Garden Herbs List: No Salt? No Sugar? No Sweat!

Using Thyme, Basil, Dill, Rosemary Plants and More as Flavor Replacements

Garden Herbs List: No Salt? No Sugar? No Sweat!

By Gail Reynolds – Let’s face it, having to reduce or eliminate salt or sugar from our daily diets can be a tough morsel to swallow. Whether we’re confronting this under strict doctor’s orders or voluntarily embarking on this as a preventative measure, it can be a fairly tasteless proposition. However, armed with a little knowledge of “food enjoyment” basics, you can turn this potential “palate emergency” into an appetizing adventure, with the creative use of this garden herbs list and vegetable alternatives.

In fact, this common vegetables and garden herbs list would be great to incorporate in this year’s garden plans if you don’t grow these delights already.

First, let’s examine the how’s and why’s of our food enjoyment, then we’ll go into the particulars of replacements or substitutions from the vegetable and garden herb list that can turn an otherwise bland diet into a palate pleaser.

Enjoyment Basics

As humans, we perceive four basic tastes—sweet, salty, sour and bitter. (Ed. Note:  More recent research in the past few months suggests fats may also be perceived on the tongue.)  From birth on, the scope of our eating habits and food preferences widens through the development and refinement of these four basic tastes.

When faced with the abrupt removal of an accustomed “taste” from our diet, we find ourselves not only robbed of the familiar, but at a loss as to how to rekindle our previous food interest.

However, what we want to eat; what we enjoy eating; and what our body craves, digests and absorbs is not simply something delegated to the tastebuds. For this reason, a mere chart-type replacement or substitution of ingredients often fails.

In fact, the entire satisfaction process pretty much involves all of our senses—as nature designed us with a pre-digestion system which triggers not only our appetite or desire for the forthcoming foodstuff, but readies the body for digestion and absorption of it.

For example, the aroma (smell) of food under preparation plays a major role in our desire for the finished product. So does the sight and texture of the food set before us. These sensory enjoyments, as well as taste, kick off the flow of saliva, which in turn, sets off the actions of digestion and absorption.

Think about that soup, stew or roast that’s been simmering on the woodstove all day.  The aroma itself has set the stage for your interest. And, if you’re like us, you’ve lifted the lid from time to time to take a peek and get a whiff on the upcoming meal, thereby further elevating your interest associated with the site and smell.

Bear in mind, then, that the meal is a total sensory experience. If we set our objectives beyond simple “taste” substitution to the realm of creating a total “flavor” we can replace the familiar (but now absent) ingredient with something equally (if not more) interesting and tangy.

Garden Herbs List for Flavor Replacement

I’ll list the items we need to remove from our diet and then go over some actual taste substitutes and replacements.

Let me preface with the fact that these suggestions are based on the use of fresh (or home dried) herbs, vegetables and spices. Grocery store items may contain high levels of sodium or other elements used as preservatives or in the processing, which could completely defeat your purpose.

For tips on growing herbs, here are some great tutorials from Countryside Network: Growing chives, growing basil and peppermint plant uses.


Let’s face it—salt is salt.  I’ve never been sure whether my affinity for salt has been its actual taste or the kick it gives to the tip of my tongue. To replace that tongue-tip kick, the closest thing I’ve come up with is lemon in some form.

Consequently, for that reason, I’d suggest using lemon in moderation in any salt-free recipe. If you have either lemon balm or lemon verbena, these herbs will do the trick.  So will regular lemon juice or rind.  Mustard seed is good, too (although avoid commercially processed mustard, which reportedly contains quite a bit of salt).

My favorite taste and all-around salt-free combo is a lemon, sage, basil and garlic mix.  Along with an interesting new flavor, it provides me with the tongue tang I used to derive from salt.

Here are some other suggestions:

1. Celery, lovage, summer savory, thyme and marjoram in the right combinations can almost totally replace your salt intake.

2. Salt-Less Salt (suggested in The Pleasure of Herbs): 3 tablespoons each of basil, marjoram, thyme and parsley mixed with 2-1/2 teaspoons each of rosemary, paprika and onion powder.  Grind to the fine consistency and place in your salt shaker.

3. Try sprinkling these herbs over your hot popcorn for a real taste treat:  oregano, parsley, basil and powdered garlic.

4. Try using these salt-free blends on the following:


● Thyme, oregano, basil

● Lemon (in some form), rosemary, pepper

●Herbed vinegar (any), garlic, pepper

●Basil, marjoram, parsley, thyme & celery


● Basil, sage, garlic, lemon (in some form)

● Basil, vinegar, garlic

● Dill, basil, garlic, lemon

● Thyme, marjoram, apple cider vinegar

● Fennel, garlic, lemon

● Tarragon, lemon, onion or chives, garlic

● Celery, carrots, garlic, lemon


● Dill, lemon, garlic

● Celery, lovage, lemon, pepper

● Fennel, lemon, mustard seed, bay

● Fennel, lemon, garlic

● Tarragon, chives, dill, lemon


● Mustard seed, sage, garlic, basil

● Lemon, sage, garlic, basil

● Fennel, lemon, garlic

● Basil, sage, summer savory

● Mustard seed, thyme, garlic

Green Vegetables:

● Garlic, lemon

● Dill, lemon, bay

● Chives, onion, savory

● Chives, lemon

● Basil, nutmeg, marjoram

● Vinegar, garlic, dill

● Onion, garlic, dill, lemon

For light-colored vegetables try combos using nutmeg and/or cinnamon in combination with some form of citrus juice, plus celery or thyme.


● Dill, lemon, garlic

● Chives, dill, parsley, pepper

● Oregano, basil, lemon, garlic

● Basil, chives

● Tarragon, garlic

Beans and grains:

To spice up your beans or grains, try using a very minute amount of lemon with any of these herbs: marjoram, parsley, thyme, bay or savory.  My favorite is savory, but they all do quite well.


If you’re trying to reduce your sugar intake try replacing your usual desserts with fresh fruit salads. These can be embellished with a sprinkling of any of the following herbs or spices: Rosemary, lemon balm, lemon verbena, marjoram, nutmeg, spearmint, cinnamon.

The following is a garden herbs list of natural sweeteners that you might experiment with: Angelica, beebalm, mints, lemon balm, lemon verbena, violets, rosemary.

Lemon balm, angelica and sweet cicely have been found capable of reducing the use of sugar in cooking and in sweets as they take away the tartness of some fruits (such as in pies) making it possible to use less sugar.

Try mints with water for a refreshing beverage.

If you’re trying to reduce your pepper intake try these herbs for replacement: marjoram or oregano, thyme, basil, summer savory, basil.

Also, try using a small amount of cayenne pepper to replace your ground black pepper since cayenne (in moderate amounts) is known to actually assist the digestive process rather than fight it.

Remember that these seasoning tips from this garden herbs list in no way can replace the advice and recommendations of your physician or nutritionist. These folks are educated and trained to examine and determine your individual overall health status, medical conditions and nutritional needs.

Originally published in Countryside 2002 and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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