Increases in the diagnoses of Diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease – especially in the western world – have forced people to change their diets, using less salt and sugar in their meals. The biggest complaint is relegating their lives to eating bland food that’s lacking in inspiration and joy. Healthy and nutritious food does not have to be synonymous with bland and boring. There are dozens of herbs you can stock in your pantry or refrigerator that add a ton of flavor to foods. The problem is most people aren’t informed about what herbs truly are and how to use them.

Almost everyone who cooks reaches for the salt and pepper – or that one dried herb they’ve gotten familiar with – when it’s time to season food. By getting to know how and when to use herbs, you can prepare flavorful, fun, healthy dishes the most finicky of eaters will enjoy. The best way to get familiar with herbs is to taste them and imagine how that taste will pair with foods. Then experiment. Here is an introduction to herbs and their use to get your imagination started.

BASIL has a slightly peppery taste and is very aromatic (smelly, in a good way) making it a pungent herb. There are varieties of basil and the most widely available is Sweet Basil. It’s used most often to add punch to a tomato and mozzarella salad, to make pesto and flavor pasta sauces. It’s also a great herb to flavor steamed zucchini, peas and rice.

CHIVES are plants in the onion family and pack a wealth of vitamins, minerals and fiber in their long, slender leaves. This herb is most often used to flavor vinegar and oil salad dressings, creamy dips, butter and broth-based soups. It can also be used to top baked potatoes, roasted tomato and steamed cauliflower.

CORIANDER is also known as cilantro or Chinese parsley. It’s used most often to flavor Middle Eastern, African and Latin dishes. Heat saps the flavor of fresh cilantro leaves, so it’s often used raw. The dried form is actually ground up seeds from this herb. Its savory taste is slightly citrusy and goes well with meats, roasted vegetables and stews.

DILL is most famous for its use in pickling. This herb has a slightly sour taste that adds interest to steamed potatoes, carrots, and green beans. It also pairs well with fish.

MINT is a highly aromatic herb that adds character to tossed fruit salad. Mint leaves can be blanched in hot water directly to make tea. The essential oils in mint have been known to ease digestion and nausea and to alleviate bad breath. It can be used to flavor steamed carrots and peas, and is a wonderful accompaniment to the heavy flavor of meats like lamb and goose.

OREGANO is a staple in Italian cooking. This aromatic herb has a mildly sweet flavor and is most often used dried. Use it when cooking tomatoes or tomato sauces, peppers, onions or as a topping for pizza, toasted breads and meatloaf. Oregano is also rumored to soothe a cough when you make a tincture by steeping dried leaves in boiled water.

PARSLEY is the most widely used garnish, but this mild herb has more vitamin C than oranges. The fresh herb is either seen curly or flat-leaf. The latter has more flavor than the curly variety and is the star in Tabouli, a Middle Eastern salad. Parsley is a wonderful breath freshener and adds color to finished dishes, but it does have a distinctive flavor. Try adding it to potato or pasta salad, or to top off broiled fish.

ROSEMARY is a highly aromatic herb that’s from the evergreen family. Its robust taste is a great companion to lamb, pork, chicken and hearty stews. It’s also quite tasty on roasted vegetables. Rosemary’s flavor really shines when used to flavor grilled meats and vegetables.

SAGE has a slightly bitter, peppery taste that flavors meat and poultry quite well. It’s also used in stuffing and in vegetable soups.

THYME is probably the most widely used herb in cooking. It has dozens of varieties, each with their own slight flavor difference. Thyme has a subtle woodsy flavor and compliments meat, vegetables, soups, salads, breads and eggs. Experiment with it to see how thyme can add interest to your meals.

This list of herbs is by no means exhaustive. There’s tarragon, bay leaf, paprika and cumin to name a few. Get curious about the wide variety of herbs available to you and start experimenting with flavors to make your healthful, nutritious meals sing.

Author's Bio: 

Delores Mason is a life coach, facilitator and author. She enjoys cooking and experimenting with flavors to maintain a healthy diet.

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