Add fresh herbs for great flavor and heart-healthy benefits

Get onboard with basil

herbs blogFresh herbs add great flavor to a variety of dishes and are a wonderful complement to a Mediterranean-style eating plan. Adding herbs to recipes also eliminates the need for salt. A low-sodium diet may help improve blood pressure, thus reducing your risk of heart disease and stroke. Herbs also provide healthy antioxidants and, if you grow them yourself, will be at peak quality for your favorite recipes.

We’ll take a look at several different herbs in the coming months, starting today with basil. Be sure to check back often to learn more about herbs and how they can be used in specific recipes.

The benefits of basil

If you’re excited to get your herb garden started, begin by planting basil seeds indoors in early to mid-April. The plants can be transplanted outdoors when the temperatures are above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, even at night. Because it is sensitive to cooler temperatures, basil is an annual herb in Michigan. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, frequent care through pruning will result in greater production of leaves.

Varieties of basil include Sweet Genovese, cinnamon, lemon, opal and Thai basil. Sweet Genovese basil is commonly paired with tomato and used in pesto. Lemon basil can be used in salad dressings and marinades. The flavors of basil are described as clove, anise/licorice or peppery, with certain varieties having hints of cinnamon, citrus or mint.

If you purchase cut basil from the grocery store, trim the stems and keep them on the counter in a glass of water with leaves covered with plastic. This may extend its life for up to a week. You can also experiment with freezing cut basil under a layer of heart-healthy oil for later use.

A small portion of basil (2 chopped tablespoons) has trace amounts of many minerals and vitamins such as magnesium, potassium, folate and vitamins A and K. These nutrients are a bonus to the wonderful flavors basil adds to your meals.

Cooking tips

Add fresh herbs near the end of a recipe’s cooking time or just before serving, as flavor and aroma can be lost during long periods of cooking.

  • Delicate herbs (basil, chives, cilantro, parsley, marjoram, mint, dill leaves) should be added near the very end of cooking or just before serving.
  • Less delicate herbs (oregano, rosemary, tarragon, thyme, dill seeds) should be added during the last 20 minutes of cooking.

Heart-healthy recipes with basil

Try these delicious recipes and discover the great flavor basil can add to your meals all year long. Remember, including more vegetables and legumes in your meals and snacks is good for your heart health.

Allison Fay Brenda Small thumbnailBrenda Allison Fay, RDN, is a senior dietitian and cardiovascular nutritionist with the Cardiovascular Medicine Clinic at Domino’s Farms. With more than 15 years of experience as a dietitian, she provides nutritional counseling to help people reduce disease risk and improve health.



Frankel-informal-vertical-sigThe University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is a top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit our website at umcvc.org.