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I truly enjoy cooking and baking. It's satisfying to be able to create something nutritious and delicious for my family. Often times I'll change or modify an existing recipe in an effort to make it healthier and more balanced and aside from one colossal failed attempt at making scones using coconut flour, things usually turn out pretty good. There is a certain knack to maintaining flavour when substituting, swapping and rearranging ingredients to make a recipe healthier. Let's face it, how many times have we all choked down something devoid of flavour that was supposed to be good for us? This is where adding in herbs and spices to your recipes really brings the flavour home.

Aside from enhancing flavour and colour, herbs pack a nutitional punch as well. Oregano, basil, parsely, thyme, rosemary and mint are some of my favourites for taste and health benefits. Oregano contains anti-oxidants, has anti-inflammatory properties, is anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. In short, oregano helps support the immune system, assists in detoxing the body and according to Dr. Mercola's website “Oregano extract has been shown to "lead to growth arrest and cell death in a dose- and time-dependent manner" in colon cancer cells. A phytochemical in oregano, carnosol, has also been "evaluated for anti-cancer property in prostate, breast, skin, leukemia, and colon cancer with promising results." Clearly we should be using oregano on more than just pizza.

Basil is also rich in anti-oxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties with the added benefit of containing anti-aging properties as well. According to research that was presented at the British Pharmaceutical Conference in Manchester, holy basil extract was shown effective in preventing free-radical damage to cells in the liver, brain and heart.

Parsely, though often thought of as a garnish used only as a visual enhancement to the dish, does more than just look good. Because of the high chlorophyll content, parsely was shown to have preventative effects on skin cancer and a recent study at the University of Michigan found referenced on MNT's (Medical News Today) homepage, “A natural chemical found in parsley, celery and other plants known as apigenin has been found to decrease tumor size in an aggressive form of breast cancer in a recent study conducted at the University of Missouri. Researchers say that this shows apigenin to be a promising non-toxic treatment for cancer in the future.”

Originally used for embalming in ancient Egypt, thyme is definitely more useful to the living. Not only is thyme packed with vitamins and minerals, fresh thyme has one of the highest anti-oxidants among herbs. Since anti-oxidants reduce inflammation and inflammation is the root cause of all disease, it may be time to start adding some thyme to your savory dishes.

If you're looking for an alternative to salt, adding rosemary to your recipes gives a flavour that, although is not salty, somehow satisfies the need and fits the bill. Besides being a tasty alternative to salt, MNT website reports rosemary is helpful in improving digestion, enhancing memory and concentration, and “...may significantly help prevent brain aging.” Who doesn't want a younger brain?

Cool, refreshing mint. Most often thought of as flavour for confection or oral hygiene products – candy canes, scotch mints, gum, toothpaste, mouthwash – but with benefits internally and externally it really is so much more. Ingested, mint has been used in treatment of seasonal allergies, common cold, sore throat, indigestion, gas, irritable bowel and heartburn. Topically, peppermint water has been suggested to relieve pain and prevent cracked nipples for breastfeeding mothers and peppermint extract has shown to increase pain threshold as well as provide relief from insect bites, rash and other irritations.

As you can see, adding just a few of your favourite herbs to your cooking provides not only a flavour kick, but a multitude of health benefits as well. So now the question, which is better, fresh or dried? My answer to you would be, whichever one you will actually use. After all, the benefit is there only if you actually put it in your food. There is something to be said however for having fresh herbs growing in a pot on the window sill. Not only are they fresh, local, pesticide free and rigth at your fingertips, the aroma lingering in the kitchen is simply amazing.

So, as we head into March and begin thinking about spring and perhaps planning what we will plant this year, in addition to the flower pots, why not consider planting a few of your favourite herbs? Regardless of whether you decide to plant outside in the garden, or in a pot on kitchen window sill, your health will grow along with the herb garden.
 

Here's to your health,
Tania Gustafson
Nutritionist & Fitness Coach (IBNFC)