Herbs and spices have been used for centuries to enhance the flavour and nutrition of foods in addition to supplying medicinal benefits. Adding herbs and spices to recipes can replace unhealthy ingredients such as salt, sugar and unhealthy fat. Stir-fry dishes, marinades and dressings, vegetable dishes, casseroles and soups can be made more appetizing when prepared with herbs and spices, which increase food satisfaction and make us less likely to overeat.
Herbs are usually derived from the leaves of plants. Spices can come from the buds of the plant, such as cloves; the seeds, such as cumin; the berries, such as peppercorn; the bark, such as cinnamon; or the roots, such as ginger. Sometimes, the same plant can provide both herbs and spices, such as fresh coriander leaves as a herb and ground coriander seeds as a spice.
Herbs and spices provide important antioxidants to help fight damage caused by free radicals. Protective phytochemicals contained in both fresh and dried herbs and spices include allicin, in garlic, for potential anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties; curcumin, in turmeric, for helping to protect against cancer; gingerol, in ginger, to aid in pain relief and nausea; and capsaicin, in chili.
Common herbs and spices used in everyday cooking, such as black pepper, chili powder, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, basil, coriander and parsley, contain nutritious vitamins and minerals. Almost all spices and herbs provide calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium, in addition to vitamins C, A, E and B as well as thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, B-6 and folate.
To get the full benefit of herbs, they should be eaten fresh. The easiest and cheapest way is to grow your own herbs either in the kitchen or in the garden or balcony. Seeds should be bought from organic seed growers rather than hardware chains as these seedlings come with growth hormone added and possibly GM strains.
When you cut fresh herbs and pop them straight into a casserole or salad, you get the full benefit of the nutrients. Compare that to a jar of dried herbs which has been in the cupboard for a year and has probably very few nutrients left- possibly the worst thing that could have happened to herbs is the supermarket dried herb range with 2 year sell-by-dates.
Again with fresh herbs added raw to salads and garnishing cooked food, you are getting 100% of the nutrients. If you are adding herbs to cooking, try to add them at the end so that the cooking does not destroy the flavonoids. Similarly with spices, fresh spices will have more nutrients than old jars of ground spices. Try to buy fresh from organic suppliers.