“Vitality and beauty are gifts from nature for those who live according to its laws”
Leonardo de Vinci
This week I thought I would talk about growing and using common, easy to grow and use medicinal herbs. Since the beginning of time humans of all cultures on all continents have used plants for healing. Plants have the unique ability to absorb inorganic substances from the earth, air, water, sun and ether and convert it into life-giving, life supporting ingredients. They produce active mendicants in the form of alkaloids, essential oils, enzymes, vitamins, trace elements and minerals that are easily absorbed into our bodies.
Many of our current day culinary herbs like parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme and others were originally used as medicine. You may have some of these growing in your garden already, so let’s talk about how to use them for medicine. These herbs release anti-oxidants and other protective chemicals when ingested. Most of these herbs can be prepared in water and taken as a tea, an infusion or a decoction.
Tea is usually made with 1 teaspoon of dried herb and 1 cup of boiling water. Pour the boiling water over the herb, cover and let it steep for 10 minutes before straining and drinking.
Infusion is a kicked up version of a tea with more medicinal power. To do this you use 1 cup to 1 ounce of herb in a quart jar, once again fill the jar with just boiled water and cover to let steep. Infusions are steeped 4-8 hours then strained and drunk 1 cup 2 times a day.
Decoction is used to render out the medicinal qualities of more woody substances like bark and roots. Put 1 ounce of the barky or woody herb in a pan along with 1 quart of water, bring almost to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes, strain and bottle. Decoctions are used by the tablespoon at the rate of 1-2 tablespoons 3 times a day. Another way to make a decoction is to take an infusion and gently heat it until it is reduced by half. Decoctions are a good way to get children to take herbal medicine when they won’t drink an entire cup of a medicinal tea 3 times a day.
Liniment making is easy to do, it is applied topically to help with bruising, sprains and skin irritations. Harvest some fresh leaves and stuff them in a quart canning jar or other glass jar with a lid. Fill the jar with leaves and then pour in regular rubbing alcohol to the top. Set this in a cupboard out of direct light and let it steep for 4-6 weeks. Strain out the leaves and bottle the liquid to use when ever needed. Small empty spray bottles can be purchased at health food stores or herbal stores and can be used to apply liniment to the areas needed.
Here are some of the herbs and their qualities:
Bay leaf has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant qualities. In addition, it can be used in teas to help alleviate headaches and migraines. Making a liniment out of Bay is great for bruises and sprains.
Oregano and its cousin Marjoram have anti-septic qualities, chewing a leaf can help relive toothache. Tea made with oregano is great for colds, coughs, sore throats and indigestion. Rosemary revitalizes and strengthens your whole body; it relieves weariness, aids digestion, soothes a nervous heart, helps the lungs and has anti-septic qualities.
Sage is great for regulating menstrual cycles as well as helping menopausal symptoms, it is a diuretic, so helps with fluid retention, fights depression and is a great breath freshener.
Thyme is strongly anti-septic, relieves bronchitis, hoarseness, colds, digestion and tension headaches.
Parsley is such a nourishing herb and should be eaten whenever possible. It is full of vitamins and minerals including, calcium, iron, vitamin C, A and B. It helps digestion and stomachache, acts as a breath freshener as well as an overall body freshener and can even reduce the smell from eating garlic. It is a mild diuretic, tonic for the kidneys and uterus, mild laxative, can lower blood pressure and is anti-microbial.
Peppermint Commonly used for teas and infusions, peppermint is used to treat colic and digestive upset, having a cup of peppermint tea after a meal aids in digestion. It’s also been used in the treatment of colds, flus and stuffy noses due to its ability to open the sinuses. Adding honey to a cup of peppermint tea will also ease a sore throat.
Lemon Verbena is good for relieving indigestion, heartburn, and for toning the digestive tract. It is also soothes anxiety and as a sedative it is helpful in insomnia.
Lemon Balm is known to 'lift the spirits', it aids in relieving stress, indigestion and sleep disorders.
Winter Savory is considered an antibacterial agent, and is also used to treat digestive upset, gas, menstrual disorders, congestion, and cough.
Summer Savory treats issues of the digestive system, coughs and as a remedy for thirst in diabetics.
These are just a few of the everyday common herbs with medicinal qualities, there are lots more that are just as easy to grow and use. Try them in your cooking and try a few for tea, either individually or in combination with other herbs.
Remember that the healing process starts when you harvest the herbs with gratitude, it continues when you consciously processing the herbs with joy, and finally, when you use them with the intention of healing.