Traditionally many herbs were used to flavour foods or to assist with digestion of those foods. In some instances the flavours are used to enhance the meal and in other cases they were added to alcohol and provided as an aperitif.
There are a significant number of herbs which flavour foods and are commonly used in cooking. Ideally use fresh herbs to really maximise the the nutritional content.
Ginger is a rhizome which can be used sliced, grated or dried. It is useful for stimulating digestion in terms of improving peristalsis, which is the regular muscular movement of the bowels. It is also beneficial for people who suffer from nausea and is often suggested as a tea in the early stages of pregnancy. Ginger can be used as a base for a simple stir fry of vegetables or added as part of a spice mix in Asian dishes.
Garlic is a bulb and is high in both sulphur and allicin, a potent anti-microbial. Garlic is reknown for its impact on the immune system and regular consumption can really support immune function. Many years ago on a camping trip around Thailand we were consuming the equivilant of 5-6 cloves daily. One member of our group had a bad cold but nobody else seemed to acquire it given the substantial consumption of garlic.
Garlic also has value in assisting in the reduction of cholesterol and it is useful for liver function sparing glutathione.
Both ginger and garlic can be used therapeutically in teas with more information in this recent blog Herbal teas for hydration .
Peppermint is usually considered a digestive herb due to the therapeutic properties of its essential oils. Most peppermint leaves consist of up to 2.5% essential oils. Those oils have specific uses in Irritable Bowel symptoms as they are antispasmodic and carminative. That is they relieve symptoms of cramping as well as being useful to alleviate bloating and gas. Mint goes well in salads, particularly flavours such as watermelon and strawberry.
Cinnamon is a bark which has a range of digestive actions. It was often used due to its antifungal actions to preserve baked goods but also has value in its ability to assist in the management of blood glucose and improve insulin sensitivity. Cinnamon is also a carminative which assists in reducing muscle contractions and relieves flatulence, thereby improving the appetite. The smell of cinnamon in cooking is particularly evocative. Cinnamon pairs well with many digestive herbs and spices. An easy way to introduce it in food is to sprinkle ground cinnamon on pumpkin whilst baking.
Rosemary like any digestive herb has a high essential oil content and it is considered useful for colic and period pain due to its antispasmodic actions. The flavour of any meat is usually improved by adding a combination of lemon juice, rosemary, garlic and rock salt. It pairs particularly well with chicken and lamb and is a good source of iron, calcium and B6. Rosemary is one of the few herbs that we manage to grow successfully and so I find a wide number of uses for it in cooking but also in adding as a dried herb to bath salts.
Have you managed to successfully grow herbs and use them in your cooking ? Please post in the comments if you have any tips as in the past I have managed to kill peppermint in the garden!