Monday, August 13, 2012

Herbs -- Good for What Ails You

Herbs are easy to grow and for centuries have been used not only for culinary purposes in recipes, but first used in medicinal remedies. Presently, herbs are found in many antibiotics, antiseptics, medicines, aromatic properties, like candles, room fresheners, and perfumes, plus insect repellents used in sprays and candles.  After, a week's vacation to the North Carolina mountains, I noticed our herb beds needed some tender loving care and during weeding and enjoying the aromas, I decided to investigate the favorite herbs, Deberah and I are growing in our beds.

No doubt, Deberah is the better cook. She has used the herbs in her recipes and I get to taste them because she and Jerry ask me over for great meals. Yes! So, I researched more on the history and medicinal uses of herbs.

Seen above is a large rosemary plant in one raised herb bed. Rosemary is a fragrant evergreen, perennial herb with needle-like leaves. It's flowers range in colors from blue, pink, purple and white. This herb is native to the Mediterranean region. Latin name for "dew" and "sea", or "dew of the sea", because it is known to survive in this area with only moisture from sea spray.

Known for it's culinary treasures in stuffing's and meat dishes, rosemary has anti toxic properties best used for problems with "the brain" like Alzheimer's, strokes and certain types of cancer. Often, it was thought to be a "cure-all" for many ailments in "Old World" life in Europe and the new "America."

Chives as seen in the picture above is the smallest of the edible onion. Also, it's one of my favorite herbs. This herb is a perennial that originated in Europe, Asia and North America. American Indians used the bulbs like chives and onions as a poultice on cuts and animal bites when infection from such injuries caused fever. Poultices were placed directly on injuries when infection became evident.

Today, chemical properties of chives and onions are used in insect repellent for gardens, but best known for culinary uses in recipes like potatoes, fish, soups and stews.

Parsley, seen above, originated in Mediterranean countries like Italy, Algeria and Tunisia. A herbaceous biennial in most climates, it grows in two major types, curly and flat. Curly is mainly used as a garnish and flat as an a culinary addition to rice, potato, meat and vegetable stews dishes.

This bright green herb has diuretic properties often used in teas, soups and herbal juices to aid in urinary tract infections through increasing output and eliminating toxins in that system.

Mainly, I think of sage as the herb my mother used at Thanksgiving in our dressing giving it that little kick. But the name in Latin was "Salvere," meaning "to feel well and healthy." Sage like other popular herbs is a member of the mint family which has 700 to 900 species.

I think a quote by Winston Churchill, described sage best, "We are happier in many ages when we are old, than when we are young. The young sow wild oats, the old grow sage!" Obviously, he believed sage to be a wonderful and amazing herb with many benefits to the body like depression, bad breath, fever, antiseptic, sleep problems, flu and varicose veins. It's no wonder in Latin some translations mean "to save."

Medicinal uses include tea, rubbing across the teeth, baths, chewing leaves, compresses and using with other aromatic herbs to make a potpourri.

Mint is a perennial herb that can be invasive in a bed due to the root system that grows horizontal under or above ground depending on the variety. Blooms range from purple to white and include other aromatic cousins, such as, basil, rosemary, sage, oregano and catnip. All are members of the Lamiaceae family known as mint. Peppermint and spearmint are two of the most known varieties of common mint but many more flavors are available.

Because of mint's widespread cultivation in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and North America it's hard to pinpoint the exact origin. However like most popular herbs it was know to Greek mythology as the "herb of hospitality." One of the first known uses was as room deodorizer by stepping on the plant, the scent could be spread throughout a room.

Culinary and other uses include teas, beverages, jellies, syrups, candies, ice cream and alcoholic liqueurs like a southern favorite, the mint julep. Also menthol or mint oil a major component of this plant is used today in breath fresheners, mouthwashes, toothpaste, chewing gum, desserts and fragrant shampoos. And lets don't forget presently the use of menthol in insecticides as an environmentally friendly ingredient that kills wasps, hornets, ants and cockroaches.

Mint was used by more recent ancestors as a medicinal herb to treat stomachache, chest pains and as a mild decongestant associated with the common cold.

Above you see a sweet basil plant in our bed. Basil originated in India where it was cultivated for 5,000 years. The Greek word for basil was "king," where it was thought of as "the king of herbs."

Basil is a popular herb used in present day recipes like pesto made with other ingredients of olive oil, garlic and pine nuts, pureed into a paste or sauce. Regardless, it is best used by adding fresh at the last minute, as over cooking destroys the strong flavor. Chefs (as seen in popular TV cooking shows) use basil in Italian, as well as, other cuisine.

This herb has antitoxin, antiviral and antimicrobial properties, especially used in India to treat cancer, asthma, diabetes, stress and even pimples. We planted basil between plants such as tomatoes in our garden and I think it helped to repel unwanted insects, plus the flowers attracted beneficial insects like honey bees, bumble bees and butterflies.

The oregano herb in our bed, seen above is also a perennial best grown in a hot, dry climate and a native to Eurasia and the Mediterranean regions. Unlike most popular herbs it has more flavor when dried rather than fresh.

One bit of interesting trivia about oregano is that it became popular in the United States after World War II when soldiers serving in southern Italy brought it home to America and it soon became a favorite known as the "pizza herb," and quickly became an ingredient in other Italian American cuisine. But we have to give the credit to the Italians as it had been used there for hundreds, probably thousand of years where oregano was roasted, fried and grilled in vegetable, meat and fish dishes.

Since then evidence shows it is high in antitoxin properties due to phenolic acid and flavornoids. Hippocrates wrote about it's use for stomach and respiratory ailments and it is still used today in certain forms for sore throat.

Growing herbs is easy, especially in our subtropical climate in Georgia and you can plant a small windowsill or patio herb garden for around twenty dollars. Even though due to technology and scientific research we have dispelled our recent ancestors homeopathic remedies to common ailments doesn't mean we can't enjoy the flavors in our culinary endeavors while benefit from the healthy use of these amazing plants.

I've been on vacation for a week and missed some posts last week. I hope to share some of my adventures with you on the next couple of blogs.

Until next time............

Happy Gardening 2012!

Posted by Wilma Smith

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