Hail Summer Herbs - Delicious and Great for Health

For centuries, herbs have been used to prevent and treat various health issues. Modern medicine abandoned them for a while, focusing on drugs to ease our ills. But new integrative and complementary medicine is resurrecting herbs and their healing properties. Here are five fan favorites you may have growing in your own garden, a rundown of their healthful effects and ideas for enjoying their tasty flavors.

Basil

BasilHealth benefits: Basil acts as an antioxidant. Laboratory studies suggest it may have the potential to suppress the growth of certain cancer cells. One of its compounds, eugenol, blocks certain enzymes in your body that trigger pain. Basil has substances that may lower stress hormones that circulate in the body, such as cortisol.

Storage: Fresh basil doesn't like refrigeration. The leaves can quickly turn brown. To get the longest life out of your basil, cut 1/2" from the bottom of the stems. Stand the bunch in a glass jar filled with 1" of water. Loosely cover the leaves with a plastic bag and store in a cool spot at room temperature.

In the kitchen: Basil is a natural in Mediterranean dishes, including pasta and tomato recipes. Slip it into sandwiches instead of lettuce. Use it to make pesto. Add it to fruited desserts – strawberries, peaches and lemons are natural companions. Basil bruises easily; it's best to add it at the end of a recipe.

Oregano

OreganoHealth benefits: Substances in oregano have antibacterial, antiviral and antiparasitic properties. They can kill some of the bacteria that cause food poisoning. One study found adding oregano to a food helped stall the rate bacteria multiplied in that food. Other compounds in oregano may also have an anti-inflammatory action.

Storage: Wrap the unwashed herbs in a damp paper towel, place in a plastic bag and refrigerate. Wash just before use.

In the kitchen: Oregano is perfect in Italian and Latin dishes. It's great in a rub for grilled meats. Add it to salad dressings, sauces, rice and bean dishes. Rubbing the leaves between your fingers releases its oils for maximum flavor.

Parsley

ParsleyHealth benefits: Parsley contains the antioxidant apigenin, which helps fight inflammation and boosts the activity and action of other antioxidants. It's a good source of vitamin C and K, iron and lutein, a phytonutrient that is beneficial for aging eyes. Parsley helps freshen breath and keeps blood from "clumping" in blood vessels.

Storage: Wrap the unwashed herbs in a damp paper towel, place in a plastic bag and refrigerate. Wash just before use.

In the kitchen: Parsley pairs perfectly with a plethora of foods. It's great with eggs, potatoes, pastas and soups. The stalks have a stronger flavor than the leaves. Flat-leaf Italian parsley is more richly flavored than its curly cousin. Adding parsley to a dish can counteract the strong flavor of cilantro if you overo its use.

Rosemary

RosemaryHealth benefits: Rosemary contains substances that can block the formation of harmful substances (heterocyclic amines, or HCAs) formed on meats during grilling. HCAs damage cells and may up the risk for certain cancers. Rosemary's oil can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Smelling rosemary has been shown to enhance thinking skills.

Storage: Wrap the unwashed herbs in a damp paper towel, place in a plastic bag and refrigerate. Wash just before use.

In the kitchen: Rosemary's stalks can be tough and woody. Strip the leaves from the stalk before using in a dish. Rosemary is excellent in baked goods or paired with meat, poultry and fish. Use in a marinade for grilled foods to keep them healthful on the heat. Slip a few sprigs into a pitcher of lemonade and let its bold, piney taste infuse into your summery drink.

Thyme

ThymeHealth benefits: Thyme is helpful in treatment of bronchitis and coughs. Several studies using thyme in syrups, teas and tinctures found it eased coughing fits. Thymol, the oil found in thyme, kills germs. It is one of Mother Nature's most powerful antiseptics. It can also lower the level of cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth. Thyme has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions and may aid digestion.

Storage: Wrap the unwashed herbs in a damp paper towel, place in a plastic bag and refrigerate. Wash just before use.

In the kitchen: Thyme is a classic partner for chicken, turkey, fish and potatoes. Add to just about any vegetable salad. The herb is wonderful complement to stone fruits such as peaches and nectarines as well as citrus fruits. Like rosemary, strip the leaves from the stems before use.

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