Every kitchen should have herbs which can help you have a healthy diet as well as add interest and flavor to your food. Herbs have been used by homeopaths for millennia and are the primary sources of medicine for many people living in developing countries. Although the WHO statistics say that 80 % of people in the world have alternative or complementary health care, this figure encompasses those in the West who have acupuncture and other forms of alternative treatments which they pay for. In the past and even now in Asia in particular, herbal medicine is the only kind that people have access to. In the West, in the past, herbs were used to treat all ailments from the common cold to cancer and every disease in between. Now that we have found dietary supplements we are turning to these instead of improving our diets. This list gives the top 10 herbs which are useful for cookery and for our general health.
This is readily available unless you live in some parts of Asia, in which case it should be substituted with Ajwain. It brings a real flavor of the Mediterranean to your food and is especially good fresh on feta cheese and Greek salads with a drizzling of olive oil on top of it.
Mint goes well with almost every dish and grows profusely so there’s never a problem with having some in a pot in the kitchen if you don’t have a garden. It’s a very hardy herb and is good for garnishes and adding flavor to cocktails as well as for cooking with lamb. You can make a tisane (tea) with mint by washing a handful of leaves and pouring a pint of boiling water over them. Leave them to steep for 15 minutes, and strain then drink to cool you down in summer. It’s a very refreshing drink and the same procedure can be used with other herbs in this list.
This is another Mediterranean herb that has a wonderful flavor, and adds an extra dimension to meat dishes. You can also use the leaves in pot pourris with dried flowers and other herbs. It’s good to rinse your hair in rosemary water too.
In Europe this grows wild in sunnier parts and Greeks swear by its efficacy in helping calm upset stomachs, and relieving stomach cramps. The white daisy-like flowers are attractive and can be dried to make tisanes with for colds, flu and the cramps.
This herb was much used by the ancient Greeks and Romans to flavor food and for protection against witchcraft and rheumatism. It yields an essential oil which is used in aromatherapy. It is particularly good in combination with other herbs, as the traditional folk song explains “Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme” go very well together.
This comes in two basic varieties, flat-leaved parsley and curly leaved parsley. The curly leaved one is good in white sauces served with fish. The flat leaved one is good in salads and useful as a garnish.
This has a wonderful flavor, but should only be put into a dish at the end of the cooking time so that it retains its fine flavor. You can eat it raw as a simple salad green dressed with fresh lemon juice. This herb is good for the blood and is so delicious that you can add it to almost any dish. One of the old English herbalists writing in the 16th century called it a “noxious herb” and complained of its smell, but it smells good to me, so perhaps this is an example of how tastes (and smells) which appeal to us have changed over the centuries.
This is a herb that goes well in meat dishes, and as it is very hardy it can grow in the winter months.
9. Bay leaves
A torn bay leaf is a good addition to any sauce, soup or casserole although I have known some people worry because guests have unwittingly eaten them, so they are best removed before serving any dish they are in. They are edible, but they are used primarily for the flavor they impart.
This has feathery green leaves which have a slight aniseed taste. If you have had dolmades in a white sauce, then you have eaten dill. It goes well with lamb and fish and is a useful garnish as well as a salad ingredient.