Starting out with herbs

A couple of weeks ago I went to a local herb event in my city, called Herb Awareness.  Imagine market stalls full of plants, crafts and other herbal products as well as demonstrations and presentations.  It was a gorgeous sunny day with a lot of herb enthusiasts coming to visit my stall.  I wish I had counted how often I was asked, “Where do I start?”  People ARE interested, and they really want to make herbal changes in their lives, but they are daunted by the information they see available.  They come to me with books that have 350 herbs and all their uses in them.  No wonder they are daunted.  You don’t need to know 350 herbs or the medicinal properties of every herb. I don’t!

Most recently, my favourite catch cry is “Start with what you know!”   So tell me, what herbs do you have in the fridge/pantry/garden right now?  Some of my favourite old world remedies are based on kitchen herbs that are always on hand.  Since you already have and use them in your food, why not learn about their medicinal properties as well? Once you know those few, you can use them in your food with more purpose than just taste.  If the family is going through the sniffles, it is a great idea to include dishes that contain thyme, because thyme is a well known remedy for colds and coughs.

Using those herbs in food can help maintain health, and when a bug does strike you can then use the same herbs to make simple remedies that have stood the test of time to treat your family’s minor ailments without having to buy synthetic products from the drugstore.  I know that there are many people out there ready to start on their herbal journey which is why I decided to write about how you can bring herbs into your life too.  And since my new book ‘Homemade Health’  deals with exactly this topic I thought I would use small section from the book to get you started.

“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 can’t 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 won’t 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.

GARLIC (Allium sativum)

Garlic has been helping people for centuries.  A veritable powerhouse of active ingredients which are reported to ease an A-Z of ailments and treating high blood pressure is one of the health issues on this list.  It has long been said that if fresh garlic is regularly included in ones daily diet, it would ease hypertension.   What does that mean in practical terms?  Well, I interpret it to mean that garlic is great for you anyway for many reasons including regulating your blood pressure. But if you have a problem with high blood pressure you may now have a natural way of reducing your reliance on blood pressure medication as well. Of course, do not stop taking prescribed medication without first consulting your doctor.

OATS (Avena sativa)

Oats are a well known staple on the breakfast table.  Whether it is oatmeal which is popular in the US or porridge in the UK, oats and oat products are well known and well loved all over the world.  Particularly in cold weather, oats are often eaten to generate inner warmth and slow-release energy which helps in the treatment of colds and chills.

The whole plant is utilised in herbal medicine.  Also known as oatstraw, it is an excellent tonic for the nervous system.  Used for both physical and nervous fatigue oats are also used for general debility.  Rich in minerals, vitamins, flavonoids  and more it has many healing properties. Oatstraw has antidepressant and restorative properties which make a great nerve tonic and it promotes sweating.  Rich in calcium, oatstraw is used to prevent or treat osteoporosis. The grains make a nutritive and antidepressant nerve tonic while oat bran reduces cholesterol levels and has antithrombotic properties.  You can also find a Wild Oats remedy amongst the Bach Flower Remedies which is recommended for times of uncertainty and dissatisfaction.

Oatstraw tincture and decoctions can be used for insomnia, anxiety and depression.  The decoction also makes an effective skin wash to heal skin conditions.  A poultice made from the grain has long been used to treat eczema, and other skin problems.

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.

SAGE (Salvia officinalis)

Sage is a staple in many European kitchens. Its flavour makes it a perfect pairing with meats and cheese. 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.

THYME (Thymus vulgaris)

Thyme 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 seem 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?”

From “Kitchen Herbs are Medicine too!”  - Homemade Health  by Anke Bialas

 If you don’t know where to start, start with what you know!

 

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5 Responses to Starting out with herbs

  1. Kat says:

    Starting out seems to be the hardest part, I agree. Especially if you are not a cook (which is true of many these days) ~ so a general list like this is terrific for those. This list reminded me of why I started with herbs in the first place (I needed to find a way to flavor a “bland food” diet for hiatal hernia) and how I “cured” it by eating the flavorful herbs – in 1/3 the time the doctors thought it would take! What a way to get interested, heh? Wonderful site you have ~ stay warm down there! We are having a record breaking heat wave and would love to have a bit of your “cool”……..Blessings

  2. I had NO IDEA about Sage! But it explains why I always crave corned meat {Mum always added sage leaves to the water} when I’m coming down with tonsillitis! Genius.

  3. Peggy Lupica says:

    Your site is amazing. Thank you.

  4. Maryjoy Lepak says:

    These notes about some common herbs are a great introduction for the use of kitchen herbs for medicinal purposes! I am a pharmacy student completing a rotation with the Natural Standard Research Collaboration this month, and my goal is to become more familiar with these natural remedies (and the evidence behind their use). It is a great idea to “start with what you know.” I am amazed at the abundance of natural products that have been studied to help with symptoms and disease. Just a tip for other readers: Natural Standard also has an excellent resource database on foods, herbs, and supplements – they help compile the most evidence-based information and grade them, so you can determine how effective these treatments are!

  5. Robyn says:

    I am a colleague of Maryjoy’s at Natural Standard in Boston, MA, and I am also amazed by the number of herbs out there and then all of the medicinal uses of those herbs. After reading this post, I will definitely be incorporating more thyme into my meals, especially since this is common cold season here in New England.

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