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  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • January 2018
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Add some herbs to your clean, healthy cooking

As we fully embrace this winter season, I find myself longing for the fresh taste of herbs from my garden to season the foods I eat. Obviously, we cannot simply slip outside and snip a sprig of thyme, oregano, or harvest a cayenne pepper so it is time for us to reach for dried or frozen herbs to provide flavor and a health kick to our foods. In addition to using herbal teas as a way to ingest herbs — and rather than relying on supplements — why not use them as we cook? 

In general, dried herbs (if they are still good — how long have you had that spice jar in your cabinet?) are stronger than fresh herbs. The basic rule of thumb is that 1 unit of dry herb = 3 units of fresh herb. In other words, if you would use 1 teaspoon of fresh basil in a recipe, you likely will only need 1/3 teaspoon of dried basil in the same recipe. This is because fresh herbs have a lot of water content when compared to the dried so the dried are far more concentrated. Here is an interesting comparison of fresh to dried herb, according to the USDA National Nutrient Database:

  • Fresh parsley is 87.71 percent water (12.29 percent active ingredients)
  • Dried parsley is 5.89 percent water (94.11 percent active ingredients)

This means that dried parsley is 700 percent more concentrated than fresh. And this holds true with the antioxidants in dried herbs. The gold standard for measuring antioxidants is the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC), developed by the USDA and National Institutes of Health. The ORAC value for fresh parsley is 1,301; for dried parsley, the ORAC value is 73,670. So, if you purchase organic herbs, nonirradiated, that are not UV treated, or bottled with chemical preservatives, you can eat those dried herbs without worrying about a loss of antioxidant properties! Store them in a cool, dry, dark place in glass containers, and they will last longer for you, too. Also, if you buy whole herb versus ground, you will notice that the flavor is maintained longer (just crush/grind it when you need it — a spice/coffee grinder works well).

Since we are in the season in which respiratory ailments are common, let’s focus on an herb that can enhance your respiratory system, protect against colds/flu, help fight sinus infections, or minimize symptoms and/or the length of time those symptoms hang around: horseradish (Armoracia rusticana). 

Before it was a food, horseradish was recognized as a powerful medicine. It has a volatile oil compound, sinigrin, which breaks down to become a natural antibiotic which is thought to be the active ingredient that enables horseradish to be so effective against upper respiratory infections. This compound, along with several others in horseradish, clear congestion, thin mucous, reduce inflammation, fight bacteria and viruses, relax muscles and stimulate the immune system. The root is rich in minerals and vitamins, including vitamin C.

Here is a Bavarian-inspired recipe from Bharat Aggarwal and Debora Yost’s wonderful book that can be used to accompany a pork dish, or as a condiment for a roast beef sandwich:

Bavarian Apple and Horseradish Sauce

Makes about 1½ cups

½ cup prepared horseradish, drained

1 large, tart green apple, peeled, cored and diced

¼ cup lemon juice

1 teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup sour cream

1 tablespoon dried parsley

Mix the horseradish, apple, lemon juice, sugar and salt. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Stir in the sour cream, sprinkle with parsley and serve. Or, refrigerate until ready to use, stir and bring to room temperature prior to serving.

You can also cook with horseradish, which makes the flavor quite mild. Today, it is often used as an ingredient in batter or coating for fish, and is even added with a bit of sour cream to mashed potatoes. 

References: “Healing spices: How to use 50 everyday and exotic spices to boost health and beat disease.” Aggarwal. B. & Yost, D. Sterling. 2011. 

“Herbs for common ailments: How to make and use herbal remedies for home health care.” Gladstar, R. Storey Publishing. 2014.

T. Heather Herdman, RN, PhD

T. Heather Herdman, RN, PhD is co-owner of Sweet Willow Naturals in Green Bay, where we have over 140 organic herbs and 70 organic spices available for you to craft your own products, or to simply enjoy as tea. Our store focuses on education and we have many classes to help you learn about herbs, aromatherapy, nutrition, and self-care – focusing on safe information backed up by research and experience. We also offer wellness coaching and massage – stop in today! For more information, visit or email [email protected]

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