7 Healing Herbs: What to Have in Your Fall / Winter “Medicine Cabinet” (a.k.a your pantry)
Herbs. So underrated. Their potent flavors liven up any dish graced with their fresh crispness or dry, crumbly comfort. And your immune system rejoices when garnering their support. Perfect for the Fall and Winter seasons when we face an onslaught of viruses, bacteria, and other would-be invaders.
Here, I’ve highlighted just a few of the amazing healing herbs you should have in your pantry plus some easy tips and tricks for using them in everyday dishes. These herbs are easy to find and easy to use. They are all antioxidant powerhouses with dozens of beneficial phytonutrients (plant-based nutrients).
And, remember: herbs are potent. Just because they’re good for you doesn’t mean you need to or should eat a lot of them. Typical serving sizes are anywhere from 1/2 – 3 TBS of fresh herbs or 1/2 – 2 tsp of dry herbs, depending on taste. Just like with any food (“healthy” or not), moderation is key. Here, I’m referring to herbs that you can eat as part of meals, not special herbal oils or medicinal preparations, which may require you to get personalized advice from an herbal expert (for example, parsley oil can be used to induce labor, which you certainly don’t want to do if you’re otherwise healthfully pregnant).
From the same family as carrots, celery, and fennel, parsley is a versatile herb that usually gets dismissed as a garnish. It’s one of my personal favorites and I always have a little “parsley tree” sitting in my fridge, with the stems submersed in a cup of water to keep it vibrant. Parsley contains one of the highest levels of chlorophyll of any edible plant. Chlorophyll is a breath freshener and a fantastic blood purifier. Parsley is a digestive aid, can help dry up mucous-y conditions and helps in the treatment of ear infections and earaches. It contains several times the vitamin C content of citrus and has high levels of provitamin A, calcium, magnesium, and iron. It can work as a diuretic, though, so be sure to drink plenty of fluids if you are down with the flu or a cold.
Apart from being a fantastic herb to cook with, thyme is a natural antiseptic that has antibacterial and antiparasitic properties. It also has antispasmodic tendencies; coupled as a digestive aid, it can help soothe gastrointestinal distress. It can also loosen phlegm as an expectorant, in case you’re feeling somewhat mucous-y and don’t have parsley on hand.
Delicate dill is a digestive aid and infection fighter as an antibacterial. Also known as a calming agent, along with basil.
Similar to thyme, oregano is an expectorant and digestive aid, as well as an antimicrobial (antibacterial, antiviral, antiparasitic, antifungal) herb. It’s also been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. If you’re not pregnant or on blood-thinners or other medications, you can try a simple tea like the one I like to make if my system feels a bit rundown: fill an empty teabag (you can get them at almost any coffee shop or grocery store) with 1 tsp of dried oregano and steep it 3-5 minutes for a refreshing, warming tea, up to three cups a day. Don’t do this more than 2-3 times a week, just to be on the safe side. I repeat: this is not conducive for a daily tea habit.
A helpful decongestant and antimicrobial, and powerful antioxidant used since the good ol’ times to preserve meat and keep it from spoiling, along with thyme (now, that’s a powerful antioxidant!). You can prepare Rosemary as a tea to help with digestive issues or as a decongestant – refer to the Oregano example.
Not surprisingly, the source of mint’s lovely aroma is also the source of many of its many healing properties: the oil called menthol. Mint has been shown to kill the herpes simplex virus and is a proven antibacterial as well as decongestant, anesthetic, digestive aid, and muscle antispasmodic. Peppermint tea is a fantastic treat any time of day, although pregnant women should only drink the tea brewed very weakly, as the antispasmodic properties could relax the lining of the uterus.
Basil, oh, basil, how I love thee. Let me count the ways: you’re an antimicrobial (anti-bacterial/viral/fungal/parasitic), fever reducer, concentration improver, immune system regulator, adrenal (stress hormone) regulator, and just plain delicious. One of my favorite teas (as any client of mine who has rummaged in my tea drawer knows) is Holy Basil, or Tulsi, tea. A brand called Organic India makes a good one. Try it out.
So, run out and stock up on these green herbs that belong in your Fall / Winter pantry. Fresh or dry, doesn’t matter. But it’s fun to use both, as they lend themselves to different preparations and flavor profiles in foods.
How to Use Herbs
The fresh herbs are delicate, so rather than cook with them, fold them into cooked meals right before serving, or sprinkle the finely chopped herb on top before serving, such as on top of grains, soup, or stews, or make a fresh herb salad and add in other favorite ingredients. Fresh herbs will last up to a week. Store fresh parsley, rosemary, oregano, and dill like I do – with their stems in water. I set them in a tumbler on the side ledge of my fridge and they flourish there all week long, reminding me to tear off a handful every time I open the fridge door. For mint and basil, wrap them up in a dry paper towel (or just wet the ends of the towel near the stems’ ends) and store in the veggie bin away from light and direct blasts of cold air in the fridge.
The dry herbs, if stored properly away from heat and light, will last you quite a while, and are fantastic as teas, meat or poultry rubs, for flavoring stews and soups while cooking, sprinkled on top of grains with maybe some sesame seeds, and in salad dressings.
And you can always dehydrate fresh herbs to make your own dry herbs. Just lay them out on a clean, dry towel, in direct sunlight if possible, until they are completely dried up, then crumble up and store in a cleaned, reused herb bottle, preferably glass.
Check out some of my recipes that make liberal use of herbs:
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