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Using Fresh Herbs in the Kitchen

Cutting down on salt can be easier said than done. According to the American Heart Association, an estimated 103 million Americans, or 46% of people in the United States, have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. Hypertension increases the risk of a stroke or heart attack. Heart disease is the number one cause of death among Americans. Although regular exercise, quitting smoking, and stress management can reduce the risk of hypertension, what we eat can also play a vital role.

Cutting down on salty, high sodium foods is one way to reduce blood pressure. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day or one teaspoon. Most people consume over 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day.  “Salt is a learned taste, so finding ways to flavor food without missing that salty flavor can be a challenge,” Lisa Peterson University of Illinois Extension Nutrition and Wellness Educator explains. Swapping out the salt for fresh herbs is one way to give foods a burst of flavor. Dill, basil, and coriander are among a few herbs found to be the most effective when replacing salt, according to the American Spice Trade Association.

When working with fresh herbs, wait to wash them until right before using them. Wash herbs under running water, shake off moisture and pat dry with a paper towel. Cutting, tearing, or chopping herbs will also maximize flavor. Chop leafy herbs with a chef’s knife or kitchen scissors. For preparing sturdier herbs such as rosemary, oregano, sage, and thyme, run fingers down the top of the stem to bottom to strip off leaves. It’s okay to use some of the stems on more tender stemmed plants such as parley and cilantro as they carry flavor and aroma. It’s much easier to add more, than take intense flavors away from food. Dried herbs are three times as strong as fresh. So, one tablespoon fresh herbs are close in flavor to one teaspoon of dried. There are no strict rules when picking which herbs go with which food. Always start with smaller amounts. Below are a few suggestions based on popular recipes:

            Asparagus: chives, savory, tarragon, thyme

            Green beans: basil, bay leaves, mint, savory, cayenne

            Cauliflower: dill, parsley, thyme 

            Cucumber: basil, chives, dill, parsley 

            Summer Squash: marjoram, parsley, thyme, oregano

            White Potatoes: basil, chives, rosemary, parsley, marjoram

The type of herb determines when to add them when cooking. Fresh herbs lose flavor and aroma the longer they are exposed to heat. More delicate herbs like basil, cilantro, dill, parsley, and marjoram are best added in the last few minutes or sprinkled on top. Hardier herbs like thyme, rosemary, and tarragon can be added in the last 20-30 minutes of cooking without the loss of flavor.

To store fresh herbs, snip the ends diagonally and place it in a tall glass with an inch of water. Cover with plastic wrap and change the water daily. Basil should not be stored in the refrigerator. If the herbs are not used within a week, think about freezing them. If already chopped, pre-measure herbs into clean ice cube trays, cover with water, and freeze. Once frozen, transfer frozen herbs into a freezer safe container. Frozen herbs keep best for four to six months. “April is National Garden Month, and gardening is both beneficial to physical and mental health. Learning how to use garden produce in the kitchen, especially using herbs in place of salt, can help in improving overall heart health,” Peterson states. Contact the local Extension office about gardening, food preservation, food safety or nutrition questions.

Broccoli & Chive Stuffed Peppers

Makes 12 sweet stuffed peppers

12 miniature sweet peppers

8 oz. Neuchatel Cheese softened

1/3 cup minced fresh chives

1 tsp. dried dill weed (or 1 Tbsp. fresh dill)

2/3 cup finely chopped fresh broccoli

1/4 cup shredded cheese

1/8 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Wash hands with soap and water. Cut peppers lengthwise; remove seeds.
  2. In a bowl, mix cream cheese, chives, dill, salt, and pepper.
  3. Rinse broccoli chop finely. Add to cheese mixture.
  4. Spoon cheese and broccoli mixture into each hollowed-out pepper.
  5. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake 9-11 minutes. Remove from oven, add cheese to the top of each stuffed pepper. Bake until cheese is melted, about 3 more minutes. Remove from oven, cool slightly before serving

Nutrition Facts per stuffed pepper: 80 calories, 3 g. protein, 5 g. total fat, (saturated fat 3 g),  6 g carbohydrates, 2 g dietary fiber, 95 mg sodium


Questions about food safety, nutrition, food preservation, or looking for recipes? Contact the local University of Illinois Extension office.

Source: Lisa Peterson, Extension Educator, Nutrition and Wellness