Create herb heaven on your plate
From rosemary to thyme to parsley, and so many other varieties in between, herbs produce abundantly in the garden and can even grow in containers if you’re pushed for space. After more than 25 years spent experimenting with herbs in the kitchen, I know these botanical beauties are key to infusing the dishes you cook every day with great taste and depth of flavour.
Known as the part of the plant used for its aromatic purposes, herbs are the bushy leaves and shrubbery that can be used fresh or dried. All other parts of the plant, including the buds, bark, root, seeds, berries or fruit, are referred to as spices. Just like spices, not only can herbs elevate your culinary creations to delectably delicious, but I really dig them because, as the cooler months arrive, they are both excellent to add to meals and also a rich source of healing.
Of course, it’s no secret that scientific studies continue to link our diets and lifestyle changes over the past 50 years — along with the exponential growth of processed foods and increasing exposure to environmental toxins — as significant factors in the onset of chronic diseases.
That’s why so many of us are now seeking far more natural solutions by turning the foods we eat into tools that can help us achieve better health. Since ancient times, herbs have proved helpful in maintaining human health and improving quality of life.
Used for centuries for culinary purposes, herbs have also formed the cornerstone of many natural remedies used to manage certain physiological disorders. No wonder, then, that they are the foundation of many traditional medicine practices.
Herbs are so therapeutic because they harbour a wide variety of active phytonutrients, including flavonoids, terpenoids, lignans, sulfides, polyphenols, carotenoids, coumarins, saponins, plant sterols, uramins, and phthalides. Along with important vitamins and minerals, these naturally occurring plant compounds are key to achieving optimal health. Responsible for influencing colour, scent and flavour in so many of the herbs and vegetables we use in the kitchen, phytonutrients are proven to have many disease-preventing, medicinal properties.
What I love most about medicinal herbs (and what Nic is sharing with me through her medicinal herbalism studies) is that each and every one is unique when it comes to its healing properties.
By focusing on getting them into your diet regularly, over time, herbs can work to create better-functioning immune, digestive and respiratory systems, as well as help calm skin conditions and reduce the severity of colds and coughs.
Peppermint is a stand-out herb for me and during the winter months it’s one that my family and I use regularly. Nic likes to steep it in either a hot or cold infusion for the girls and for me it’s a way of keeping any coughs and colds at bay.
The reason peppermint is so good for this is because it acts as both an expectorant and a decongestant. Peppermint’s essential oils can also be used as a chest rub or inhaled to help clear nasal congestion and it’s also well known for helping to relieve tension headaches and easing sore muscles. Peppermint oil capsules have proved a natural alternative for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It can also work to relax the muscles of your intestines, allowing gas to pass and easing abdominal pain.
When I’m using mint in the kitchen, I love scrunching up (the technical term is “bruising”) fresh leaves in my hands because they impart a better flavour. Plus, this is one of my favourite herbs to add to so many of my all-time, favourite Southeast Asian dishes, such as chicken larb salad, which has a divine trio of herbs: mint, Thai basil and coriander. I also love adding mint to soups and other salads.
However, mint’s fresh leaves are equally fantastic mixed through olive oil with garlic, French shallots, apple cider vinegar and a pinch of ground cumin to make a delicious homemade mint sauce. It’s one of our favourite sauces served with lamb cutlets and a side of green vegies. Yum!
Another favourite herb of mine that comforts me during the winter months is thyme. Not only do I love the fragrance it imbues any dish with, but it’s also abundant in antioxidants due to the key flavonoids it contains. These are apigenin, naringenin, luteolin and thymonin, and studies have proven their ability to protect and increase the percentage of healthy fats found in cell membranes.
As reported by the George Mateljan Foundation, “In particular, the amount of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid) in brain, kidney, and heart cell membranes was increased after dietary supplementation with thyme.” Thyme also contains a significant amount of key vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A and C, iron, manganese, copper and dietary fibre.
By using it in your cooking, thyme may also help inhibit glycation and the formation of dangerous advanced glycation end products (AGEs) in your food, making thyme helpful in preventing heart disease and premature ageing.
Since thyme oil has anti-bacterial, anti-spasmodic, anti-rheumatic, expectorant, hypertensive and calming properties, it can help relieve everything from menstrual cramps to respiratory illnesses to skin conditions. Like peppermint, thyme oil can also be used as an effective mouthwash to improve oral health.
I’m a massive fan of chicken roasted with garlic and thyme, which leads me to one of my other favourite herbs that I just can’t get enough of in my food, and that’s rosemary.
I love the scent of the essential oils in rosemary leaves when you pick it from its woody stem, and the smell wafting out of the kitchen when it’s roasting in the oven with a succulent piece of good-quality, organic meat.
We usually do a big roast once a week — often on a Sunday — so we can then use for leftovers throughout the week, and nothing goes together more perfectly, in my opinion, than cold cuts of roast chicken with rosemary, garlic and lemon tossed through a fresh, green Garden salad.
Interestingly, rosemary is related to mint and, as a result, exhibits many of the same healing properties. Known for protecting the immune system and improving digestion, rosemary is particularly anti-inflammatory. Along with potassium, calcium and folate, this herb also contains significant amounts of fat-soluble vitamin A, which is important for creating a healthy, protected immune system.
By far the best-known and most popular herb in the world, parsley is also a nutrient-dense superstar. A member of the same family as celery, its bushy green leaves are packed full of vitamins and minerals. It’s also especially high in iron, containing twice as much as spinach, and is detoxifying.
Rich in vitamins C and K, it can be added to almost any dish as either a flavouring or garnish and is a fantastic way to get a boost of antioxidants.
Medicinally, parsley is known to be an excellent digestive aid and the tea made from it is known to be a traditional remedy for indigestion, bloating and gas.
Of course, there are so many more medicinal herbs I would love to dissect in great detail, from lesser known ones such as fenugreek and ginseng through to that summer pesto staple, basil. In fact, there are so many varieties of amazing herbs out there, I encourage you to think about the ways your food can be medicine.
I reckon it’s time to get inventive and explore packing the meals you create with as many medicinal, healing herbs as possible. Here’s a selection of my favourite recipes that let herbs shine as the superstars they are.
Cook with love and laughter,
Chicken & Liver Larb Salad
Prep time: 15 mins
Cooking time: 8 mins
- 3 tbsp white sesame seeds
- 500g organic free-range chicken breast or thigh mince
- 200g organic free-range chicken liver, trimmed, vein & sinew removed, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp coconut oil, tallow or duck fat
- 4 tbsp lime juice
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 small red chilli, deseeded & finely chopped
- 4 red Asian shallots, finely diced
- ½ bunch spring onions (green part only), finely sliced
- Large handful mint leaves, torn
- Large handful coriander leaves, torn
- Small handful Thai basil leaves, torn
- Fresh cabbage or lettuce leaves, cucumber & sliced okra, to serve
- Activated almonds, chopped, to serve
- Add sesame seeds to wok or frypan over medium–high heat and cook, tossing the pan continuously, for 2–3 mins or until sesame seeds are golden and toasted. Remove from pan and leave to cool.
- Wipe frypan with kitchen paper and heat over medium–high.
- Add a little oil or fat and cook mince and liver, stirring frequently, for 2–3 mins until cooked and crumbly.
- Stir in lime juice, fish sauce, chilli, shallots and spring onion.
- Remove from heat and leave to cool for 1 min. Toss mint, coriander, Thai basil and sesame seeds through chicken mince.
- Serve with your choice of cabbage or lettuce leaves, cucumber, or sliced okra and sprinkle with activated almonds and sesame seeds for a nice crunchy texture.
Bone Marrow with Gremolata
- 4 × 12cm beef bone marrows cut lengthways, knuckles removed (ask your butcher to cut the bone marrow)
- Large handful flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 2 anchovies, finely chopped
- ½ lemon, finely zested & juiced
- Salt % pepper
- To make gremolata, combine ingredients in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper.
- Preheat oven to 200°C. Season bone marrow flesh with salt and pepper and roast for 12 mins until starting to brown.
- Remove from oven, spread some gremolata over marrow and return to oven, then cook for a further 5 mins or until marrow is cooked through.
- Place bone marrow on serving plates or platter and serve.
Broccoli Soup with Hot Smoked Trout & Rosemary
Prep time: 15 mins
Cooking time: 25 mins
- 2 tbsp coconut oil, duck fat, tallow or other good-quality fat
- 1 brown onion, chopped
- 2 heads broccoli, broken into florets & stalks, chopped (600g)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 tbsp dill (leaves only), finely chopped, plus extra for garnish
- 750mL chicken or vegetable stock
- Sea salt & cracked pepper
- 1 hot smoked rainbow trout, skin & bones removed, flesh flaked
- 2 tbsp sunflower & pumpkin seeds, toasted
- Zest 1 lemon
- Heat a saucepan over medium–high heat with coconut oil or fat. Add onion and cook for 5 mins until translucent.
- Add broccoli stalk and garlic and cook for a further 5 mins until starting to brown, stirring occasionally.
- Add broccoli florets, rosemary and dill, then pour in stock and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium–low and gently simmer for 20 mins or until broccoli is tender. Season with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper.
- Using a handheld/stick blender, blend soup until it has a thick, chunky texture.
- Ladle soup into serving bowls, then top with smoked rainbow trout flakes, a sprinkle of toasted seeds and a sprinkling of lemon zest. Serve hot.
Prep time: 20 mins
Cooking time: 15 mins
- 2 tbsp duck fat or coconut oil
- 6 rindless bacon rashers (about 350g), diced
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- ¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 600g zucchini (about 3), julienned on a mandolin
- 4 free-range egg yolks (optional)
- Egg sauce
- 2 free-range eggs
- 1 tbsp arrowroot (see note)
- 185mL chicken or vegetable stock
- 125mL coconut cream
- To serve
- Macadamia nuts, finely grated
- Chilli flakes (optional)
- For egg sauce, whisk eggs and arrowroot in a bowl to combine.
- Bring stock and coconut cream to the boil in a saucepan. Add 60mL of the coconut and stock to egg mixture and whisk to combine, then whisk in the remaining hot liquid.
- Return the mixture to the pan and cook over low heat, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon, until the sauce thickens (5–7 mins). Season to taste and keep warm.
- Heat the fat in a large, deep frying pan over medium–high heat. Add bacon and fry, stirring occasionally, until it just starts to colour (3–5 mins).
- Reduce heat to medium, add onion and garlic and cook until translucent (8–10 mins).
- Add parsley, then add zucchini and toss until just tender (2 mins).
- Remove from heat, toss egg sauce with zucchini, season to taste and divide among bowls.
- Place an egg yolk on each portion, if using, and serve, scattered with macadamia and black pepper or chilli flakes.
- Note: Arrowroot is found in the baking section of the supermarket.
Baked Eggs with Artichoke, Salami, Tomato, Olives & Mint
Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 20 mins
- 1 tbsp coconut oil, duck fat or tallow
- ½ red onion, sliced
- 400g tin diced tomatoes
- Salt & cracked pepper
- 8 kalamata olives, pitted
- ½ preserved lemon, thinly sliced
- 140g jar artichoke hearts, halved
- 50g good-quality salami, sliced
- 4 free-range eggs
- ¼ tsp dried chilli flakes (optional)
- 2 tbsp chopped mint
- Place medium-sized frypan over medium heat. Add oil and onion and cook for 4–5 mins, or until softened. Add tomato and cook for a further 10 mins or until slightly reduced. Season with salt and freshly cracked pepper.
- Add olives, preserved lemon, artichoke and salami, and gently mix to combine. Reduce the heat to low.
- Make 4 wells in tomato mixture with the back of the spoon and break open an egg into each. Cook for 5 mins or until the whites have set and the yolks are soft, or cook further to your liking. To finish, sprinkle with chilli flakes and freshly chopped mint.
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