Healthy Herbs: Springtime Picks
Practicing physician, author and leader in integrated medicine.
Spring is the perfect time of year to enjoy the wonderful freshness of parsley and cilantro.
Not only do these traditional fresh herbs add flavor and color, but they also have special health benefits. While there are endless ways to enjoy these beautiful herbs, I have included a recipe and some easy tips below that take the mystery out of shopping for, cooking with and even growing fresh herbs.
As more people seek out a natural and organic lifestyle, fresh herbs have become a major food trend. Fresh parsley and cilantro are more available than ever, at the supermarket, the farmers market, and the natural food store.
Parsley and Cilantro Add Flavor and Beauty
And these two fresh herbs play a starring role on restaurant menus in Italian, Asian and Latin cuisine.
Adding fresh herbs allows you to maximize both nutrition and flavor. The research coming out on fresh herbs is very exciting. Science is discovering the remarkable health benefits of parsley and cilantro, which are rich in anti-inflammatory phytonutrients called polyphenols and carotenoids. And fighting inflammation with nutrition is a very good idea, not least because of the side effects of anti-inflammatory medicines.
Boost Antioxidants with Parsley
Parsley outstrips almost all other vegetables in its ability to raise the levels of antioxidant enzymes in your blood.
Parsley gets its health benefits from:
- A high content of carotenoids. It has almost twice the carotenoid content of carrots (the vegetable for which carotenoids were named) and is matched only by red peppers and kale.
- Apigenin, the major polyphenol in parsley, which is part of the group of compounds called flavonoids.
Cut Cholesterol with Cilantro
Cilantro also known as Asian parsley or coriander, is a frequent garnish in Latin and Asian cuisines.
In research studies, cilantro’s remarkable components have shown the potential to:
- Reduce high blood sugar
- Lower levels of cholesterol
- Kill dangerous bacteria
- Help rid the body of toxic metals by binding to them and promoting their detoxification.
Learn more about foods for detoxing in Eat This, Detox That
For those of you who are wondering about dried herbs, a recent study may be of interest. Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, compared the antioxidant capacity of fresh herbs to dried herbs. They found that while the dried form generally had less antioxidant capacity than fresh herbs, there was still significant antioxidant capacity in the dried herbs.
How to Get Fresh Herbs Into Your Day
Here is a fantastic tip you can pick up from the top chefs: adding a garnish of fresh parsley or cilantro adds a quick and easy splash of freshness and color to dishes.
When shopping for herbs, freshness is important. Look for bright green leaves that are perky like fresh cut flowers. Avoid anything wilted or waterlogged. I like to buy organic herbs grown in the U.S.
To clean the herbs for use, simply tear off a handful of parsley or cilantro leaves and soak them in a bowl of water. Swish the herbs around in the water with your fingers to remove any sand or dirt on the leaves or stems. Rinse the herbs well and then dry with a paper towel.
Simply break the herbs into pieces, then sprinkle them over favorite dishes such as omelets, soups, salads, pizzas, pastas — you name it.
Using fresh herbs is a great way to be a little adventurous and enjoy your creativity in the kitchen. I reach for parsley when making Italian and French dishes. For Latin favorites such as salsa or chili, cilantro is perfect. Cilantro also pairs well with Asian dishes.
Step by Step Guide to Growing Your Own Fresh Herbs
Planting fresh herbs in pots in the kitchen, deck, or backyard is an awesome way to have them fresh to use when you are cooking. I like to plant parsley and cilantro in little clay pots.
Step one is to pick up some organic potting soil in a bag, and some small starter plants at a garden center.
Step two is picking out some nice little clay pots and saucers.
Step three is to place pebbles into the bottom of the pots for drainage and place the pots on the saucers.
Step four is to fill the pots, about 3/4 full, with the organic potting soil.
Step five is planting. I remove a little herb plant from its container, place it in the pot, and place soil all around the plant. Pack down the soil to give the plant a sturdy base.
Step six is watering. Sprinkle about one cup of water over the soil.
Give them a little water each day to keep the soil moist, and move them into a shady spot if the leaves get burned by the sun.
Here is a recipe featuring fresh herbs from my book, “The Fat Resistance Diet”, an anti-inflammatory program.
Mexican Salad Recipe
This is a family-style recipe that uses several powerful anti-inflammatory ingredients, and features antioxidant-rich beans.
15-ounce can garbanzo beans
15-ounce can black beans
2 tomatoes, diced
1 red or yellow bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil or walnut oil
Juice of 1 lime
2 cups mixed salad greens
Rinse the beans with cold water and drain. In a large bowl, toss the garbanzos, black beans, tomatoes, bell pepper, scallions, celery, cilantro, garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper. Dress the salad with the olive oil or walnut oil and lime juice. Serve over mixed salad greens. Makes 4 servings
Nutrition facts per serving: 245 calories, 12g protein, 39g carbohydrate, 5g fat (0g saturated), 11g fiber
I hope you enjoy the healthy pleasures of fresh herbs this springtime.
Now I’d like to hear from you:
What fresh herbs do you enjoy?
What is your favorite place to shop for fresh herbs?
How do you use them in the kitchen?
Have you noticed any benefits?
Please let me know your thoughts by posting a comment below.
Leo Galland, MD
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Leo Galland, MD is a board-certified internist, author and internationally recognized leader in integrated medicine. Dr. Galland is the founder of Pill Advised, a web application for learning about medications, supplements and food. Sign up for FREE to discover how your medications and vitamins interact. Watch his videos on YouTube and join the Pill Advised Facebook page.
References and Further Reading
PDR for Herbal Medicines, Thomson Reuters; Third Edition, 988 pages ( 2004)
Int J Oncol. 2007 Jan;30(1):233-45. “Apigenin and cancer chemoprevention: progress, potential and promise” (review). Patel D, Shukla S, Gupta S. Department of Urology, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA.
Recent Pat Food Nutr Agric. 2011 Jan 1;3(1):64-77. “Aliphatic C(17)-polyacetylenes of the falcarinol type as potential health promoting compounds in food plants of the Apiaceae family.” Christensen LP. University of Southern Denmark, DK-5230 Odense M, Denmark.
Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2011 May;62(3):219-25. Epub 2010 Dec 1. “Antioxidant capacity and phytochemical content of herbs and spices in dry, fresh and blended herb paste form.” Henning SM, Zhang Y, Seeram NP, Lee RP, Wang P, Bowerman S, Heber D. Center for Human Nutrition, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, California, USA.
Full Text: “Diet and Inflammation” Leo Galland, MD, Nutr Clin Pract December 7, 2010 vol. 25 no. 6 634-640
Power Healing: Use the New Integrated Medicine to Cure Yourself. Leo Galland, 384 pages, Random House, (June 1, 1998)
Recipe by Jonathan Galland from The Fat Resistance Diet © 2005 Leo Galland, M.D., Reprinted by permission of the author.
This information is provided for general educational purposes only and is not intended to constitute (i) medical advice or counseling, (ii) the practice of medicine or the provision of health care diagnosis or treatment, (iii) or the creation of a physician–patient relationship. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your doctor promptly.
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