Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
November, 2007
Regional Report

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Use plenty of fresh herbs and spices in your recipes for added nutrition and flavor.

Herbs and Spices for Health

Nearly every week we hear news that this vegetable or that fruit possesses special health-promoting properties. Lately, herbs have taken center stage. Research has shown that many fresh herbs are even higher in disease-fighting antioxidants than nutrient powerhouses like blueberries. Oregano leads the herbal pack; however, dill, thyme, rosemary, and peppermint also contain impressive amounts of antioxidants.

Now that we're in the midst of holiday season, you'll be glad to know that cinnamon and cloves also provide more than just flavor. Recent studies confirmed the anti-inflammatory effects of cinnamon as well as its high antioxidant levels and ability to lower cholesterol. In a related study, extracts of cloves were found to improve insulin function and lower cholesterol.*

Unfortunately, many spices, including cinnamon and cloves, originate from tropical plants so we must be content to "harvest" them from our grocery store. (Cinnamon is part of the bark of an evergreen tree native to India, and cloves are the dried flower buds of an Indonesian tree.) Most herbs, on the other hand, are well suited to gardens in our region, and many can be grown in a sunny windowsill over the winter.

Windowsill Herbs
Take advantage of the health and culinary benefits of fresh herbs with an indoor garden. Pot up small divisions of oregano and marjoram; purchase small plants or root cuttings of hard-to-divide sage and rosemary. Most annual herbs, such as basil and dill, are best started from seed.

Although these herbs should grow in a sunny windowsill, for best results provide supplemental light during the short winter days. Create your indoor oasis with a purchased indoor light garden complete with lights and shelves, or build your own by hanging a fluorescent fixture so the light sits just a few inches above the tops of the plants.

In the Kitchen
Let herbs and spices take the place of artificial flavors and excess salt. Experiment with adding fresh herbs to soups, sprinkling them on steamed vegetables, mixing them into vegetable purees, and adding them to homemade bread. Combine with richly hued vegetables like sweet potatoes, winter squash, kale, and spinach for a double punch: deeply pigmented vegetables also tend to be high in antioxidants.

When it comes to cinnamon and cloves, think outside the spice jar. Although we've come to associate them with sweets, Moroccan, Cuban, and Greek recipes often call for these warming spices in savory dishes. Add a pinch or two of each to hearty winter soups and stews; add to rice during cooking for a fragrant treat.

Staying Current
It can be overwhelming to try to keep up with all the latest news on health and nutrition. Fortunately, most of the health recommendations follow a pattern: eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, and, now, herbs and spices. This is not exactly a hardship, especially for us gardeners and those of us who love to cook. Family holiday dinners -- where tradition is paramount -- may not be the best time to experiment with new tastes. But next-day leftovers are fair game.

Adding herbs and spices to your daily cuisine is both healthful and a pleasure!

*See "Cinnamon, Cloves Improve Insulin Function, Lower Risk Factors For Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease," at:

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