Grow (and Cook With!) Your Own Herbs

potted herbsFor people who want the health benefits of gardening but don’t have a big lawn or a lot of spare time to devote to it, raising herbs is an option. With a few pots and some sunshine, you can grow delicious, nutritious spices to add to your favorite dishes.

“Herbs can provide eye appeal, flavor, texture and may add some nutritional value,” said Gayle Jennings, a registered dietitian at Memorial Medical Center. “In addition to adding a variety of tastes to common dishes, herb blends can be an excellent substitute for salt.”

Central Illinois is in the Zone 5 plant hardiness growing region. Before you plant herbs – particularly perennials – make sure they will grow here. Most herbs grown in Illinois will need to be in pots with well-drained soil.

Here are three popular and delicious herbs you can grow in your garden or on the patio, followed by a few recipes from Jennings that contain them.

BASIL –Basil is believed to offer antioxidant, antiviral and antimicrobial benefits. High in vitamin K, it is used as a seasoning herb and is a primary ingredient in pesto. It can be used fresh or dried. To grow basil in central Illinois, you will need to keep it in full sun with well-drained, rich soil. For use in Italian dishes, choose sweet basil plants.

OREGANO – Oregano is closely related to marjoram and sometimes the two herbs are confused (even though they are not the same). It’s easy to understand why: It has only been since the 1940s that Americans called it “oregano.” Before that, it was known here as “sweet marjoram.” Both herbs are thought to aid digestion, alleviate toothache pain and settle upset stomachs. Grow oregano in well-drained rich soil with full sun.

PARSLEY – Folklore abounds around this popular herb. Some cultures believed only a witch or a pregnant woman could grow parsley – and the ancient Greeks and Romans ate parsley in between courses because they thought it would prevent the wine from getting them drunk. Today parsley is recognized for both its aesthetic and nutritional contribution to foods. You can grow parsley in window boxes year round. Place in an area with part/full sun and make sure the box is deep and moist.

Good nutrition is an important part of health maintenance. The foods you eat can help you prevent and manage disease, as well as support your overall health and wellness goals. Memorial’s Nutrition Services help patients with a variety of conditions (including celiac disease, diabetes and high-risk pregnancy) develop well-balanced nutrition and lifestyle goals.

(The Herb Society of America and The Complete Herb Book by Jekka McVicar were used for information in this article.)

Lyonnaise Potatoes

2 potatoes, about 8 ounces each, sliced thin (about 1/8 inch thick)
2 medium onions, sliced thin
1 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves minced garlic
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp paprika
1 Tbsp parsley, for garnish

Place all ingredients, except parsley, in a microwave-safe 3-quart casserole dish. Cover loosely, microwave on high for 12 to 14 minutes, until tender.  Stir 2-3 times during cooking. Garnish with parsley and let stand a few minutes before serving.

Serves 4. Per serving: 180 calories, 3.6g fat, 0.5g sat. fat, 145mg sodium, 3.5g protein, 34.7g carbohydrates.

Saltless Surprise

2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp each of basil, oregano, and powdered lemon rind (or dehydrated lemon juice)

Put ingredients into a blender and mix well. Store in glass container, label and add dry rice to prevent caking. Sprinkle on chicken, potatoes or vegetables instead of salt.

Layered Tomato-Mozzarella Salad  (courtesy of the American Heart Association)

1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced, rings halved and separated
3 or 4 medium tomatoes, sliced
2 ounces fat-free mozzarella cheese, coarsely shredded (about 1/2 cup)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 Tbsp very thinly sliced fresh basil
1 or 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
Pepper to taste
1 Tbsp olive oil (extra virgin preferred)
1 tsp red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar

In a 1-quart serving dish, spread half the onion. Top with half the tomatoes and half the mozzarella. Sprinkle with half each of the parsley, basil and garlic. Sprinkle with the pepper. Drizzle with half the oil and half the vinegar. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Serve at room temperature or cover and refrigerate for one (1) hour to serve chilled. If possible, use a clear serving dish for presentation.

Serves 4. 3/4 cup per serving: 94 calories, 5g fat, 1g sat. fat, 109mg sodium, 5g protein, 5g sugars, 9g carbohydrates.