Basil also is considered one of the healthiest herbs. It's best when fresh, exuding a sweet, earthy aroma that indicates not only the promise of pleasantly pungent flavor, but an impressive list of nutrients. Vitamin K, essential for blood clotting, is one of them. Just two tablespoons of basil provides 29 percent of the daily recommended value.
Basil also provides vitamin A, which contains beta-carotenes, powerful antioxidants that protect the cells lining a number of numerous body structures, including the blood vessels, from free radical damage. This helps prevent cholesterol in blood from oxidizing, helping to prevent atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and stroke.
Other vitamins and minerals in basil include iron, calcium, manganese, magnesium, vitamin C and potassium. Not surprisingly, basil also has antibacterial properties and contains DNA-protecting flavonoids. It's the flavonoids and volatile oils in basil that give it the most health benefits, the former protecting on the cellular level, with antibacterial properties related to its volatile oils. Among these are estragole, linalool, cineole, eugenol, sabinene, myrcene, and limonene, all capable of restricting the growth of numerous harmful bacteria, including listeria, staphylococcus, E. coli, yersinia enterocolitica, and pseudomonas aeruginosa.
Some antibiotic medications that have been found to be resistant to some of these strains have been inhibited by basil extracts. One of those oils - eugenol - can block the activity of the harmful enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX). This same effect puts basil in the "anti-inflammatory" category because it provides relief from related problems, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Basil in the kitchen
If a kitchen has only a few herbs in its possession, basil will likely be one of them. Its fragrant essence combines well with rosemary and thyme in meat dishes, fish, vegetables, cheese, soup and eggs, and is one of the main ingredients in pesto, along with pine nuts and parmesan cheese.
Although more than 60 varieties of basil have been identified, they all fall into three main types: sweet, purple, and bush. Each offers a subtle difference in taste; varieties such as lemon, anise, and cinnamon basil give you an idea of how one might modify and enhance a recipe. It only takes a few leaves to transform a simple dish - even a sandwich.
Basil plants are easy to maintain indoors and out. Snip off budding heads whenever they appear and underneath the base of a leaf near the bottom on spindly stems to keep your plant full, and a new branch will appear.
To dry basil leaves, warm your oven to 140 degrees while placing a single layer of basil leaves on a baking sheet. Turn off the oven and pop in your pan for 20 minutes (you don't want them to actually bake). Remove the pan, cool the leaves, and store immediately in airtight bottles or zip-lock bags, away from sunlight.
Health Benefits of Chives
As far as daily recommended values, a generous serving of two tablespoons of chopped chives gives you 16 percent of what's needed in vitamin K, Known primarily for forming and strengthening bones and limiting neuronal damage in the brain, vitamin K is used in the treatment of Alzheimer's. Chives are an excellent source of vitamin A –145 percent of the daily recommended value per 100 grams – more than any other allium, and with it, carotenes, which are flavonoid antioxidants like zeaxanthin and lutein that protect you from lung and mouth cancers.
Chives are high in fiber, which acts as a laxative, and folate, which is essential for DNA synthesis, cell division, and helping to prevent neural tube defects in the newborns. They're an excellent source of calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper, and manganese and also provide healthy amounts of thiamin, niacin, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, riboflavin, and zinc. This combination of phytochemicals, among other things, is known to promote ease in digestion, soothe upset stomachs, prevent bad breath, and have a diuretic effect that can lower high blood pressure.
The fiber content helps clean the colon and shorten the time foods spend there (and therefore lowers your colon cancer risk. Other advantages of eating chives include having anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties.
Like other allium members, chives contain antioxidants that kill free radicals. Thiosulfinites like allyl propyl disulfide and diallyl disulfide (known to inhibit breast cancer cells1) contain enzymes that convert to allicin when its leaves are cut or crushed. Studies show allicin can cut cholesterol production by inhibiting HMG-CoA reductase, an enzyme responsible for producing cholesterol in liver cells, decreasing blood pressure, blocking platelet clot formation, and lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Chives in the kitchen
Ask about a fragrant, ever-green herb that adds a hint of pleasantly subtle, onion-garlic flavor to savory dishes, and your answer will very likely be chives. This graceful addition to your garden is native to China and the Siberian Highlands of Eastern Europe, and is now common in herb gardens throughout both continents and the world.
While some have trouble telling the difference between chives (related to the lily family), scallions, and even green onions, a few characteristics help chives stand apart. A member of the allium family with garlic, shallots, and leeks, chive "stalks" are extremely slender and hollow with the appearance of lush, one-foot-high grass, the largest being less than the circumference of a pencil. Perennials that stand a foot tall on average, chives are hardy and draught tolerant, growing in tight bunches. In mid-summer, they form beautiful lavender blossoms with the appearance of spiky spheres.
Chives are an attractive garnish for green salads, taste great when sprinkled on grilled fish or baked potatoes, and add dimension to creamy potato soup. They're delicious stirred up in mashed potatoes fines herbes (the classic French combination of chervil, parsley, chives, and tarragon) with a dollop of sour cream. Deviled or scrambled eggs, butters, vinegars, sauces, and nearly any vegetable can be enhanced with a sprinkling of chopped chives. If needing a substitute for this herb, slicing the length of a leek leaf thinly before chopping is a close second. If cooking with chives, it's best to add them at the last moment to retain their nutritive benefits.
Novice gardeners find chives easy to grow. Chives thrive in full sun and rich, moist soil, although they'll tolerate partial sun and other soil types and still produce generously. Depending on your culinary needs, harvest by snipping a small handful an inch above the ground when they're around six inches tall. Chives grow so rapidly that before long the area you cut first will be ready for harvest again. Each spring's crop is generally double the last, so thinning keeps the chive section of your herb garden tidy.
To even out a section of your chives, a sharp chop with a shovel several inches into the dirt can remove root clumps and all. Give a clump to a friend! This is a great way to share this lovely, versatile garden herb.
Health Benefits of Parsley
If you want to be impressed by parsley, take a look at its vitamin K content – a whopping 574% of the daily recommended value. What this does is promote bone strength, but it also has a role in the treatment and possible prevention of Alzheimer's disease by limiting neuronal damage in the brain. The vitamin K dominance is enough to make the 62% daily value of vitamin C and the 47% DV in vitamin A look positively paltry, but the “C” content is 3 times more than in oranges, and the “A” augments the carotenes lutein and zeaxanthin, helping to prevent eye diseases like cataracts and macular degeneration.
The iron in parsley (twice as much as in spinach) is essential for the production of an important oxygen-carrying component in the red blood cells called heme. Copper is important because it’s required by the body for normal metabolic processes, but must be supplied through outside sources. The manganese in parsley contains super-antioxidant superoxide dismutase, and the folate helps form red blood cells and make up our genetic material.
Parsley is useful as a digestive aid with its high fiber content. This helps move foods through the digestive tract and controls blood-cholesterol levels, but has a diuretic effect as well. A tea made from parsley is a traditional remedy for colic, indigestion, and intestinal gas. As an herb sprinkled in food, it actually helps purify the blood and fight cancer. Eating parsley is now thought to be a way to detoxify the system of harmful compounds like mercury, sometimes found in dental fillings.
Quite a unique compilation of compounds and volatile oils is contained in parsley. Eugenol is used in dentistry as a local anesthetic and an antiseptic to help prevent gum diseases. It's also been found to reduce blood sugar levels. Polyphenolic flavonoids and antioxidants include apiin, apigenin, crisoeriol, and alphathujen. Volatile oils include myristicin, limonene, apiol, and alpha-thujene. It also contains one of the highest antioxidant counts among plants, with an oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) of 74,349 per 100 grams of fresh, raw parsley.
Parsley in the kitchen
Some know parsley only as an attractive leaf garnish that's ignored, not eaten. It's true that parsley leaves are an attractive plant with small, scalloped leaves, but it has more than a pretty appearance. It’s an annual herb thought to have originated in southeastern Europe or western Asia, now grown in gardens throughout the world.
There are two basic parsley types: one with curly, crinkly leaves and the more familiar Italian parsley, which is flat. The latter is hardier for withstanding cold in Northern or Midwest gardens. Parsley usually reaches one to two feet in height in the first year before flowering, and grows best in partial shade. It's been suggested that because it's a bit difficult to start from seed, taking up to two months to sprout, buying small parsley seedlings (organic is best!) may be a better way to start this in your indoor pots or late spring garden. One tip involves pouring a kettle of boiling water along the row before covering the seeds. As a potted plant, keep it evenly moist.
Chopped fresh or dried and combined with thyme and bay leaves, parsley is included in the French combination of herbs called bouquet garni, used to season stock, stews, and soups. It can be added to sandwiches, any type of casserole and adds a fresh, spring-like flavor to dips and cheese. The best way to keep fresh parsley sprigs is to wrap them in damp paper towels, place in a sealed zip-lock baggie, and keep refrigerated. Dried parsley flakes are useful for several months when stored in a tightly sealed glass container and stored in cool, dark, and dry place.