Top 10 Botanicals to Add to your Food

Top 10 Botanicals to Add to your Food

Many of us throw around words like a superfood or functional food as if they were everyday language as if we knew what they meant. In the world today, the term "super-food" is tossed about carelessly and often added to any product that promises a health benefit. Here are 10 powerful herbs and spices that deserve your attention: not only because they give you a nutritional boost, but also for their unique flavors and wonderful aromas. Each brings something completely different to a dish – from abundant vitamin C in rosehips to an incredible amount of carotenoids in saffron – so vary your diet with these little powerhouses! They come from many different countries and continents across the world, yet all have been used by various cultures as both food and medicine for centuries.

This list presents the top ten most tasty botanicals available

  1. Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is easily recognized for its bright yellow color and pungent earthy taste. It's got the most powerful mouth-watering aroma of all spices, so it will perk up any dish! The underground stem called "rhizome" is harvested in the early spring before new shoots appear, then carefully cleaned and dried until ready to use. Most commonly used in Indian cuisine, turmeric adds bitterness to foods while enhancing their color. The active components are known as curcuminoids, which contribute greatly to the healing properties of this amazing herb. Fresh turmeric root can be substituted for ground spice if desired; it may be grated finely over hot foods just before serving to release its flavor. Or use it as a colorful addition to salads, stir-fries, rice dishes, and curries.

  2. Rosehips (Rosa canina) are the watertight fruit of the wild rosebush that grows throughout Europe, northern Africa, and parts of Asia. The best season for harvesting ripe fruits is between September and November, just before or after the first frost has occurred. Once picked, they are dried until ready to use in teas, jams, or other preserves due to their sweet-tart taste and high vitamin C content. Rosehips have one of the highest known concentrations of vitamin C from any food source – even more than fresh orange juice! A popular tea available year-round is made from dried rosehips. The appealing flavor is slightly acidic with a unique tartness, perfect when blended with mild-tasting herbs like chamomile.

  3. Saffron (Crocus sativus) is a small delicate purple crocus belonging to the Iris family. The three stigmas inside each flower are carefully handpicked, then dried until ready for use. Without any additives or coloring agents, saffron is an intense orange-yellow color with the sweetest flavor imaginable! Truly heavenly in taste and extremely expensive, this herb is one of the rarest spices available. A pinch goes a long way to create vibrant color and wonderful flavor in dishes prepared throughout the world including Indian, Mediterranean, and European cuisines. For best results when using saffron threads, soak them first in warm water for 10 minutes before adding them to your dish at the beginning of cooking for a more vibrant flavor.

  4. Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) is a climbing plant native to tropical regions of the world such as Guatemala, India, and Sri Lanka. A member of the ginger family, this perennial herb is harvested for its seeds or pods during July and August when it is in flower. The greenish-white flowers grow in slender clusters of 10 to 20 blooms, while each pod can contain up to 50 tiny black seeds known as "cardamom." Dried and used throughout the world in both sweet and savory dishes, cardamom imparts a wonderful camphorous aroma with hints of eucalyptus and lemon! Try adding crushed pods to tea, spiced cakes, or rice dishes. Whole pods may be infused in boiling water to make a delicious flavored tea, while crushed seeds are used to flavor curries and preserves.

  5. Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia/V. pompona) is the only edible fruit of the entire vanilla family, an herbaceous climbing vine native to Mexico. The creamy white flower is a natural mutant that never opens, thus ensuring its pollination by bees is unlikely! It can take up to three years for seedlings to grow large enough for harvesting which requires the plant's full 12-18 months of growth before blooming. Due to the lengthy process involved in cultivation and production, pure vanilla is one of the most expensive spices available. The best way to enjoy the flavor of vanilla is by using whole beans rather than extract or artificial flavoring. They can be split easily with a sharp knife, then added to liquids like cream and milk for delicious homemade recipes.

  6. Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is also known as "feather few" or "wild chamomile" because it closely resembles the latter in appearance and aroma. While both are members of the daisy family, feverfew has yellow-gold petals surrounding its center of tiny white flowers – whereas chamomile blooms are usually white with yellow centers only! Native throughout Europe, northern Africa, and parts of Asia; this herb was named after early Greek physicians who used feverfew to help reduce fever and inflammation. Today, this herb is widely used in herbal teas and extracts for relieving headaches, muscle pain, and high blood pressure. The flowers are often dried then ground into a powder that can easily be mixed with other ingredients or taken alone as tea.

  7. Pimenta dioica (Paprika) is a member of the capsicum family grown specifically for its fruit which resembles peppercorns more than red chili peppers. The plants are small at around 1-1/4 ft tall with tiny white blossoms followed by small green berries which mature to bright red-colored fruits or "paprika." Both fresh and dried fruit are used to add color and flavor to dishes throughout the world. Try adding dried ground fruit to soups or stews, roasted vegetables, or eggs for vibrant color and flavor. Fresh berries can be chopped and added raw to salads, salsas, or sauces.

  8. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is an evergreen shrub with fragrant needle-like leaves that are harvested when in full bloom during July through September then dried for use in the kitchen. An aromatic herb with a strong pleasant pine-like aroma, this extremely versatile culinary spice adds wonderful flavor to meats, lamb, poultry, fish, and vegetables! Dried leaves may also be used in soaps and potpourris due to their powerful antibacterial properties which help fight infections naturally! This herb is even regarded as a symbol of love and friendship due to its romantic scent!

  9. Bay Leaves (Laurus nobilis) is the dried aromatic leaves harvested from an evergreen tree native to the Mediterranean region. Growing up to 60 ft tall with a pyramidal form, bay leaves have been used for thousands of years in Egypt, Greece, and Rome where they were often burned as incense or used atop funeral pyres. The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates wrote about using it as an effective remedy for all sorts of illnesses including digestive troubles. Dried bay leaves can be found whole or ground into powder which is most commonly used in soups, stews, seafood, and spice mixes like pickling spice, curry powder, and herbs de provence. In Indian cuisine, dried bay leaves are often used in wedding feasts to symbolize a long and happy marriage!

  10. Lovage (Levisticum officinale) is a tall perennial herb that resembles celery with its long, leafless stalks and hollow stems. Native throughout southern Europe and the Mediterranean, this member of the parsley family has been cultivated for over 3,000 years! Lovage leaves and stalks (petioles) are most often used in soups, stews, or fish dishes; while its seeds and roots can be eaten raw or cooked to treat digestive problems. Try adding the fresh petioles to salads with other greens for a wonderful savory flavor. Or add lovage seeds whole directly to soup for added flavor and health benefits!

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