Herbs & Spices for Health & Garden

Keep yourself out of the medicine cabinet, and the round-up out of your garden

ad01c-generalWe have too much salt in our food, and it’s really just a substitute for flavor. Most of it comes from processed foods that are often very high in sodium to cover up all the artificial stuff. But this can also lead to an acquired taste that gets us putting excess salt in our food even when we cook at home. Salt is vital for our bodies, and a healthy amount is an important part of our diets. It also enhances the potency of other flavors, but should be used sparingly, and certainly not to the exclusion of everything else. You’ll have to re-train your taste-buds, but you’ll enjoy the flavors more in the end.

Using a different set of spices or herbs than what you normally use can also add a whole different dimension to your meals and allow you to enjoy the creative process of cooking rather than seeing it as a mere chore.

The most important reason, though, why it’s bad that salt is the go-to flavor enhancer in so many food products and for so many people at home is that herbs and spices offer significant health benefits. They are one more piece to the puzzle of living a sustainable and healthy lifestyle.

But it doesn’t end there. Companion planting with herbs is not only a flavorful addition to your dinner and good for your health, many herb and spice plants also help your garden by naturally deterring pests and attracting the ‘good’ insects that eat the pests rather than eating your crops for you. Here is a list of some of the herbs and spices that offer the most benefit for both you and your garden:

Basil – Definitely makes the top of the list. It’s incredible stuff. Basil is anti-inflammatory, good for cardiovascular health and the upper respiratory system, and fights off bacteria such as staphylococcus, e. coli, shigella, and pseudomonas. Adding basil to your next salad can actually help ensure it’s safe to eat. Basil is also high in vitamins K, A, B6 and C, as well as iron, calcium, fiber, manganese and more. In your garden it will benefit the growth and the flavor of tomatoes, asparagus, peppers, oregano and petunias. Many of the health benefits from basil come from its essential oils, which will benefit from being planted with…

Chamomile – Great for your digestion and helps with abdominal pain, cramps, and breathing when you have a cold, as well as being a mild sedative. Good for soothing headaches and skin problems, too. It even seems to help with hormone regulation, which might be why it looks to be effective against some cancers, including breast and prostate cancer. Planted alongside any other herb, chamomile helps to increase its essential oils. It also helps out cabbage, cucumber, onions and wheat, and attracts hoverflies and wasps which pollinate and feed on unwelcome garden guests like aphids.

Cilantro/Coriander – These both come from the same plant, which is a good source of dietary fiber, calcium and magnesium. It lowers bad and raises good cholesterol, protects against nausea and arthritis, UTIs and salmonella! In your garden it protects from spider mites, aphids and potato bugs.

Dill – A very good source of calcium to help prevent bone loss. Dill also protects against free radicals and some carcinogens, and has antibacterial properties. It makes a good companion for cabbage, lettuce, onion, sweet corn and cucumbers, keeping away spider mites, squash bugs and aphids wile attracting pollinators.

Garlic – Whole books are written about garlic. It’s antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and eating it daily has been shown to help protect against most types of cancer. It helps metabolize iron and has cardiovascular benefits as well. It’s as close as we get to an actual panacea. Planted with apple, pear and peach trees, roses, cucumbers, peas, lettuce, and celery it helps keep rabbits and a myriad of pests away from your food.

Mint – A rich source of dietary fiber, magnesium, iron, folate, and calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B2, potassium and copper. Mint is good for your tummy and can help you breathe if you have asthma, allergies, or a cold. It’s also antibacterial, fighting e. coli, salmonella, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, and others, and inhibits certain types of fungus. Cuttings of mint can be used as mulch, which will help keep mice out and is beneficial for cabbage, mustard, turnips, and broccoli. The living plant attracts bees and deters beetles, mosquitoes, ants, aphids and more.

There are so many flowers, herbs and spices that make good companion plants and benefit health. Do some research to decide what would be best for your garden and keep them in mind while you’re planning for next summer. Of course, during the winter you can keep potted herbs going in your kitchen to continue to enjoy their advantages.

Resources to get you started:

Check out this comprehensive infographic of complementary flavors. Every home cook should have access to this resource.

Companion Planting: friend & foe

Herbal companions

The basics of companion planting

Health benefits

Cooking with herbs & spices

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