Grow an herb garden to boost your health

  • Basil grows in a windowbox herb garden. Staff photo by Ben Conant

For the Ledger-Transcript
Published: 6/5/2020 10:37:36 AM
Modified: 6/5/2020 10:37:26 AM

If planting your own container garden or creating a raised bed seems too large a project for you right now, why not start with potting up some herbs? Fresh herbs make a major difference in creating delicious healthy meals and they have profound medicinal value.

You can grow them all summer and bring them in in the fall. Put them in a sunny window so you will have fresh herbs for most of the winter.

As they are green leafy plants, most herbs, are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. Herbs such as parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, and oregano, have their own special health effects.

Parsley may seem like a ho-hum herb, but it adds great flavor to food especially if you are trying to cut back on salt and sugar. It also contains powerful substances that have been linked to cancer prevention such as myricetin and apigenin. Myricetin has also been shown in animal studies to help manage blood sugar and improve insulin resistance. Additionally, parsley is a good source of vitamin K which is an important nutrient for bone health.

Because it is so versatile, parsley can be used in any dish from soups, to sauces to vegetables.

Sage is a good source of several nutrients including vitamin K and is chock full of antioxidants which neutralize free radicals linked to chronic disease. This herb with its strong and aromatic characteristics also contains rutin, rosmarinic acid, chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, and ellagic acid which are associated with extraordinary health benefits related to cancer prevention and brain health.

Sage is most well-known in the preparation of holiday stuffings and sausage, but it pairs well with any meat, especially poultry. The herb is also commonly used to create a flavorful butter sauce for delicate pastas.

Thyme is one of my favorite herbs. It is incredibly easy to grow and very versatile when it comes to seasoning food. This herb contains thymol, a potent antioxidant. Thymol is a phenol which has antiseptic, antibacterial and antifungal properties. I love it on roasted veggies and chicken, but you can also use it with red meat and pork or even cheese and eggs. Since I have some growing right off my deck in the summertime, I like to add it to marinades and salad dressings.

Rosemary is another favorite. In ancient times it was used to drive away evil spirits but these days we tend to use it mostly in cooking! Rosemary, in addition to a good source of many vitamins and mineral, it is also a powerful antioxidant. Studies have shown that the antioxidants in rosemary, such as the carnosic and rosmarinic acids, are highly effective in combating the effect of oxidative stress on the brain.

Rosemary is a staple in Mediterranean cooking, and I love it on grilled lamb or fish. It is also a great herb for vegetable dishes. It marries perfectly with garlic, another favorite and powerful herb.

Oregano is known to boost immunity, aid digestion, enhance bone health, improve heart health, and detoxify the body. In addition, it is a very powerful antibiotic due to one of its active ingredients carvacrol, a volatile oil proven in studies to be a powerful antimicrobial and food preservative. Carvacrol also works as an antifungal. A recent study showed that it can be antiparasitic as well.

It’s easy to use oregano in cooking. Many Italian recipes such as tomato sauce and pizza call for oregano. You can also use it with roast chicken or burgers, and it tastes great with white beans and black beans. You can even make a pesto out of it.

Fresh herbs can take a recipe from good to great. Fortunately, they are incredibly easy to grow, even in small amounts they are great for your health and will add flavor and goodness to your meals all summer long.

Ruth Clark, author of the best-selling book Cool the Fire: Curb Inflammation and Balance Hormones, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a master’s in Public Health and over 35 years of experience. She lives in Sharon with an office in Peterborough. Ruth specializes in mid-life and older women who are struggling with weight, mood and fatigue to regain their energy and vitality. You can reach her at

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