By Jesse Trail
Most of us are aware of the nutritional benefits of fruits and vegetables; however, not too many know the important nutritional benefits that several of our common (and not so common) herbs have to offer. Here we will extol the important nutritional value of ten herbs, along with some additional information on how certain plant constituents provide health benefits beyond nutrition.
Do not harvest any plants from areas where chemical spraying of any sort is suspected.
Garlic (Allium sativum) is truly a wonder plant that not only adds greatly to our culinary delights, but also has immense value for nutrition and health. Garlic contains vitamins A, B, C, copper, sulphur, manganese, iron, and calcium, not to mention its many medicinal virtues. Sure, you may have bad breath after eating garlic, but with so many incredibly valuable attributes, isn’t it worth it? You can lessen the strong odor of garlic by chewing on a few parsley leaves after consuming it. In the kitchen, the use of garlic is only limited by the cook’s imagination.
Medicinally, garlic has many important virtues. A few of its health values include: may lower high blood pressure and cholesterol, has potential in fighting certain cancers, aids digestion, and has antiviral and antibacterial properties.
The plant prefers a moist, well-drained soil with plenty of added organic matter. Sun is important for best growth.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) leaves are often added as a garnish for delicious meals, such as roast beef. Most people don’t eat the parsley leaves and some don’t even think of it as being edible. But edible it is, and packed with nutritional value as well. Parsley leaf contains vitamins A, B, C, and iron, plus appreciable quantities of other vitamins and minerals. Chew a few parsley leaves to sweeten the breath (after eating garlic for instance). Parsley leaves are often included with big meals to help digest the meat. Having garlic and parsley together in a meal is a great combination. Another little-known use for parsley leaves is to steep the leaves in water, let cool, and use as a hair rinse.
Mainly grown for its foliage, parsley is usually treated as an annual. It prefers a moist, well-drained soil with added organic matter. Half to full sun exposure is best for growth.
The dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is often considered to be a weed. Because of this, its great nutritional and health benefits are completely overlooked. Dandelion contains vitamins A, B, C, and many minerals, including iron and potassium. Dandelion leaves have the most iron content of any fruit or vegetable. The roots and flowers also contain nutrients, but to a much lesser extent than the leaves. Try some fresh younger leaves (and a few flowers) of dandelion with other salad greens to add a bitter yet appealing taste. The leaves are also good when cooked like spinach. One type of dandelion (the French dandelion) has been developed to have thick, nutritious leaves. You can also try dandelion tea or dandelion root coffee.
The stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is another plant that is most often considered a weed, yet has much to offer, especially nutritionally. The common name is quite appropriate as the leaves and stems of this plant sting when touched or brushed against. Wear gloves when handling the plant. The stinging effect disappears after the plant is dried or cooked. Stinging nettle is rich in vitamin C and iron, plus appreciable quantities of other vitamins and minerals. The leaves can be cooked like spinach, added to soups, or used to make a pleasant-tasting, nutritious tea. In the garden, you can add the plant to the compost bin, as it stimulates the decomposition process.
A perennial, stinging nettle has clusters of greenish-white flowers all season. The plants grow in sun or shade and prefer moist soils.
The root of this horseradish plant is the edible part.
Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) root is commonly used as a grated or creamed condiment with roast beef dinners, although it also goes well with other meats and fish. It helps to break down the fatty component of meats so they are more easily digested. The root is rich in vitamins C and B, along with calcium, sodium, and magnesium. Use caution when planting horseradish, as it can spread rapidly, even from a sliver of the root, to the point of being invasive. Grow horseradish in an isolated location where it can be contained easily.
Horseradish is a perennial with long, fairly-large green leaves and clusters of white flowers in spring. It is easy to grow in almost any soil, but it prefers a moist, well-drained soil.
Wild rose hips
Rose (Rosa canina) hips are incredibly rich in vitamin C (20 times richer than oranges), plus vitamins B, E, and K in lesser amounts. It is best to soak the hips in a small amount of water for at least 12 hours before using. When you go to the herbal tea section of your grocer, you will find several rose hip teas along with many mixes that include rose hips. But making your own is cheaper and more satisfying. You can also use rose hips in jams or added to summer drinks.
The plants prefer a moist, well-drained soil that is fairly deep to accommodate its roots, with added organic matter.
The sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is an easily-grown, delightful annual for the garden. The seeds are especially nutritious, containing vitamins B1, B2, niacin, iron, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, and beneficial fats and proteins.
It thrives in most soils, and the plant is fairly drought-tolerant as long as it is well-drained. Full sun is important for healthy growth.
Sorrel (Rumex acetosa and Rumex scutatus) leaf is often used in salads and is sometimes considered a vegetable. It is rich in vitamins A, B1, C, and potassium. Cook as you would spinach, or add to soups and sauces.
All of the sorrels enjoy full sun and well-drained soil with added organic matter. Rumex acetosa has leaves that are shaped somewhat like arrowheads and green clusters of flowers that change to red.
The nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) is a climbing or trailing plant that has leaves and flowers with a delightful peppery flavor and aroma (when crushed). These contain plenty of vitamin C and are great added to salads or even as a substitute for pepper or capers.
Nasturtium flowers are highly attractive and come in many different colors. The plant prefers a moist, well-drained soil in full to half-day sun.
Good King Henry
Good King Henry
Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus) is an herb that is not as well-known as it should be. The young shoots are peeled, boiled, and eaten like asparagus. The leaves can be prepared as you would for spinach or can be used in soups. Good King Henry is rich in vitamins B1 and C, iron, and calcium.
Good King Henry is sometimes considered a vegetable. A perennial, it is quite adaptable to different soils. It has tiny greenish-yellow flowers in early summer and green, arrow-shaped leaves.