Benefits of growing Herbs

 

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Herbs have a history that is steeped in myth and magic. Herbs are the quintessential plant: they look good, smell good and do you good! They have been used ever since humans have been on the earth, as medicines, perfumes, insect repellents and, of course, in food and flavouring. The benefits they have brought us in the history of humankind will let us conclude that they are the most extraordinarily diverse and useful plants.

Herbs come in all shapes, sizes, textures, and scents, and they can be incorporated into any size garden or container. You may think of a particular herb like basil (Ocimum basilicum) as a delicious cooking herb, only to discover its value in the garden as a companion plant for deterring pests from tomato plants or its ability to act as a fly repellent when planted in pots for the home. The same applies to a herb like chamomile, which is wonderful in beauty products for lightening hair but is also a healing herb to relieve insomnia when drunk as a herbal tea.

Following table provides glimpses of the innumerable benefits home grown herbs are capable of providing. Some of the believed medicinal properties are traditional or practice based. It is always advisable to consult your physician before starting on any medicinal herb.

Name

Uses and Benefits

Achillea (Yarrow)

Also known as a “plant doctor”, when it is planted near unhealthy plants, secretions from its roots actively help the ailing plant by triggering its disease resistance. Before using leaves for medicinal or culinary purposes, wash them well, then pat dry with paper towel. Add young leaves to salads. Yarrow is well known for staunching the flow of blood. Simply crush the leaves to release their tannins; then apply to the wound to stop the bleeding. An infusion made from the flowers is a good remedy for fever. The flowers can also be used in dried-flower arrangements.

Angelica

Angelica is used to treat indigestion, anaemia, coughs, and colds; a tea made from the young leaves helps alleviate nervous headaches. Stems of second-year growth can be candied or cooked with stewed fruit. Young leaves can be chopped up and added to salads, soups, and stir-fry dishes. The seeds are used in Moroccan cooking. Angelica has antibacterial and antifungal properties, and is also one of the flavourings in alcoholic drinks such as gin.

Anise hyssop / Hyssop

The leaves have a mild anise, minty flavour. The plant is used to treat coughs and wheezing. The fresh leaves and edible flowers can be used in leaf and fruit salads, or to make a refreshing infusion. Hyssop is a good companion plant; when planted near cabbages, it lures away the cabbage white butterfly. Medicinally, an infusion made from the leaves helps relieve bronchial congestion and eases coughs. It is also used as a tonic for the digestive and nervous systems.

Bachelor’s Buttons (Cornflower)

The petals of the flower are edible, and can be used to great effect scattered over salads, whether fruit, vegetable, or rice. Water distilled from bachelor’s buttons petals was traditionally used as a remedy for weak eyes—the famous French eyewash, “Eau de Casselunettes,” was made from them. The dried flowers look lovely added to potpourri.

Basils

Add fresh, torn leaves to salads, tomatoes, and pasta dishes. The flavour may be ruined if cooked for too long, The leaves used fresh with cold food aid digestion. When rubbed onto the skin, the juice of basil leaves repels mosquitoes. In Thailand and other Asian countries, leaves are added to soups and fish dishes. The leaves are rarely used in Indian cooking. More often they are used to make herbal teas, combined with other herb seeds or simply with India tea leaves to make a refreshing drink. Medicinally, basil is used to treat bronchitis, colds, fevers, and stress. The juice of the leaves is used to alleviate skin complaints, and the essential oil is used to treat ear infections by means of drops and rubbed onto the skin as an insect repellent. Research has shown that it has the ability to reduce blood sugar levels, and it is now being used in the treatment of some types of diabetes.

Bergamot

The leaf has a strong culinary flavour that goes well with meat in continental cuisine. The flowers have a milder, sweeter flavour. Medicinally, a decoction of leaves makes a steam inhalant to soothe bronchial complaints. Bergamot essential oil is used in aromatherapy to treat depression and to fight infection. It is also used by perfume and soap manufacturers.

Calendula (Pot Marigold)

The flower petals are used to make a natural gold-coloured food dye for butter, biscuits, and omelettes. Add young leaves to salads—the term “pot” marigold refers to its use in the cooking pot. Medicinally, marigold is known as a remedy for skin complaints; it is effective for most minor skin problems, cuts, scrapes, and wounds, inflamed skin including minor burns, sunburn, and fungal conditions like athlete’s foot, yeast, and ringworm. It also helps alleviate diaper rash. The sap from the stem has a reputation for removing warts, corns, and calluses. This well-known herb has been widely used in Arab and Indian cultures as a medicine, food colorant, and cosmetic.

Caraway

The young leaves have a mild aniseed flavour and taste good in salads and soups. Use seeds sparingly or they may dominate other flavours. A small dish of seeds at the end of a spicy meal both sweetens the breath and aids digestion. Medicinally, caraway is an antispasmodic, diuretic, and expectorant. It is a mild remedy and is suitable for children, especially in cough remedies or to relieve colic.

Catnip

Young leaves have a slightly bitter, minty flavour and go well with soups and sauces. Medicinally, they are used to treat childhood ailments, such as colic, colds, and coughs. Catnip leaves can also be made into an ointment for the relief of haemorrhoids.

Chamomile

Renowned for its sedative properties, a tea made from the fresh or dry flowers relieves insomnia, digestive disorders, travel sickness, and hyperactivity in children. Use a chamomile infusion as a gargle for mouth ulcers or as eyewash. This infusion can also be applied to the skin to soothe burns. A hair rinse made with chamomile flowers lightens fair hair. Chamomile is known as the “physician plant”—because when planted next to sick plants, it helps them revives. A spray made from the leaves and flowers helps prevent “damping off” of seedlings.

Chervil

This useful culinary herb is one of the four ingredients of “fines herbes”, which include parsley, chives, and tarragon. Use fresh leaves in salads, soups, chicken, fish, egg and vegetarian dishes, and sauces. Medicinally, the leaves are very high in vitamin C, magnesium, iron, and carotene. A tea made from the leaves can stimulate digestion.

Chicory

The leaves of chicory have a mild, bitter flavour and are excellent in salads. In winter, chicons are produced by forcing the roots in warmth and darkness, which blanches the new growth; these are often called “endives”. The edible flowers can add visual interest to a salad or rice bowl. Chicory was first used by the ancient Egyptians as a medicinal herb, vegetable, and salad plant. In the Napoleonic era, roasted chicory roots were found to make an ideal coffee substitute, and can still be found in French coffee today. Bitter foods like chicory are very beneficial to the digestive system. Add leaves to salads fresh, or blanch quickly to reduce the bitter flavour. Medicinally, a tea made from the leaves is a gentle tonic that increases the flow of bile.

CAUTION! Medicinally, chicory should be used with care because excessive use impairs retinal function.

Chives

An excellent culinary herb. The leaves stimulate the appetite and aid digestion. They are also mildly antiseptic. There is an old saying “chives next to roses creates posies” because the herb is believed to inhibit black spot. A decoction made from the leaves is also thought to prevent scab infection in animals.

Coriander

The leaves taste earthy and aromatic, and should be added at the end of cooking to preserve their flavour, while the seeds have a warm, spicy flavour with a hint of orange. Medicinally, coriander stimulates appetite. Coriander is an interesting culinary plant because its seeds and leaves have two distinctly different flavours, and the whole plant is edible.

Digitalis (Foxglove)

The common name, “foxglove,” is said to have derived from the Anglo-Saxon “foxglue” or “foxmusic” after the shape of a musical instrument of that period. It became very important medicinally in the late 1700s when William Withering developed the use of Digitalis in the treatment of heart disease. Despite the high toxicity of the plant and its seed, infusions made from the leaves of foxgloves were often used in traditional country medicine to treat common ailments. This herb is an important medicinal plant for treating heart failure. However, it should never be used by the amateur, nor used for self-medication. It should only be administered by a professional.

NCAUTION! The whole plant, including the seeds, is highly poisonous.

Dill

This herb is used to treat dyspepsia, flatulence, and stomach ache in adults—try a tea made with a teaspoon of dill seeds to ease these symptoms effectively.

Evening primrose

The potential of this herb is enormous because all parts of the plant are edible. Add fresh young leaves to salads. Cook mature leaves like spinach. The roots have an earthy, nutty flavour, and can be cooked like parsnips. Use seeds in baking. Medicinally, the seed oil is used to treat dry skin. The leaf and stem can be infused to make an astringent facial steam. Oil extracted from the seeds of this plant is now used to treat medical conditions including chronic fatigue syndrome, premenstrual syndrome, hyperactivity in children, liver damage, and eczema.

Fennel

The seeds of the fennel plant have the best medicinal properties. An infusion of seeds eases flatulence and colic in young children and prevents heartburn and indigestion in adults. A mild infusion can be used as eyewash.

Lavender

Use flowers and leaves sparingly in cooking. The flowers are used to scent sugar for making biscuits and cakes. A few leaves can add flavour to roast lamb. Lavender essential oil is used to treat burns, stings, or cuts, or can be added to the bath to calm children and relax adults. Rubbed into the temples, the oil can help ease headaches. It is also a good mosquito, midge, and fly repellent. Sprinkle a few drops on bedclothes to repel mosquitoes. Place sachets of dried lavender flowers and leaves with clothes to deter moths.

Lemon balm

The lemon scent of the leaves is lost in cooking. Use the leaves fresh in green or fruit salads. Medicinally, it is antiviral and antibacterial, helps lower fevers, and improves digestion, as well as being a mild antidepressant. It helps heal and prevent cold sores. Rub the leaf into the skin for a good natural insect repellent. Applied in this way, it also helps reduce skin irritation caused by insect bites.

Lemon grass

This important culinary and medicinal herb grows in tropical regions and is used extensively in Asia, India, and Thailand. It also finds use in reducing fever. In Malaysia, it is used extensively as a flavouring agent, as well as in perfumery and aromatherapy. A tea made from fresh leaves is a stomach and gut relaxant. The essential oil is antiseptic and deodorizing, and is used in perfume, in poultices to ease pain and arthritis, and as an insect repellent.

Marigold (tagetes)

Medicinally, Tagetes patula is a diuretic and improves digestion. Externally, it relieves sore eyes and rheumatism. The yellow pigment in the fresh or dried flowers has been used to dye textiles. Leaves can also be burned as an insect repellent. It is used externally to remove ticks.

Mints / Spearmint / Peppermint

Medicinally, it relieves indigestion, nausea, stomach gas, diarrhoea, and colic. Mint tea soothes colds, and cold mint tea can be used as a wash to bring fever down, or as a throat gargle.

Nasturtium

The seeds, leaves, and flowers all have a piquant taste and can be eaten in salads. Chopped leaves give a peppery flavour. Seeds can be pickled and used as an alternative to capers. All parts of the plant are antibiotic. The leaves contain vitamin C and iron as well as an antiseptic substance, which is most potent before the plant flowers. Nasturtiums are thought good for the skin.

Oregano / Marjoram

The word oregano is derived from the Greek “oros” meaning mountain and “ganos” meaning joy and beauty, hence its full meaning “joy of the mountain.” The ancient Greeks believed that wild oregano (Origanum vulgare) was a cure-all, including, as Aristotle suggested, an antidote for poison. Medicinally, it is probably one of the best antiseptics. Oregano and marjoram stimulate the digestive juices, helping break down rich and heavy foods. The leaves are used fresh and dried throughout the Mediterranean, with meat and other main dishes. Medicinally, oregano is antiseptic due to its high thymol oil content. It is used to treat respiratory conditions like bronchitis and asthma.

Parsley

This culinary delight and natural breath freshener is without doubt one of the best-known and most popular herb. It has been cultivated for thousands of years. Parsley leaves are a key ingredient in bouquet garni, and are widely used in cooking. Medicinally, parsley leaves are strongly diuretic, and a hair rinse made from the seeds is effective for killing head lice. Infuse one teaspoon of crushed seeds for ten minutes, strain, and use as a final rinse.

Rosemary

Rosemary leaf has many culinary uses. Medicinally, it alleviates hangovers and restores the memory, and aids recovery from long-term stress and chronic illness. The essential oil is a good insect repellent, and can be rubbed onto the temples to alleviate headaches.

Sage

Before cooking, quickly immerse sage leaves in hot water to bring the leaf oils to the surface and enhance the flavour. Sage is known to be antiseptic, astringent, carminative, antispasmodic, and a systemic antibiotic. It is used to treat sore throats (as a gargle), poor digestion, hormonal problems, and to stimulate the brain.

Savoury

Fresh savoury leaves have a sweet aroma and pungent flavour and can be used as a substitute for black pepper in cooking, although the flavour becomes less pungent when the herb is boiled for any length of time. Medicinally, savoury species have properties similar to thyme, rosemary, and oregano: they are antibacterial, antifungal, and antiseptic.

Thyme

The leaves of this group can vary in scent and flavour from the classic thyme to the more exotic spicy orange. Added to cooking, the leaves aid digestion and help break down fatty foods. They also have strong antiseptic properties. An infusion or tea of thyme leaves makes an excellent remedy for sore throats and hangovers.

Valerian

Historically, this medicinal herb has been used as a sedative and relaxant. The roots, prepared into tablet, powder, capsule, or tincture form, are a safe, non-addictive relaxant that reduces anxiety and promotes sleep. In the garden, spray an infusion of the root onto the topsoil to attract earthworms.

Verbena

An important medicinal herb, vervain is used by Western and Chinese herbalists to treat nervous exhaustion, headaches, and liver and urinary tract infections. It can be administered as a medicinal tea, but this is very bitter.

Viola (Pansy)

Medicinally, violas are used as a detoxifying herb to treat arthritis, pertussis, bronchitis, and skin diseases. An infusion made from the flowers, leaves, and stems will soothe itchy skin. An infusion of the flowers only has long been prescribed for mending a broken heart. It is also beneficial when added to a bath for easing aches and pains. A cold infusion of the flowers, leaves, and stems is diluted in drinking water and given to racing pigeons to help them fly faster.

 

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