Healing Power of Herbs

by Sara Sullivan on March 2nd, 2012

The healing power of herbs is terribly underestimated. Herbs have long been used for their benefits in cleansing the body and the blood, protecting us from irritants and cancer cells and supporting longevity. Yet it's a little-known fact that herbs such as cilantro have far greater concentrations of antioxidants than any common fruit or vegetable.

As spring advances it is good to eat the local fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs that come into season in your area. Fresh herbs are a part of traditional spring diets because they are nourishing, cleansing, and building in the body. Three of my favorite Spring herbs are basil, parsley, and cilantro.

Cilantro is featured in dishes cooked everywhere from Spain to Mexico, the Middle East to the South America. It's also a powerful natural cleansing agent. Cilantro has been effectively used to help remove heavy metals and other toxic agents from the body. The chemical compounds in cilantro actually bind to the heavy metals, loosening them from the tissues, blood and organs. Cilantro's chemical compounds then aid to transport these harmful substances out of the body through elimination. In addition, the cilantro plant is often referred to as an “anti-diabetic.” That’s because this powerful anti-inflammatory flora can stabilize insulin secretion and lower blood sugar. It has also been shown to lower levels of LDL (”bad”) cholesterol while raising HDL (”good”) cholesterol levels in the body.

Mexican Sweet Potato & Black Bean Salad
I love this salad topped with toasted pumpkin seeds
serves 4-6

4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut-into 3/4 inch cubes
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. salt
Kernels from 3-4 ears of corn or 2 cups frozen kernels
2 cups cooked black beans, rinsed and drained (canned is fine)
3-4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Chipotle-Chile Dressing (you can always omit this and just drizzle with olive oil and lime juice)
1 chipotle chile (from a can of chipotles in adobe sauce found in the ethnic section of the supermarket)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp. Thai sweet chile sauce
6 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1/2 extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, toss sweet potato chunks with the oil to coat. Sprinkle with coriander, cumin, chili powder, salt and toss again. Spread the potatoes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until they are golden at the edges and just tender, about 20-25 minutes. Meanwhile, if using frozen corn, cook the corn in boiling water for 3 minutes, drain excess water. If using fresh, no need to cook. In a large serving bowl, combine the corn and black beans. To make the dressing, in a blender or a food processor, place the chipotle chile, garlic and sweet chile sauce. Process until smooth. Add the lime juice and process again. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil and process until emulsified.

When the sweet potatoes are done, let cool slightly and add them to the corn and beans. Add scallions and cilantro; gently toss. Pour enough dressing over the salad to just moisten the ingredients and toss again. Sprinkle with pumpkin seeds, if using, right before serving.

Basil is known to have exceptionally powerful antioxidant properties that can protect the body from premature aging, common skin issues, age-related problems and even some types of cancer. Basil contains flavonoids (orientin and vicenin, which are plant pigments) that shield your cell structures from oxygen and radiation damage. In addition, both fresh basil and basil oil have strong antibacterial capabilities. In fact, basil has been shown to stop the growth of many bacteria, even some that had grown resistant to other antibiotics. Basil can be applied to wounds to help prevent bacterial infections. Also, by adding basil oil to your salad dressings, you can help ensure your vegetables are safe to eat.

Quinoa with Basil, Balsamic & Vegetables
serves 4-6

1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 small red onion, finely diced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 zucchini, diced
1 1/2 cups broccoli florets
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 15 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper to taste

Heat vegetable broth in a small saucepan on high heat. Add quinoa, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat low. Simmer for 12-15 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed. Turn off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes. In the meantime, heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-low heat. Add onions and saute until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and zucchini and saute another 5 minutes or until zucchini is tender. Add broccoli, olives, tomatoes and basil and cook another 2 minutes. Toss in chickpeas and balsamic and stir to combine. Add quinoa and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with more olive oil and balsamic if desired. Serve warm or room temperature.

Recognized since Roman times as a food with a health bonus, parsley is much to good to use only as a garnish. It improves many dishes and is one of the most nutritionally dense foods. Parsley is a fabulous nondairy source of calcium and it is exceptionally high in vitamin C. People who consume foods rich in the antioxidant Vitamin C, have lower rates of cancer, heart disease and stroke. In addition, parsley helps the body shed excess fluid. Because of this, parsley has successfully been used to treat gout and fluid retention.

Tabouli Salad with Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Parsley & Mint
serves 6

1 cup bulgur
2 pinches salt
2 tomatoes, seeded & diced
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
3 green onions, chopped
1 cup fresh parsley
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped

Lemon Dressing:
3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. salt

Place the bulgur in a medium bowl, add 1 1/4 cups boiling water and salt. Cover the bowl with a plate and let rest for about 20 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. Remove plate; let cool.

Fluff the bulgur with a fork. Add the tomato, cucumber, scallion, parsley and mint.

To make the dressing, in a small bowl, combine the dressing ingredients and add the salad just a few minutes before serving.

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