In honor of National Herbs & Spices Day , Vetri Community Partnership’s Community Dietitian, Tara Bledsoe MS, RDN, LDNtalked to us about us the ways in which herbs are more than just flavor!

Whether you have a raised bed or potted garden, save some space to plant fresh herbs. Fresh herbs add vibrant flavors to your meals and also provide a variety of nutritional benefits.

Since fresh herbs are plants, they have phytonutrients in them, just like fruits and vegetables. Phytonutrients give plants their distinctive colors while also protecting the plant from pests and diseases. In humans, phytonutrients have been shown to have protective properties that help lower the risk for chronic diseases, including heart disease and some cancers. Anti-inflammatory phytonutrients are found in thyme, rosemary, and mint. Parsley, basil, and cilantro are excellent sources of beta carotene, zeaxanthin, and lutein, which are phytonutrients that act as antioxidants to keep our eyes healthy.

Similar to other leafy green vegetables, many soft-stemmed herbs, like basil, parsley, cilantro, and dill are packed with vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K. These nutrients play important roles in our bodies. Vitamin A keeps our eyes healthy, vitamin C is great for our immune system, and we need vitamin K for blood clotting and strong bones. Basil, cilantro, and mint are herbs that are higher in iron, which our bodies need to make red blood cells. Chives provide similar amounts of folate and even more fiber as their onion family relatives. Folate is an important nutrient for our bodies to make DNA and for cell division to take place. You can get more of these nutrients by adding fresh herbs to salads, or on top of soups or pasta dishes.