Chefs like to say that fresh herbs are one of the surest ways to spruce up a home-cooked meal.
But if you don't have your own herb garden, those $4 bundles of supermarket basil can add up quickly.
Lucky for Puget Sound residents, there's a lot of good stuff growing in our backyards and neighborhoods that can often be harvested for free.
Cynthia Lair, director of the culinary program at Bastyr University and host of the web cooking show Cookus Interruptus, offers ideas for cooking with two of the most abundant local herbs: rosemary and lavender.
This perennial herb offers vitamin A, vitamin C, iron and other minerals. And rosemary grows year-round in the temperate Northwest.
"You can tell it's a strong herb by just looking at it," says Lair, who is also the author of the cookbook Feeding the Whole Family: Cooking with Whole Foods. "It's got that woody stem, and it survives through just about anything. That's why it does so well with meats, which can take that strong flavor."
She recommends using rosemary in marinades or rubs for chicken, beef or fish. It's also a classic addition to roasted potatoes (even sweet potatoes) and savory breads like focaccia or biscuits.
Just give it space to do its thing. "You don't want to mix it up too much with other herbs," says Lair. "That resiny, piney flavor kind of takes over."
Lair suggests adding the floral-flavored lavender to lemon cookies, lemonade, scones or maybe cake.
"Lavender is another strong, woody, easy-to-grow plant," she says. "It's got a much sweeter flavor, so people like using it in sweeter things."
The exception here is Herbs de Provence, a mixture from southern France that combines lavender with dried savory, fennel, basil and thyme. The blend works for all sorts of savory meats and sauces, says Lair.
Lavender's floral punch can be off-putting to some, so it's best to start with small amounts.
Not only are rosemary and lavender easy to care for, chances are they're already growing shoulder-high in your neighborhood. Just ask for permission before snipping a sprig.
Lair also recommends growing versatile herbs like parsley, basil and thyme.
"They're leafy greens, so you're going to get vitamin C and antioxidants and all the things you get when you use leafy greens," she says.
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