Simon and Garfunkel were onto something greater than a hit song when they sang the lyrics, “Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.” They had hit upon some of the best fresh herbs for summertime health.
Summer, whether dry and arid or sweaty and humid, brings an entirely different cuisine to the table. We seek out cooling dishes with refreshing flavors, and one of the key elements of this is choosing the right herbs. Herbs are a simple way to add flavor to any dish, and you can grow a plant almost anywhere, from a sizable herb garden in the countryside to a small potted plant collection on a city windowsill. All you need is some well-drained soil to create your own personal herb garden.
The best thing about cooking with herbs is that they consistently display impressive medicinal powers. Some have been favored for curing ailments for centuries, whilst others are currently under the microscope for some potentially incredible health discoveries.
Here are 12 fresh summer herbs perfectly suited to the warm weather, how to deliciously use them in your cooking, and how they can improve your health and well-being:
Fresh mint leaves are the quintessential summer herb. They add a refreshing zing to almost everything. Create a refreshing pineapple mint salsa, use mint in a grilled shrimp marinade, freeze some homemade choc-mint popsicles, crumble mint over a fruit salad, or muddle into a refreshing mojito or ice cold glass of water. Spearmint is a particularly refreshing form of mint for the warmer temperatures.
The leaves of the mint plant are renowned for being a great palate cleanser and for soothing digestion or stomach upsets. It is a natural antiseptic that fights bacteria in the mouth and freshens breath. Mint is also a natural stimulant, stimulating the digestive enzymes that absorb nutrients whilst also stimulating the brain to boost mood and feelings of sluggishness.
Is it any wonder that the Italians prize basil plants so highly? Basil’s sweet aroma is perfect for savory summer dishes. Add to fresh mozzarella and tomatoes for a caprese salad; whip up a refreshing pesto with basil, pine nuts, garlic, and olive oil for cold pasta salads; create a fresh basil and watermelon salad; puree basil with ricotta cheese for a fresh dip; bake some summery basil, nectarine, and prosciutto pizzas. Or there’s always cucumber and basil lemonade.
Studies have shown that basil, particularly the potent “holy basil” species, is a natural anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, pain reducer, and immune booster that has both cancer and diabetes-fighting properties. 1
Ancient cultures have been burning the leaves of the sage plant for centuries to cleanse a space or a person, but sage doesn’t need to be burned to be an asset. Sage has a wonderful cooling sensation, akin to mint, once it hits your sense of smell, which makes it perfect for a warm climate. It also goes with just about anything: Add to roasted chicken with lemon; to butter for marinating trout; to eggs for summer brunches; make pork, sage, and apple burgers on your grill; or freeze some sage in an ice cube tray to add to any summer drink.
Possible health benefits of consuming sage include lowering blood sugar and cholesterol, controlling inflammation, and aiding memory in both healthy adults and those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Sage is also a major source of vitamin A, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, and B vitamins.
The earthy herb thyme pairs well with vegetables, meats, soups and it loves lemons. For a summer vibe, try a lemon thyme potato salad, a frittata with thyme and feta cheese, grilled rosemary and thyme chicken, or a zesty, frosted lemon thyme cake. You can also make fresh thyme iced tea, or add it to a gin or vodka cocktail.
The leaves of the Thyme plant have long been used for toothache, leprosy, and lice. Hippocrates would recommend thyme for respiratory diseases and conditions. Today, we do know that thyme has a strong antimicrobial action, and it is thought to be beneficial for eczema and acne, yeast infections, foodborne bacterial infections and, initial studies have shown, it may quite possibly be effective for even more serious ailments.2
The Lavender plant has long been adored for both its ornamental flowers and its fragrant beauty, but in cooking, it can take things to a whole new level, particularly in drinks and desserts. It is, however, possessed of extremely potent essential oils, so a little goes a long way. Try a grilled leg of lamb with a lavender-rosemary rub, lavender roast potatoes, lavender lamb meatballs, roasted pears with lavender and ricotta, lavender and peach bellinis, lavender butter for fresh bread, or a honey lavender cheesecake.
Lavender oil is often favored for its ability to calm nervous tension and anxiety, but studies have suggested that lavender can also help digestive issues, relieve pain (like headaches and toothaches), and aid in hair loss. A study published in the Journal of Medical Microbiology also found that the lavender plant could be effective in combating antifungal-resistant infections, particularly of the skin and nails. 3
Dill is perfect for adding a refreshing twist to heavier dishes and seafood. It’s bright flavor should be added with gusto to your summer cooking: Try summer squash with lemon and dill; smoked salmon, cream cheese, and dill rolls; creamy dill and cucumber salad; baked chicken meatballs with garlic dill yogurt sauce; cheddar and dill scones, or make a dill pickle dip.
The dill plant has long been used in gripe water to relieve colic in babies. The essential oil of dill is said to relieve intestinal spasms, improve appetite and aid in digestion and gas. You can also improve bad breath by chewing on the seeds of the dill plant. 4 It may also help with milk flow in lactating mothers and benefit menstrual cramps.
Rosemary is a tough, hardy plant, and it’s aroma and flavor is unmatched. You can add flavor to meat and vegetables by simpling laying rosemary sprigs across a grill. Use rosemary on roasted potatoes, combine with lemon for a salmon marinade, brush rosemary olive oil over your french fries, sprinkle onto grilled chicken salads, bake it into your bread, or make a refreshing rosemary, lemon, and feta spread. If you’ve never tried rosemary ice cream … then it’s time to make a change. Rosemary also pairs amazingly with bourbon and gin cocktails.
Native to the Mediterranean, rosemary is a rich source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. In Europe, rosemary has long been used for indigestion, but it has seemingly much more to offer. Studies have concluded that it shows significant properties as an anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor agent. 5
The leaves of the tarragon plant are famed in French cuisine and have a subtle aroma similar to anise or liquorice. Tarragon and chicken are inseparable, so start with a tarragon chicken salad or slather some tarragon mayonnaise on a chicken burger. You can also use tarragon in a dressing with lemon for salads, add it to butter, or slather on seafood: try tarragon lobster rolls, creamy tarragon salmon, or grilled shrimp with tarragon butter. You should also experiment with adding tarragon to cheesecake, panna cotta, or summer savory cheese cookies. Or try a tarragon gin and tonic.
Tarragon may help to address digestive issues, poor appetite, sleep, and menstruation problems, and studies have shown it has a proven antibacterial activity against both Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli bacteria. S.aureus is known for causing staph infection, and E.coli can cause everything from boils to food poisoning to toxic shock syndrome. 6
9. Lemon Balm
With it’s tart, lemon scent, you can use lemon balm leaves as a substitute for lemon peel to add a zing to summer sauces, vinegars and seafood. Make fresh lemon balm jelly or pesto as condiments, cook up a roasted lemon balm chicken, or bake a lemon balm salmon fillet in parchment paper. Lemon balm loves the sweet stuff, so consider making lemon balm and poppy seed cookies or peach and lemon balm ice cream. It’s also a perfect additive to ice cold drinks.
The lemon balm plant has been used for insomnia and anxiety from as far back as the Middle Ages and was even added to wine to help lift the spirits. Today, it has even shown effectiveness for improving cold sores, bacterial infections, and even cognitive brain function.7,8 It is also commonly used today as an herbal salve to sooth irritated or inflamed skin, as well as cuts, wounds, and insect bites.
The mild onion flavor of the chive plant means you will want to sprinkle it on more than just your baked potatoes. How about lemon and chive salmon, corn and squash chive salad, chive egg salad, chive pancakes, or grilled steak with chive butter? Not to mention cheddar and chive biscuits.
Research has shown that chives may be a useful antimicrobial agent against foodborne pathogens. In a clinical trial, chives inhibited salmonella in chicken soup and beef broth, suggesting the herb could, in fact, control the growth of salmonella in different food systems. 9
You’ve got just enough time to get yourself prepared for the onslaught of the summer barbecue season. All you need do is get yourself some good soil, buy some seeds or plants, and your fresh herb garden will gift you with unmatched flavor and health benefits all summer long. It’s that easy.
For more inspiration in the kitchen, check out:
1. Baliga MS, et al. “Ocimum Sanctum L (Holy Basil Or Tulsi) And Its Phytochemicals In The Prevention And Treatment Of Cancer. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2017. Web. 9 June 2017.
2. “Effects Of Thymus Serpyllum Extract On Cell Proliferation, Apoptosis And Epigenetic Events In Human Breast Cancer Cells”. Taylor & Francis. N.p., 2017. Web. 9 June 2017.
3. “Lavender Oil Has Potent Antifungal Effect”. ScienceDaily. N.p., 2017. Web. 9 June 2017.
4. Shekhawat, GS, and S Jana. “Anethum Graveolens: An Indian Traditional Medicinal Herb And Spice”. N.p., 2017. Print.
5. Peng CH, et al. “Supercritical Fluid Extracts Of Rosemary Leaves Exhibit Potent Anti-Inflammation And Anti-Tumor Effects. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2017. Web. 9 June 2017.
6. M Raeisi, T Mehdizadeh. “Essential Oil Of Tarragon (Artemisia Dracunculus) Antibacterial Activity On Staphylococcus Aureus And Escherichia Coli In Culture Media And Iranian White Cheese”. PubMed Central (PMC). N.p., 2017. Web. 9 June 2017.
7. “Lemon Balm”. University of Maryland Medical Center. N.p., 2017. Web. 9 June 2017.
8. “Lemon Balm”. University of Maryland Medical Center. N.p., 2017. Web. 9 June 2017.
9. “AGFD 106 – Antimicrobial Activities Of Chive Against Salmonella In Chicken Soup, Beef Broth And Sesame Salad Dressing”. Oasys2.confex.com. N.p., 2017. Web. 9 June 2017.