Fresh herbs – parsley, basil, dill and more – are easiest to come by in the summer. Maybe you’re even growing some in your garden or in an outdoor pot. Not only are summer herbs bursting with big flavor and fragrance, (think basil leaves on fresh tomatoes), they’re actually good for you. Many have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powers to protect your health. Here’s the nutritional lowdown on some of my favorite herbs as well as some suggestions for their use:
Basil: Did you know that basil is a member of the mint family? It has been used medicinally for centuries to treat a wide variety of ailments ranging from colds to intestinal gas, kidney problems and snake bites. More recently, basil oil has been shown to combat the bacteria that causes pimples. It also has health protective antioxidant chops, gives you calcium and vitamin K, which we need for blood-clotting and bone strength. Better yet, basil improves blood flow to the brain and enhances overall brain functions. And as I report in The Omni Diet, basil’s anti-inflammatory properties also help improve cognitive function and prevent strokes and cancer. Use it to make pesto (natch); to provide extra oomph for sliced tomatoes, strew them with sliced or whole basil leaves, and try my Pan Seared Salmon or make Rainbow Chard Slaw.
Cilantro: People often have a “love it or leave it” view of cilantro, an herb with a distinctive aroma and flavor. (Cilantro seeds are coriander.) Cilantro provides vitamin K, good for blood clotting and bone strength, some vitamin A, folate, manganese and riboflavin. It also contains antibiotic compounds that can protect against food borne illnesses. Despite the fact that so many people (including the late, great Julia Child) are turned off by cilantro, millions more, especially in Latin and Asian countries, use it liberally. And, of course, cilantro is an essential ingredient in salsa, and a fabulous base for my tasty cilantro oil.
Dill: I’ve read that during the Middle Ages, people used dill to defend against witchcraft, probably because of its pungent aroma. Historically, this herb with its delicate, feathery leaves was used to treat digestive and urinary problems. Now we know that it provides bone-building calcium and an essential oil called eugenol that appears to have antiseptic properties. Of course, it is used to flavor dill pickles, but try it on my Salmon Burger.
Parsley: The most popular, most widely-used cooking herb in the world is not only good for you, it’s a delicious addition to almost every type of food (well, maybe not dessert). Parsley is a great source of vitamins A, C and K and also gives you iron and folate. What’s more, it promotes heart health, protects against rheumatoid arthritis and acts as a diuretic and detoxifying agent. Apigenin, a natural substance found in parsley (and celery) has been shown to slow the growth of breast tumors in mice by inducing cell death, inhibiting cell proliferation, and reducing expression of a gene associated with cancer growth. Apigenin is said to hold promise as a non-toxic treatment for one type of human breast cancer. Sprinkle this delicious herb on fish, add it to salads, use it to make pesto. Enjoy.