Herbs and spices have been a staple in the human diet for 3,500 years, when Egyptians used them for medicinal purposes.

The Incense Trade Route was a land and sea route throughout the Mediterranean and the eastern and southern world and would import and export things like cassia, pepper, cumin, nutmeg, and cloves, as well as many herbs.

Fast forward a few hundred years to the 1400s, when ocean exploration expanded and Spain sent explorers out to find pepper and cinnamon. Today, we don’t have to go far to find herbs and spices. Most of us have a cabinet full and can easily grow many herbs in our gardens.

Herbs are the leafy parts of plants, while spices come from the seeds, roots, flowers and bark of the plant. In Oregon, rosemary grows as shrubbery and adds a fragrant touch to your landscaping, as well as beautiful purple flowers the bees enjoy. Lavender fills fields and makes for a beautiful backdrop for photography, and basil loves the summer heat. There is a garlic festival in North Plains each year to show off our giant elephant garlic. They even sell garlic ice cream.

We’re blessed with a climate that is suitable for growing a large variety of herbs and spices to add flavor and color to our foods.

My favorite herb and spice combination is garlic and rosemary. They’re both so versatile, being enjoyed in several forms and dishes. Rosemary is used by cutting a sprig off of the plant and removing the needle-like leaves, then finely chopping them or using them whole on things like potatoes, fish, poultry and roasted veggies. It also makes a great addition to water for a little flavor, and I’ve even had it in ice cream for a pungent and sweet version of the plant I love so much.

While garlic ice cream isn’t a favorite of mine, I do tend to add garlic to any dish I’ve added rosemary to. Garlic and rosemary mashed potatoes or roasted potatoes are such an easy addition to a meal and make a simple addition that packs in the flavor.

Often, we reach for salt when our food lacks flavor, when we could add various herbs to keep that added sodium out. Cilantro and lime are two flavors that go excellent together, and by adding that acidic lime juice to a dish and a handful of cilantro, you’ll soon see that you don’t need salt to finish off your salads or dips.

Green onions are a milder form of onion that is a great addition to salads and rice bowls and they won’t leave you or your coworkers crying.

Give herbs and spices a try and change up your meals with flavor. Food Hero has some great recipes that use lots of herbs and spices and they’re easy, quick, and inexpensive to make.

Here are some tasty spice blends you can mix up on your own and have on hand for dips, rubs, or to sprinkle on your favorite dishes.

Erin Maidlow is a nutrition educator at the Douglas County OSU Extension office.

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