This is the bones of the class I gave at Boulevard Flower Gardens on March 19, 2016. If you come to the classes, I flesh it out with stories and more detailed information. If you have any questions, you may e-mail me. Thanks! ~Alisa
“Let food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food” ~ Hippocrates
After all these years, I think we are finally coming to understand this seemingly forgotten piece of lore. Generations before ours cooked and included herbs in their daily lives without even thinking about it. The daily inclusion of medicinal herbs in small quantities kept people healthy, quietly acting on all the systems of the body. When an illness did happen, the quantity of the herbs was increased to a medicinal dose. Teas, tinctures and poultices were made using herbs right outside their doorsteps. Or they would simply add a few handfuls more herbs to their soups and stews for healthful results. Remember Grandma’s chicken soup? It was healing for a few reasons. First it was made and administered with love—which is important when making herbal remedies. Then, the steaming broth opened nasal passages and made the herbs she included easier to assimilate from inhalation as well as digestion. Grandma may not have known the words antiseptic, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, or antiviral, but she instinctively knew, or remembered from oral tradition of spoken wisdom, which herbs were most helpful for a particular ailment.
Herb gardens of the past typically contained many more herbs than we consistently use today, but there are still many common herbs that can help us stay healthy and alleviate dis-ease. We can begin with a song. Who remembers Scarborough Fair? It is an ancient song, but I remember Simon and Garfunkle’s version:
“Are you going to Scarborough Fair
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine”
So parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme must have been held in high regard, and so they are today among chefs and herbalists alike. We will see what properties these herbs possess that keeps them in such high esteem but I can’t stop there, so I have included six more wonderful herbs most anyone can grow. It was hard to limit myself to just these, but today we will also explore peppermint, chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, catnip and passionflower.
• High in B Vitamins, iron, beta-carotene, Vitamin C & chlorophyll
• Helps alleviate anemia and fatigue
• Diuretic useful in bladder and kidney problems
• Helps dry up mother’s milk when weaning
• Good poultice for mastitis
• Breath sweetener
• Aids digestion
• Helps lower cholesterol
• Astringent or drying action helps reduce sweating- good ingredient to include in deodorant
• Helps dry up mother’s milk when weaning
• Mild hormonal stimulant good for hot flashes and night sweats
• Antiseptic, warming and strengthening for fighting colds and flu
• Anti-inflammatory for throat and tonsils making it a good sore throat and laryngitis remedy
• Good ingredient to include in mouthwash, especially for mouth sores or canker sores
• Enhances memory
• Legendary brain tonic, enhances memory
• Mild stimulant
• Increases oxygen to the brain to ease headache and migraines
• Relieves mild to moderate depression
• Aids in poor circulation and low blood pressure, yet can lower high blood pressure by strengthening veins, arteries and capillaries.
• Mild analgesic
• Anti-inflammatory good for joint pain and arthritis
• Helps digest fats and starches
• Antiseptic makes it good for mouth sores
• Combats hair loss and greying.
• Antiseptic good for treating colds and sore throat
• Disinfectant for wounds and household surfaces
• Anti-spasmodic action for relieving asthma, stomach cramps and whooping cough
• Germicide used in mouthwash and gargles (key ingredient in old fashioned Lysterine)
• Expels mucus from the head making it good for bronchitis
• Helps almost all digestive issues, controls gas, nausea, diarrhea, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome
• Stimulant for restoring energy
• Freshens breath
• Gentle herb suitable for children
• Calms nervous stress
• Soothes colic and stomach aches
• Boosts immune system
• Beneficial for a good night’s sleep and remedy for nightmares, often can replace night time pain medication for headache or general aches and pains
• Induces sweating to reduce fever
• Relaxing and soothing in the bath and makes an excellent addition to massage oil
• CAUTION: May trigger an allergic reaction for those who are also allergic to ragweed.
• Mild antidepressant both calming and uplifting
• Relieves stress
• Relieves tension headaches and migraines when combined with feverfew
• Good for insomnia
• Used during childbirth as a gentle pain reliever and in the first bath of the newborn
• Antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic makes it useful in treating colds and flu, staph and strep
• Antiseptic good for treating wounds and burns
• Antispasmodic for calming stomach cramps and useful for treating irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease
• Pain reliever for insect bites and bee stings
• Calming nervine lifts the spirits
• Antispasmodic to digestive and nervous system
• Mild sedative for insomnia
• Alleviates heartache and grief
• Calms children with ADHD
• Antiviral good against herpes and shingles
• Delicious and refreshing
• Stress relief for adults and children
• Lowers fever
• Eases pain of teething
• Settles the stomach
• Eases diarrhea and other digestive issues
• Relieves colic
• Helps calm a fussy child
• Helps normalize blood pressure
• Decreases the desire for cigarettes
• Improves circulation
• Helps to reduce fatigue from muscle exhaustion
• Reduces swelling especially under the eyes
• Quiets the mind, especially repeating thought loops
• Used to treat epilepsy in its native South America
• Useful against anxiety and panic attacks
• Helps calm hyperactive children, helps focus
• Analgesic for toothache, headache and menstrual pain
• Antispasmodic for cramps and spastic muscles
• Sleep inducing
• Antibacterial against eye infections
CULTIVATION & PROPAGATION
Herbs are relatively easy to grow and propagate. Most like a sunny spot and do not require much in the way of added nutrients. They like to have well drained soil, not soggy or too much clay. Add compost if your soil is overly compacted.
Parsley is a biannual which means it produces leaves the first season and flowers the next, producing seeds when then drop and renew the cycle. It has a long tap root and does not transplant, nor divide well. The best way to propagate it is by seed, so let it flower. In a sheltered spot it will often reseed itself for a perpetual crop year after year.
Sage is a woody perennial that will grow into a bush of about two feet high if in a preferred spot. Sometimes they will get too woody and leggy and will benefit from pruning in the spring. It can be propagated by seed and by cuttings.
Rosemary is a tender perennial normally hardy in our zone 7 but the harsh periods of subfreezing weather the last few years have taken their toll even on well established bushes. Rosemary grows about three feet high with older stems turning quite woody. Protect it from prolonged periods of cold by wrapping in burlap. Cuttings are the preferred method of propagation.
Thyme is a quite hardy perennial in this zone 7. From year to year it can get straggly looking and so can benefit from pruning. It can be propagated from cuttings or by scattering several seeds to a pot.
Peppermint is a perennial which needs plenty of space to roam and indeed can find its way into your lawn or garden if not kept in check. I don’t worry about it going into the grassy area because I simply mow it. But if you have a more formal look, you can try growing it in a container which can be partially sunk into the ground. Mints produce spreading shallow root along which pop up new plants. It also runs above the ground, rooting wherever the leave nodules touch the ground. Propagation is done by root division and by cuttings.
Chamomile is a self-seeding annual, flowering in the first year and dropping thousands of seeds to come up again the following year. It creeps along and also raises its blooms about 8 inches above the ground. It can be propagated by digging up a clump or by seed.
Lavender is another tender perennial treated and propagated much the same as rosemary mentioned above.
Both Lemon Balm and catnip are vigorously growing perennials about 2 feet high. Cuttings and root divisions are the best ways to propagate.
Passionflower is a vine with beautiful flowers. Both the flowers and the leaves are used. It readily reseeds itself and can become quite unruly if it is in an ideal space.
A lovely tea to soothe the tummy and calm the nerves is 3 parts lemon balm, 2 parts chamomile and 1 part peppermint. Mix together and use one tsp of dried herb per cup of water just under the boil. Let steep up to 20 minutes.
For insomnia use 3 parts chamomile, 2 parts lemon balm, 1 part catnip and 1 part passionflower. This combination quiets the mind to promote restful sleep.
Lavender Limeade has been a real hit at every gathering. Make a simple syrup by cooking 1 cup of organic sugar in 1 cup of water. When the sugar has dissolved, add ¼ cup of lavender buds. Let steep until cool and strain. Add this to the juice of 6 limes and add ice and about a quart of water or to taste. Refreshing, delicious!
And of course add parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme to soups, stews and most any poultry dish. Sing while you are making your love infused food or remedy!
Some of my favorite books for beginners:
Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health
Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs A Beginners Guide
The Little Herb Encyclopedia by Jack Ritchason N.D.
Herbs for Healthy Aging by David Hoffmann, FNIMH, AHG
Herbal Teas 101 Nourishing Blends for Daily Health and Vitality by Kathleen Brown and Jean Pollak
Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine http://chestnutherbs.com/blog/
Herbal Academy on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/HerbalAcademyOfNewEngland/?fref=ts
And of course check out our own Willows Bend Farm page https://www.facebook.com/WillowsBendFarm/?fref=ts
Alisa is available by appointment for consultations on incorporating herbs and aromatherapy into healthy living. (804) 892-7588
Willows Bend Farm nursery will have a large selection of potted herbs this spring and you can purchase herbs from the Emporium year round. See our website www.willowsbendfarm.com for a list of the herbs and blends we carry, or give us a call or an e-mail. Willows Bend Farm has one of the largest inventories of medicinal herbs in the Richmond area. We also have culinary herbs, spices, teas and coffee—all organic and free trade whenever available.
Traditional herbal medicine has not been evaluated or approved by the FDA therefore all of this information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any illness. Consult your healthcare professional if your are pregnant, nursing or being treated for any medical condition.