At Home with Herbs

They are green and tender. They are intensely alive with the shining sun. They seduce the senses with their unique flavors and intoxicating aromas. And they have impressive healing powers.

Healers around the world have studied herbs up close for thousands of years. The ayurvedic healers of India have been among the most passionate of herb-lovers. Pounding and stewing, mixing and matching whole flowers, roots, stems and leaves, those ancient vaidyas discovered the very essence of healing plants. And modern medicine is slowly recognizing today what those vaidyas of old realized and recorded millennia ago — herbs heal because they are filled with nature's intelligence.

Happily, many of these healing herbs can be grown on your kitchen window or picked off the shelves of the produce section at your local health food store. They are just waiting to pop on to your plate and liven up your palate.

Look what you get when you pick up a handful of herbs:

  • Flavor, without the fat: Away with those creamy, buttery sauces! All your taste buds need is a squeeze of lemon, a sprig of mint or a sprinkling of parsley to bring out the flavors of your favorite foods.
  • Satisfaction: Those aromas fill up your senses, making you feel like you are indulging, even when you are not. Ginger and cilantro, thyme and oregano — they add pep and body to marinades and soups.

What you don't get from herbs is equally important!

  • Sodium: Sodium makes you retain water, tipping the bathroom scales and undermining your efforts to lose weight.
  • Calories: Rosemary and thyme, parsley and marjoram...high on flavor, and zero calories!

So fall in love with the flavorful world of herbs — you've got nothing to lose, except pounds!

Here are ten appetizing ideas to start you off:

  1. When cooking rice, throw in a few sprigs of mint or cilantro just before the rice is done. Squirt half a lemon, too, at this time — it lends tang and fluffs out the grains.
  2. Melt some ghee in a pan. Throw in a teaspoon of ajwain (carum copticum) seeds. Wait for the aroma to rise, then pitch in some mashed potatoes and fry on high heat for three minutes. Make the proceedings more interesting with fresh-chopped fenugreek leaves — and lemon juice to balance out the slightly-bitter flavor.
  3. Say "no" to those carrot-nubbins in plastic bags. Buy your carrots fresh and tops-on. Then braise them in water and a little ghee. Add freshly-ground black pepper. Sprinkle on three herbs of your choice when the carrots are done. Munch.
  4. Make a power-packed bread: knead together two cups of gram flour (chickpea flour), half a cup of wheat bran and one-fourth cup of unbleached wheat flour. Use one part each whipped yogurt and water to knead the dough. Add dried fenugreek leaves, half a teaspoon of ajwain, a quarter teaspoon of turmeric and a teaspoon of ghee. Roll the soft, pliable dough into flat, thin circles or squares. Cook on a cast-iron griddle, turning over until golden brown on both sides.
  5. Cook lentils and chopped vegetables with your favorite herbs — cilantro, thyme, dill, tarragon or parsley — to add flavor. Makes a hearty one-dish meal with a bread of your choice.
  6. Sauté crushed red chilies and minced ginger in olive oil. Add to soup pot for instant pep. Ayurveda recommends chilies and ginger for balancing Kapha.
  7. Roast a tablespoon each of whole coriander and cumin, and pound together. Mix this spice with boiled and cooled garbanzo beans, and moisten with lemon juice. Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro. No salt required for this healthy snack.
  8. Start your morning with warm ginger-lemon water, sweetened with honey (make sure you don't heat the honey). Lie down for five minutes after you drink it. This helps the kidneys flush better.
  9. Parboil potatoes and scoop out the centers. Fill the hollows with a paste of ground mint, rock salt and olive oil. Bake on high for fifteen minutes and you have hot, mint-flavored potatoes, bursting with flavor.
  10. Try this sense-gratifying marinade for your veggies: blend ginger with yogurt, mustard and chopped green chilies. Dunk the vegetables in this for an hour or so, then grill. Luscious.

More flavorful ways to use herbs!

  1. Dish up some colorful, subtly-flavored rice tonight. Bring home the Indian basmati variety. Stir three strands of saffron into a tablespoon of warm melted ghee, and add to the water in which you cook the rice. Add one cracked green cardamom pod as well, which you can discard when serving.
  2. Sauté diced tofu with just-cooked red kidney beans in a little olive oil. Add flavorful paprika, turmeric and julienned ginger. Toss in a tablespoon or two of fresh yogurt. Season and sauté on high heat for a few minutes. Garnish with chopped cilantro.
  3. Plain white steamed rice is great on its own, but one bay leaf helps release the aroma. Max the impact with two cloves. A pinch of turmeric will make it look rich and exotic.
  4. Bake acorn or butternut squash with a cracked cinnamon stick. Season with black pepper, a little lemon juice, salt and chopped cilantro when done.
  5. Dry-roast cumin seeds till they release their unique aroma — be careful not to burn them. Then rough-crush in a chopper with a few cilantro leaves, a little lemon juice, some olive oil and roasted peanuts for a quick dressing for seasoned diced cucumber or boiled and diced potatoes.
  6. Pick up the freshest green beans you can find. Chop and steam for five to ten minutes, then mix with cooked yellow split lentils. Season. Add a tablespoon of finely-chopped lemon mint leaves. Melt ghee in a pan. Add some crushed ginger and a teaspoon of Organic Vata Churna. Pour over the beans and lentils. Mix well.
  7. Grill a medley of vegetables — potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, fennel bulbs and corn-on-the-cob, for example. When just about done, drizzle some hot ghee on the veggies and top with dried basil or rosemary.
  8. Peel and grate cucumber. Add some fresh yogurt. Season. Add aroma with roasted and ground cumin seeds, and color with a pinch of paprika. Top with finely-chopped mint leaves and a bit of crushed ginger.
  9. Top diced fruit with this piquant dressing: 1 part lemon juice, 1 part orange juice, fresh mint leaves and crushed ginger, all blended together.
  10. Fines herbes is a pleasant, delicate combination of finely-chopped French chervil, parsley, French thyme and French tarragon. Available dried, but tastes excellent with fresh herbs too. Add to soups, stews and vegetable stock for subtle aroma and flavor

The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.