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Herbs -- Common



These plants are traditionally considered to be - Allspice, Anise Seeds, Caraway Seeds, Cardamon, Celery Seeds, Cinnamon, Cloves, Coriander, Cumin, Ginger, Mace, Mustard, Nutmeg, Black and White Pepper, (Poppy Seeds), Saffron, Sesame Seeds, Tumeric and Vanilla. Whereas, kitchen herbs are considered to be Basil, Bay Leaves, Chervil, Chives, Dill, Fennel, Garlic/onions, Horseradish, Marjoram, Mint, Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Sorrel, Tarragon and Thyme.

Now days, for many of these names, we think in terms of using "a pinch" from a small bottle or tin. Our ancestors thought more in terms of food preservation and medicinal uses. With regard to most spices, they also thought about expense and far-away places. My first knowledge of spices was, "You know your grandfather grew up in the Spice Islands", followed by a realization that that was a place of "war" rather than "peaceful trade and romance". In history, spices are more often really associated with greed, money and war, rather than what we are usually taught, namely, adventure, exploration and romance.

When Alexander the Great invaded India about 327BC, he and his troops discovered the delights of peppercorns (Piper nigrum) and the addiction began. Attila the Hun, held Rome hostage, demanding 3,000 lb of peppercorns in tribute, whereas in the year 1000, the then English King, Ethelred II, otherwise known as Ethelred the Unready, demanded of merchants wishing to trade in the City of London, pay a tax in peppercorns. Throughout medieval Europe pepper was often traded, ounce for ounce, for gold. Whereas "peppercorn" rent means a nominal rent, really just to show ownership, this term represents an inverted sense of humor!

ALLSPICE (Pimenta officinalis)

This is a New World plant from Central America, cultivated in Jamaica. The Oil, obtained from the leaves is used for flavoring. The taste of the ground spice resembles a mixture of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. When in a hurry and just want to use one spice for baking or drinks, I vote for allspice. The unripe dried berries are used in pickles, sauces and ketchups. Medicinally, allspice is a stimulant.

The distillate of the leaves of its relative, Pimenta acris, which grows in the East Indies, is commonly called Oil of Bay or Oil of Myrica and is used in soaps and toilet waters (bay-rum).

ANISE (Pimpinella anisum)

The seeds of this annual are among the oldest spices known to man. The Ancient Egyptians and the Greeks used it for coughs and the Romans used it as a breath sweetener, to relieve colic and flatulence, as well as giddiness and nausea. They also considered that it stimulated mother's milk. The Romans believed it was an aphrodisiac. They used it in many of their cakes and candies.

Charlemagne cultivated it on his imperial farms. In Medieval Europe, anise seeds were as used as mouse enticement bait, but the oil of the seeds was considered to be a pigeon poison. However, humans used the seeds in cakes and breads and the leaves in salads, as garnishes and when cooked as a vegetable.

Today, anise seeds are used as flavoring in cough medicines, in baked goods, candies and liqueurs. Anise seeds have been found (together with caraway seeds) to promote iron absorption. Certain insecticidal properties have also been noted..

BASIL (Ocimum basilicum)

Basil originated in Asia and in India was a revered plant, sacred to both Krishna and Vishnu. It was known in Europe by Greek and Roman times. However, it had a mixed reputation. The name basil came from the legendary monster basilisk, whose glance and breathe could kill. The ancient Greeks claimed the plant would only grow if vilified while it was being sown. People in other countries claimed basil was a symbol of love and protected against witchcraft.

When walked on basil releases its scent, hence it was used to strew on floors to cover bad smells and repel flies and other insects.

Medicinally basil was used in wine for gastro- intestinal problems, nausea and dysentry and it was reputed to "soothe nerves". A tea made from basil and peppercorns is a folk remedy reputed to reduce fever. Crushed basil was used as a snuff to relieve headaches and colds. In actual fact, basil is effective for relieving gas and extracts of the plant can inhibit organisms that cause dysentry.

Basil is spicy when flesh and sweeter when dried. Fresh basil (or dried) is used to season sauces, soups and drinks. As the flavor of basil increases when cooked, thus it should be used sparingly. Basil is a very good additive to dishes using tomatoes and it is much used in Italy and elsewhere.

Oil of basil is used to make incense and perfumes.

BAY (Laurus nobilus)

The Greeks dedicated the bay tree to Apollo and his son Aesculapius, the god of medicine. In ancient Greece and Rome a wreath of laurel leaves was used to crown poets and later heroes, hence, "poet laureate" and "rest on your laurels". Laurel was also supposed to give the gift of prophecy. (Athletes were crowned with olive or parsley wreaths).

In medieval times bay leaves were used as strewing herbs because they were insect repellants as well as for their smell.

Medicinally powdered berries were used to improve appetite and reduce fever and as a tonic after an attack of fever. The oil from bay leaves was used externally for bruises and rheumatism and the leaves themselves were added to bath-water to relieve aches and pains. Bay leaves were considered to be a powerful antiseptic.

Both fresh and dried bay leaves were used to flavour soups, stews and saurces. A traditional South African dish, puts bay leaves into a mixture of ground (or chopped) meat and fresh and dried fruits while it bakes. The leaves are removed before serving.

BITTER ORANGE (Citrus Aurantium)

Thought to stimulate the appetite. German Commission E approved it for the relief of symptomatic digestive disorders.

Has been used to replace epinephrine in weight-loss formulas due to its synephrine content, which is thought to increase the metabolic rate (or thermogenesis). This has not been proven clinically. However, synphrine may stimulate a rise in blood pressure through vasoconstriction and norepinephrine depletion.

BORAGE (Borago officinalis)

Also called Star Flower. This herb was known to the Greeks and Romans. Pliny, the Roman historian, stated, "Borage makes merry and joyful". Ancient folklore claimed borage "dispelled melancholy and imparted courage". Modern research suggests that the chemicals in this plant act on the adrenal gland (organ of courage).

Traditionally, borage was used to treat fevers, bronchial infections and dry skin. Borage oil was and still is used for arithritis due to its anti- inflammatory properties. Traditionally borage oil was also used for nervous disorders and kidney, bladder and bowel complaints. Externally, the herb was used as a poultice on inflammations and bruises and in a wash for sore eyes. Very large doses of borage may be toxic.

Young leaves were used in salads or cooked as a spinach. When added to wines or cold drinks, the taste imparted was cucumberlike. Borage flowers and leaves steeped in wine were a popular traditional remedy for melancholy, whereas borage tea was drunk at joust and other tournaments to give courage.

Bees love this plant. Candied flowers were popular sweets in the Middle Ages.

Broccoli (Brassica oleracea)

This vegetable has been found to contain 6 chemicals which may reduce blood pressure. Broccoli also contains calcium and the antioxidant, glutathione, which may help some people with their arithritis.

Cabbage (Brassica oleracea)

This plant is high in boron which may help people if they have osteoporosis - see under Boron.

CARAWAY (Carum carvi)

This is biennial plant was cultivated very early in Europe. Most of the folklore concerning this plant centers on its supposed property to prevent theft. For example, feed it as a love potion and your lover will not be taken from you; feed it to your birds and animals and they will not stray or be taken from you.

Today the dried fruits are used as condiments and as aids for digestion. They are used in baked goods (breads and cakes), cheeses, they are added to cabbage and sauerkraut, meats and sausages and are a component of the German digestive liqueur "Kummel" and the brandy "Kummelbranntwein". The seeds are an effective relief for gassy indigestion and the colic it causes.

The roots are edible and are considered superior to parsnips. The leaves can be used in salads and when boiled taste good in soups or as a spinach type vegetable.

CARDAMOM (Elettaria cardamomum)

Cardamom is always expensive and hence, often adulterated. If possible, never buy ground cardamom, buy the pods and grate or grind your own. Cardamom is a delightful addition to deserts, cookies and certain drinks.

Cardamom belongs to the same family as ginger. Traditionally it is supposed to stimulated the heart and mind and produce "clarity of thinking". In Eastern medicine it is used to treat mucus congestion of the lungs and is stated to be the best and safest of the digestive stimulants. Cardamom is also claimed to "detoxify" the caffeine in coffee and perhaps even cure that addiction. The Bedouins often stick a cardamom pod in the spout of their coffee pots.

A traditional home tonic for lung congestion was to stuff a pear or other fruit with honey and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of cardamom powder and bake it. Supposed to be good for indigestion too.

One of the things you are probably noticing, is how spices not only can delight your taste buds, but can act as minor medicines for colds, nausea due to over eating etc. But please don't forget they were originally used as food preservatives too. Something to remember on camping and/or backpacking trips and heaven-help-us after an emergency such as flooding or earthquake.

CAROB (Ceratonia siliqua)

This herb was often called St. John's Bread or Locust Bean in older literature. It is a well known chocolate substitute. Medicinally it is helpful in controlling bacterial and viral diarrhea, both in adults and children and with care, in infants.

Carrots (Daucus carota)

This vegetable contains 8 compounds which may reduce blood pressure. It is also rich in Vitamin E and beta-carotene and other carotenoids (members of the Vitamin A family), which can significantly reduce stroke risk. Carrots are high in fiber pectin which may lower blood cholesterol levels. in addition, they contain compounds similar to the calcium channel blockers used to treat angina.

Cayenne pepper (Capsicum frutescens)

Chili is the Aztec name for this plant. Traditionally it has been used to improve digestion and relieve gastrointestinal disorders. It is high in Vitamin C. It also is an anti-inflammatory agent and has been used to reduce nasal secretions and obstructions. The German E Commission has approved its topical application in rheumatism and arithritis and for muscular spasms of the shoulders and spine.

CELERY (Apium graveolens)

Enjoying celery as a pot herb, as the French do, but can it be a herbal medicine too?

Com E. notes that allergies can occur and since the effectiveness of celery against rheumatic and other complaints, were as yet, scientifically unproven, use of this herb was not approved by them. However, the retired top FDA herbalist, Dr. Jim Dukes (who is one of the few herbal experts in this country, whom I truly trust, particularly since he is not attempting to sell me something) takes 2-4 tablets of celery seed extracts or 4 celery stalks per day for keeping his own gout (uric acid critical levels) under control.

Traditionally celery has been used by the Chinese to lower blood pressure. There is also some evidence that celery juice may lower total cholesterol and LDL levels in animals. It may also be of use in cardiac arrhythmias, since celery contains some plant material calcium blockers and also magnesium and potassium.

CHERVIL (Anthriscus cerefolium)

A native of Asia, the Middle East and Eastern and Southern Europe, it was introduced into the rest of Europe and the Britain by the Romans. It is an annual, which can be used in place of parsley.

Traditionally chervil was used as a "cleansing tonic" for liver, kidney and stomach problems. The juice was drunk to reduce fevers and for gout and jaundice. Because it was considered to be a bitter Lenten herb, it was credited with restorative properties and the leaves were eaten raw to stimulate digestion. Externally the juice of the leaves was used to treat sore eyes, particularly conjunctivitis.

In the kitchen, young fresh leaves of chervil can be added to salads, soups and sauces. This plant is greatly esteemed by the French and the Dutch. The dried herb looses much of its flavor. In the Middle East the roots were boiled and added to soups and salads, as well as being used fresh.

CINNAMON (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)

Cinnamon is a relative of the camphor tree (C. camphora). The aromatic oil of cinnamon used in soaps, mouthwashes, incense, scented candles etc comes from the plant C. cassis.

In Eastern medicine cinnamon, is prescribed to raise vitality, stimulate the circulation and help clear all types of congestion. Cinnamon is in fact as a strong herbal antiseptic and in Europe, it was much used as an early stage treatment of colds and flu.

In the Far East cinnanon is used in curries and rice pilaf, whereas, in Europe, it is used in drinks, particularly mulled wines, in cookies, with fruits, such as apples and cinnamon plus sugar is finding many new uses.

I have used cinnamon powder to stop ant invasions. It does not look pretty on bench tops, but it does not show, too much, on window ledges and other entry points.

CLOVES (Syzygium aromaticum)

Cloves were always expensive, hence the clove-gilly flower was sometimes used as a poor substitute in Europe.

Cloves were always considered to be a "powerful" medicine. In the Han dynasty in China, court visitors were required to hold a clove in their mouths so as not "to pass on germs" to the Emperor, as well as "overcoming" bad breathe. Cloves were also used in the treatment of diarrhea, nausea and intestinal gas. Later in Europe, cloves were supposed to guard against plague and other diseases. They were also used in court rooms to "ensure the health" of the judges!

Hildegarde of Bingen recommended cloves for headaches, migraines and sinus congestion. Cloves are good for the digestion and can help counter nausea. Cloves are also powerful herbal antiseptics (think gargles and mouth-washes). This sounds strange, but is true, a 1% emulsion of cloves has an antiseptic strength 2 to 3 times greater than that of the carbolic acid, the great physician-surgeon Lister used in surgery. Clove oil is effective against some fungi, such as that responsible for athlete's foot.

Many of you will remember the old cold-flu tonic of rum-lemon-honey, try ground cloves-lemon-honey, with rum or wine optional.

We are inclined to think of cloves as adjuncts to deserts, fruits, drinks, cookies, etc, however, try adding them to stuffings and bread sources, for a change.

CORIANDER (Coriander sativum)

It is mentioned in ancient Sanskrit texts and in the Bible. It was also used in ancient Egypt and China. Its reputed properties included that of being an aphrodisiac. The Greeks and Romans used it as a preservative for meats, particularly for pork. The Romans brought it to Britain and it reached Colonial America before 1670. It was traditionally, considered to be a "cooling" spice to offset the bite and pungency of "hot" spices such as chili. The aromatic odor and taste of the seeds is due to the volatile oils they contain.

The young leaves from this plant, are a *very rich* source of Vitamin C and carotene and can be used in soups and salads. However, it is the seeds that are the most used in flavorings, confectionery and by distillers.

In Europe coriander seeds are officially approved for use in "dyspeptic complaints and for the loss of appetite".

CRANBERRIES (Vaccinium macrocarpum)

Alway a good addition to the Thanksgiving table. However also a useful herbal med. When using cranberry juice as a herbal med, avoid the diluted or heavily "sugarred" kind. The arbutin in the cranberry juice fights and prevents bacterial infections of the bladder and reduces water retention and tissue swelling. Thus it can be of use for some pre- and menstrual problems.

CUMIN (Cuminum cyminum)

Cumin is related to fennel and coriander and was much loved by the Romans. This annual is indigenous to the upper regions of the Nile and spread very early to India and China. It is mentioned in the Bible and was a plant in common use in the Dark and Middle Ages. In 1419 it was among the merchandise being taxed in the City of London. It is mentioned in many early books on Herbals. In Holland cheeses are sometimes flavored with cumin.

Cumin seeds, which contain high amounts of carotene and iron, were traditionally used to help the digestive processes and be a tonic for the heart and nervous system. On a more practical note, the seeds appear to be useful for chronic diarrhea (probably because they have anthelmintic properties) and hoarseness of voice (probably becausethe seeds are mildly antiseptic).

DILL (Anethum graveneolens)

Although used by the ancient Egytians and Greeks, the name "dill" is from the Norse "dilla" or Anglo- Saxon "dylle", both meaning to lull or soothe. In medieval times it was added to love potions and although hung up in houses to guard against the "evil eye", it was supposedly also used by witches in their spells.

Medicinally dill seeds were used to make drinks to relieve, particularly colic in babies, but also stomach aches and cramps, digestive problems, (these uses have been validated), headaches and insomnia. The ancient Greeks, boiled dill seeds in wine for curing hiccoughs. In medieval times dill seeds were used as a breathe sweetener and to allay hunger pains. (I wonder if they might help dieters). Dill was supposed to help promote flow of milk in nursing mothers. (We forget how may infants starved to death through lack of mother's milk. My great, grandmother had 12 kids and 6 died in early infancy due, she wrote to her sister, lack of milk on her part).

Dill leaves and dried seeds are used particularly in fish dishes, but also in salads and sauces. The seeds are also used in breads, potato dishes, for flavoring vinegars and as a pickling spice for gherkins and cucumbers. The leaves are less pungent than the seeds.

ELDERBERRIES (Sambucus nigra)

The phytochemicals in elderberry flowers are good respiratory viral infection fighters and appear to reduce the time required for recovery. Perhaps it may help you next time you have the 'flu. I do not know if elderberry blossom wine has similar properties.

FENNEL (Foeniculum vulgare)

One of the nine herbs held sacred by the Anglo-Saxons. Valued by the ancient Greeks and Romans as "bestowing courage, strength and prolonging life". Fennel was considered by the Romans as an "eye" herb (improve sight, guard against blindness and treatment for cataracts). It was also reputed to be an aphrodisiac. Fennel was considered to be an antidote against poisons and if hung over doors, it was thought to ward off "evil spirits". Fennel was another "strewing" herb to scatter on floors, to "sweeten" the air. The fruit from fennel has now been shown to be an effective insect repellent.

Medicinally oil from the crushed roots of fennel was thought to relieve flatulence, stomach aches, constipation and act as a general aid to digestion. Oil of fennel has in fact been found to be a soothing agent for gastrointestinal upsets. Traditionally fennel was also used as a gargle and mouth wash for sore throats. Fennel has now been shown to have some antifungal and antibacterial activity, as well as anti-inflammatory, some arterial blood pressure reductive properties.

In medieval times fennel seeds were chewed to alleviate hunger on fast days. Traditionally fennel was also supposed to stimulate both the memory and also the milk flow in lactating mothers.

Fennel has been used in herbal teas, in salads, soups, sauces, meat and fish stews. The anise-like tasting seeds have been used in breads, pastries and liqueurs. Fennel is a good "bee honey plant".

Fennel tea with honey was sometimes used as a facial ointment to "remove" wrinkles. This herb is also used in soaps and perfumes. And even as a yellow dye.

FENUGREEK (Trigonella foenum-graecum)

Also called Greek Hayseed and Bird's-foot. Orginating in Asia and the Mediterranean Region, it is one of the oldest medicinal herbs. It was a favourite "cure-all" in ancient Egypt and India and then later in Greece and Rome. It has high levels of choline and also beta-carotene.

Traditionally, fenugreek tea was used for bronchitis, sore throats, tuberculosis, as a general tonic and for "flagging sexual desire". Poultices made from pulverized fenugreek seeds were used for swollen glands, skin irritations and gout. In the Middle East fenugreek was used to treat diabetes and there is some evidence that seed extracts do lower blood sugar and also significantly reduce cholesterol levels.

Fenugreek is often used as one of the spices in curries. It is sometimes also eaten as a salad green or its seeds sprouted and then eaten. The seeds were also sometimes used as a coffee substitute.

The plant is also used as animal fodder. A yellow dye can be produced from fenugreek.

GARLIC FAMILY (Shallots, Onions, Leeks, Garlic and Chives)

SHALLOTS - Allium ascalonicum Originally came from the town of Ascalon (Ashkelon) in Syria, which was destroyed in 1270. During and after the Crusades its use spread all over Europe. In China, it is grown but not valued as highly as other allium species.

Used in cookery as a seasoner in stews and soups, being milder than other alliums in flavor. Makes as excellent pickle.

ONIONS - Allium cepa One of the earliest plants in cultivation, valued by the Indians, Chinese, Sumerians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. Mentioned in the Bible and on inscriptions in the Great Pyramid. There is a legend that when Satan stepped out of the Garden of Eden after the fall of man, onions sprang up from the spot where he placed his right foot and garlic from where his left foot touched. The onion was known in the New World prior to 1492.

In medieval times, onions were reputed to ward off snakes and witches, as well as the plague. Today there are many types of onions differing not only in size and coloring, but also in smell and pungency.

The onion was traditionally used for its antibacterial properties and was eaten to ward off coughs, colds and respiratory infections. The onion was also used for lethargy and was supposed to restore sexual potency. A fresh sliced onion was prescribed to relieve insect stings.

Currently in Europe it is used to help prevent atherosclerosis, as an antibacterial, lipid and blood pressure lowering agent and for the prevention of platelet clumping.

In cookery, onions are not only eaten raw or cooked as a vegetable, but also in soups, salads, stews, sauces and many other dishes. The bulbs were also dried or pickled.

LEEKS - Allium porrum
Extremely popular vegetable with the Celts, Anglo-Saxons and Normans. It is found wild in North Africa and was known in the Bible and to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. From time immemorial (at least the sixth century) it was considered a helmet badge for the Welsh and all true Welshmen traditionally wear a leek on St. David's Day (Patron Saint of Wales) - 1 March.

It is widely used as a vegetable. The stems and leaves are used extensively in soups and stews.

GARLIC - Allium sativum (Clown's Treacle) Used for culinary and medicinal purposes since ancient times by the Egyptians (mentioned on the walls of the Great Pyramid), the Israelites, Greeks, Romans and Chinese.

Widely used for flavoring foods, meats, sausages. In Southern Europe no meal seems complete without garlic being used in its preparation.

Garlic is a bacteriocide, an antimycotic and an antiseptic. Traditionally it was used for coughs, colds and respiratory infections. Current properties attributed to garlic, include: lowering of LDL and raising of HDL cholesterol, reducing the clumping of platelets and by its anti-oxidant properties protecting the liver against damage. It is also used to help prevent age-dependent vascular changes. There is some indication that it is helpful with intermittent claudication.

CHIVES - Allium schoenoprasum
Used in England and Europe to soothe inflammations and insect bites.

Used in cookery as a flavoring, particularly in Scotland and the Catholic Countries of Europe.

GINGER (Zingiber Officinale)

My own favorite is ginger (Zingiber officinale), known in ancient India by its Sanskrit name, shringara and the Greeks as zingiberis. The Romans brought it to Britain and although it remained difficult to grow, it was a "stock item" in many monastic gardens - the pharmacies of their day!

Just as today, ginger was used fresh as "Green ginger", dried, pickled, preserved in honey syrup (now replaced by sweetener) or crystallized. the spice was used in baking (example, gingerbread), cooking, confections and the English favorite ginger beer/ale. Traditionally, it is considered good for colds, aches, pains, digestion, colic and nausea. Today, ginger is officially recognized as being effective in reducing motion sickness and nausea!!! I notice ginger beer/ale is being stocked more frequently now, than 5-10 years ago, on long distance air flights.

Grapes (Vitis vinifera)

Grapes and raisins contain several pain relieving agents, such as, ferulic and gentisic acid and anti-arthritic and anti-inflammatory agents, such as, cinnamic acid, coumarin, myricetin, quercetin and quercitrin. There are also indications that there may be anti-atherosclerotic agents in qrapes too.

Horseradish (Amoracia rusticana)

(Japanese horseradish or Wasabi (Eutrema wasabi). Wasabi is "hotter" than horseradish and has some different properties). Traditionally horseradish preparations have been used to clear the sinuses and even counter or prevent allergies. They aIso appear to have anti-microbial properties. The German E Commission has approved the use of horseradish preparations for use in treating coughs and bronchitis and for urinary tract infections. Still unproven is the use for treatment of respiratory tract inflammations.

HYSSOP (Hyssopus officinalis)

Hyssop is derived from the Greek word meaning "Holy Herb".

It is not known if the Hyssop of the Bible is this particular herb, since the name was given to several different plants in ancient times. Hyssop is one of the bitter herbs ritually eaten at the Jewish Passover Feast. Traditionally hyssop was strewn on the floors of courts, churches and infirmaries to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Elderly women in Europe pressed hyssop flowers in their psalm books, hoping that the strong smell would keep them awake, as well as protecting them from germs. (I will write another herb, which is thought to be the Hyssop of the Bible in a future vignette).

Bees and butterflies are greatly attracted to hyssop flowers and if grown near cabbages, it is said to lure away whiteflies.

Medicinally hyssop was used to treat coughs and respiratory complaints. Extremely large doses were given to caused abortion.

The flowers of hyssop can be added to salads and the leaves to soups, stews, meat dishes, stuffings and some fruit pies. The distilled oil is used in the flavoring of liqueurs and perfumes. Hyssop is used in pot-pourri.

LEMON BALM (Melissa officinalis)

This herb is sweet smelling and was a favorite among ancient beekeepers to attract bees back to their hives.

Traditionally a medicinal tea was made from the fresh or dried leaves to soothe menstrual cramps, relieve insomnia by acting as a mild sedative (hence also useful during flu, colds or headaches) and to relieve flatulence. Research has proven the second and third traditional uses accurate. In Europe Lemon Balm is used medicinally on its own as a tea OR with Valerian Root and Passionflower Herb OR with Valerian Root and Hops.

There is some indication that this herb may have some anti- viral properties too. Lemon Balm ointments have been used successfully for herpes sores.

The leaves of this plant contain a volatile oil that is used in perfumes and cosmetics.

In the kitchen, lemon balm is used in teas, cool drinks and as a flavoring agent in salads, soups and egg dishes.

Two other herbs that have culinary uses similar to Lemon Balm, are Lemon or Wild Thyme (Thymus serpyllum) and Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus). In Brazil, Lemongrass is also used in a tea as a mild sedative and it has be reported to have antibacterial and cholesterol lowering properties.

LOVERAGE (Levisticum officinale)

Also known as "Love Parsley". It was a medieval "all-healing" plant. However it was mainly used for digestive and urinary complaints. Com E. approved use of the lovage root/rhizome for "Irrigation therapy for inflammation of the lower urinary tract (bladder infections) and for the prevention of kidney gravel (kidney stones)". It was contradicated during acute inflammation of the kidneys or impaired kidney function.

Loverage was a medieval pot-herb used much the way celery was. Now it is mainly used in the manufacture of confectionery.

MARJORAM/OREGANO (Origanum marjorana or Majorana hortensis (Sweet Marjoram)

Origanum maru - probably the hyssop of the Bible
Origanum vulgare (Oregano or Wild Marjoram)
including Origanum heracleoticum (Winter Marjoram), which is more pungent than O. vulgare.

The name "Origanum" is from the Greek meaning "joy of the mountain".

Sweet Marjoram (O. marjorana/ M. hortensis) is an annual or biennial herb. In Bombay it is considered sacred to Shiva and Vishnu. The fresh and te dried herb and its oil were all used both in the Old and New Worlds to flavor meats, soups, stews and sausages. The dried leaves and flowering tops were used medicinally as a digestive aid. An infusion of marjoram with honey was a favorite drink for singers when hoarseness threatened. Red wine to which the fresh herb had been added and allowed to stand for 2 weeks was considered an excellent sleep-inducer or after diner drink. Marjoram was valued as a sweet smelling, disinfecting herb, and was much used as a "strewing herb", in pot-pourri, cosmetics, perfumes and the leaves were even used to polish furniture. The plant is much visited by bees.

Oregano (O. vulgare and O. heracleoticum) is a perennial herb. The Greeks believed that if this herb grew on a grave, the decease was happy in the afterlife. Both Greece and Roman wedding couples wore wreaths of this herb to symbolize the joyous event. It has been used as a herbal tea and to flavor salads, soups, stuffings, as a condiment and above all in pizzas. In some parts of Sweden, the peasantry put the leaves of this plant into their beers and ales to keep them from turning sour and also increasing their intoxicating power. In traditional remedies, this herb was used for respiratory disorders, intestinal pains, as a diuretic and for toothache. It was used externally to relieve itching bites. The plant was also considered to be an ant repellant. It was used as a "strewing" herb and in various pot-pourri, cosmetics and perfumes. This plant is much like by bees.

Origanum maru, if it was the Biblical hyssop, was used in Jewish purification rites and during the Roman Catholic Mass ("Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, O Lord and I shall be cleansed" etc).

MINTS (Peppermint, Spearmint, Bergot Mint and Pennyroyal)

MINTS - Mentha species
These herbs were used in very ancient times. In the Bible the Pharisees collected tithes in mint, dill and cumin. The name mint comes from the nymph, Minthe, who was changed into this herb by Persephone, the jealous wife of Hades.

The mint species were much used as strewing herbs in houses, inns, courts and in other public places.

PEPPERMINT - Mentha piperita
Peppermint (and its constituent, menthol) is added to various medications for it taste and it property of easing the discomfort of intestinal gas (indigestion and heartburn). This herb and its oil are often used in Europe for the above purposes.

In the home it is found in liqueurs, candies and other products, such as toothpastes.

SPEARMINT - Mentha spicata
Medicinally it is used as an aid for intestinal gas. It is also used in many toiletry items, including toothpastes.

In cooking it is widely in many meat (particularly lamb) and vegetable dishes and it is also used in jellies. mint juleps, punches and iced teas.

BERGOT MINT or WATERMINT - Mentha aquatica
Source of the lemon scented essential oil used in perfumes. Considered one of the three most sacred herbs of the Druids. Why this mint rather than others, I do not know. The other two sacred herbs were Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), used for flavoring meads and beers and as a strewing herb and Vervain (Verbena officinalis), used for jaudice, sore throats and headaches, as poultices on wounds and to protect against the plague and ward off evil, it was also added to love potions and aphrodisiacs

PENNYROYAL - Mentha pulegium
Penntroyal oil is used in soaps and as a vermin repellant, particularly for fleas. This oil, but not the herb, is toxic if taken in quantity orally. Thus 1/2 an ounce can cause severe liver damage.

Traditionally the herb Pennyroyal was used as an aid in promoting menstruation, but was also used/misused to promote abortions.

MUGWORT (Artemisia vulgaris)

Mugwort is also called Fellon Herb and is a plant cousin of Tarragon. It was one of the 9 sacred herbs of Odin (Woden) and the Anglo-Saxons. The others were: Plaintain (Plantago lanceolata), also called Waybread or Waybroad; Watercress (Nasturtium officinale), also called stime; Chamomile (Chamaemelium nobile), also called maythen; Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioca); Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium); Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare); Crab-apple (Malus sylvestris) and an unindentified plant called Atterlothe.

Mugwort was known to the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Chinese, Japanese and many others in ancient times. It was used by wayfarers to put in their shoes to help footsores. Today, footbaths with steeping mugwort can still help tired, sore feet.

Old herbals and some Asian herbalists use mugwort as a sedative in cases of palsy and certain types of epilepsy. It was also most often used as an aid in menstruation problems and in childbirth.

Mugwort was used to flavor home-made beers before the introduction of hops. It is also a natural insect repellent and was hence used as a strewing herb.

Mugwort is used in poultry stuffing in Eastern European cuisine and as an aromatic herb.

Mustard seeds (Brassica nigra - black; Sinapis alba - white)

Powdered mustard seeds are a common condiment. Traditionally, mustard seeds can promote appetite and can act as a digestive aid. Whole seeds at higher doses can act as a laxative. Tyrosine which is part of the thryroid hormones, is present in large amounts in mustard greens. Whether people who have hypothyroidism should eat more mustard greens is still open to question. Medical uses of mustard in poultices and foot baths has not been proven scientifically.

NUTMEG & MACE (Myristica fragrans)

Nutmeg is the kernel of the fruit of the nutmeg tree. Like most spices, nutmeg, is warming and soothing to the digestive system. The Dutch, in addition to using it as a spice, in cookies, drinks etc, sprinkle it on green vegetables and yogurt and junket.

The early accounts of nutmeg are to be found in the writings of Arabian physicians, who called it "karua aromatika". Traditionally, nutmeg was supposed to calm the nerves, but an overdose can cause giddiness and stupefaction. The Eastern medicinal uses of many parts of this plant, including the roots, cover many pages of fine type, but in the West medicinal use confirmation is scant. But nutmeg is heavily used all over the world, as a key spice.

Mace is derived from the arillus surrounding the nutmeg seeds and is used widely in savory dishes, sauces, ketchup and in also in beverages.

Nutmeg and also mace "butter" (both from second grade nuts and seeds) is used for ointments and in candles.

The essential nutmeg oil is used for mouth-washes, in perfumes and in the tobacco industry.

PARSLEY (Petroselium hortense, P. sativum) (P. crispum)

Parsley was sacred to the ancient Greeks and used in the victors crowns at the Isthmian Games. Both the Greeks and the Romans used parsley in their funeral rites and to decorate graves. A common saying about the dead was, "He has need now of nothing but parsley".

The name Petroselium, is the Greek for rock-celery. If parsley grew well in a garden, the woman was stated to be the dominant partner. To give parsley plants away, was like giving knives away - wishing that person "bad luck".

Traditionally it was used for menstrual problems, urinary and gastric infections (particularly in children), and for asthma and coughs. It was used during lactation, but not during pregnancy. It was also used as a poultice for cuts. wounds and sprains. Chewed raw, the leaves were used as a breath-freshener, particularly after eating onions or garlic.

In the kitchen, parley leaves are eaten fresh in salads or added fresh or dried to saurces, soups, pickles or other dishes. The roots can be grated and used raw or boiled as a vegetable.

PEPPER (Piper Nigrum)

Both white and black pepper come from the same plant. In addition, to our present day uses, pepper traditionally served to reduce stomach and intestinal gas and was said to "stimulate the activity of heart and kidneys". One of the active ingredients of pepper, piperine, is an effective insecticide against houseflies and pepper is a useful garden pesticide. In cooking and baking, if you want your pepper to taste more peppery or your ginger more gingery, just add the converse!!!

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

This spinachlike green is high in calcium, magnesium, potassium, lithium, folate, antioxidants and also omega-3 fatty acids (the best leafy vegetable source of the latter). Thus it is worth considering if it maynot be useful as a mild anti-depressant, in chronic fatigue syndrome and as an additional aid for high blood pressure.

ROSEMARY (Rosmarinus officinalis)

This herb is the ancient symbol of Remembrance.

In ancient times carried by wedding couples as a sign of love and fidelity. The Greeks considered it a memory aid and students stuck sprigs of it in their hair. Placed under a pillow at night it was supposed to ward off bad spirits and nightmares. The dead were buried with it to show that they would not be forgotten. It was strewn on floors to mask bad smells and discourage moths and insects. It was also burnt as an incense. Its wood was used to make lutes and similar musical instruments.

Medicinally rosemary tea was used for digestive complaints and it was made into a cough syrup. Externally it was used as a hair tonic and antiseptic shampoo, in cosmetics, perfumes and disinfectants.

As a strong aromatic herb, rosemary, is used in soups, stews and vegetable dishes. The flowers and leaves can be added to salads. This herb is also used in vinegars, cooking wines, jams, jellies and in breads.

RUE (Ruta graveolens)

Rue known as the "Herb of Grace", was a Christian symbol of sorrow and repentance, the later leading to God-given grace.

The name rue comes from the Greek word "to set free", being a reference to the claim that rue was an antidote for all poisons. The Romans believed that rue not only improved eyesight, but bestowed the power of second sight too. Rue was eaten with cress and bread from Roman times on, by painters and engravers to improve their sight. Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo both claimed to consume rue regularly to improve their sight.

For Muslims, rue has the special significance that it is the only herb said to have been blessed by Mohammed. Early Christians used brushes of rue to sprinkle holy water in exorcisms and before celebrating Mass. Likewise, rue was considered to protect against the "evil eye" and other forms of witchcraft and hence bring good luck. The phrase "rue the day" comes from the custom of throwing rue at an enemy and cursing them.

Rue was considered a protection against plague and was carried by magistrates and spread on the floors of courts against gaol fever, lice and vermin. It was also used inside houses as an insect repellant and in oils for altar lamps.

Medicinally rue was traditionally used to treat headaches, eyestrain, coughs and indigestion. A rue tea was given to expell intestinal worms. Externally, rue was applied to bruises, chilblains and some skin diseases.

Rue can be used in salads and to give a bitter taste to foods and alcoholic drinks, such as grappa. Rue is also used in perfumes and cosmetics.

Saffron (Crcus sativus)

The Babylonians, Sumerians and ancient Romans, all used saffron as a spice, a dye, as a medicine and as incense. The Hebrew name for it was "carcom", whereas, Homer called it "krokos". The Mongols too, used it for cooking.

Saffron is a nerve sedative, mild narcotic and diuretic. In small doses it is a mild stimulant and in large doses an aphrodisiac and narcotic. Traditionally it was a menstruation promoter and it was used in fevers. A paste of saffron was applied to bruises, and for rheumatic pains and for chest congestion.

This plant has been found to have slight inhibitory effects in some tumors and also inhibition of side effects for certain types of chemotherapy.

SAGE - Salvia officinalis

This herb is a symbol of Longevity and a "Cure-All".

The Greeks and Romans held special ceremonies while gathering this herb. Whereas, in China the belief in its tonic and antiseptic powers was so great, that they traded between 1 to 3 cases of China tea for 1 case of sage. There is an Arabic saying, "How can a man die, who has sage in his garden", while the English equivalent is, "He that would live for aye, must eat sage in May". Folklore also maintains that when sage flourishes in a garden, the owner's business will prosper, but when it withers, the business will fail. (Do I see a rush in Barron Park to buy and plant sage plants!!!!).

Medicinally sage tea was traditionally used to treat sore throats and soothe nerves. Sage possesses antiseptic, antiviral and astringent properties. In medieval times, sage was chewed to whiten teeth. It was also used in perfumed oil for altar lamps and is still used in soaps, perfumes, cosmetics and pot-pourri.

In cookery, sage is used in soups, salads, stuffings, pickles, cheeses, jellies and vinegars. The French make an excellent pickle from the young leaves. Sage is also used in cooking wines and in liqueurs and ales. It is used to make "fatty" meats, like duck, more "digestible".

SESAME (Sesamum indicum)

The seeds from annual were consumed very early on both in Asia and Africa. However, in Babylon, Ancient Egypt and Europe the expressed oil was mainly used. The oil is excellent as a salad oil and is used for cooking fish in Japan, just *do not* use it for frying.

The seeds were used in breads in Sicily and in cakes in Greece. In India the seeds were parched and ground into a meal for cookery. In South Carolina the parched seeds were used in broths and puddings.

Today sesame is used in the manufacture of soaps, cosmetics, liniments, ointments and as a solvent of medicinal agents. The seed oil cake is used as a cattle feed and as a fertilizer.

There are many varieties with black, white, brown and dark red seeds. These are used for breads, cookies, cakes and in confectionary.

SORREL/DOCK (Rumex spp.)

The name rumex is from the Latin "to suck", a reference to the use of the leaves by Roman soldiers to relieve thirst. This group of plants variously called sorrel or dock have a high content of oxalic acid and Vitamin C. The plants are mild antiseptics (used for wounds, biols, skin complaints and loose teeth) and can also act as laxatives and diuretics. Parboiling the plants before cooking reduces the oxalic acid content. However, people with gout or kidney ailments should note the presence of oxalic acid in these plants. Mashed leaves mixed with vinegar and sugar made a popular "greensauce" which was served with meats. These plants were used extensively because of their Vitamin C content (to prevent scurvy). This herb was an important ingredient of vinegars in medieval times. It was also used in soups, salads and stews. The stock (even horses and donkeys) liked the taste of this plant too.

Rumex acetosa - Garden Sorrel, Meadow Sorrel, English Sorrel, Sour Dock or Cuckoo's meat
It is cultivated as spinach and for salads, in Britain, Ireland the Hebrides, France, Scandinavia, Lapland and China. Folklore claimed that cuckoos ate the plant to lubricate their vocal cords. The plant was used to remove stains from linen. It was also used as a substitute for rennet in curdling milk.

Rumex alphinus - Mountain Rhubarb
This is grown in France, Europe and China and eaten as a salad or as spinach. Employed as a preservative of unsalted butter in the summer months.

Rumex crispus - Curled Dock or Yellow Dock
The leaves of this potherb weed are highly esteemed by some. Its roots were used medically as a tonic and a laxative.

Rumex montanus - French Sorrel
It is cultivated in France as a salad. In Norway the leaves are eaten with milk or mixed with meal and baked. Whereas, in India sorrel is used in soups and omlettes.

Rumex patientia or Rumex sativus - Herb or Garden Patience or Monk's Rhubarb
This plant has been known in Europe and the Orient since early times as a potherb.

Rumex sanguinea - Bloodwort
Bloodwort has also been used in Europe as a potherb

Rumex scutatus - Garden Sorrel
This plant has been used in Europe, the Orient and in America as a spinach. Medicinally it was called "Herba acetosa romana".

STEVIA (Stevia rebaudiana)

The glycoside, stevioside, from the leaves of this South American herb is many, many times sweeter than sugar. This glycoside does not add to your calorie count and may help lower your blood sugar level too.

TANSY (Tanacetum vulgare)

In Greek mythology, the cup-bearer of Zeus, Ganymede was made immortal by drinking juice from the tansy plant.

The ancients used this plant for embalming corpses. Tansy was popular as an insect repellant, particularly for moths, lice and fleas and was used as a "strewing herb" on the floors of houses, churches and court-rooms. Its leaves were also wrapped around meat to act as a preservative and fly and insect repellant. Tansy is still added to pot-pourri and can be used as a yellow-orange dye.

Medicinally tansy tea was taken for cold and as a general tonic, although a large overdose can be toxic.

As a rembrance of the Passover bitter herbs, this herb featured in the medieval tansy pancakes, which were eaten to mark the end of Lenten fasting. Because tansy is bitter, it should be used sparingly, but it certainly can be used in sauces, salads, custards, omelettes and cakes. Tansy has also been used as a substitute for spices, such as cinnamon and nutmeg.

TARRAGON (Artemisia dracunculus)

Also called French Tarragon or Dragon's-mugwort.

Charlemagne liked this herb so much that he planted it on all his estates, This is a very popular herb in French kitchens. They use it's licorice taste as a complementary seasoning in fish, meat and poultry dishes and in salads, dressings and sauce bearnaise. It makes a very good vinegar.

Modern folk herbalists advocate the use of tarragon for alleviating rheumatism and arthritis. It can act as a diuretic.

THYME (Thymus vulgaris)

Also called Mother of Thyme
The name comes from the Greek word for "Courage", and it became an emblem for courage.

However, there was at least 3 distinct traditions linked with thyme:

  1. The ancient Egyptians and Etruscans used thyme for embalming their dead and the thyme flowers were supposed to provide resting-places for the dead. Then the scent of thyme was supposed to linger where a murder had been committed.
  2. As an emblem of courage, the medieval ladies presented their chosen knights with sprigs of thyme and embroidered their "favors" with the same. They also added thyme to ales, beers and soups to cure shyness and induce bravery and courage.
  3. Thyme was a favorite flower of the fairies and was reputed to possess the power to make them visible to humans.

Thyme was traditionally used as a fumigant and to repel moths and insects. It was used as an incense for this purpose in ancient Greek temples. It was carried by judges and strewn in front of them and on the floors of the courts to ward off goal fever. Rosemary was also burnt to fumigate houses. Today rosemary is used in soaps, cosmetics, perfumes and in pot- pourri.

Medicinally thyme has antiseptic and disinfectant qualities. Thyme tea has been used for throat infections, coughs and colds. Thyme honey tastes exceptionally good. Pillows stuffed with thyme were traditionally recommended to dispel nightmares and melancholy. The plant's essential oil, thymol, is in fact a powerful disinfectant against bacteria and fungi and has been used, externally, for athlete's foot infections.

It has been claimed that thyme can stimulate a person's appetite. In cookery, it is used in salads, stews, soups, stuffings, cheeses, omelettes, vegetable dishes and in pickles and sauces. It is also used to flavor liqueurs.

Tomatoes (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)

This wonderful fruit or vegetable (opinions differ) contains large quantities of Vitamin C, beta-carotene and other carotenoids (Vitamin A family), lycopenes and many other food chemicals our bodies desire. It also contains high amounts of GABA, which may help to lower blood pressure.

TURMERIC (Curcuma longa)

The rhizomes are often considered to be the poor man's saffron and were also much used in fake and cheap mustards.

In Indian traditional medicine, turmeric is valued as a blood purifier and as a metabolic tonic. It was also used to regulate the menstrual cycle, relieve cramps, reduce fevers, help in skin disorders and in cases of poor circulation and in the treatment of arithritis. It was, in addition, used for boils, burns, sprains and swellings. Mixed with milk it was used for colds.

Tumeric has now been found to be a natural antibiotic, inhibiting the growth of bacteria, fungi and parasites. It also appears to be a potent anti-mutagenic agent, probably due to its antioxidant properties. Further it is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agent. Hence some of its folkloric properties appear to have some justification, and worthy of further research.

WATERCRESS (Nasturtium officinale)

The young shoots and leaves of this plant have been used as a salad (and now on sandwiches) since Greek and Roman times. In India this herb is much prized too. In the early days of modern California history, the Chinese railroad workers considered watercress to be a life saver!!!

Com E. found that the fresh herb or freshly pressed juice was of use "during inflammation of the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract." Home Page

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