Many people enjoy cooking with fresh herbs like rosemary, oregano, and thyme. But have you considered other uses of these common herbs? Did you know they were used medicinally long before they found their way into the kitchen?
People who are interested in medicinal herbs are often intrigued with herbs from afar that are touted to be the best-ever, super herb that will promise some kind of restorative miracle. Meanwhile, their dutiful culinary herbs await the occasional snip for bowl of soup or sauce.
Those herbs want you to know they offer far more than seasoning.
Humans are not the only species that like herbs: pollinators love herbs. You'll find all kinds of critters buzzing the flowers - few of which actually want to sting or bite you. Please don't swat or try to kill the flying insects; they are an important part of the ecosystem. Instead, grab your camera and get some pics of the cute and often colorful insects. If you are growing vegetables, plant some herbs in the garden with them. They will help with pollination and keeping the bad bugs away.
A Mediterranean native, rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis) historically has been associated with benefiting memory and in more modern research, enhancing cognitive tasks like concentration. Both dried and fresh rosemary make an earthy-tasting tea that research shows can improve your mood, relieve tension headaches and enhance your performance in recall. Rosemary contains rosmaricine, which assists with mild pain relief from inflammatory conditions. Additional research suggests that regular exposure to rosemary may prevent or slow cognitive decline.
RECIPE: Rosemary Renewal Tea: 2 parts dried or fresh rosemary, 1 part lemon balm or lemon verbena, 1/2 part smashed juniper berries. Steep for 10 minutes and drink when you need a bit of clarity restored.
Another Mediterranean native, fresh common sage (Salvia officinalis) tastes far superior to that little jar of rubbed sage dust that is purchased each year around Thanksgiving. As an herbal medicine, sage is truly an unsung heroine! Sage aids with digestion (especially with fatty meats) and is used as a tonic for the liver. Drink a cup of sage tea (add some mint or lemon balm for flavor) after a rich meal.
What sage does best is help regulate fluids in the body, specifically with the astringent action of drying. Sage can be an important ally when cold and flu season arrives: infuse fresh chopped sage into raw honey and steep for several weeks. The antiseptic and relaxing actions of sage and the soothing honey make it the ideal remedy for sore throats. Nursing moms should avoid medicinal use of sage as it was historically used to “dry up” mother’s milk.
A member of the mint family, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) offers a mild lemon mint taste to poultry, fish, salads and fruits. Lemon balm makes a delicious tea that is safe for all ages and soothes digestive complaints. Historically known to “gladden” the heart, lemon balm has a calming and even sedating effect. Introduce children (and maybe certain co-workers!) to tea-time along with time-out when they become upset or over-anxious. Lemon balm is also useful for treating the herpes virus.
RECIPE: Lemon Balm Sun Tea - Chop several handfuls of fresh lemon balm leaves and loosely fill a quart jar. Add a thinly sliced lemon. Fill with water, cap and allow to sit in sun for a 4-6 hours. Sweeten with a bit honey, if desired.
Though there are many cultivars of flavored thymes, common garden thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is the best choice for medicinal use. Another unsung hero in the herb garden, thyme possesses powerful disinfectant and antibiotic properties. Steep in water and use as a wash on wounds. It is also useful as an expectorant during the cold and flu season: steep a handful in a cup of water, strain and add honey to make a syrup. Thyme-infused honey is another way remedy for coughs.
Grow Your Own
Organically grown herbs should be used for medicinal purposes and the best way to acquire organic and fresh herbs is to grow them! Herbs are incredibly easy to grow and maintain.
Herbs do well in containers. Invest in several large glazed ceramic or clay pots. Herbs need good drainage so layer the bottom of each container with 1/2 inch of gravel or small rocks then add a good quality potting mix (avoid one with synthetic fertilizers already added). Set in an area that receives 6-8 hours of sun. Thoroughly water once a week (more often in hotter weather). Herbs want to be used so take regular cuttings throughout the growing season.
So what's stopping you from growing and using these four common herbs? But I gotta warn you that it's hard to just stop with four...
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