Written by and recipes by Vanessa Kahler, BSc (Hons), BA (Hons), Dip ION Nutrition therapist and certified health coach
Edited and reviewed by Bojana Jankovic Weatherly, MD, MSc
As the summer heats up, the ice cream queues get longer and all our kids are dreaming of a daily cool treat. Why not try adding some variety by making some of them at home using the flavors and foods that nature has gifted us with, and a little less of the nasty stuff?
It may surprise you to realize that herbs make a great companion to fruit in a refreshing ice pop! Not only do they taste great and look pretty, but they also add to the diversity of plant nutrients that you consume in your daily diet.
Historically, herbs have been used medicinally and in cooking for thousands of years. Today most of us are less inclined to use all the herbs available to us and even less to have an appreciation of the value they bring over and above what they taste like. Herbs are a wonderful and simple way to get back into gardening, to experiment with cooking, and to teach kids about growing their own food because they give so much reward in their smell and how fast some of them grow.
These recipes are intentionally simple and require minimum equipment in order to fit into busy families’ lives. It’s always possible to add complexity, but in so doing we reduce the chance of us following a recipe, and most importantly, repeating it!
Also, keeping it simple encourages kids to make their own ice cream easily and be creative with their friends.
My base method for making our popsicles at home is to take an herb, blend it with either water or a milk, add fruit and a little something sweet if its needed. Then pour the mixture into molds.
For the popsicle molds, I use stainless steel to avoid the use of plastic. I also use a simple gelato maker that creates an instant soft scoop ice cream, which requires you to make a smoothie type mixture first, to pour in. Ice cream is done in 15 minutes.
The Herbs used in the recipes below and their benefits:
Cinnamon’s effects on blood sugar have been a topic of active research. Some studies have found that cinnamon, when added to the standard of care for diabetes, can modestly improve blood glucose levels. By adding it to a recipe, we can more easily enjoy the natural sweetness already in the food. On top of this, as with most plants, it is a rich source of antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties.
The aroma that we get from herbs come from their unique essential oils. Even though they contain a variety of nutrients, we eat only small portions of herbs per meal, compared to fruit and vegetables, so it is largely the essential oil and other unique plant chemicals that we use herbs for.
Basil contains a significant amount of vitamin K and by the nature of how we eat basil (in pesto and in salads), we can eat quite a large quantity.
Research done in animal models suggests that sweet basil may help improve fasting blood sugar levels and reduce blood pressure.
Another beauty from nature, the stunning hibiscus has been well researched and studies have found that it may help reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol as well as help protect the liver. Hibiscus has also been shown to switch on autophagy, which is a natural process the body triggers to clear out our old or dysfunctional cells. Autophagy is the process trigged during fasting.
Using peppermint to aid digestion, by helping to relax the GI tract, is probably its most popular and well accepted medicinal use. Menthol, the volatile component of the essential oil of peppermint, has also been found to help relieve migraine headaches when applied on the skin.
Lavender and berries
The oral intake of a particular Lavender oil preparation has been shown to improve symptoms of depression and anxiety, while intake of polyphenols found in berries, cherries, other fruits and vegetables, and red wine has been inversely correlated with depression.
Lavender oil has also been shown to influence the gut microbiome of mice with colitis, and thereby reduce the severity of inflammation and intestinal damage.