November 5, 2014

Healthful, Helpful Herbs

I have confessed before, I'm not much of a gardener. I'm gone a lot during the summer months and the upkeep of day-to-day gardening has kept me from growing vegetables. Flowers and herbs are more my thing. I have a small patch of earth located just outside my kitchen door that I've planted sage, rosemary, thyme, lemon thyme, chives, and oregano. I use pots to house (and control) mint, as well as lavender and sometimes basil.

I mainly use my herbs for cooking, but I'm learning more and more about the healing qualities of herbs. I'm hoping to plant more varieties next spring. Here are a list of some of my favorites and their uses along with some recipes and useful resources.

Helpful Qualities

Basil: It is used medicinally as a natural anti-inflammatory and is thought to have mild antiseptic functions. Some healing uses are for flatulence, lack off appetite, nausea and cuts and scrapes.

Chamomile: One of the most popular herbs in the Western world, its flower heads are commonly used for infusions, teas and salves. These in turn can be used to treat indigestion, anxiety and skin inflammations. As a tea, it serves as a mild sedative to help with sleep.

Lemon Balm: Considered a calming herb, it has been used as far back as the Middle Ages to reduce stress and anxiety, promote sleep, improve appetite, and ease pain and discomfort from indigestion.  Even before the Middle Ages, lemon balm was steeped in wine to lift the spirits, help heal wounds, and treat venomous insect bites and stings. (It's a member of the mint family.)

Sage: Teas are used to sooth mouth, throat and gum inflammations. This is because sage has excellent antibacterial and astringent properties. (Recipe for sage & honey cough syrup.)

Thyme: Used to relieve coughs, congestion, indigestion and gas. This perennial is rich in thymol, a strong antiseptic, making thyme highly desirable in the treatment of wounds and even fungus infections.

Rosemary: The needles of the delightfully fragrant rosemary plant can be used in a tea to treat digestive problems. The same tea can also be used as an expectorant and as a relaxing beverage that is helpful for headaches. Other healing uses include improving memory, relieving muscle pain and spasms, stimulating hair growth, and supporting the circulatory and nervous systems. (Rosemary and citrus room freshener.)

Peppermint: It is commonly used to soothe or treat symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, indigestion, irritable bowel, and bloating and more. The leaves and stems contain menthol which in addition to use medicinally, is used as a flavoring in food, and a fragrance in cosmetics. 

Lavender: A tea made from lavender has many uses with one of the foremost being it’s ability to have a calming effect on a person’s mind and body. To that end, lavender can promote a sense of well-being and alleviate stress. It is also useful for dealing with various gastrointestinal issues such as upset stomachs and flatulence. Because it is a strong antiseptic, lavender tea, when applied topically, can help heal cuts, wounds and sores. It can also be used to mitigate bad breath.

How to Make Herbal Tea

1. To make an herbal tea, first bring some cool water to a boil. While waiting for the water to boil, find a non-mental container that will be used to brew the tea. (A quart-sized mason jar works nicely for this purpose.) You do not want to use a metal container since the metal may interfere with the purity and taste of the tea.

2. Add 2 tablespoons of fresh (or 1 tablespoon of dried herb or crushed seed) to the empty pot or jar for each cup of water. Then, and this is the important part, add an extra 2 tablespoons of fresh (or 1 tablespoon of dried) herbs “for the pot.”  So, for example, if you are making 2 cups of hot tea, you would use 6 tablespoons of fresh herbs or 3 tablespoons of dried herbs.

3. Pour the boiling water over the herbs and let them steep, covered, for about 5 minutes give or take.  There is no exact time since everyone’s strength preference is difference. When ready, strain the herbs and pour the tea into a cup.

4. For iced tea, increase the quantity of herbs in the basic recipe by 1 1/2 to allow for dilution from the melting ice.

More Resources

How to preserve herbs
Herbal infused honeys
3 ways to dry herbs
Plant and cook with herbs
How to make herb salts
21 gifts to make with essential oils
Aromatherapy bath salts