Healing Herbs and Spices
Many of us have a few favourite herbs that we grow for culinary purposes, but have you considered growing some other herbs and spices for their healing and medicinal use?
Our ancestors harvested the herbs and spices that grew wild around them, then mixed up potions based on ancient knowledge to treat a variety of ailments. The humble herb and spice rack in your kitchen actually holds a plethora of medicinal and healing ingredients that not only adds flavour to your food but can also address imbalances in your system and target specific ailments and health issues.
What are herbs and spices
Technically, herbs and spices are different parts of plants, the difference between the two being where they are obtained from the plant.
Herbs come from the leafy and green part of the plant.
Spices are parts of the plant other than the leafy bit such as the root, stem, bulb, bark or seeds.
Keeping in mind the holistic understanding of our health, that mental health and physical health are closely intertwined, to address ailments and imbalances in one often requires also addressing potentially unidentified ailments in the other. In many cases, the most effective way to restore optimal health to both body and mind is to supplement with adaptogenic and other herbs that help balance both systems simultaneously and naturally, without causing harmful side-effects.
Of all the herbs and spices you can choose from, there are some that contain more powerful body/mind healing properties than others. Below is a list of herbs and spices that are well known for their specific medicinal properties, but also for their broader health enhancing properties.
You may be surprised to learn of the many diverse conditions for which theyâ€™ve proven so very useful.
Like ginger, aloe vera possesses an incredible ability to ease nausea, improve digestion, cleanse the colon and digestive tract, and maintain healthy elimination and bowel function. Consuming aloe vera can also help ease inflammation and improve the oxygenation of blood, two benefits that for many people can make all the difference in promoting lasting health.
There are so many benefits to consuming aloe vera, in fact, that simply adding the gel or juice of this powerful, succulent plant into your daily dietary regimen can effectively remedy a whole host of physical and mental illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, arthritis, kidney stones, ulcers, high blood pressure, nutrient deficiencies, constipation, diabetes, candida and other yeast infections, skin disorders, and cancer.
Basil is an herbal carminative, that is, it can relieve gas and soothe stomach upsets. One possible explanation for its calming effect is a compound called eugenol, which has been shown to help ease muscle spasms. Research is still preliminary, but laboratory studies also suggest that compounds found in basil may help disrupt the dangerous chain of events that can lead to the development of cancer.
Cayenne pepper is a hot red powder made from tropical chili peppers. It contains alkaloid capsaicin, which relieves pain by blocking the chemicals that send pain messages to the brain. If you eat cayenne at the first sign of any type of headache, with plenty of water as a chaser, this spicy herb may be an effective alternative treatment. Added to food, cayenne perks up appetite, improves digestion and relieves gas, nausea, and indigestion. The herb also thins phlegm and eases its passage from the lungs, thus helping to prevent and treat coughs, colds and bronchitis.
Cinnamon bark contains an oily chemical called cinnamaldehyde that kills a variety of illness causing bacteria, including the dreaded E.coli, Salmonella, and Staphylococcus aureas. Research shows that cinnamon is also able to stop the growth of the Asian flu virus. Herbalists report that cinnamon bark also helps regulate the menstrual cycle and checks flooding during menopause. Also cinnamaldehyde has a tranquilizing effect that helps reduce anxiety and stress.
Oil of clove is 60 to 90 percent eugenol, a potent pain deadening antimicrobal. Clove has earned the official endorsement of the FDA as an effective stopgap measure for tooth pain. Clove is also among the spices that can help the body use insulin more effectively, thus lowering blood sugar somewhat. In one lab study, clove was also found to speed healing of the dreaded cold sores.
Dill has been used to soothe the digestive tract and treat heartburn, colic and gas for thousands of years. In fact, the word dill comes from the Old Norse word dilla, meaning to lull or soothe. The herb has an antifoaming action that suggests why it might help break up gas bubbles. Like parsley, dill is rich in chlorophyll, which also makes it useful in treating bad breath.
Rich in volatile oils, fennel is whatâ€™s known as a carminative herb, meaning that it can ease bloating, gas pains, and digestive spasms in the small and large intestines. Fennel can also reduce bad breath and body odor that originates in the intestines. Women who are breastfeeding may find that fennel, which works in a way similar to the bodyâ€™s hormones, increases milk flow.
Intact garlic cloves contain an odorless, sulphur-containing amino acid called alliin. When the garlic is crushed, alliin becomes allicin. Research shows that allicin helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure and also helps prevents blood clots. Garlic can also reduce the risk of developing atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Compounds in this familiar bulb kill many organisms, including bacteria and viruses that cause earaches, flu and colds. Research indicates that garlic is also effective against digestive ailments and diarrhea. Whatâ€™s more, further studies suggest that this common and familiar herb may help prevent the onset of cancers.
Often under-appreciated because of its relative commonality as a food, ginger is another powerful healing herb that has been used the world over to prevent and heal diseases of all kinds. Some of ginger's many benefits include its ability to settle a nervous or upset stomach, which for some people can lead to persistent mental anguish and disruption of other bodily functions. Raw ginger has long been consumed for its general calming effect, which can help promote general healing while staving off disease.
Ginger helps specifically improve digestion by aiding in the breakdown of proteins and fats, which in turn helps prevent gas, food buildup, and other negative conditions that can decrease immune function and trigger disease. Supplementing with ginger can also help lower blood pressure, ease morning sickness, and lower bad cholesterol levels.
When it comes to quelling the queasiness of motion sickness, ginger has no equal say herbalists. In fact, researchers have demonstrated that ginger beats dimenhydrate, the main ingredient in motion sickness drugs such as Dramamine, for controlling symptoms of seasickness and motion sickness. Ginger stimulates saliva flow and digestive activity, settles the stomach, relieves vomiting, eases pain from gas and diarrhea, and is effective as an anti-nausea remedy.
Herbalists the world over use mint as a premier stomach tonic, to counteract nausea and vomiting, promote digestion, calm stomach muscle spasms, relieve flatulence, and ease hiccups. Menthol, the aromatic oil in peppermint, also relaxes the airways and fights bacteria and viruses. Menthol interferes with the sensation from pain receptors, thus it may be useful in reducing headache pain. Scientific evidence suggests that peppermint can kill many kinds of micro-organisms, and may boost mental alertness. In one study, people who inhaled menthol said they felt as if it relieved their nasal congestion, although it didnâ€™t increase their measurable air flow.
Oregano contains at least four compounds that soothe coughs and 19 chemicals with antibacterial action that may help reduce body odor. The ingredients in oregano that soothe coughs may also help un-knot muscles in the digestive tract, making oregano a digestive aid. This familiar spice also contains compounds that can lower blood pressure too.
Diuretic herbs such as parsley prevent problems such as kidney stones and bladder infections and keep our bodyâ€™s plumbing running smoothly by causing it to produce more urine. They also relieve bloating during menstruation. Also thereâ€™s a reason for that parsley on the edge of the diner plate, its not just there for fancy decoration; itâ€™s an effective breath freshener because it contains high levels of chlorophyll.
Rosemary is one of the richer herbal sources of antioxidants, which have been shown to prevent cataracts, and contains 19 chemicals with antibacterial action that help fight infection. Traditionally used to ease asthma, this common culinary ingredient has volatile oils that can reduce the airway constriction induced by histamine, that chemical culprit of asthma and other allergy symptoms. Herbalists think that rosemary may also help ease breast pain by acting as a natural drying agent to fluid filled cysts.
The oils found in sage are both antiseptic and antibiotic, so it can help fight infections. Sage is effective for symptoms of menopause, night sweats and hot flashes, because of its estrogenic action and because its tannins can dry up perspiration. Thereâ€™s also compelling evidence that sage may be of value to people with diabetes for whom the hormone insulin does not work as efficiently as it should. Lab studies indicate that sage may boost insulinâ€™s action.
Thyme contains thymol, which increases blood-flow to the skin. The warmth is comforting, and some herbalists believe that the increased blood-flow speeds healing. An anti-spasmodic, thyme relaxes respiratory muscles and is endorsed for treating bronchitis by Commission E, the expert panel that judges the safety and effectiveness of herbal medicines for the German government. Aromatherapists say that thymeâ€™s scent is a mood lifter.
Also called Holy Basil, tulsi is known to help elevate mood and spirit while calming the mind. Like ginseng and licorice, tulsi is said to enhance the mind-body-spirit connection by addressing the underlying health conditions afflicting each of these important human systems. Besides generally relieving stress and boosting immunity, tulsi helps fight chronic inflammation, boost energy levels, promote clarity of mind and thought, and improve digestion.
Tulsi is also recognised for its ability to fight various allergies and allergy symptoms, which often lead to feelings of "brain fog" and mental incapacity. Individuals that supplement with tulsi, particularly in conjunction with other adaptogenic herbs, have found that they are able to breathe better, digest food better, think better, and generally feel better, regardless of their particular health conditions.
Turmeric, the primary active component of which is curcumin, is one of the most clinically studied herbs today that contains powerful mind-body healing capacities. A common healing herb in both traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric possesses a unique ability to ease and even cure systemic inflammation, which is a common cause of many chronic health conditions and autoimmune disorders that plague people today.
Because of its natural ability to normalise various bodily processes commonly aggravated by stress and other life factors, turmeric is considered to be one of the most powerful adaptogenic herbs that helps promote systemic balance and facilitate the healthy metabolism and assimilation of nutrients. By counteracting these disease-causing physical, chemical, and biological stressors, turmeric can effectively heal and protect against illnesses that affect both mind and body.
Many clinical studies have shown that the curcumin in turmeric has anti-inflammatory effects, including a significant beneficial effect in relieving rheumatoid arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome. Curcumin, which gives this spice its familiar yellow pigment, may also lower cholesterol. Turmeric is also packed with antioxidants, including vitamins A, C, and E, which have been shown to prevent cataracts.
This is just a selection of the commonly used herbs and spices that are proven to have medicinal and beneficial properties. By including them into your daily cooking or diet on a regular basis, you'll greatly enhance your quality of life, and reduce the need for those expensive, and often damaging pharmaceutical drugs. Of course, not only will these herbs provide healing benefits, but their fresh flavors and intense aromas will make your meals more appetizing and nutritious.
Harvesting and Storing Medicinal Herbs
Harvesting medicinal herbs is the same as harvesting all types of herbs. It is best to harvest early in the morning just after the morning dew has evaporated but before the day begins to warm up.
While fresh herbs can be used for medicinal purposes, it is best to dry them. Use these tips to dry herbs:
- Herbs with woody stems can be bundled together and hung upside down in a cool and shaded room with good ventilation.
- Roots and succulent herbs can be chopped into 1 inch size pieces and dried by laying on a screen near a heat source or in a dehydrator. The right dryness is reached when the roots snap easily.
- Leafy herbs can be dried by spreading on a cookie sheet and placing in a slightly warmed oven. The leaves are dry when they crackle when crushed.
- Dried herbs should retain their original appearance but with a muted color and a stronger smell.
- Keep herbs in glass jars with tight-fitting lids and label them with the name of the herb and the date that it was stored. Do not grind or break up the herbs. Store in a cool, dry and dark place.
At Vital Veggies we're encouraging our clients to plant a greater variety of herbs, both common and uncommon (Kang Kong and Gotu Kola are our new favourites) to enhance their food as well as their health.
Our planet provides all that is needed to support optimum human health and healing, so we urge you to investigate and propagate these natural earth-based medicines that you can grow in your back yard.
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