Can you guess that your garden herbs, in addition to making food tastier, are an abundant source of antioxidants .
Herbs have higher antioxidant activity than fruits, vegetables and some spices, including garlic, the researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture say.
Antioxidants have become synonymous with good health. They are thought to prevent certain types of chemical damage caused by an excess of free radicals, charged molecules that are generated by a variety of sources including pesticides, smoking and exhaust fumes.
Destroying free radicals may help fight cancer, heart disease and stroke, researchers believe.
The herbs with the highest antioxidant activity belonged to the oregano family. In general, oregano had 3 to 20 times higher antioxidant activity than the other herbs studied.
Oregano has 42 times more antioxidant activity than apples, 30 times more than potatoes, 12 times more than oranges and 4 times more than blueberries.
One tablespoon of fresh oregano contains the same antioxidant activity as one medium-sized apple. And,Even if you’re not into oregano, other herbs also appear to pack a significant antioxidant punch. Among the more familiar, ranked in order, are dill, garden thyme, rosemary and peppermint.
More recently, researchers have begun to formally study the health benefits of herbs and spices. The two differ mainly by source.
Herbs typically come from the leaves of plants. Spices come from the bark, stem and seeds of plants. Both have been used for thousands of years to flavor foods and treat illness.
Now, herbs have emerged as a quick and easy way to get a concentrated source of antioxidants – without all the extra calories of whole foods.
The most active phenol component in some of the herbs with the highest antioxidant activity, particularly oregano, was rosmarinic acid, a strong antioxidant.
Garden herbs can be consumed in a variety of ways. The best way of course is eating them fresh from the garden. Some people prefer to drink herb extracts, which can be made by adding herbs to hot water to make potent antioxidant teas.
Others use concentrated herbal oils available in some health food stories. Most of us prefer a little dash and sprinkle of the familiar leafy or powdered versions to add flavor to our favorite meats and vegetables.
Oregano is a hardy perennial plant that is easy to grow in the home garden. A handful of plants will provide you with enough oregano to use fresh in season and to dry for use throughout the winter.
There are many varieties, but the most common variety for cooking is ‘Greek’ oregano. The more pungent ‘Mexican’ oregano is often used in chili powders. ‘Golden’ oregano is very ornamental, but not as flavorful.
Like most Mediterranean herbs, oregano is very easy to grow and requires little water. Sandy soil is best, but the plant will grow in almost any garden conditions.
It thrives in full sun (leaves may lose flavor when grown in shade) and a location sheltered from high winds. Most species can tolerate a moderate freeze.
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