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Add a handful of fresh herbs to any meal to bump up the health factor

Chock full of antioxidants and packed with flavour, these easy-to-grow herbs should become a regular part of your diet

Research shows some herbs are far more than simply flavourful; they're incredibly good for your health.

Packed with phytochemicals  – including high levels of antioxidants – and with a long history of curative characteristics, herbs are credited with strengthening your immune system, fighting off cancers, protecting against heart disease, easing digestion and much, much more.

For the most bang for your buck, make sure you're eating the freshest of the fresh.

By growing your own herbs, the quality of your food and your health will improve, all without having to fork over unnecessary money at the farmer's market.

Oregano

A USDA study found that oregano has the highest antioxidant activity of 27 fresh culinary herbs. It also has four times the antioxidants of blueberries, 12 times that of oranges and 42 times more than apples.

Oregano also provides an array of nutritional vitamins and minerals, including calcium, copper, folate, iron, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin K.

Try this: Oregano is especially popular in Mexican and Mediterranean dishes.

Salmoriglio Sauce with Oregeno

  • 125 ml olive oil
  • 30 ml chopped Italian parsley
  • 30 ml chopped oregano (no stems)
  • 1-2 clove minced garlic
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Wisk together. Serve as a bread dip, or for grilled fish and vegetables.

Basil

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Image by Flickr/ Justgrobio.com

This tropical herb is packed with vitamin K, vitamin A, and minerals including iron, potassium, manganese, copper, and magnesium.

Basil also contains DNA-protecting flavonoids, which have anti-bacterial properties that combat inflammation, and zeaxanthin, a compound that helps to protect against age-related macular disease.

Try this: Basil is best either raw or lightly cooked.

Basil Ricotta Spread

  • 125 ml packed basil
  • 125 ml ricotta cheese
  • 30 ml olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Blanch basil by plunging herb in boiling salted water for 20 seconds, then into ice water as soon as the basil has turned bright green. Blend all ingredients in a food processor until just mixed. Serve with crackers or veggies.

Parsley

With loads of vitamin C and A, parsley is highly nutritious. It also contains volatile oil components that protect against cancerous tumours and flavonoids, which are anti-allergic, anti-cancer, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral.

Try this: Great in salads or just about anything, really.

Italian Salsa Verde with Parsley

Mix briefly in food processor:

  • 75 ml coarsely chopped parsley
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 15 ml capers
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 100 ml olive oil

Rosemary

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Image by Flickr/ Justgrobio.com

According to researchers at the Brain, Performance and Nutrition Research Centre at Northumbria University, U.K., just the scent of rosemary may improve brain performance.

It also has many antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-carcinogenic properties.

Try this: Rosemary is delicious in soups and stews or on roasted veggies.

Rosemary Lemonade

  • 1 litre water 1
  • 75-100 ml sugar
  • Juice of three lemons (125 ml)
  • Six sprigs of rosemary

Instructions

Bring half the water to a boil, add the rosemary sprigs and then turn off heat. Cover and steep for 45 minutes. Remove the rosemary, then add sugar and stir until dissolved. Set aside to cool.

Place the lemon juice in a pitcher and add remaining water and the cooled rosemary syrup. Serve over ice.

Thyme

A rich source of many important vitamins such as B-complex vitamins, beta carotene, vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin E, vitamin C, and folic acid. Thyme is also high in antioxidants.

Try this: Thyme may be less popular than other herbs, but it's great in salad dressing and citrus dishes.

Lemon Thyme Vinaigrette Dressing

Wisk together:

  • 75 ml vegetable oil
  • 50 ml fresh lemon juice
  • 15 ml chopped fresh thyme
  • 5 ml mustard
  • Pinch of salt sugar and pepper to taste

Serve on salad.