Gardening season is here. Regardless of your level of growing experience, culinary tastes, or your level of cooking expertise, we’re confident that you and your family will enjoy the benefits of a kitchen herb garden. Growing your own herbs yields rewards from the planting stage to the harvesting phase. Aside from the purported health and nutritional benefits that many herbs contain, the summer herbs you plant will enhance the flavors of foods you prepare regardless of whether you use them in cooked dishes or to garnish foods. Here are six favorite herbs to use (and grow) in the summer time.
General Gardening Note
Choose perennial herbs that are known to be hardy enough to withstand the harsh Northern Utah winter weather. You can grow herbs that aren’t zone hardy here as long as you plant them in containers or dig them up before the first hard frost.
Basil is widely used in Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. It is an aromatic herb with a complex flavor profile that depends on the variety you grow. The botanical name is Ocimum basilicum. It is sometimes referred to as St. Joseph’s Wort (not to be confused with St. John’s Wort,) and it is a member of the mint family.
Genovese Basil is an aromatic large-leaf variety of basil that tastes slightly peppery when first eaten, but that spicy flavor gradually becomes somewhat sweet. Its bold flavor doesn’t hold up to extended cooking, so use it as an accent or add it to cooked dishes during the last few minutes of cooking.
Genovese basil is an excellent addition to homemade salad dressing made of olive oil and vinegar. It’s the main ingredient in pesto. For a delicious traditional Italian summer side dish, add leaves of Genovese basil to sliced tomatoes topped with fresh Mozzarella cheese and drizzled with olive oil.
Thai Basil is famous for its strong licorice-like flavor. Its aroma resembles cinnamon and cloves. It is used in stir-fry and curry dishes, soups, and dishes that require extended cooking times. Use Thai basil in stir-fries when you don’t want to use the oven on a hot summer day. Saute diced chicken breasts in olive oil and add seasonally fresh vegetables and Thai basil for a quick, healthy, and delicious meal.
Health and Nutrition Benefits of Basil
Basil is a rich source of antioxidants. A single serving of basil (100 grams or 3.5 ounces) contains 22 calories, no fat, no cholesterol, and no sugar. The fact that a small serving has so few calories, but gives you so many nutrients makes it a useful and healthful addition to your diet and weekly menu plans.
Basil has the following vitamins and minerals:
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
Basil also has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and anti-aging properties.
According to the Gourmet Garden, there are hundreds of varieties of mint that belong to one of twenty species. Familiar varieties include peppermint, spearmint, wintermint, lemon mint, and chocolate mint. If you’re thinking about growing mint, plant it in a container to prevent it from spreading.
The cool and refreshing feeling and taste that people get from eating or using mint-based products are because mint is full of menthol. You’ll find that the menthol in mint soothes a sore throat, but it also aids digestion and relieves tension and is beneficial for insomnia.
Add mint to water to give it a more refreshing flavor. If you drink iced tea, a sprig of mint will add character to your tea. You can also enhance the flavor of summer melon by adding a sprig or two of mint to your melon slice. Dress up a bowl of fresh berries w th mint leaves.
Health Benefits of Mint
Mint contains a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent known as rosmarinic acid.
The menthol in mint is helpful for breaking up mucus and phlegm, making it a potentially effective natural decongestant. That means that it may lessen the discomforts associated with seasonal allergies or the common cold. It is also used to soothe sore throats.
Mint is best known for its usefulness in easing the discomfort associated with abdominal gas and indigestion. It increases bile secretion which hastens bile flow, the result of which is improved and faster food digestion. Mint is an excellent flavor enhancer, and as such, it may encourage people to reduce their salt intake, and that is sure to have a positive impact on cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
Chives belong to the onion family. They are related to other members of the onion family – leeks and scallions, and also to garlic. They are fast growers that come back every year. Chives are like mint in their tendency to spread invasively, so the best way to contain them is by growing them in pots.
Chives have three parts – all of which are edible. The top part is the pink florets. Cut up the flowers and sprinkle them over your food as you would do with salt or pepper. Cut up the long leaves and add them to oil and vinegar for a delicate onion flavored salad dressing. Cut them up and add them to a salad, or use them to enhance the flavor of cooked meat or vegetables. Add cut up chive leaves to cottage cheese to add flavor to otherwise bland food. And don’t forget to top a baked potato with minced chives. Sprinkle chives on a cold summer vegetable soup, add them to egg salad or omelets, or sprinkle chive flowers on top of dishes as a garnish.
**Choose onion chives to grow in the ground in Northern Utah because garlic chives aren’t hardy here.
Health and Nutritional Benefits of Chives
Chives are considered a nutrient dense herb because they are low in calories but packed with antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins.
One tablespoon (1 TBSP) of chopped chives contains one calorie and fewer than one gram each of carbohydrates, fat, and protein. You’ll also get:
- 3 % of the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) of Vitamins A & C, (131 IU (International Units) of Vitamin A, and 1.7 milligrams of Vitamin C.
- Additionally, a single tablespoon of chopped chives gives you 6.4 micrograms (ug) of Vitamin K.
- Three micrograms (ug) of folateâ€‹
- 3 milligrams (mg) of calcium
- 1 mg of magnesium
- 2 mg of phosphorus, and 9 mg of potassium.
Chives also contain choline. The beneficial organosulfur compounds in chives aid in preventing colorectal and stomach cancers.
Cilantro (Coriandrum Sativa) is a member of the parsley family. Cilantro is the Spanish name, but it’s also referred to as Chinese or Mexican Parsley. Cilantro’s use dates back to 5,000 B.C, making it one of the world’s oldest herbs. It is native to areas in and around the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
Cilantro is an aromatic herb that smells like a mixture of sage and citrus peels. People have a love-hate relationship with it (because of the taste and smell). The flavor is fresh and citrusy. It is typically added to food at the end of cooking, or to raw foods like salsa. It is a favorite herb in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine. Use it in ceviche – shrimp or fish that’s marinated in citrus juices. The juices allow a process known as denaturation to cook the fish without heat. Use cilantro on grilled meats, vegetables, or on sliced raw vegetables, or in gazpacho.
Health and Nutritional Benefits of Cilantro
According to noted health guru, Dr. Andrew Weil, cilantro contains calcium and fiber. He also noted that the “volatile oils” in cilantro contain significant amounts of flavonoids, antimicrobial substances, and phytonutrients. It is used throughout the world as an aid in treating anxiety and digestive orders.
Parsley and Cilantro belong to the same herb family. There are two common types of parsley: the dark green variety with curly leaves, and a lighter green variety with flat leaves. The flat leaf parsley has a more distinctive flavor. Parsley is typically used as a garnish. It tends to lose its fragrance and taste if it’s cooked for too long. Parsley has a fresh flavor. The leaves are often used as a garnish. You can add minced parsley to salmon patties, salmon, chicken, egg, or tuna salad.
Health and Nutritional Benefits of Parsley
Parsley (and other herbs) contain components known as “volatile oils.” Those oils contain vital healthful substances, including alpha thujene, eugenol, limonene, and myristicin. Parsley also contains several flavonoids, including apigenin, apiin, crisoeriol, and luteolin. In addition to the antioxidant chemicals in parsley, it contains some vitamins that are essential to our health. It also provides a modest amount of fiber, which is critical for digestive health and functioning, The vitamins and antioxidants in parsley include:
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin C – a useful antioxidant for fighting free radicals. It is also a helpful protector against inflammatory polyarthritis, which is a form of rheumatoid arthritis.)
- Vitamin A
- Vitamins B1 and B3
- Folate (an essential dietary mineral that is found in food as Vitamin B9 in its natural form.)
- Folic Acid (a critical mineral that is helpful in promoting heart health.)
Dr. Weil refers to parsley as a “Chemoprotective” food because it neutralizes benzopyrenes – one of the carcinogenic substances found in cigarette smoke and the smoke that charcoal grills emit.
French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus), is a fragrant and flavorful herb that should be one of your top considerations when you are thinking about the best summer herbs to grow in your garden. Although there are two types of tarragon, the French variety is delightfully fragrant and delicious in culinary applications. The French regard their species of tarragon as the “King of Herbs.” The leaves produce a pleasant anise-like flavor.
It is one of the most widely used fresh herbs in French cuisine. It works well in chicken dishes or on grilled, sauteed, or baked chicken and fish. It also adds a welcome flavor to omelets, sauces, and stews. It is one of the herbs used in herbal blends such as “herbes de Provence,” or to a “bouquet garni.” It is a delicious addition to a summer chicken salad, a crab salad, and it’s also tasty when added to oil and vinegar to create a tarragon-infused salad dressing.
Health and Nutritional Benefits of French Tarragon
French tarragon contains some vitamins and minerals, including Vitamins A, B6 and C, and calcium, magnesium, and zinc. It is also a good source of free-radical fighting antioxidants. It may be a healthful and helpful contributor to improved heart health because it contains substances that may reduce the risk of developing blood clots. It may also reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke in people who are at high risk of suffering from a significant cardiovascular crisis.
French tarragon is used for medicinal purposes in addition to its application as a taste enhancer in food.
Aiding in Digestion
The natural oils in French tarragon are helpful at jump-starting the body’s digestive juices. That hastens the process through which food travels through the digestive tract. Antioxidant carotenoids are the compounds in tarragon that improve digestion.
May Help Relieve Pain from Toothache and Gum Soreness
Tarragon contains high levels of an anesthetic agent known as eugenol. That anesthetic may help alleviate the pain associated with a toothache or minimize the discomfort of sure gums.
Dr. Josh Axe cited the findings of a 2012 study that were published in the Iranian Journal of Microbiology. The researchers found that tarragon essential oil had an antibacterial impact on two dangerous bacterial pathogens: Staphylococcus aureus (commonly referred to as Staph), and Escherichia coli (also known as E. coli). The researchers thought that tarragon might be an effective preservative in foods like cheese.
Planting an herb and vegetable garden is an excellent way to save money on your grocery bills. But you’ll also get to enjoy fresher, tastier food, and have fun planning your menus. Fresh summer herbs will enhance the flavors of everything. You may be surprised to discover that you can use less salt because homegrown herbs make food taste even better than salt does. You can continue to use your summer herbs throughout the winter if you cut your plants down before frost and dry and preserve the leaves.