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Enjoy the “finer things” – discover the amazing health benefits of the 4 Fines Herbes

Enjoy the “finer things” – discover the amazing health benefits of the 4 Fines Herbes

Prized in French cuisine for its ability to enhance and elevate recipes, this traditional blend of four seasonings - tarragon, parsley, chives and chervil - is known as the “fines herbes.”  Over a century ago, mention of the fines herbes appeared in written records from the legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier. Roughly sixty years later, American chef Julia Child helped popularize the blend in the United States.  

While the fines herbes are prized for their mild, elegant flavor, that’s not all they have to offer.  With a well-deserved place of honor in the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, the fines herbes provide “small but mighty” servings of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that can benefit your health in surprising ways.

Promote healthy vision and strong bones with parsley

With its bright green color and attractive, feathery leaves, parsley has long been used as a decorative garnish.  But, nutritionists say its ability to promote health should earn it a “bigger place at the table.”  For one thing, parsley is high in lutein and zeaxanthin, a pair of antioxidant plant pigments believed to help preserve vision and prevent macular degeneration, an age-related eye disease.  Parsley also contains the antioxidant vitamins C and A, along with vitamin K - which supports the production of bone-building cells known as osteoblasts. 

In addition, parsley contains a B vitamin, folate, which helps reduce levels of inflammatory amino acids implicated in heart disease.  Finally, parsley is rich in a flavonoid known as apigenin, which is believed to have anticancer properties.  In preliminary studies, researchers at the University of Missouri found that apigenin worked in three different ways to inhibit breast cancer cells.  (Who would have thought that this familiar herb contained such a wealth of health benefits?!)

Antibacterial tarragon helps to defend against pathogens

With its rich, sweetish, buttery taste, tarragon is among the most flavorful herbs.  But, it brings more than just flavor to the table.  With a long history of use in herbal medicine to treat pain and inflammation, tarragon has also been shown in recent studies to significantly improve symptoms in people with osteoarthritis.  Tarragon contains the important trace mineral manganese, which has antioxidant effects. 

In one double-blind study, a tarragon extract helped to balance blood sugar levels in people with impaired glucose tolerance.  However, tarragon’s most interesting benefit may be its potent antimicrobial ability, which allows it to combat E. coli and S. aureus - a pair of pathogens notorious for causing food-borne illness.  In fact, researchers are currently exploring the use of tarragon extract as a natural additive and food preservative for cheeses.

Chives contain heart-healthy allicin

Like onions, chives are members of the super-healthy Allium family.  The slender, mildly oniony-tasting greens are rich in the sulfur-containing compounds which help to produce glutathione.  Known as the body’s “master antioxidant,” glutathione helps to neutralize toxins and carcinogens.  Like parsley, chives can benefit vision through their generous amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin.

In addition, an active compound in chives known as allicin supports heart health by relaxing blood vessels and lowering blood pressure.  And like tarragon, chives have antibacterial properties that can act against pathogens in the digestive system.  In a 2019 review published in Phytotherapy Research, scientists credited compounds in chives - such as ajoene, quercetin and S-allyl mercaptocysteine - with anticancer effects.

Cherish chervil as an aid to digestion

Botanically known as Anthriscus cerefolium, chervil is often referred to as “the gourmet’s parsley.”  It is, in fact, a member of the parsley family, with a flavor faintly reminiscent of anise.  This intriguing herb is packed with minerals - such as potassium, zinc and manganese - along with the antioxidant vitamins A, C and E.  Because chervil contains eugenol - the same antibacterial compound found in cloves - it’s not surprising that it has a long history of use in the herbal and Ayurvedic healing systems to treat coughs and infections. 

Chervil is believed to have both diuretic and detoxifying properties, allowing it to promote the neutralization and elimination of toxins.  Herbal healers sometimes advise an infusion of fresh or dried chervil to promote healthy digestion and help ease indigestion and bloating.

What foods go best with the fines herbes?  We’re glad you asked.  This subtle blend is ideal for enhancing the flavor of chicken and mildly flavored fish, such as tilapia.  You can also let the spices work their magic on steamed carrots, squash or roasted potatoes.  (Pro tip: To avoid the loss of precious nutrients and flavor through cooking, the fines herbes should be added near the end of a recipe).  You can also blend fines herbes with sour cream or yogurt to create a flavorful dip.

By the way, the fines herbes are not to be confused with the “Herbs de Provence” - although both blends are revered in French cooking.  The Herbs de Provence blend - which features oregano, rosemary and basil - has a much heartier taste.  In addition, dried herbs are usually utilized.

If you can’t find the fines herbes at your local market, you can make your own by finely chopping the fresh herbs and combining them in equal parts.  The four fines herbes make a great addition to recipes, and to your healthy diet.    

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