• By Elizabeth Coots, Extension Agent

Family and Consumer Sciences -Growing and cooking with herbs

We all want to eat food that tastes good. One of the most common ways we make food taste good is by adding salt. Unfortunately, most American diets are too high in sodium, which can raise blood pressure and lead to many major health issues, including heart disease and stroke. Herbs provide a great way for us to limit our sodium intake while still consuming flavorful foods. Herbs are also some of the easiest things to grow. You don’t even have to have a garden. Many herbs can be grown inside. The simplest way to start is to buy plants and transfer them to individual containers. Set them in a windowsill that receives plenty of sunlight and regularly water them. You can harvest herbs once the plant has enough leaves to maintain growth. In early morning right after the dew dries, clip undamaged leaves that have a nice aroma. Rinse with cool, running water to remove dust and soil; then pat dry with a paper towel. Once harvested, you can preserve herbs by drying or freezing. If you plan to dry herbs for use all year, harvest them when they contain the maximum amount of essential oils. For leafy herbs, harvest just before the bud opens. For seed herbs, harvest when the seeds change from green to brown. For flowering herbs, harvest just before full flowering occurs. By experimenting with different herb combinations, you can use less salt, experience unique flavors and still have delicious meals. For best results, chop or mince herbs before cooking. Heat increases the rate at which herbs release their flavors. For dishes that require longer cooking times, add delicate-flavored and ground herbs at the end, so their flavor will not escape. Some herbs, such as bay leaves, rosemary and thyme, require longer cooking times and should be added at the beginning. Seasoning your dishes with herbs will allow you to serve delicious, nutritious meals to your family. For more information about growing, preparing and preserving herbs, or additional ways to provide nutritious family meals, contact the Woodford County office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.

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