Friday, March 09, 2012

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme...

Cooking with everyday garden herbs not only adds that special boost of flavour we all crave, but using herbs has great medicinal value, which is just plain smart! Look no further than your vegetable patch or decorative planter for those little green Titans commonly known as basil, oregano or parsley, to name a few. Herbs have been used by civilizations since the prehistoric times as the go to remedy for countless ailments.

Here are some examples of herbs and how to use them medicinally:

Basil is rich in flavonoids which keep cells healthy and functioning properly. As a good source of vitamin K, it also helps promote blood clotting to heal cuts and abrasions. Eat basil to sooth menstrual cramps and slow heavy flow and to ease sore muscles; basil also contains eugenol, an anti-inflammatory agent that works in a similar way to aspirin.

Mint is a great digestive and anti-nausea aid. The menthol activates digestive enzymes, which relaxes the intestine for smooth digestion. The rosmarinic acid in mint shows great promise in aiding respiratory disorders and promoting good oral health. Some studies show that peppermint oil contains a phytonutrient that may inhibit the growth of mammary, liver and pancreatic tumours.

Rich in myristicin, parsley contains chemoprotective qualities which may inhibit growth of certain tumours and neutralize carcinogens in grilled foods. It is also rich in disease fighting vitamins C and A, which boost our immune systems to help battle colds. It has been used traditionally to help cleanse blood and tissues in the kidney, liver and bladder. Eat a sprig of parsley after garlic to freshen your breath!

Soothing in aroma, rosemary also stimulates the immune system and keeps blood flowing to ensure a healthy nervous system. Fragrant sprigs contain anti-inflammatory properties useful in quelling asthma attacks and bringing relief to headaches. Adding a few drops of rosemary oil to a hot bath works as an internal cleanser, helping expel toxins through sweating.

Sage contains rosmarinic acid, a powerful antioxidant that stimulates the nervous system and protects against cell damage. Its anti-inflammatory properties may help soothe asthma and rheumatoid arthritis pain. Sage also contains phytosterols that may help alleviate cramps and provide relief for menopausal hot flashes.

Anti-fungal and antiviral properties are found in oregano oil as well as a high amount of fibre, which when digested, helps break down unhealthy cholesterol. It's also rich in vitamin C and calcium to help keep bones strong. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), oregano is often used to help bring down a fever, treat jaundice and relieve diarrhea.

Similar to parsley, dill contains chemoprotective compounds and antioxidants that destroy cell-damaging free radicals. Dill is often used as a digestive aid (relieves gas) and is a good source of fibre and magnesium, a nerve and muscle relaxant.

Known for its help with respiratory problems, thyme is used to soothe coughs, chest congestion and bronchitis. As an antiseptic and digestive aid, it soothes sore throats and coughs. Thyme is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, linked to keeping the brain, kidney and heart healthy.

I love to use herbs, especially when I can just trim a bunch fresh out of my garden patch or planter. Herbs are great flavour enhancers for many savoury recipes. The usual suspects like basil and oregano are wonderful when used in Italian or Greek dishes, while dill and tarragon marry well with fish and seafood. I recently started broadening my repetoire using herbs to heighten the flavours of my sweet recipes. Think basil paired with licorice over strawberries, or rosemary to complement the taste of chocolate. Using herbs in desserts may seem somewhat unconventional, but it gives your dish that unexpected twist and with amazing results...

Here is a quick and easy recipe for a yummy dessert using rosemary. This herb imparts a similar flavour as mint, but is deeper and earthier. 

Deep Dark Chocolate and Rosemary Pudding
1 cup milk
1 cup whipping cream
2 large sprigs of chopped fresh rosemary (about 3 Tbsp)
2/3 cup organic cane sugar or coconut sugar
1/3 cup Dutch cocoa powder
2 1/2 Tbsp tapioca starch (or corn starch)
Pinch of sea salt
3 1/2 oz 70% cocoa Belgian chocolate chunks
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract

1. In saucepan bring milk, cream and rosemary just to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand 15-20 minutes to infuse. Strain out the rosemary leaves.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine sugar, cocoa, tapioca starch and salt. Bring milk and cream back to a boil. Whisk in sugar mixture. Reduce heat to medium, whisking continuously until pudding begins to thicken. Just before it boils, remove from heat, then stir in chocolate chunks and vanilla until smooth.
3. Pour into 4 decorative glasses and refrigerate until chilled. Garnish with a fresh rosemary sprig.
Serves 4

credit: Jennifer Danter/Alive magazine

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