If you haven’t been one to experiment with fresh herbs in your cooking, now’s the perfect time to give them a try. Come springtime, you’re likely to see them in the produce section of your local supermarket or maybe even in your own garden. You can add these delicious, fragrant flavor enhancers to virtually any dish you whip up at home.
If you can’t find some of the fresh herbs mentioned here, no worries! You can still use dried herbs in their place — just keep in mind that you need much less of the dried version. A good rule of thumb is to substitute 1 teaspoon of dried herbs for 1 tablespoon of fresh.
Adding flavor isn’t the only reason to use fresh herbs: They are also good for you! Brimming with vitamins, antioxidants and other nutrients, these little beauties pack a nutritional punch — at very few calories, and with virtually zero sodium. What’s more, research suggests they may offer a host of health benefits, from fighting inflammation to lowering your blood pressure, and many more in between.
Read on for some of our favorite herbs, including ways to incorporate them in your cooking and potential health benefits they may offer you and your family.
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Flavor it imparts: Arguably one of the most widely used herbs (and one of the easiest to grow at home!), basil infuses food with a mild, subtly sweet licorice flavor.
Try it in: Pesto, marinara and other tomato-based sauces, pasta, sandwiches, wraps and soups — virtually any savory dish can benefit from the aromatic, slightly sweet taste of basil. (Add it toward the end of cooking for the best flavor.)
Potential health benefits: Rich in vitamin K and the antioxidant beta carotene,1 basil may help fight inflammation, which can lead to such conditions as heart disease, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.2,3
Photo on iStock by Zoryanchik
Flavor they impart: With their mild onion flavor and brilliant green color, chives have been used in cooking since the Middle Ages.
Try them in: Mashed cauliflower, potatoes, dips, soups, seafood dishes and omelets: So many dishes benefit from chives’ toned-down, fresh onion taste! (Use them raw or add at the very end of cooking, as heat ruins their flavor.)
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Flavor it imparts: Often considered a love-it-or-hate-it herb due to its pungent flavor (it tastes like soap to some!), cilantro is a mainstay of Mexican cooking. (The dried version is known as coriander.) It’s flavor can be described as citrusy, spicy and warm.
Try it in: Burritos, chicken and fish dishes, curry, salsa, soups, stews, taco salad and vegetables.
Potential health benefits: Research has suggested that compounds in cilantro may offer both antioxidant and anticancer properties.6 The compounds found in cilantro have also been shown to hold promise in the treatment of migraines.7
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Flavor it imparts: With its grassy flavor akin to licorice, dill lends a fresh, sharp flavor to a wide variety of dishes.
Try it in: Cottage cheese, dips, cucumber salads, omelets, soups and fish all pair well with dill — just be sure to use it sparingly, as it does have a strong flavor. Also add it at the last minute before serving, as it can lose its flavor if cooked too long.
Potential health benefits: Rich in calcium, potassium and vitamin A,8 dill may offer a number of health benefits. These include assisting with the management of diabetes and helping to slow the progression of cardiovascular disease.9 In addition, dill may be helpful for lowering cholesterol and triglycerides, thus improving your heart health.10
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Flavor it imparts: One of the most versatile of herbs, mint can be used in a wide range of sweet and savory foods — and drinks! It tends to have a cool, refreshing taste.
Try it in: Vegetables, fruit salads (mint and watermelon salad is a classic!), peas, carrots, yogurt, sprinkled on roasted lamb or in couscous salad — the possibilities are almost endless. It’s also fabulous in water infused with cucumber or steeped in your morning cup of tea.
Potential health benefits: The rosmarinic acid in mint may help with the prevention and treatment of asthma, animal studies have shown.11 Mint also contains a host of other potentially helpful phytochemicals, including flavonoids and flavones, essential oils and fatty acids. These may be helpful in the prevention and treatment of such allergic conditions as food allergies and eczema, one review suggested.12
Photo by Drbouz on iStock
Flavor it imparts: Hailing from the Greek islands, oregano has a strong, aromatic scent and a slightly bitter flavor with notes of hay and mint.
Try it in: Pizza, marinara sauce, lasagna, salads, vinaigrette, poultry and seafood dishes.
Potential health benefits: Containing several powerful antioxidants, oregano may be helpful in a number of areas. Oregano has been used in herbal medicines to treat aliments such as muscle cramps, indigestion and the common cold.13
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Flavor it imparts: There are two main types of parsley typically used in cooking: curly and Italian. Curly tends to have a grass like flavor and is brighter green; Italian tends to have a bolder, more aromatic flavor and is a darker green, with flatter leaves. (Be sure not to confuse Italian parsley with cilantro, as they look similar.)
Try it in: Egg dishes, salads, pasta, soups, vegetables, potatoes, chicken, fish and roasted meat.
Potential health benefits: Parsley boasts a variety of nutrients, including antioxidants, calcium, potassium, and vitamins A, C and K.14 Vitamin K is particularly beneficial as it supports bone health.15
Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash
Flavor it imparts: One of the most pungent of all herbs, rosemary infuses food with a lemony-earthy flavor reminiscent of pines. Beware: A little goes a long way!
Try it in: Pizza, pork, potatoes, tomato sauce, and roasted chicken or lamb.
Potential health benefits: Rosemary is rich in calcium, iron and potassium,16 all of which can benefit your health. Potassium, in particular, has been shown to help naturally regulate blood pressure levels.17
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Flavor it imparts: Its beautiful, slightly fuzzy leaves infuse food with a minty, earthy flavor with notes of pine and citrus.
Try it in: One of the herbs commonly used at Thanksgiving dinner, sage is fabulous when used to flavor chicken or turkey — or that delicious, mouth-watering holiday stuffing. It’s also a flavor powerhouse in bean dishes, tomato sauce, omelets, polenta, risotto, pasta and soups.
Potential health benefits: Rich in vitamin K and antioxidants,18 sage has been used in traditional medicine to treat various health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease and obesity.19 It may also help control symptoms commonly associated with menopause.20
Photo by fcafotodigital on iStock
Flavor it imparts: Thyme has an earthy flavor with tones of mint and lemon.
Try it in: A tried-and-true element in Cajun and Creole cooking, thyme is also delicious in vegetables, pasta, eggs, chicken, pork, salmon and lamb.
Potential health benefits: Studies suggest that thyme may help treat respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and cough.21
We hope we’ve inspired you to branch out into the herbaceous world when it comes to preparing your meals. Not only are fresh herbs delicious and nutritious, but as you’ve seen, they have the potential to offer many health benefits not only for you, but for your entire family as well.
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Carole Anderson Lucia
Carole is an award-winning journalist based in Southern California who specializes in health and wellness topics. Her work has appeared in Parents, Fit Pregnancy, Mom & Baby, Yahoo News, Viv magazine and Lifescript. She's won several national awards for her work including a National Science Award and two National Health Information awards. A frequent contributor to Jenny Craig’s Blog, Healthy Habits, she enjoys gardening, spending time at the beach and adopting far too many rescue animals in her spare time.
Favorite healthy snack: jicama dipped in homemade hummus
Reviewed by Briana Rodriquez, RDN
Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs.
Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!)
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Edited by Elisa - Jenny Craig