk about where they come from, the health benefits, and how to use specific herbs in suggested dishes. Based on my trips to several supermarkets, I found that the herbs discussed below are common.
Mint grows in the Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Middle East. It is known to improve digestive health, boost the immune system, and alleviate congestion when you have a cold. Mint can pair well with lamb, couscous, tabbouleh, zucchini, feta cheese, garden peas, yogurt, strawberries, and chocolate.
Cilantro is typically used in south Asian and Latin American cuisine. It can help lower blood sugar and boost the immune system with antioxidant. Cilantro stems are actually edible, so make sure not to discard them —use them in your cooking instead! Cilantro complements chicken, avocados, corn, onions, chile peppers, and is often used in curries.
Basil is native to tropical and mediterranean climates like central Africa and southeast Asia. Basil has many health benefits: it can help lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides. It also contains magnesium, which can relax blood vessels and muscles. You can use basil in Italian dishes like pasta or pizza, and even with fruit, like strawberries. It’s also found in Thai dishes that include beef or chicken.
The versatile parsley can be used to both flavor and garnish dishes. It is indigenous to Greece, Morocco, and eastern Europe, like the former Yugoslavia, but it is popularly used in European, Middle Eastern, and American food. Parsley is well known as an antibacterial; people often chew it to freshen their breath. It can be used to improve blood pressure and reduce inflammation. Parsley is great on garlic bread, in seafood dishes, and in soups and stews.
Chives are used globally and grow nearly everywhere. Since they are related to garlic and onions, chives contain antioxidants, which are known to reduce cancer risk, alleviate inflammation, and improve heart health. They contain fiber, which is important for healthy digestion. Chives taste like garlic but are not as overpowering. They go well with seafood, salmon, mashed and baked potatoes, and soups, and are used to flavor butter.
Dill is especially popular in northern and eastern European cuisine, like in Poland. It has many health benefits, such as managing and preventing diabetes and improving heart health through antioxidants called flavonoids. Dill is commonly used in pickling, seafood dishes like smoked salmon, soup, salad dressings, and salads.
Thyme is very popular in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. It is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, which can help alleviate respiratory conditions such as coughs and bronchitis. Thyme also has properties that can help with gastrointestinal health. Thyme is delicious with grilled chicken, roasted vegetables, lentil soup, stuffings, marinades, and is often used in herb blends like herbs de provence.
This herb is popular in Italian, Greek, and Turkish cuisine. It is great for the immune system because it is a good source of vitamin C, serves as a digestive aid, and helps reduce type 2 diabetes. Oregano can be used in Italian dishes like pizza and pasta dishes, marinades, and roasted poultry and meat like lamb.
Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean region and has many health benefits. It has powerful antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal qualities and can strengthen the immune system. The pungent, woody, and tangy flavor of rosemary is delicious with potatoes, aromatic breads like focaccia, roasted chicken, and is often used in herb blends.
Native to the Mediterranean, Sage is a good source of antioxidants, and is very high in vitamin K. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, which are associated with cancer. Sage is also antibacterial, which benefits oral health; it can also regulate blood sugar. Sage is commonly used in Italian and Balkan dishes; it has an earthy flavor that pairs well with savory dishes like brown butter gnocchi, dishes that use butternut squash, and roasted meats. It is also incorporated in making sausage.
Tarragon is widespread in Europe, Asia, and North America. It is associated with pain relief and anti-inflammatory benefits and can also help increase insulin sensitivity and combat fungal infection. Tarragon has flavors similar to celery, mint, and licorice. It is commonly used in chicken salad in the US. It is also a primary herb in French cuisine, incorporated into chicken, egg, and fish dishes.
Like Oregano, bay leaves are used in a variety of cuisines throughout the world. It is particularly common in southeast Asian, Caribbean, and North American cuisines. Bay leaf is high in vitamins like A, B6, and C, which help improve the immune system. It can ease an upset stomach and reduce the risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Bay is often used in slow cooked foods — such as curries, sauces, stocks, and soups— to add depth, but it must be removed before serving.
I hope you try one of these herbs in your next culinary adventure! They add so much flavor, color, depth, and also health benefits to your food. Consider making the recipe below!
Written by: Prathima Kannan, MPH, RDN, LDN