Herbs: Just Tasty or Something More?

Cooking with herbs: Health Benefits

We’ve all been there. You’re in the kitchen, grabbing food, and hurriedly throwing it in the pot while a hungry group of friends stares at your back.

But how often do you sacrifice healthy meals for quick ones??

More people are realizing how closely diet affects their overall health nowadays. Considering the amount of people struggling with weight loss, irritable bowel syndrome, or even simply an upset stomach, it is easy to see why. Research shows that food can not only fill our stomachs but can also heal our bodies. As Hippocrates says: “Let food be thy medicine.”

And the best medicine comes from our gardens.

Rosemary, For Nose and Allergies

Ah, Rosmarinus officinalis,  our lovely perennial herb that makes chicken (or tofu) so, so tasty. Rosemary gives a savory, earthy flavor to your meals. Some call it “woody” or compare it to mustard. But what exactly do these needle-like leaves do for our body?

This attractive plant contains phytochemicals such as rosmarinic acid and camphor.  Camphor was used in ancient India as a medicine for fever; its benefits are the ability to reduce fever and aid with swelling. The small amounts in rosemary can also help with congestion.

herbs health body benefits
The delicious smell of rosemary can make your house inviting as a bonus benefit!

The rosmarinic acid, of course, is the main player here. It’s anti-everything bad for you: antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial.

Next time you’re sick consider adding rosemary to your chicken noodle soup, or add a dash to any meal for additional health benefits with a delicious flavor!

Thyme, For Protection

When it comes to standard kitchen fare, thyme is a reliable standby in the herbs and spices rack. This herb imparts a subtle aroma, likened to mint. Not only does it play well with others, but it also doubles the antibacterial properties of whatever you’re cooking.

The active ingredient here is thymol.  This fierce antiseptic was used to soak bandages in ancient times to guard us against infection. Now how do we use it? In mouthwashes. That’s right. Thyme is in that bottle of Listerine.

If it’s helping keep your mouth clean, what lovely things is it doing for us farther inside?

Garlic, For Heart Health

A close cousin to the onion, garlic has been used for thousands of years as a food and medicine. This garden gem will set off your spice sensors with its warm taste. Usually, you’re going to want to roast it to mellow it out. Other than its warrior nature against things like the common cold (Seriously folks, rosemary, garlic, hot water. It knocks it right out of me.), the plant can also be used to help your heart.

The powerhouse is allicin which is activated by crushing or chopping garlic and letting the air reach it. Allicin reduces cholesterol levels in the blood and regulates blood pressure.  Research suggests an effect on muscle soreness, and the heart is the hardest working muscle in the body. Is that a reach? Of course, but it’s nice to think about.

Garlic is so easy to work with. You can roast, fry, or eat it raw if you’re feeling adventurous.

Basically, you’re doing yourself a favor by ordering that garlic bread. Tell them I sent ya.

Turmeric, for Inflammation

This herb grows wild in South and Southeast Asian forests, and it gives curry its bright orange color. The herb is aromatic and more on the bitter side. Some compare it to ginger with a dab of orange. It’s found easily in stores in a ground powder form. This was something easy for me to grab during a grocery run and slap into a dish at home.

Born in Ayurvedic medicine, the herb adds a beautiful flavor to most savory dishes as well as its anti-inflammatory properties. This comes from a phytochemical inside called curcumin, and also where the vibrant color comes from.

Looking at our traditional Western diet, we could all use a little turmeric at our side to fight inflammation. Sugar is great but wow does it swell us up.

Lemon Balm, for Sleep & Digestion

This herb is one you’ve probably seen as an essential oil, but you can also use it in food. “Balm,” or “Mint Balm,” not to be confused with “Bee Balm,” is from the mint family. This may be used more in sweet dishes and teas, but anything (like fish) that could use some uplifting lemon notes to its flavor profile would benefit.

Lemon balm also contains rosmarinic acid, but with its other eugenols, tannins, and terpenes, the plants overall chemical effects are changed. Instead of just anti-everything-bad-for-you, it’s a soothing effect that helps you sleep. Lemon balm is still the main ingredient in Carmelite water which is still for sale in German pharmacies to this day.

A close friend suggested a simple recipe of cooking heirloom tomatoes with lemon balm and goat cheese. It’s a light, refreshing dish you can serve by itself, or with some toasted bread, similar to bruschetta.

Coriander(Cilantro), for Vitamins

While I’m one of the small percentages of people that taste soap when I eat this herb, I still try to include it in my diet. It’s also included here simply because it’s healthier than people realize. Similar to the earlier lemon balm, this plant has a lemony flavor, but it also has notes of orange, nuts, and a general spice aroma.

Native to Iran, coriander grows wild all over Western Asia and Southern Europe. Studies have shown that the plant’s leaves contain major amounts of vitamin A, C, and K, plus a large helping of beneficial dietary minerals. If you want, you can also use the seeds in your cooking. While they have less of those vitamins, they do make up for it in fiber, calcium, iron, and magnesium.

cilantro healthy herb cooking
Cilantro is as fresh and green as your helpings of spinach or kale, with just enough vitamins in it!

Basically, you’ve got a great arsenal of supplements all ready for you either growing in your garden or easily picked up at the store. Try a new recipe, and you may find something delicious and nutritious. Your body will thank you.

Benefits of Cooking With Kids

When you invite children to cook with you in the kitchen, you teach them lifelong lessons and the ability to make healthier decisions. Kids cooking with their parents/guardians or grandparents has many benefits. Children learn life skills that help build their confidence and a stronger relationship with their parents. It also helps a child develop cognitive and motor skills that prepares them for success academically, and socially.

Making healthier choices

Bringing kids into the kitchen to help you cook teaches them about different kinds of food and their ingredients Giving kids an idea of what ingredients are in their food gives them a better understanding of what is healthy and

Children are more likely to make healtheir eating choices and try new things when they help cook.
Children are more likely to make healtheir eating choices when they cook with you. They learn to try new things.

what is not. This also gives you and your kids the opportunity to experiment and try to find healthier alternatives to your favorite snacks. For example, when making ice cream with bananas instead of purchasing it in the store, you cut down on sugar and artificial flavors that are in store-bought ice cream.

Going over ingredients when looking at packaging helps kids understand what to look for and what to avoid. For younger kids being in the kitchen is a great opportunity for them to develop their sense of smell, touch, and taste by experimenting with different foods.A child’s ability to make healthier choices in their adult life starts with their parents and what they are fed at home. Cooking with kids and introducing them to healthy options will help them be comfortable picking vegetables or salads, and trying new things, over always having greasy fried foods. Studies show over time as the kids grow up, they will choose healthier options when they learn to cook with their parents while growing up.

Building Confidence

When cooking, kids have to pay attention to details of a recipe and remain focused to get to the end product. Kids will build confidence and gain independence from learning to prep and cook a meal. After a few rounds of cooking with an adult kids may even have the confidence to want to try and cook something on their own. It is always easy to start with something like a sandwich or a simple snack recipe when they insist they want to do it on their own. Kids get a sense of accomplishment and pride when they complete a recipe and see their completed fully cooked meal.

This is also a good time to teach children about kitchen safety, things such as not touching the stove top, how to use the microwave, and how to safely check hot food. They learn teamwork and how working together to reach an end goal is better than doing it alone. Remember to continuously compliment your child’s efforts, even when they get frustrated. This will help your child keep calm and boost their confidence so they do not want to quit and give up on cooking. Praising your child in the kitchen also helps build a bond between the adult and child and lets them know that you believe in them.

A kid's reading skills improve from from being in the kitchen. They learn different measurements, and to follow steps.
A kid’s reading skills improve from from being in the kitchen. They learn different measurements needed, and to follow steps.

Math & Reading Skills Improve

Cooking helps a child understand measurements in a real world setting. Kids who learn things like numbers and measurements in a setting like a kitchen as opposed to just on paper are more likely to pick them up easier and remember them. You can help younger kids learn their numbers by having them count out each ingredient as you gather them and add them to the recipe. Older children on the other hand can work on more advanced skills like reading and fractions in the recipe.

Next time you cook a meal, bring your children in the kitchen to help you so they can begin learning these valuable life skills. Both you and your children will benefit from cooking together. You get to have a partner while cooking who will make the experience more fun, while your children learn to be more confident, enhance their cognitive skills, and use the knowledge to make healthier decisions as the grow into adults.