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Beneficial Herbs & Spices 101

Add a little spice to your life

Tracy Block Staff Reporter
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5 min read
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When I lived in an apartment in Brooklyn about a decade ago, I grew basil, parsley, rosemary, and mint in my windowsill pretty successfully. As long as they get enough light and water, they’ll be happy.
- Peggy Paul Casella, cookbook author, editor,
 and creator of ThursdayNightPizza.com


As a result of the pandemic, more and more eaters are now growing their own food at home. In fact, a report filed in April by CBS News revealed that seed companies have been unable to keep up with demands. However, growing your own produce is both economical and therapeutic, and provides food security during periods of food shortage. And, although the most popular produce to grow varies by climate and region, herbs and spices are common choices for urban farmers because they can be grown and easily maintained indoors, as well as outdoors.

Which Herbs & Spices Are Most Beneficial? 

Jennifer Burns is a naturopathic doctor based in Phoenix, Arizona, whose work looks at the whole person – not just the symptoms – when providing treatment. Her specialties include balancing out brain-body chemistry, immune system boosting, intravenous nutrition, and hormone and detoxification testing.

According to Dr. Burns, consuming herbs and spices is just as important as eating fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. “Herbs and spices are good for gut flora, help with energy, can calm the mind, help with muscle recovery, boost the immune system, and more,” she shares.

To illustrate, Dr. Burns recommends consuming the following herbs and spices regularly:

• Turmeric, which is used to decrease inflammation and may help with depression.

• Cinnamon, which is used to help balance blood sugars; it is also antiviral/antibacterial, and has been used to help prevent UTIs in some people.

• Peppermint, which can help lift the mood, as well as soothe IBS symptoms.

• Rosemary, which helps with brain function, lightens the mood, and can assist with hair loss. It was also used many years ago to help prevent food poisoning.

• Licorice, which is anti-inflammatory, along with being antiviral and antibacterial. It also helps with stomach issues in certain forms.

• Saffron, which is touted as a “super herb” because it helps decrease anxiety and depression.

• Fennel, which is known to aid with digestion.

• Maca root, which may improve mood, help with hot flashes, increase libido for men and women, and assist with muscle recovery.

Fresh Vs. Dried Herbs & Spices

If you have trouble locating the fresh versions of the herbs and spices listed above, you may be wondering whether dried formats are a worthwhile substitute. Dr. Burns says it really depends on the herb or spice in question. For example, fresh peppermint is a nice accent to a cool drink, but when dried, it helps with IBS, and even further, when in essential oil form, it can aid in muscle relaxation. 

In addition, chaparral, which is known for its antibacterial and antiviral properties, should be consumed dry. And, sage, with its great earthiness, is good to cook with when fresh, but also works when dried, and in tea form, as an antiviral and antibacterial aid.

Dosage & Use

If you are a picky eater, you can consider consuming herbs and spices via tinctures, teas, and pills. In terms of dosage, Dr. Burns says there are certain herbs you do not want to overdo, like kava kava, which is not recommended if you have liver problems. Also, Dr. Burns warns against consuming St. John’s Wort if you are already taking a prescribed SSRI. “Usually, I have people start off on what is recommended on the bottle, and I have them come back in a month to see if dosages need to be adjusted.”

However, herbs can be consumed topically, as well. For example, Dr. Burns says you can integrate topical arnica to help speed up the healing process of bruises, frankincense as an essential oil that removes the sensation from a scorpion sting, and calendula cream to help soothe and heal the skin.

Growing Your Own Herbs & Spices

Food enthusiast, cookbook author and editor, and creator of ThursdayNightPizza.com Peggy Paul Casella is a major proponent of herbs and spices. In fact, Paul Casella maintains her own herb garden and encourages others to grow their own varietals, too. “All you need to grow your own herbs are a few pots with drainage holes, potting soil, seeds or baby plants, a sunny spot to let them grow, and water,” she shares. “Parsley and basil are especially easy and useful for cooking, so I’d start there if you’re a gardening newbie.”

Furthermore, Paul Casella says that herbs will grow fuller and healthier in a sunny patch outside, but that inside growth is possible, too. “For instance, when I lived in an apartment in Brooklyn about a decade ago, I grew basil, parsley, rosemary, and mint in my windowsill pretty successfully,” Paul Casella shares. “As long as they get enough light and water, they’ll be happy.”

Thus far, Paul Casella has had luck with abundant home grows of parsley, basil, chives, rosemary, lemon balm, and thyme. “And, I’m determined to add dill and lavender to that list, too,” she says. If you are wondering which plants live and thrive the longest, if properly maintained, Paul Casella has a growing list: oregano, rosemary, thyme, chives, sage, lemon balm, lavender, mint, chamomile, and tarragon (basil, parsley, and dill need to be planted fresh each year, though). “Here in Philadelphia, my herb garden lasts all the way through summer and most of fall – and my little rosemary plant lasts through winter, too,” she offers.

Cooking With Herbs & Spices

When cooking with herbs and spices, Paul Casella, the pizza connoisseur, is partial to adding them to her signature pies but also favors herbs and spices for:

• Infusing compound butters.

• Creating sauces, like pesto and chimichurri.

• Adding flavor to raw salads.

• Improving marinades for chicken, fish, and tofu.

• Accenting scrambled eggs.

• Enhancing biscuit and bread batters.

• Garnishing pasta dishes.

• Customizing muddled cocktails.

“Herbs and spices have the power to elevate even the simplest, cheapest ingredients from plain to amazing,” says Paul Casella. 

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Beneficial Herbs & Spices 101

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