Cooking With Herbs & Spices
Herbs have been used all around the world for their medicinal properties for over 5000 years. Cooking with herbs and spices is a wonderful way of adding flavour, as well as taking advantage of their digestive and health giving properties. Herbal teas and infusions are another good way of benefiting from natures apothecary. When buying dried herbs and spices, where possible, choose organic and ensure that their natural properties have not been removed.
In cooking when referring to herbs we usually refer to the leaves of the plant such as rosemary and parsley. Spices usually come from the non- leafy part of the plant, the root, bark, berries, flowers and seeds. Herbs and spices cover an array of flavours from very mild to very strong, from sweet to bitter. Northern Europe tends to grow milder herbs that match the milder climate. Stronger pungent hot spices come from countries with
more dramatic hot climates like India and South America. Often we only
need a pinch of a herb or spice to enhance the flavour of a dish.
The selection of mild herbs and spices detailed below can be widely
incorporated into your cooking and are good for all three Doshas – Vata,
Pitta and Kapha.
Black Pepper (Piper nigrum)
Black pepper has a pungent taste and a heating effect on the body. This spice was once as valuable as gold, has been traded for over 3000 years, and used with salt is our most commonly used condiments.
Culinary use – is widely used in cooking savoury dishes and even some sweet dishes, it even goes well with strawberries! The best way to preserve the aroma and taste is to use peppercorns and crush them fresh in a mill. Use sparingly.
Health properties – stimulates and calms digestion, improves Agni (digestive fire) and burns Ama (toxins).
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
Cinnamon has a sweet pungent taste and a warming effect on the body.
Culinary use – its sweet woody flavour makes it ideal for many dessert recipes. It goes especially well with poached apples and pears, and alleviates the need for adding sugar. It is used in Middle Eastern cookery in casseroles and tagines with lamb, chicken and aubergine. In India cinnamon is used in spice mixes and chutneys. Cinnamon combines well with ginger, cloves, cumin, nutmeg and cardamom. It can also enhance the flavour of coffee and hot chocolate drinks.
Health properties – digestive stimulant, increases Agni, acts as an anti-acid, and traditionally it has been used for the lungs, colds and flu.
Coriander (Coriandum sativum)
Coriander has an astringent, bitter and pungent taste. The leaves have a mild cooling and the seeds a mild heating affect on the body. Coriander, also known as Cilantro, is loved or hated with its complex taste with tones of lemon, pepper and mint.
Culinary use – coriander leaves are used in guacamole (avocado dip) and Chermoula marinade, it’s good with fish, lemon, vegetables and as a garnish for many composite dishes either on its own or mixed with parsley, basil, chilli, chives, garlic, ginger and mint.
Health properties – stimulates and calms digestion, balances Agni, traditionally it’s has been used for urinary tract infections and is a diuretic.
Cumin (Cumimum cyminum)
Cumin has a pungent bitter taste and a mild heating effect on the body.
Culinary use – cumin seeds are used extensively in many culinary cuisines including curry mixes, the Egyptian spice blend Dukkah and the Arabic spice blend Baharat. It’s good with lamb, cheese, aubergine, beans, squash, cabbage, broccoli and lentils that can take this strong earthy flavour. It combines well with cardamom, coriander, curry leaves, fennel seeds, mustard seeds, paprika pepper and turmeric. It is a key spice in Kitchari and Ginger Tea. Use sparingly.
Health properties – an excellent digestive spice, balances Agni and supports absorption and assimilation of food.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Fennel has a sweet, pungent taste and a very mild heating effect on the body and has a warm anise-liquorice aroma. This is a different plant to the cultivated bulbous fennel using in cooking as a vegetable.
Culinary use – fennel seeds works well with oily fish, seafood, pork, grilled vegetables, as well as in pickles, sauerkraut, bread and soup. Fennel is one of the ingredients in the Chinese five-spice blend and Indian Garam Masala. It combines well with cinnamon, cumin, coriander, fenugreek, thyme, mint and parsley.
Health properties – traditionally fennel aids digestion, helps remedy gas, bloating, colic and indigestion.
After meal digestive – dry roast a handful of fennel seeds in a frying pan until the fennel seeds start to pop and turn a light brown colour, cool and store in an airtight container – eat half a teaspoon chewed well after meals as a digestive. Much healthier than chocolate!
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Ginger root has a sweet pungent flavour and a mild heating effect on the body. For a Pitta Dosha diet use fresh ginger rather than dried which is hotter.
Culinary use – an essential flavouring in Southeast Asia, it combines well with lemon, lemon grass, soy sauce, coriander and garlic in a variety of meat, fish (especially oily fish), and vegetable dishes; it also goes well with melon and rhubarb as well as chutneys, salad dressing and marinades or drunk as an infusion or tea.
Health properties – an excellent digestive stimulant and anti-inflammatory, as well as traditionally being used for a wide range of ailments including motion sickness, headaches and nausea.
Peppermint and Spearmint has a sweet, slightly pungent taste and has a mild cooling effect on the body.
Culinary use – Spearmint leaves are more commonly used in cooking and adds a bright freshness to summer soups, salads, it also adds flavour to yoghurt and as a refreshing tea.
Health properties – peppermint is a more pungent mint and is an excellent digestive and calmative, reduces the feeling of nausea and can help with headaches.
Parsley (Petroselium crispum)
Parsley has a mild astringent and pungent taste and has a mild heating effect on the body.
Culinary uses – parsley leaves and stalks add flavour to stocks and marinades, the leaves are used in salads, parsley sauce (with milk), Salsa Verde (green sauce), flavoured butter, Argentinian Chimichurri sauce and Tabbouleh (Middle Eastern salad made with Bulgar wheat or couscous), as well as acting as a garnish.
Health properties – a rich source of Vitamin C. Traditionally it is the herb’s roots and seeds that are used medicinally.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus tinctorum)
Rosemary has a pungent bitter flavour and a heating effect on the body.
Culinary use – rosemary leaves’ strong flavour can withstand long slow cooking, is it used with vegetables fried in oil, adds flavour to meat, and it is an ingredient of Provencal herb mix. It combines well with bay, garlic, oregano, parsley, sage and thyme.
Health properties – is a good digestive, and is a traditional remedy for colds and headaches.
Sage (Salvia offininalis)
Common sage has a strong pungent, astringent flavour and a mild heating effect on the body.
Culinary use – sage leaves’ strong flavour is traditionally used for sage and onion stuffing, it works well with fatty meats like pork and sausage as well as duck, goose and veal and adds favour to stocks, soups and stews. It combines well with rosemary, parsley and thyme. Use sparingly.
Health properties – it is a good digestive herb, and assists in the digestion of fatty meats, it is traditionally used for coughs and colds, helps with menopausal night sweats and to regulate blood sugar levels.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Thyme has a pungent flavour and a mild heating effect on the body.
Culinary use – thyme leaves are an essential flavouring in Middle Eastern and French cuisine that can withstand long slow cooking in stews, casseroles, roast and grills. It combines well with bay, garlic, parsley, rosemary and lemon flavours.
Health properties – is an antiseptic and antiviral that is traditionally used in the treatment of respiratory conditions; cold, flu and sinusitis, especially for children. It is also helpful in digesting heavy food.
Tumeric (Curcuma longa)
Turmeric has a mild bitter, astringent and pungent taste and a mildly heating effect on the body. Turmeric has a distinctive yellow colour and is used extensively throughout Southeast Asia both for its harmonising effect with other spices and its amazing health giving properties.
Culinary use – the root is a very versatile spice used in stews, curries and vegetable dishes and adds a warm earthy flavour to masala, curry and tagine spice mixes and pickle dishes.
Health properties – is considered a miracle spice! It’s an excellent digestive, it detoxifies the liver, is good for skin disorders, is an anti-inflammatory and supports immunity.
Flavours From Around The World
We often associate the tastes of different herbs and spices with particular places in the world and their traditional dishes. Just by changing our choice of herbs and spices we can significantly change the flavour of the same ingredients, for example carrot with cumin tastes very different to carrot and coriander.
The following are a few examples of classic regional flavours:
|Region||Herbs, Spices and flavourings|
|Eastern Europe||Allspice, caraway, dill, horseradish, juniper, poppy seeds|
|France||Garlic, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, savory, tarragon, thyme|
|India||Black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, curry leaves, ginger, mustard, turmeric|
|Mediterranean||Basil, bay leaf, coriander, cumin, lemon, oregano, parsley, rosemary, saffron, sage, thyme|
|Middle east||Cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, mint, preserved lemon, saffron, sumac, za’atar|
Chillies, coriander, cumin, ginger, kaffir lime leaves,
lemon grass, mint, Thai basil, turmeric
When using herbs medicinally please seek professional guidance especially if you are unwell or pregnant. Not only is it important to choose the correct herb but also the correct dosage and way of administering the herb to achieve the desired result.