Kitchen Herbs Are Medicine Too
Have you ever wondered what came first – a combination of food with herb because of complimenting flavours, or a combination of food with herb for health benefits?
I have been thinking about this one a bit recently. We associate a rich pork roast with sage, Eastern Europeans wouldnt dream of eating their cabbage without carraway, winter savoury is linked to beans and if you are a fan of goose then adding mugwort is a must. We associate those flavours but the herbs in question each help with the digestion of the foods involved. Sage and mugwort cut through the fattiness and richness, carraway and winter savoury combat the “windy” consequences of eating cabbage and beans. So which came first?
Did our ancestors somewhere down the track realise that sage made them feel better after eating rich, fatty meat dishes? Or was that a side effect of pairing the foods purely based on taste? Oh, and wasnt Mother Nature wonderful for designing it this way?
BTW, I have decided that the pairing was based on their health benefits and because they have always been paired we are so used to the taste and find it appealing. Herbal conditioning if you will. Oh, I like that – herbal conditioning. Hmm maybe not, makes me think of hair care products.
At a time when there were no health food stores and online herb suppliers not everyone had access to medicinal herbs. Or did they? People distinguish between medicinal and culinary herbs but really, culinary herbs ARE medicinal as well. So what do you do when you cant get what you want? You make do with what you do have.
Shops and markets are full of herbs meant for the kitchen and these herbs can be used to stock your home pharmacy.
I wont go through all the commonly used culinary herbs, their uses and healing properties, but here are a few to spark your interest.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) – Favoured by the Italians, basil quickly loses it volatile oils and flavour so it is best added at the end of the cooking process. There are so many culinary uses for Basil and it is great combined with tomato. Medicinally, basil is used to combat stress, tension and nervous indigestion. It is cooling to the body and a natural mood enhancer.
Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum) – Cloves are often associated with Mexican and Indian cuisine and old recipes that grandma used to make. Medicinally, clove oil is a well known (if pungent) remedy for toothache. It is an analgesic with powerful germicidal properties. Cloves have been known to reduce fever. Often prepared as a decoction or infusion it can be made more palatable by adding cinnamon and apple peel.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)—Sage is a stable in many European kitchens. It’s flavour make it a perfect pairing with meats and cheeses. Of course, what could be better that a sage flavoured stuffing for your chicken roast? Medicinally, it is a virtual cure all. Sage can be used as an astringent and has antibiotic properties. It improves sluggish digestion and sage tea is excellent for a chronic cough. For centuries sage has been used by lactating mothers to dry up the milk supply when weaning a baby. The smoke from burning sage is used to cleanse and purify spaces.
Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans)—Very little nutmeg is needed to lend it’s slightly sweet, spicy flavour to milk based sauces, or in brewed drinks like eggnog, mulled wine, and mulled cider. Medicinally, it is used to treat nausea, vomiting, and indigestion. Large doses of nutmeg can be toxic.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)—Rosemary is a woody, evergreen with a wonderful smell. Its flavour is often associated with many dishes from the Mediterranean. It enhances the flavours of meats, gravies, risotto dishes, and stocks beautifully. Medicinally, Rosemary is a great herb for the mind. Rosemary has been used to improve mental faculties for many hundreds of years . It contains a compound (carnosic acid) which may be of use in the treatment of neuro-degenerative diseases. Rosemary in food and as an essential oil can be used to ease headaches and it is often used to combat depression.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)—Thyme is is found widely in culinary dishes all over the world, found in many meat, tomato, and egg dishes. It is a natural expectorant which makes it an excellent remedy for throat or bronchial problems. Being a natural antiseptic, you can use the infusion to make a gargle which reduces the inflammation associated with a sore throat.
The medicinal uses of kitchen herbs seems to have been largely forgotten. Have a look around your kitchen and see what herbs and spices you use. Why not research their healing properties and find out what else you could be using them for?