Autumn Spice

Autumn Spice

We've reached that part of the year when the Southern Oregon harvest is full-on, and the fall bounty is making its way to the table, freezer and pantry.

It's also a time when fresh herbs, which can be important for health maintenance, are still available.

Herbs and spices are key sources of various plant chemicals — phytochemicals — that prevent and slow many chronic diseases.

Basil and oregano, for example, quell inflammatory processes in the body while parsley is a great source of nutrients, such as vitamin C and folate, that we can generally use in greater quantities. Parsley also is high in vitamin K, a lesser-known, fat-soluble vitamin integral to bone mineralization and blood clotting. Various herbs, including thyme, possess antimicrobial constituents that may help prevent respiratory and other infections.

Fresh herbs are strongly flavored, so a little goes a long way in cooking and in condiments such as pesto and hummus.

The key to grasping the health benefits from herbs is to use them often, fresh whenever possible, and store them in whatever way you can, whether dried, canned with other foods or as seed for the next year. In a simple hoop-house or greenhouse, we can greatly increase the availability of fresh herbs by getting them to germinate earlier and protecting them from frost damage.

In order to acquaint students with the amazing diversity, history and medicinal value of culinary herbs, I often steer them to the website www.mccormickscienceinstitute.com.

While referencing the site, I learned that a recent clinical trial showed the mere aroma of sage enhances cognition and mood. Its aromatic associate, rosemary, has long been known as the "herb of remembrance." Sage is considered a "cooling" herb. Preparing a chilled infusion of sage can help with menopausal hot flashes, for instance.

Many people derive great joy from growing simple potherbs, and various regional companies sell seeds. I recently visited one in Williams called Horizon Herbs. Horizon carries seeds for a range of heirloom medicinal and edible herbs, all grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. They have a website (www.horizonherbs.com) and an online catalog.

Not only do herbs flavor and preserve food, they may be instrumental in preserving our cognitive capacities. Now, where did I put that tarragon and chervil?

Michael Altman is a nutritionist at Ventana Wellness. He teaches at Southern Oregon University and College of the Siskiyous. E-mail him at michael@ventanawellness.com.

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