“Herbs deserve to be used much more liberally,” quoting food writer and chef, Yotam Ottolenghi. I keep telling my friends, family, and co-workers the marvelous benefits of herbs. Bursting flavor and full of nutrition! I recently found this guide, the ANDI guide which rates foods based on nutrient density. My ravings on herbs are justified according to ANDI. ANDI stands for “Aggregate Nutrient Density Index,” a scoring system that rates foods on a scale from 1 to 1000 based on nutrient content. ANDI scores are calculated by evaluating an extensive range of micronutrients, including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidant capacities.
Here is a list of basic herbs and their scores to illustrate this concept.
Herbs/ ANDI Score
Bay Leaves/ 271
Basil rated the highest of all the herbs! Such an easy herb to grow in terra cotta pots in the kitchen window sill or in a sunny garden spot. Our bed of herbs in the screenhouse of our greenhouse include a few varieties of basil. Genovese, lemon, and Tai to name three. In the heat of the summer, it is prolific! Basil nutrients rate up there with arugula, leaf lettuce, and radishes. It’s about 50% the value of superfoods kale and garden cress, but 4 or 5 times more than soybeans or pinto beans. The Italian and Mediterranean cultures include basil in many of their recipes as well as Thai and Mexican cultures. Where I live and work in the St. Louis, Missouri region, there is an Italian restaurant or pizzeria on every corner of the block and in between. We love our pasta and pizza! My home kitchen has the flavors of Italy with my own fresh homegrown basil. Cost pennies to grow. Last night I made homemade pizza with a cup of fresh Genovese basil leaves cut into strips and atop tomato sauce, Italian sausage, Canadian bacon, garlic and black olives. Sometimes its a veggie pizza, with chunky tomatoes, mushrooms, bell peppers, spinach, arugula, black olives, etc. You know, the plumposity of veggies in a single slice of pizza pie! Then there’s pesto! It’s flavor tastes how the word sounds when you say it. PEST-O! More flavors to discover in this nutrient dense herb … sweet, lemon, Tai, spicy, lime, Genovese, cinnamon, anise. Cannot wait to make some lemon scones with the lemon basil this weekend. What herb has captured your taste buds?
As a personal chef by nature I wonder if I should name my summer time culinary creations a nosh, dish, bowl, or plate. I improvise when I cook in my kitchen. With the ingredients in hand from the garden or farmer’s market, they make way for creativity. A casual menu on a whim. This summer my herbs climb with the summer humidity. My chicken risotto served in individual bowls one weekend was laced with a leafy green herb Dean brought home from the greenhouse. It had a spicy bite to it unknown to be parsley as I had thought it might be by its look. When returning to the greenhouse mid-week for watering, I discovered on the garden sign it was watercress added to Sunday’s risotto bowl. I had never grown or cooked with this newly discovered herb before, and it paired deliciously with the farm fresh eggs for egg salad on dollar rolls last night. I hear it is the new kale in the farm-to-table culinary world. Just 1 cup of chopped water cress is power-packed with potassium and vitamins A & C. There are only 4 calories in 1 cup of chopped watercress. Calorie breakdown: 8% fat, 42% carbs, 50% protein. Oh, the flavors burst, so it goes a long way!
Fresh sprigs of dill were snipped into the red potato-celery salad. This week a spare bottle of local summer ale went into the crockpot with the turkey breast sprinkled with lemon pepper from the Olde Town Spice Shoppe, slow-cooked for 10 hours. Succulent! Accompanied with farm fresh, roasted yellow beets, red potatoes, and carrots in a bowl! The leftover turkey breast had filled a casserole dish of enchiladas another night. When I cook, I cook for 2 or 3 meals, using one dish to accent another. Rarely does food go to waste in my home. That stock left from the turkey breast is put into the freezer and will make another risotto another rainy night. Tonight it is small plates of Three-Cheese Italian Herb-Veggie Foccocia and Italian Breaded Chicken Tenderloins. What nosh, dish, bowl, or plate are you making tonight with your garden fresh ingredients?
Dean and I delivered a trailer load mixture of compost and top soil to our greenhouse site at Boone Hollow Farm a few days ago. I inquired from a local farmer who I know from my childhood as this farmer uses sustainable practices at his top soil farm less than a mile from our home. Last weekend herb seeds were sown, and in less than a week we have garden cress seedlings sprouted. This warm, humid air has made the ideal conditions for my herbal bed. From what I read garden cress is very prolific. I seeded many culinary herbs such as parsley, sage, thyme, basil, chives, marjoram, dill. Garden cress is one herb I have not used in my dishes before, though I inherited a packet of seeds somewhere in my farmy networking. I do not discard gifts no matter how small or big, so I will come up with some uses for garden cress. I understand it makes flavorful tangy sprouts for salads and sandwiches. In England it is added to egg & mayo tea sandwiches. Sounds like a country tea party with my green garden tea plates & tea cups in a couple of weeks at the greenhouse.
I have found photos of such darling herb gardens these past few weeks. We have a retailer’s greeting card holder we bought for $5 from the local library moving sale. I want to repurpose it to a herb garden, particularly for my daughter who lives in an apartment with a balcony. Vertical gardens are trendy now, and very practical for urban dwellers. I will work with this idea later this summer into autumn. We went semi-traditional, a 12 x 6-foot bed raised 6-inches from the floor of our greenhouse on the screenhouse side. There is some protection from the sunrays with the black cover now. I need this for skin protection. I have battled basal cell cancer 2 years ago. The semi-indoor herbal bed will be protected somewhat from weeds as we have a landscape fabric under the gravel floor. We cleared most of the gravel before shoveling the compost-top soil mixture in the bed. We will see what happens in regards to pests and bugs. We found a 3-foot snake skin in our greenhouse last week. Critters can still get inside. Let’s hope Chuck, the groundhog who lives under the barn down the hill stays out! As well as his skunk, mole, and rat friends!
How do you grow your herbs? Containers? Raised beds? Vertical beds? Are your herbs for culinary or ornamental purposes?