From ramen noodles to smoked salmon, salty foods ran rampant in American cuisine, especially in packaged, prepared, and restaurant foods. Unfortunately, high sodium intake can lead to a host of health problems, including increased risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. According to the American Heart Association, Americans consume more than 3400 milligrams of sodium – more than double the ideal level of 1,500 mg – still higher than the recommended intake of 2300. To put into perspective, one teaspoon of table salt contains 2,325 mg of sodium. If you’re worried about your sodium intake, or you’ve been recommended by a doctor to cut back on processed food, an easy way to do so is to use herbs to replace salts. Used separately or as part of a seasoning blend, herbs can add complex flavors to otherwise bland dishes
Growing an Herb Garden or Apothecary Garden
The first step is to refrain from adding salt during cooking. Oftentimes, there are plenty of ingredients such as soy sauce that lend flavor to a finished dish – salt is not necessary. Using herbs in recipes is an easy way to make use of languishing cupboard stock or any leftover herbs from the garden.
Those looking to start an herb themed garden can grow herbs in specialized herb raised garden beds or intersperse them with vegetables. As long as you have a sunny spot, you should be able to grow most herbs. A naturalistic variation of the herb garden, apothecary gardens are suited for those that are more medicinally inclined. At their height during the Middle Ages, apothecary gardens were grown by monasteries to cure various afflictions.
Dill leaves are recognized by their feathery texture and bright green color. It can be overpowering, so use in limited quantities.
Flavor: Dill has a piquant, citrus-like flavor that has been compared to fennel. Typically used fresh, its flavor diminishes when cooked.
Uses: A hallmark of Russian and Scandinavian dishes, dill is used to flavor salmon, potatoes, seafood, and cottage cheese. There are many seafood and chicken recipes that call for the use of dill, whether as garnish or in sauces, with dill sauce and tzatziki sauce being two common examples. Spice up everyday ham sandwiches with the addition of dill sauce.
Basil is a popular herb in the mint family with robust, prolific foliage. There are dozens of cultivars of basil available, each with a subtle flavor profile. Sweet basil is the variety most popular in Western cooking.
Flavor: Fresh, peppery flavor with minty undertones. Thai basil is a more pungent variety with a strong licorice flavor while lemon basil brings a citrusy taste.
Uses: Basil is habitually pruned to prevent the plant from becoming leggy. Like most herbs, basil is best used fresh. Whole leaves can be topped onto pizza or added into sandwiches. A classical Italian herb, basil is also used in Asian cuisines. It is a popular ingredient in pesto and pasta sauces.
Native to the temperate Mediterranean, oregano is a versatile herb that can be grown for ornamental purposes. However, if you plan on harvesting it for culinary use, you should do so before it flowers, as it will become bitter and unpalatable.
Flavor: Common oregano or Greek oregano, sometimes conflated with sweet marjoram, is the variety most common in grocery stores. Strongly aromatic, it has an assertive, slightly bitter flavor. Italian oregano, actually a cross between oregano and marjoram, has a milder flavor.
Uses: Dried oregano is often used as seasoning, where it is less astringent. It is also used in egg dishes, any tomato-based dish, pasta, or soups. Oregano can be used to add robust flavor to Mexican dishes: salsa, burritos, and tacos, and braised pork.
Though similar to green onions, they are not the same thing. Chives have more slender stems and usually are not cooked like green onions are.
Flavor: Onion-like flavor, but milder.
Uses: Often substituted for green onions, chives are finely diced into garnish. To maximize flavor, add them at the last minute. Use as seasoning or garnish in mashed potatoes, omelets, and butter. Chive flowers are edible and can be sprinkled into salads, soups, and egg dishes.
Flavor: While peppermint represents the classic mint flavor everyone thinks of, mints are a diverse family of over a hundred species. These include chocolate mint, apple mint, and water mint.
Uses: Container gardening or raised bed gardening is recommended, as they are aggressive and become very hard to get rid of. Add to drinks and cocktails for refreshing flavor or as decoration in desserts including ice cream, sorbet, and chocolate dishes.
Italian parsley, also known as flat-leaf parsley, is more versatile. Curly leaf parsley is toucher and often delegated to decorative garnish.
Flavor: Grassy, somewhat herbaceous flavor.
Uses: Frequently used as garnish, parsley is incorporated into savory dishes. Goes well with meat, bread, and pasta.
With a history steeped in folklore, the delicate sprigs of thyme impart a sweet scent that is never cloying. According to legend, it can be used to ward off evil spirits and attract fairies.
Flavor: Thyme is a mildly aromatic herb that has a citrusy, minty taste. Fresh thyme has a brighter, cleaner taste compared to its dried counterpart.
Uses: Thyme pairs well with roast lamb or roast beef, adding a rich flavor. It is also found in sauces, potato dishes, soups, and risotto. Often used interchangeably with rosemary, it can also be incorporated into BBQ – some gardeners choose to place planters and attachable tool boxes near their patios for easier access.
Flavor: While rosemary and thyme appear similar, rosemary has a more intense, pungent flavor, which seems to be embodied by its spiky, needle-like foliage. Indeed, it is said to have a piney, resinous flavor.
Uses: Full sprigs of rosemary are great for garnish or decoration. It can also be diced and added into foods as varied as lemonades and French fries. Like thyme, rosemary pairs well with chicken, pork, and roasts.