Substitute Salt And Sugar By Using Flavorful Fresh Herbs

By Kathleen Harvey, Owner, Plant Artistry, LLC

The majority of Americans have way too much salt, fat, and sugar in their diets. But cutting back can be challenging. How can you keep food flavorful without the unhealthy additives? My favorite substitute is fresh herbs from the garden.

All summer, there is a large container of fresh herbs placed in the sun, just outside the kitchen door. Herbs smell wonderful as you brush by them, and hint at their culinary promise. They are easy to grow in containers, as long as they are kept from frost. Herbs have many nutrients and very few calories.


The most common of the many varieties of basil in use is sweet basil, also known as Italian basil. Highly fragrant leaves are commonly used fresh and in cooked recipes. In general, basil is added at the last moment, as cooking quickly destroys the flavor. Fresh cut leaves can be kept for a short time in plastic bags in the refrigerator, or for a longer period in the freezer if stored in ice cubes. The leaves are not the only part of basil used in culinary applications; the flower buds have a more subtle flavor and are also edible. Another variety, Thai basil is a condiment in the Vietnamese noodle soup Pho.


Chives are the smallest of the onion family, known as allium. A perennial herb, the leaves and unopened flowers are often used as a substitute for onion, providing a more subtle flavor. Chives are wonderful on baked potatoes, in poultry dishes, and omelets. They also have insect repelling properties that can be used in gardens to help control pests.


There are many varieties of mint, each with their own subtle flavor. Plants in the mint family are characterized by square stems. Mints can add flavor to iced or hot tea, mint juleps and lamb. Mint is also used medicinally for digestive problems such as indigestion, upset stomach, and diarrhea.


The aromatic flavor of oregano makes it the perfect addition to Mediterranean and Mexican cuisines, and is probably most well known for its use in pizza sauce.


Parsley’s delicious and vibrant taste are often ignored in its popular role as a table garnish, often tossed aside instead of being eaten. However, parsley may be the most nutritious of herbs, containing significant quantities of vitamins K, C, and A. Parsley adds flavor to soups, stews, and poultry dishes.


Rosemary is an aromatic evergreen shrub that can survive mild winters. Rosemary is drought tolerant, and a good addition to xeriscape gardens. The pungent flavor of rosemary goes a long way to flavor potatoes, stuffing, chicken, lamb, pork, salmon and tuna dishes, as well as many soups and sauces.


Sage has one of the longest histories of use as a culinary and medicinal herb. With its savory, slightly peppery flavor, it appears in many cuisines, notably Italian, Balkan and Middle Eastern. In British and American cooking, it is traditionally used in poultry stuffing.

Sage is an exceptionally rich source of several B-complex vitamins. Burning sage has been used by Native Americans in a ceremony to cleanse an object or room of unwanted energy.


Fresh thyme has one of the highest antioxidant levels among herbs, and is packed with minerals and vitamins. Thyme leaves are one of the richest herb sources of potassium, iron, calcium, manganese, magnesium, and selenium. Thyme is an ingredient in the French combination of herbs called bouquet garni, used to season stock, stews and soups. Ancient Egyptians used thyme in embalming; also, ancient Greeks and Europeans of the Middle Ages carried thyme into battle as a source of courage.

Explore the vast variety of herbs to spice up your cuisine.


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