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A couple of weeks ago we waxed lyrical about the joys – and simplicity – of eating with the seasons. Even better, how easy it is to grow things at home, to enjoy straight from your garden or kitchen windowsill. Yes really! If you missed it, click here
 
While people tend to think about all things salad, particularly at this time of year, herbs are just as easy to grow. Even better, you’ll often find pots of them at your local supermarket, if you don’t want to wait (!) or grow your own from seed. Not only do they taste great – and are nothing like their dried counterparts – but have a host of health benefits too. 
 
So, this week, we’re going to take a quick look at three herbs which are used in most kitchens – at some time at least – and are easy to grow. Parsley. Mint. Basil. 
 
 
Parsley is most often thought of as just a garnish. The green sprig found on the side of plates in restaurants or livening up displays of food on the cold counters in supermarkets. However, it’s so much more than that. 
 
Just look at its leaves and you’ll easily be able to name some other well known members of its family, Apiaceae. Celery, Carrots, Parsnips, Angelica, Dill and Coriander. And one best avoided, Hemlock. 
 
Parsley contains a huge list of nutrients. Vitamins A, B, C and K as well as Calcium, Iron, Magnesium and Potassium. It’s also high in flavonoids and antioxidants, as well as volatile oils including Myristicin, Limonene, Eugenol, and Alpha Thujene. 
 
So, what about parsley’s health benefits? To start with, it’s a natural diuretic, so helps in detoxification as well as supporting the Liver. It also alkalinises the body, as well as having antibacterial and antimicrobial qualities. 
 
Put all this together and it’s not surprising Parsley is a traditional herb for helping reduce inflammation and infections, particularly Urinary Infections and Cystitis. It also helps reduce levels of Homocysteine, which can damage the walls of Blood Vessels and is linked to an increased risk for many Cardiovascular problems, particularly Heart Attacks and Strokes. Recent research has found Parsley may be helpful in certain Cancers, particularly Breast, Prostate and Skin due to high levels of one particular flavonoid, Apigenin.  
 
Finally, here’s one you may have heard of before. Parsley is great at helping improve bad breath, whether from spicy or garlicky foods or from mouth infections; which it also helps to address. 
 
With all of these benefits, it’s little wonder that Parsley has just been named herb of the year by the International Herb Association. What more do we need to say?!? 
 
Which brings us on to Mint. Again, it contains many nutrients. Vitamins A, B6, C, E and K as well as Calcium, Iron, Potassium, Phosphorus, Magnesium and Manganese. Like Parsley, it has good levels of flavonoids and antioxidants as well as volatile oils including Menthol, Menthone and Limonene. 
 
Mint comes from the Lamiaceae family which contains many of our best known and traditional herbs. Thyme, Marjoram, Oregano, Sage and Rosemary. It also contains the last herb we’re going to talk about today, Basil. While they may seem to be very different, not least in the climate they like, they all have square’ish stems and leaves that come in pairs. It’s easiest to see in Mint and Basil, but you’ll see it on all these herbs if you take a look. 
 
Mint is probably best known for its cooling effects as well as being antiseptic, antibacterial and antispasmodic. Taken together, it’s been traditionally used to help soothe digestive problems. Indigestion, Heartburn, Burping, Flatulence, IBS and stomach upsets generally. Like Parsley, it can be used to help freshen bad breath and also for detoxification. 
 
Mint can be used topically on the Skin as a poultice to help soothe Burns, Acne and Eczema. In Aromatherapy Mint Essential Oil is used to help improve energy levels, as well as to raise the spirits and ease Stress or Depression. 
 
Parsley and Mint both make excellent herb teas – tisanes – which can be drunk hot or cold. Simply put a few sprigs in a mug or teapot, cover with freshly boiled water and then leave to “brew” for several minutes before drinking. Then, simply top up with fresh water to make the drink last longer. On hot days, both make very refreshing cold or iced drinks and can be enjoyed for that reason alone. 
 
Last, but not least comes Basil, now well known due to our love of all things Italian (!). While it contains fewer nutrients than Parsley and Mint, it still has high levels of Vitamin K as well as Vitamins A and C along with Zinc, Calcium and Iron. 
 
Traditionally Basil was used to help heal wounds and infections due to its antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and anti inflammatory effects. Added to this, it’s also a mild painkiller. Research has recently found that Basil helps control and reduce blood sugar as well as lowering cholesterol. Again, like the other herbs we’ve mentioned today, it helps to reduce stress and raise the spirits. Finally, it helps soothe the digestion, burping and stomach ulcers. 
 
Unlike Parsley and Mint, Basil tends to be added to the food rather than drunk as a tisane. All three can be chopped and used as a garnish, over hot or cold food, or added to food during the cooking process. However, for maximum benefit, all herbs are best added at the last minute otherwise the heat of cooking destroys many of their nutrients. As with all things, a little common sense is needed. The idea of herbs is to add to the flavour of food, not to completely drown it out. So, don’t go too mad and just add a little to start with (!). And, as always, if you have any concerns see advice from a herbal practitioner. 
 
Oh, and one other things before we finish for today. What do you get if you put these three herbs together? Well, with a little olive oil and some pine nuts. Home made pesto! What could be a better taste of summer than that?!? 
 
Herbs are an easy way to add additional flavour to food as well as extra nutrients. They’re easy to grow and look after and, if you don’t cut off too many leaves at a time, will last for months giving you many healthy meals in the process. So why not give them a try this summer? 
 
As always, the choice is yours. 
 
 
 
Picture by unknown author 
 
Tagged as: Diet, Health, Minerals, Vitamins
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