Herbs have been used since early times. People gathered herbs hundreds of years ago to use as natural health remedies and to supplement their diet with nutritious wild plants. Although we don’t depend on herbs for food, many herbs and wild flowers are used in salads or to enhance the taste of foods.
Many cultures use herbs in place of salt in cooking. Interest in international cuisines has familiarized us with flavors from the Mediterranean, South America, Asia, and Europe. Although sodium or salt has an important role in the body, too much salt can be harmful. High sodium intake has been linked to high blood pressure (hypertension) and can cause you to retain water. Health experts recommend that we should not consume more than 2400 mg (or 1 teaspoon) a day. We are not born with a taste for salt, but we develop it as we use it in our diet. A preference for salt can be unlearned by lowering the amount of salt in our diet. Per serving, all herbs and spices are fat-free and either sodium-free or very low in sodium so you can add vibrant flavors to your dishes without sacrificing nutrition.
Although herbs are used to enhance the taste of many foods, they should be used sparingly in order not to overwhelm with flavor and fragrance. Herbs can be used when fresh or as dried. To substitute dried herbs for fresh, the general rule is to use 1/3 teaspoon ground or 1 teaspoon crumbled dried leaves for every tablespoon of the fresh herb finely chopped.
Most fresh herbs are perishable and bunches should be stored with their stems in water in the refrigerator. Loose leaves and flowers can be packed in perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator crisper. If there is excess moisture, pat the leaves dry and crush a paper towel at the bottom of the bag and place the leaves on top. Moisture helps keep herbs fresh but too much moisture promotes spoilage. To dry fresh herbs, tie stalks into small bunches with string and hang upside down in a paper bag punched with holes. Store the bag in a warm, well-ventilated place. Dried herbs should be stored in tightly closed glass jars and kept in a dark, cool, dry place.
Herbs can be used individually in cooking or be blended for a variety of flavors. Fresh basil has a sweet, pungent, tangy taste. It is good in salads and with tomatoes, while dried basil leaves are used in soups and stews. Chives have an onion-like flavor and are great on baked potatoes, and with fish and chicken. Oregano has a strong, aromatic flavor, and is good in tomato sauces, egg-and-cheese combinations, and poultry and fish marinades. Fresh or dried thyme leaves add meaty flavor to marinated steak, roast chicken, soups, stews, and bean and lentil casseroles. Rosemary has a very pungent flavor and should be used sparingly on fish, lamb, seafood, casseroles, soups, and vegetables. Sage has a slightly bitter flavor and is used in stuffing at Thanksgiving, as well as meat, poultry, and sausage. Dill is pungent and is widely used for pickling. Dill is especially good on fish such as poached or grilled salmon, but is also used in soups, cucumber and tomato salads, and creamy dips. Parsley, probably the most popular herb, has a slightly peppery flavor. It is added to soups, sauces, and stews, but is also used to garnish dishes.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with herbs. Learn to know the flavoring of herbs and how they taste when added to certain foods. Bon appetit!