Potted herbs lift your mood and the taste of your food

Various herbs.
Various herbs.

Potted herbs lift your mood and the taste of your food

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

Fresh air, sunshine, brisk exercise and a heart-to-heart chat with your dearest friend are just a few natural remedies we can always lean on to boost our morale. Herbalists have another trick up their sleeves—turning to the healing and soothing properties of plants.

Humans have been harnessing the goodness of plants long before written records ever appeared. A 60,000-year-old Neanderthal burial site in Iraq revealed a body buried with eight species of medicinal plants. Pictures on the walls of the Lascaux Caves in France, carbon-dated to around 20,000 B.C., provide evidence of the use of herbal medicine. In the 5th century B.C., the Greek physician Hippocrates compiled a list of some 400 herbs in common use.

In the modern world, we can simply pop over to the nearest supermarket to pick up a pot of one of these natural wonders. The best thing about these little pick-me-ups for the kitchen? Their price! A single potted herb will usually cost you less than a large cup of coffee at your favorite chain. Here’s a look at five easily found herbs, the foods they complement and an unexpected use for them.

Peppermint: Chopped peppermint leaves lend an unexpected burst of freshness to dishes including green peas, grain salads such as tabouli and pesto sauces. Cocktails and mocktails, mojitos and lemonade gain their zingy notes from mint. Peppermint tea is not only tasty, it’s often drunk to relieve tummies upset by gas, indigestion and cramping.

Surprising use: Heat a few pieces of your favorite chocolate bar in the microwave or a double boiler just to melting point. Dip a few fresh mint leaves into the chocolate and place on wax paper. Put in the refrigerator to chill, and in just a few minutes, your tasty bites and cute garnishes are done.

Basil: The base ingredient in a freshly made pesto and the green in any Caprese salad of fresh tomatoes and mozzarella can rescue a tomato sauce from blandness. A spread of softened butter, minced garlic and basil tastes great on baguettes or biscuits. Remember to add fresh basil to dishes at the end of the cooking process—dried basil, on the other hand, can be added right at the beginning. Water infused with basil and orange is a healthy drink. Vinegars and olive oil can also be infused with basil.

Surprising use: If you have a glut of basil you want to use up before it goes bad, wash the leaves, chop and blitz it with a nice heavy salt in a food processor. Dry in the oven or let it air dry. Placed in an attractive sealable glass jar, basil salt makes a fancy gift for a foodie friend.

Coriander: Coriander, also known as cilantro, is loved by many but not universally. Don’t force it on a friend or family member who finds it repulsive; his or her super-sensitivity to the presence of chemicals known as aldehydes causes some to perceive it to taste like soap. Those in the love-it camp use it to enhance fresh salsa, boiled eggs and lamb, as well as numerous Thai and Indian dishes.

Surprising use: A number of websites suggest coriander leaves can help to promote good scalp health and even stimulate hair growth. A paste made of stems and leaves, mixed up with a little water in a blender, is left on the scalp before being washed off with a mild shampoo.

Rosemary: This fragrant evergreen perennial is often used as a spice in chicken and lamb dishes and hearty stews. When brewed as a tea, it’s believed to relieve fatigue and lift a melancholy mood. Aromatic and slightly earthy rosemary honey is made by heating up honey along with a few sprigs of rosemary.

Surprising use: If you’re suffering from slight congestion or just feeling a little blah, a rosemary bath could be just the right pick-me-up. Put a few sprigs in a not-too-hot tub and soak your woes away.

Sage: Sage pairs well with almost all meats, particularly cuts with quite a bit of fat on them. Sage stuffing is a favorite on many a Thanksgiving table. Chopped up and mixed with butter, it tastes divine atop gnocchi or fresh pasta, and it plays its role perfectly as the key spice in a hearty sausage and white bean soup.

Surprising use: Fry sage leaves to make a unique snack or a crispy topper for squash or pumpkin soups. Wash and pat dry leaves before cooking in hot oil; drain on paper towels; salt and serve immediately.


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