(Reprinted from Sun-Times Media, Naperville Sun 7-20-11)
When I was in elementary school, I planted my first flower, a marigold. As a third-grader, the evolution from seed to flower was amazing to watch. Ever since then, I have always appreciated those who had the patience and talent to grow a garden. Lucky for me, I married an avid gardener, and year after year, my garden grows along with my love and appreciation for home-grown herbs and vegetables. Although my garden overflows with veggies, it seems that herbs are the unsung heros of nutritional value.
I’m Portuguese and love to cook, which means I never shy away from using popular Portuguese herbs, including parsley, oregano and rosemary. Although I have always loved the amazing taste of fresh herbs, I’ve often wondered what if any nutritional value they had. So, I decided to do a little research and find out just how nutrient-loaded herbs are. Once I started reading, I was pleasantly surprised to see my passion for herbs offers plenty of healthy rewards. So, I wanted to pass along what I learned to you.
Who doesn’t love a Caprese salad or a wonderful pesto? Any excuse I have to include basil in my meals, I do. Not only does basil taste great, it has a generous dose of vitamin K along with iron, calcium, fiber, manganese, vitamin C and potassium. It also offers some anti-inflammatory properties. Basil tastes great and is good for you, too. Talk about a win-win!
How I love Oregano! Oregano is actually known, not only for it’s culinary use, but its medicinal value. In fact, it is recognized as a “functional food” because of its nutritional, antioxidant and disease-preventing properties. Oregano contains a notable list of plant derived chemical compounds known to have disease-preventing and health-promoting properties. Oregano is also a source of dietary fiber, which can play a role in controlling blood cholesterol levels. I make a killer oregano pesto that rivals basil.
If you love Mexican food, you’ve surely tasted this herb. Cilantro has been compared to dill in that both the plant leaves and seeds can be used as a seasoning condiment. Cilantro includes fiber, manganese, iron and magnesium. It is rich in antioxidants and folic acid, along with riboflavin, niacin, vitamin A, beta carotene and vitamin C, which helps to protect the body from infectious agents while offering some anti-inflammatory properties.
Flat leaf parsley
As a kid, I used to call parsley leaves — the ones they’d place on your plates at restaurants — trees. Later, I learned that parsley was put on your plate because it helps aid in digestion. Beyond that, parsley is also rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber, which again, helps control blood cholesterol levels. Fresh parsley leaves are also rich in many essential vitamins such as riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), pyridoxine (vitamin B6) and thiamin (vitamin B1). Parsley also might prevent constipation.
If I had to choose, this herb is probably one of my favorites. It’s potent flavor compliments many dishes, grilled chicken or fish — a favorite. Rosemary is full of B-complex vitamins. Whether fresh or dried, rosemary leaves are a rich source of minerals like potassium, calcium, iron, manganese, copper, and magnesium. Rosemary also is a source of iron.
So there you have it, the unsung heroes of many meals, herbs. Next time you enjoy a meal and you taste great flavor, don’t overlook the nutritional punch you may be getting from herbs. Who knows, it just may inspire you to start your own herb garden!