Herbs have medicinal properties, and they grow in nature, so it makes sense to use herbs in your diet. Many pharmaceutical drugs are derived from plants, however, they extract only parts of the plant, so you are not getting the plant as a whole as nature intended. Why would you choose a man-made pill over something that grows on the Earth for that purpose?
There is an herb for every ailment. However, herbs shine best when used for prevention purposes. They usually have a more subtle effect, a more slow-building effect. This is why most herbs aren't useful for emergencies, although there are a few that are! Basically though, herbs are one of the best natural ways to prevent illness and get chronic diseases under control.
Herbs are either tonic, or nutritive. Tonic herbs help the body assimilate nutrients. Nutritive herbs provide mineral and vitamins in a way that the body can easily assimilate them.
There are two ways to use herbs. Generally, an herb is either used in cooking (along with spices), or used medicinally either in prevention of disease or to treat an illness. Many herbs can be used for both. Some work better to eat and some work better to drink in some form. First I will cover medicinal herbs.
Herbs can be prepared in a variety of ways. Here is a basic overview of the main methods of using herbs;
1-2 TBS dried herbs
1-2 C boiling water
Let steep until it cools off enough to drink
Best for daily use of herbs for general health
1 OZ. dried herbs
1 QT. boiling water
Let sit in a mason jar, covered, for many hours, preferably overnight
Best for daily herbs for general health, and preventative and maintenance purposes. Best for herbs that have highly volatile oils. Produces stronger flavor & extracts more of the constituents of the herbs.
1 TB dried herbs (or 2 TB fresh herbs) for each cup of water
Use cold water to start
Place on heat
Boil, then simmer, covered, for up to 45 minutes.
Best for roots, barks, berries, and seeds of the plant.
1 part already prepared decoction to 1 part honey (if this is too sweet, use more decoction, less honey)
Simmer over low heat til honey is dissolved (do not use high heat as this will destroy the beneficial properties of the honey!)
Let cool before bottling in a glass container. Store in fridge. Stays good for a few months.
Best for medicinal uses (cough syrup, immunity syrup). Elderberry syrup is the most common, used for colds and flus.
No heat needed.
Fill glass jar 1/2 full of dried herbs, full if using fresh herbs
Fill halfway with brandy, the rest of the way with honey. Stir well.
Cover, store for 6 weeks in cool dry place. Stir a few times a week.
After 6 weeks, strain out the herbs.
Best for medicinal uses.
Fill herbs in glass container no more than 3/4 full (more if using fresh, less if using dried)
Fill container to the top with alcohol, most commonly vodka.
Use plastic lid, or if using metal lid, put parchment paper on top of the herbs to keep the lid from corrosion.
Shake daily and make sure alcohol is still covering herbs. If not, add more alcohol.
After 6-8 weeks, strain herbs and store in a dark colored glass container.
Best for medicinal uses.
Used topically directly on the skin or through a thin mesh.
If using fresh herbs, crush finely. If using dry, mix with a little water to form a paste.
Use cold water (if necessary) for inflammation, hot water (if necessary) for increasing circulation.
Spread mashed herbs onto skin and wrap with a bandage. Or wrap herbs in muslin or gauze and secure onto the skin.
Best for skin irritations or localized pain.
There are many websites and books out there to dive deep into the world of herbalism, so for the sake of simplicity, I will just cover the basics here.
In general, when looking for an herb for a certain ailment, you want to choose an herb according to it's properties.
Normalizes the body, purifies the blood
Best for infections, cancer
Examples; Echinacea, Dandelion Root, Red Clover, Alfalfa, Calendula Flower, Ginseng, Licorice, Raspberry Leaf
Examples; Chamomile, Lemongrass, Skullcap, Turmeric, Ginger, and Valerian.
Neutralizes acid in the stomach.
Examples; Dandelion Root, Slippery Elm Bark
Relieves muscle cramping
Examples; Cayenne Pepper, Chamomile, Skullcap, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Mullein Leaf, Nettle Leaf, Valerian
Constricts the tissues
Best for hemorrhoids, wound healing.
Examples; Aloe Vera, Calendula, Cayenne Pepper, Cinnamon, Dandelion Root, Mullein Leaf, Peppermint, Raspberry Leaf, Rosehips
Relieves intestinal pain and gas
Best for digestive issues
Examples; Astragalus, Ginger, Chamomile, Cinnamon, Cloves, Ginseng, Lemon Balm, Lemongrass, Valerian, Lavender
Soothes inflames tissues.
Best for digestive issues, sinus problems
Examples; Burdock, Ginseng, Marshmallow Root, Mullein Leaf, Slippery Elm Bark, Milk Thistle, Licorice, Oat Straw
Encourages urine flow.
Best for water retention, kidney stones, urinary infections
Examples; Astragalus, Elder Berries, Marshmallow, Nettle Leaf, Burdock, Dandelion, Oat Straw, Red Clover, Hawthorn Berry
Soothes and softens the skin
Examples; Aloe Vera, Marshmallow Root, Slippery Elm Bark
Expels excess mucus
Examples; Mullein, Ginseng, Lemongrass, Licorice, Nettle Leaf, Slippery Elm Bark, Red Clover
Stimulate bowel movements
Examples Aloe Vera, Buckthorn, Slippery Elm, Marshmallow Root, Chamomile, Dandelion
Calm the nerves
Examples; Chamomile, Hops, Passionflower, Lemon Balm, Skullcap, Valerian, Skullcap
Stimulate the nervous system, increase energy
Examples; Ginkgo Biloba, Cayenne Pepper, Cinnamon, Ginseng, Ginger, Ginkgo Biloba, Peppermint, Astragalus
General invigoration for the whole body
Examples; Burdock, Dandelion Root, Ginseng, Hawthorn Berry, Alfalfa, Milk Thistle
You can grow your own herbs, you can harvest them from the wild, or you can order them online. The ones you get online are, of course, dried, but sometimes they are your only option, especially in the winter time. If you order them online, I highly recommend this site, Mountain Rose Herbs. My herbs always come pretty quickly, usually within 5 business days. They are one of the most recommended companies to get herbs from. www.mountainroseherbs.com/
Herbs, and their sister, spices, are probably as important to cooking as the food itself. Many people don't realize the health benefits as well as the amazing flavors that herbs and spices provide. They just cook food by itself, plop it on the table, and instinctively reach for the salt and pepper and call it done. If you use herbs and spices in your cooking, your need for excess salt will diminish.
Have you ever bought dried basil only to find it didn't smell or taste like much of anything? That is because basil has aromatic oils that dissipate when the herb is dried. Fresh basil is just about one of the most fragrant and potent herbs out there. So always get fresh if you can! Basil is best with any type of Italian food, pizza, pasta, spaghetti, etc. It is best added last to keep the flavor strong. Basil covers a wide base when it comes to health. It is good for indigestion, fever, colds and flus, nausea, constipation, nervous disorders, muscle cramps, and kidney/urinary disorders.
The most amazing thing about cayenne pepper is it's ability to stop bleeding. It can actually be used directly on wounds, and taken internally to prevent heart attacks. It is most commonly used in Mexican food or anything where you want a lot of kick!
Either you love cilantro, or you think it tastes like soap. There is actually a DNA-related reason for this, but if you love cilantro, you're in luck! It is a really good source of antioxidants, phytochemicals, and Vitamin A. Cilantro is the same plant as coriander, which makes up the seeds. Cilantro is a must for Mexican cooking, being a main ingredient in salsa. It also goes really well with rice and lime juice, and is used extensively in Indian cooking. Like basil, cilantro is delicate so don't add this to cooked food until it is done.
Cinnamon is warming, so it is good to drink as a tea as well as balancing out cool foods like fruits and desserts. It is useful to treat diarrhea, muscle cramps, indigestion and gas.
Cumin is used around most of the world, mostly in dishes like hummus, chutneys, lentils, chili, beans, and chicken. It is good for eliminating and preventing gas, as well as being good for the heart.
Fennel is actually a vegetable, with stalks that resemble celery. But the seeds are what are used as spices. They are a powerhouse of nutrients, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. It is good for indigestion and relieving gas. Fennel seeds go well in breads, soups, meat, poultry, and sauces. You can also chew the seeds after a meal to help digestion and improve breath.
Garlic and Onion
Garlic has a wide range of health benefits, notably it's potent anti-bacterial properties, making it a great choice to fight colds and flus. It is excellent for immune system health and heart health. It is used most commonly in Italian cooking. Onions are in the same family, they are also very widely used in cooking to enhance the flavor or sauces, meats, stews, and soups.
Ginger is one of the best spices for digestive issues. It is also good for the circulation. It is excellent for colds, especially when used with honey and lemon. Ginger is a pretty strong flavor, and spicy, so it might take some getting used to if you aren't already familiar with it's flavor. It is commonly drank as a tea, and also used to flavor fish, chicken and many Asian foods.
Oregano is used around the world, most commonly in Italian cooking. It is rich in antioxidants, and has potent antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Marjoram is related to organo, but has a milder, sweeter flavor.
Parsley looks a lot like cilantro, but has a more mild flavor. It can be used on most foods, from vegetables to soups to fish to rice. It is very rich in Vitamin C. It is an antioxidant, and also protects against cancer and heart disease.
Rosemary is good for headaches, indigestion, nausea, gas and fever. It is overall good for the nervous system as well. Rosemary is excellent on bread, potatoes, and chicken. It holds up well so it can be cooked for the duration of the cooking time.
Along with rosemary and thyme, sage has many medicinal uses including treating headaches, night sweats, diarrhea, and colds and flus. Sage is most commonly used to season wild game. It can also be drunk as a tea. In ancient times, it was thought to promote wisdom, which is probably where the term "wise old sage" comes from!
Thyme has a wide variety of uses, including treating intestinal worms, bronchial problems, and diarrhea. It is most commonly used in Italian cooking. Like rosemary, thyme can withstand long cooking times (if used fresh).
Turmeric is widely known as the pungent yellow spice that is really good for you! More specifically, it contains curcumin, which is the active ingredient that gives it it's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powers. However, it has been proven if you take curcumin as a supplement along with black pepper, you will get much better absorption. Either way, turmeric is still good for you. It is most commonly used in curries and Indian foods.
Herbs are one of my favorite subjects, and in the future I plan to write small ebooks about each one of them, so stay tuned for those!
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