Wake Up Springtime Meals with Herbs

Herbs Potting Table

With fresh flavor and fragrance, green herbs can help you turn over a healthy new leaf this spring. Like all plant foods, they contain cancer-fighting phytochemicals that give them their unique qualities.

Herbs can add flavor without adding salt. That’s in line with AICR’s advice to limit the amount of salty and salt-cured foods you eat. Herbs and spices may also fight inflammation, which is related to cancer development. Researchers are finding antioxidants in herbs that may protect cells from damage that can lead to cancer.

But more studies are needed before isolated herbs and spices may be used safely to prevent or treat cancer and other diseases. In fact, since herbal and other supplements may interfere with medications, it’s best to stick with foods and ask your doctor before taking herbal extracts or supplements for a medical condition.

Until more is known, AICR encourages enjoying a wide variety of herbs as part of a mostly plant-based diet filled with many different kinds of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans to get the most protection from cancer. (Check out the recipes from AICR’s Test Kitchen.)

Dry or Fresh?

Dried herbs are usually stronger tasting (although they lose flavor over time). Store dried herbs in a cool, dark place, especially if their container is clear; they will last about a year.

Fresh herbs need to be washed. You may need to use three or four times as much fresh herbs as dried. Wrap fresh herbs in a damp paper towel, place them in a plastic bag and refrigerate; or put them stems down in a container of water, with a plastic bag over the leafy part, in the refrigerator. They will keep for about two weeks.

Follow Your Nose

Experiment with herbs you’ve never tried. Sniff an herb before you add it to a dish: If it smells appealing, add just a little at first because the flavor may become stronger when cooked or chewed. Here are 12 top herbs and a few of the many phytochemicals each contains:

Herb Properties

Blends well with these herbs:
Basil quercetin, camphor, methyl eugenol, kaempferol oregano, parsley, thyme
Bay Leaves eugenol, geraniol, limonene, perillyl alcohol oregano, basil, curry, cumin, turmeric
Chives allium compounds, kaempferol, saponins dill, marjoram, paprika, savory, thyme
Cilantro (a.k.a. coriander) apegenin, beta-carotene, kaemferol, quercetin, rutin chili powder, cumin, garlic, onion, oregano
Dill isorhamnetin, kaempferol, limonene, myrcetin celery seed, cumin, thyme
Oregano luteolin, myrcetin basil, cumin, chili powder, parsley
Parsley apegenin, coumarin, ferulic acid, lutein, luteolin, pthalides, quercetin almost any other herb or spice
Rosemary carnosol, fenchon, rosmanol, ursolic acid cumin, parsley, thyme
Sage carnosol, limonene, perillyl alcohol, vanillic acid celery seed, marjoram, savory, thyme
Tarragon isorhamnetin, terpenoids parsley
Thyme phenolics ( such as: rosmarinic acid and flavonoids) basil, chives, dill, paprika, sage

Source: The Role of Herbs and Spices in Cancer Prevention, PubMed

One classic French herb mix is “fines herbs:” parsley, chives, tarragon and chervil used with omelets, dressings or meats. Chervil is a less common herb, like borage, marjoram and savory. If you buy a prepared blend, watch out for high salt content by reading the label before buying.

  • Dill and chives liven up a yogurt dressing for young greens, cucumbers and other salad vegetables. Fish like tuna and salmon are ideal for dried or fresh dill.
  • Fresh basil leaves are classic with sliced tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and a little olive oil.
  • Cilantro and its relative parsley go with almost any vegetable dish, tomato-based sauces and salsas.
  • Rosemary itself has a strong, piney flavor and scent. It’s often added to bread before baking and to poultry and meat dishes before roasting .
  • Thyme is milder and sweeter than oregano or basil.
  • Tarragon has a strong, almost lime scent. Use it with poultry or fish or in a salad dressing.

You can read more about herbs and growing them at:

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