Saying Sayonara to Salt and Hello to Herbs

I don’t think it would unreasonable to assume that most people nowadays are aware that too much salt in our diets isn’t going to do us any favours, however that doesn’t mean we heed our own advice and stop ourselves from reaching for those mills in the middle of the dining table.

This is because we’ve trained (/tricked) our taste buds into believing that food doesn’t taste nice without a liberal sprinkling of those sparkly little crystals. Today however I want to blow that notion out of the water and instead shed rays of sunshine onto the wonderful world of herbs AKA your personal arsenal in banishing the white stuff for good.

The reason salt is much maligned is due to its effect on our blood pressure. When we eat salt it breaks down to its component minerals Sodium and Chloride which circulate in the bloodstream as ions (electrically charged particles hence their alter ego; electrolytes).

These ions use their electrical charges to create gradients across membranes which then cause the movement of substances from areas of high concentration to those of lower concentration. In this instance large amounts of salt in the blood cause fluid to move from the surrounding tissue into the blood vessels. This results in an increased volume of liquid within the closed circulation system and so with nowhere to go more pressure is exerted on the walls of the vessels, the networks of tiny capillaries and organs that filter it, AKA high blood pressure.

This actually is just another instance of a natural survival mechanisms gone awry. The maintenance of adequate blood pressure through the movement of electrolytes is vital to our health as without them all manner of nasty things can happen; our hearts can beat out of rhythm, our nervous systems can fail to communicate effectively and we’d be fainting all over the place. The amount we need for these pretty necessary functions however is contained within the foods we eat so we cause ourselves problems when we start adding to these levels (in addition to other lifestyle factors that cause our blood pressure to rise). It is difficult to avoid however as we have become accustomed to seasoning at the point of munching (I know a fair few who are grinding away before they’ve even tasted their food…!) as well as choosing pre-made, processed, cured or smoked foods which have been imbued with the stuff during their concoction.

And this is where we segway into the real topic of the morning; how to retrain those taste buds to delight in the joy of flavour with the use of one of natures greatest and diverse of assets; herbs.

There are numerous things to get excited about when it comes to these brilliantly beautiful botanicals. There is the sheer number of guises that they appear in, the ease with which you can grow them yourself (if you so desire) in addition to the fact that they taste great and all have their own particular applications as natural medicines. Their use in this way dates back thousands of years and is seen in a variety of cultures. I have listed a few specific examples with their indications below, but suffice to say by including them into your diet you will only be making positive leaps. If this then goes hand in hand with a decrease in your consumption of processed seasonings then my goodness you really are winning (and may be aiding other niggles or issues you may not have even realised!) Just to seal the deal for you as well (in case you were shaky in your resolve) all the following brilliance is yours for a fraction of the cost of your usual pharmacy purchased remedies and come with no negative side effects, hurrah!

So here are a few of your everyday superheroes and their recognised uses…

  • Sage: throat infections, menopausal hot flushes, excessive sweating, poor memory & concentration, inhibits lactation
  • Parsley: fluid retention, gas, bloating, chew to reduce bad breath
  • Peppermint: gas, bloating, colic, nausea & morning sickness, asthma (oil as an inhalant)
  • Thyme: chest infections (bronchitis, respiratory tract catarrh, coughs, bronchial asthma) colds, gastritis, diarrhoea, dysbiosis, halitosis, tonsillitis, stomatitis, gingivitis
  • Oregano: gas, bloating, dysbiosis, anti fungal, bronchitis, chest infections
  • Rosemary: gas, bloating, poor circulation, poor memory/improving mental performance, increases liver detoxification of toxins, prevents against oxidative stress
  • Garlic: elevated blood lipids & cholesterol levels, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, colds, bronchitis, sinusitis, hay fever, chest infections, dysbiosis, worms, fungal infections, general immune support.
  • Black Pepper: weak circulation, joint & muscle pain (topical application), to increase bio-availability of other nutrients (especially turmeric)
  • Turmeric: inflammatory conditions, high cholesterol, alcohol induced liver damage, hypertension, adjunct in cancer treatment, antioxidant protection
  • Ginger: poor circulation, acute infections, indigestion, intestinal spasms, bloating & pain, morning or travel sickness, inflammatory disorders (especially arthritis)
  • Mustard seed: weak digestion, catarrh, poor circulation, joint & muscle pain (topically)

I could continue with this list for another good few pages but I think we’ll leave it there for now (I’m hoping however that we’ve established that these guys are great). I would just say that if you read the above and are thinking I’m sure I’ve got some of those in the back of the cupboard somewhere, it may be an idea to chuck them out and buy some fresh as their potency does decline over time sadly.

Onwards now with my top tips on getting the most out of your new best buds and a couple of lovely recipes on how to include them into your ever expanding recipe repertoire.

Treat them as you would a bunch of flowers: they are living plants and as such will love you back if you give them a bit of care and attention. How many times have you bought a big bunch of something only to find it has gone off before you’ve used it?

When you get home with your new fragrant friend trim off the bottoms of the stalks and stand them in a glass with a little water, leave on the kitchen counter and a couple of hours later you’ll see the stems revived with new vigour. Keep the water topped up and they’ll last for a good week at least.

Keep and reuse your stems: once you’ve picked the leaves off your sage, thyme or rosemary pop the stalks into a bag and keep in the freezer. Next time you’re making a soup, casserole or sauce pop them in and let the flavour infusion commence! The same can be done with softer sorts for recycling into a 5 minute fresh pesto, guacamole or herby houmous.

Pre-prep & freeze: I tend to do this with things like garlic, ginger and chillies especially (mainly to avoid constantly smelling like I’ve given myself an allium manicure!) Grate a big pile of the fresh stuff and lay a piece of clingfilm over an ice cube tray, use your finger or knuckle to press the film down into the depressions then fill with teaspoons of the grated goodness. Fold the film over and whack in the freezer for a couple of hours, then you can lift out the whole thing and chop into individual portions, wrap in an extra layer of cling and keep in a freezer bag for use as and when you need with no chopping required!

Make your own infused butters, oils or stock cubes: Follow the same process with the ice cube tray then chop your chosen herbs and mix through lightly warmed chicken/bone broth or melted butter before spooning into the moulds. They can be added to sauces, gravies straight from the freezer or simply left out at room temperature to thaw before spreading on whatever you wish.

Oils I tend to infuse in bottles with a variety of things (woody varieties of herbs rather than soft in this case) sliced garlic, lemon zest or dried chillies (give them a light crush first) are personal favourites.

Choose a nice dark glass bottle and a good quality organic, cold pressed oil, add your preferred flavours then fill to the top and seal. Leave to infuse for a week or so then drizzle over steamed vegetables, salads, meat or fish with great abandon. And remember any oil that is liquid at room temperature should be kept in the fridge to avoid oxidation 🙂

Spice up your salads: there is a special place in my heart for a bit of lettuce now and again but really it doesn’t bring much to the table except texture if we’re being honest. How about some fresh chives, dill and a bit of parsley instead? Twirled into a frenzy with some rocket, endive, spinach or watercress for a super snappy side dish? The combination you arrive at is entirely your own choice but give it a go and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

And with that parting thought I shall bid you adieu for now and wish you many hours of herb filled happiness.

As is now the norm follow the links for relevant recipes 🙂

5 Second Vegan Pesto

Mini Meatballs With Fresh Herbs and Lemon

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