By Christine Zellers, MPP, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Cape May County, Family & Community Health Sciences
In New Jersey, spring and summer are perfect times to start enjoying fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables grown in a home garden. A home garden made from raised beds, potted plants or right in your back yard provide inexpensive and fresh food options for months. Growing herbs, like basil, in the garden will add flavor to your food and reduce sodium intake.
According to the Dietary Guidelines the recommended daily allowance of sodium is 2300 milligrams (mg), yet the average American diet includes about 3400 mg per day. The large amounts of sodium consumed by Americans contributes to heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure and can even cause compromised bones. Herbs have some nutritional value but because they are not consumed in large amounts like lettuce for instance, they do not produce a significant amount of nutrients when added to food. However, when used to replace salt, herbs can contribute to better overall health and help to reduce chronic diseases. High sodium consumption can cause taste buds to become dull as people age and in turn older adults add more salt to food to get make up for lost taste which can lead to an increase in chronic disease. Processed and packaged foods may have a significant amount of sodium, be sure to check food labels for sodium content before eating them. Herbs are salt free, cholesterol free, and fat free, replacing high sodium foods with herbs means adding taste while being healthy.
Cooking with herbs is the perfect way to boost taste and cut salt. Basil is an herb that has different scents and taste depending on the Variety. The distinct flavors and aromas found in basil will engage your taste buds while reducing the need for added salt. Herbs do not have to be fresh to flavor food they can be dried or powdered as well. When converting herbs from fresh to dried, or to powdered use these conversions – ¼ teaspoon of a powered herb is equivalent to ¾-1 teaspoon of dried crumbled herb or the same as 2 to 3 teaspoons of fresh. Before shaking salt into a dish think about adding a herb to complement its flavor and lighten the salt load.
Herbs can last well into the winter if prepared correctly before the first frost. When growing herbs in a home garden there are several ways to dry them or freeze them to use well into the winter and early spring months before fresh herbs can be grown in less temperate climates like New Jersey. A quick and easy way to have basil for future use is to make pesto and then freeze the pesto in an ice cube tray in the freezer. Once the cubes are frozen remove them from the ice cube tray and put them in a freezer zip lock bag. These frozen cubes can be added to grilled chicken to make a nice pesto chicken or added to pasta for a quick and easy dinner.
For more information visit the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Cape May County website.
2 cups of fresh basil leaves, packed in cup
1/3 cup pine nuts
3 large cloves of garlic
½ cup fresh parmesan cheese
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Ice cube tray
Add basil and pine nuts to food
processer and process until chopped
Add cheese and garlic and again process until chopped
Add black pepper
Poor olive oil into mixture and blend again until smooth
Using spatula remove the pesto from the food processor and add to ice cube tray
Fill each cube to just below the top and smooth off with spatula
Freeze in freezer by laying the tray on a flat surface
Once frozen remove basil pesto cubes from tray and store in freezer in a freezer bag
Remove pesto cubes as desired to add over pasta, fish, meat or poultry dishes