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In the Kitchen with Herbs

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Gardening season is in full swing! If you are new to gardening, try your hand at growing herbs. Culinary herbs are a favorite of many gardeners. They are easy to grow as they require little care and have few insect and disease problems. National Herb Week is celebrated each year in May which means it’s the perfect time to add some of these fragrant and flavorful plants to your garden beds and patio pots. Herbs have been used for thousands of years for herbal remedies, bug repellent in linens, for fragrance, and of course cooking.

First, let’s talk about their culinary classification. Herbs can be classified as either robust or fine (mild) herbs. Robust herbs are full bodied, rich in flavor and are often used alone or mixed with a few other herbs. Robust herbs stand up to cooking and may be used in dishes that are roasted, braised or grilled. Herbs such as rosemary, thyme, sage, and garlic would be classified as robust.

Fine herbs mix well with other herbs or when cooked, become milder. They are often added toward the end of the cooking process. Fine herbs are used in salads or eaten raw. Dill, basil, cilantro and parsley are considered mild and fine herbs. The tender stems of cilantro and parsley carry a pungent amount of flavor, safe to use, and an excellent way to use the entire herb.

Secondly, herbs are a tasty substitute for salt and have other health benefits. Limiting sodium in what we eat is one way to lower blood pressure. We talked about ways to lower blood pressure in last week’s episode. This is important because about half of Americans have hypertension. Keep in mind, you can easily make your own salt-free seasoning blends at home. Whether you’re grilling meat, roasting vegetables or mixing drinks, it’s best to have a variety of fresh and dried herbs on hand for all of your flavor enhancing needs.

Herbs have a high antioxidant activity and recent research by the Agricultural Research Service found oregano to have the highest antioxidant activity. Antioxidants keep the immune system strong and help reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Sweet bay, dill, and winter savory are also good sources of antioxidants. These savory herbs are delicious additions to egg dishes, soups, and seasoning blends.

Lastly, fresh herbs are easy to maintain in the garden and easy to store with some simple steps. Make your fresh-cut herbs last longer by storing them in a glass of water and covering them loosely with a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Remember to replace the water daily. You can also store herbs wrapped in a damp paper towel within an open plastic bag in the refrigerator. This works well for things like cilantro and parsley. Basil, however, should not be stored in the fridge because it will develop black spots.

The traditional way to preserve herbs is by air drying or using low heat. Drying concentrates the flavor of herbs so you may need to only use one-third to one-fourth the amount of fresh herbs in recipes. After herbs are dry remove the leaves from the stems and package in sealed containers in a cool location, out of sunlight. To preserve the full flavor of herbs, try to avoid crushing the leaves when packaging. Ideally herbs should be crushed just prior to adding them to recipes. With proper storage, most herbs retain their flavor for about a year. IL Extension has many resources on herbs so if you need help with your herb garden or want preservation or cooking tips, reach out to your local extension office.

This week, try adding a new herb to your meals. Whether you’re making salads, vegetable dips or tea, there is something for every meal and every palate. Celebrate herbs throughout the year by planting them yourself and using them for all of your culinary needs.

Looking for the perfect herb for your garden this summer? For more information and a recording of today’s episode, visit wvik.org/wellness.

Thank you for listening! I hope you have a happy and healthy day ahead. Content for this episode was provided by Lisa Peterson, nutrition and wellness educator with University of Illinois Extension.

Kristin Bogdonas believes that everyone deserves access to fresh, affordable food and is committed to helping people improve their health literacy. In this digital age it can be difficult to decipher what nutrition information is accurate and what is hype. Connecting people with factual information and evidenced-based programs will help people build the skills and attain the knowledge necessary for positive behavior change. Although nutrition is important for a long and healthy life, one should not overlook the other dimensions of health required for overall wellbeing; physical, mental, emotional, vocational, spiritual, environmental and social. Each dimension impacting the next.