Before you reach for the salt shaker to add some flavor to your meals, hold that thought and try using herbs in your meals instead. I know, I know – herbs just don’t sound that exciting, but they’re one of the best ways to add a powerful punch of flavor to your foods, not to mention astronomical health benefits. Herbs are jam-packed with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, phyto-nutrients, and of course, they’re sodium-free so they’re better for your heart and blood pressure than that nasty salt shaker.

Of course, a little bit of high-quality sea salt is good for you on occasion, but for the most part, herbs are all you need to make a meal nutritious and satisfying. Here’s some tricks to get you started:

1. Add Them to Smoothies

One of the best ways to add a little flavor to your smoothies is to add herbs like basil, mint, parsley, or cilantro to your smoothies. Just one or two sprigs is all you need! Basil and mint pair beautifully with strawberries, while parsley and cilantro can replace half of the other greens you usually use in your green smoothies. When in doubt, choose mint, which goes great with just about anything, especially raw cacao, berries, spinach, and melon. Trust me and give it a try – it’s a fabulous way to up your smoothie game.

2. Sauté With Oil

Before cooking your meals, add a little bit of olive oil or coconut oil to the pan and a couple sprigs of herbs like oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, or even lavender for a fun twist. Saute the herbs lightly for just about 3-4 four minutes on low heat until the oil becomes fragrant. Remove the herbs and toss them or save for later. Your oil is now flavored and you’ll get those same delicious flavors into whatever veggies or grains you put into the pan to cook with the oil.

For instance, saute some oregano, basil, and rosemary with some olive oil for just about three minutes. Then remove the herbs, saute some onions and garlic into the pan with the oil, and then add some cooked quinoa, juice from a lemon, and finally some shredded kale for a smashing dinner dish that’s full of flavor and healthy for you too.

3. Mince Them First

Herbs truly don’t taste that great unless in their whole form, especially in raw dishes like salads, so either mince them beforehand, or shred them with your fingers into tiny pieces. I like to mince basil into fine pieces before tossing it into salads, and I always mince my rosemary and oregano in pasta sauces or homemade dressings. Mincing (or chopping) breaks down the herbs and releases their flavor while also reducing any bitterness or pungency they may have. This trick is especially important for herbs like cilantro, sage, and parsley which are delicious, but carry a strong flavor profile that can be overwhelming in their whole form.

4. Add an Acidic Medium

Herbs used alone in dishes can carry an “off” taste unless you have other ingredients that compliment them and help to balance them out. One of the best ways to do this is with an acidic medium, such as lemon juice, orange juice, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, berries, or tomatoes. It’s one reason most dishes with herbs always include one of those ingredients or some other type of acidic medium. In fact, not only does this tip make the herbs taste better but the mixture of alkaline herbs and healthy acidic mediums also help balance your body’s natural pH for optimal health. This is especially a great idea to implement into vegan salad dressings, so give it a try!

5. Don’t Add Too Many

Because herbs are so tiny, most of us tend to add too many to one dish. This is a big no-no for flavor because of how powerful herbs can be. A little bit goes a long way, and while basil is great on a sprouted grain sandwich or a nice strawberry quinoa salad, you don’t want your entire meal tasting like basil. Just one little leaf is all you need! Remember with herbs, less is always more.

For more ideas on how to optimize the flavor of herbs in your meals, check out these tips for how to use herbs and spices to add flavor to your vegan dishes. If you use herbs in your meals, I’d love to hear what tips you might have to share. What’s your favorite way to use herbs?

Image source: Using Herbs and Spices for Optimal Digestive Health