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by valerie broussard

Fresh Herbs Make Your Recipes Sing

In medieval times, herbs symbolized strength, courage, wealth, and love, even faithfulness.  Herbs were used in religious ceremonies and superstitious rituals.  Doctors and herbalists believed herbs had healing powers, prescribing them as a preventive measure as well as to treat a multitude of ailments.  Today, herbs are still valued for their medicinal properties, yet also play an essential culinary role for both restaurant and home chefs alike. 

Some delicate and leafy, others hardy and woody stemmed, the fragrance and flavor of herbs enhance almost any dish.  Herbs can be used as part of a healthy diet, contributing flavor without adding fat, cholesterol or sodium and may have added health benefits.


Basil, one of the most commonly used herbs, is found in just about every supermarket’s herb section.  Americans are especially fond of using basil in Italian dishes: with sliced tomato and fresh Buffalo mozzarella, the last ingredient added to a simmering marinara sauce, atop a pizza Margarita.  Who knew all that basil was also good for chills and coughs too?

Rosemary, as with basil, can be used to treat colds, along with influenza.  An uplifting, energizing herb, rosemary has a variety of culinary uses.  It pairs perfectly with roasted chicken.  Just stuff entire sprigs under the skin and scatter about the pan.  To remove the needles, run your fingers down the woody stem.  Potatoes, onions, carrots and other hardy vegetables stand up well to rosemary’s strong pine-like flavor.

Lavender flowers are used medicinally as an expectorant and to treat nervous exhaustion, headaches and indigestion.  They also have anti-bacterial properties.  The French, particularly in the Southern region of Provence, add lavender to crème brûlée, cookies and other desserts.     

Mint leaves, both peppermint and spearmint, have an internal cooling effect on the body and are helpful for indigestion and motion sickness.  Try a cup of refreshing mint tea after dinner to soothe an upset stomach.  Simply snip a few fresh leaves into a mug, add hot water and let the mint steep for a few minutes.  Mint is also used in several Asian cuisines.  Mint, along with cooked shrimp, crisp bean sprouts and lettuce wrapped in rice paper, adds a bright flavor to Vietnamese summer rolls.

Sage has a reputation for enhancing memory, hence the definition “an elderly man, widely respected for his wisdom.”  The herb’s soft to the touch, peach-fuzz leaves finely sliced into thin strips (chiffonade), are delicious in a brown-butter sauce over butternut squash ravioli, with pork tenderloin or in cornbread stuffing.

cooking Click here to find a Naturopathic doctor near you

cooking For more information on herb history, lore, growing, storing and cooking, click here.

cooking Cookbooks:

Fresh Herb Cooking Fresh Herb Cooking by Linda Dannenberg
click here
The Herbal Kitchen: Cooking with Fragrance and Flavor The Herbal Kitchen: Cooking with Fragrance and Flavor
click here
The Herbfarm Cookbook and The Herbfarm Cookbook, both by Jerry Traunfeld
click here

Thyme’s delicate little leaves pack a powerful healing punch.  Extract of thyme has been shown to inhibit growth of Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that causes the majority of stomach ulcers.  A versatile cooking herb, thyme complements grilled fish and shellfish.  Try a green salad topped with goat cheese that has been marinating in olive oil, fresh thyme sprigs and cracked black pepper. 

Antioxidant rich oregano has anti-bacterial properties, which are helpful in treating urinary tract infections.  Essential to Greek cooking, chopped oregano combined with lemon zest and olive oil, make a tasty marinade for vegetables, lamb and fish.  Italian and Mexican recipes often call for pungent oregano, a close relative of marjoram.

That little sprig of curly parsley on your plate isn’t just garnish; it’s there to munch on as a breath freshener at the end of a meal.  Parsley acts as a diuretic; helps treat kidney stones, upset stomach and other digestive ailments.  Add chopped parsley to tabbouleh, a Middle Eastern salad.  Flat-leaf parsley, also known as Italian parsley is used in classic condiments: the French herb blend fines herbs, persillade, a mixture of chopped parsley and garlic, and the Milanese condiment gremolada, composed of parsley, garlic, lemon and orange zest.

Bunches of fresh herbs can be stored upright (stem end down) in a glass filled with just an inch or two of water.  Cover with a large plastic bag and secure around the glass with a rubber band.  Refrigerate and change the water every two days.  Annuals such as basil and cilantro should be stored similarly, but kept at room temperature. 

Keep in mind that the FDA does not regulate herbal supplements.  Some herbs have been known to cause drug interactions.  Self-diagnosis and subsequent misuse of herbal supplements can be toxic and cause health conditions to worsen, so play it safe and stick to fresh herbs for cooking.  Or, visit a homeopathic or naturopathic physician, a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine or Ayurvedic medicine.

about valerie broussard

Valerie is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education, formerly Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School, and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Food and Nutrition from Florida State University.

Following culinary school, she completed her internship at the famed JoJo restaurant in NYC. Since then she has worked as a recipe developer, tester and writer for publications such as: Martha Stewart Living and M. Shanken’s Food Arts and Wine Spectator. Recently, Valerie returned to food styling, creating pasta, pizza and other Italian dishes for Bradshaw International, maker of Bialetti cookware and the Good Cook line of kitchen utensils.

Prior to her career in food writing, Valerie worked as a model, with bookings that sent her traveling worldwide. She credits modeling and food styling with 'training her eye' for the aesthetics of fine photography, and expanding the experience of food 'beyond the palate.' She currently resides in New York City, with frequent visits to the West Coast.

valerie broussard

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