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Culinary Herbs: the apothecary in your pantry

culinary herbs for your herbal apothecary
“Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.” -Hippocrates, ancient Greek physician called the father of medicine

You might be tempted to beeline into the Wellness Department when looking for a remedy, but some of the best herbal medicine can actually be found hiding out in the Produce Department (or maybe in your own garden!).

Culinary herbs not only offer us nutrition (they’re loaded with vitamins and minerals) and help with the important job of digesting and assimilating our food, they also make good medicine.

Basil, Chives, Cilantro, Dill, Garlic, Ginger, Marjoram, Mint, Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, and Turmeric – herbs you already know and use – have many medicinal properties.

 

Basil: antibacterial, antiviral

Chives: anthelmintic, antibacterial, antioxidant

Cilantro: antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory

Dill: antibacterial, antioxidant

Garlic: anthelmintic, antibacterial, anti-fungal, antioxidant

Ginger: antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral

Marjoram: antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant

Mint: antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-parasitic, antiseptic

Oregano: antibacterial, anti-fungal, antioxidant antiviral

Parsley: anti-inflammatory, antioxidant

Rosemary: antibacterial, anti-fungal, antioxidant

Sage: antibacterial, anticatarrhal, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral

Thyme: anthelmintic, antibacterial, anticatarrhal, anti-fungal, antioxidant, antiviral

Turmeric: antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant

 

But don’t wait until you’re already sick! Adding more herbs to your diet is preventative medicine, and is as easy as using a slightly heavier hand in your favorite recipe. Taking my cue from herbalist Susun Weed, I add herbs by the handful instead of teaspoonful.

My cooking sure has gotten alot more interesting! Nice to know, too, that it’s got an antibacterial, antioxidant, and antiviral punch.

Of course, you might want to experiment slowly with this. But don’t be afraid to experiment! Using different combinations of herbs, as well as more quantity, has turned my everyday eating into gastronomic adventure 🙂

(When using fresh herbs, use about twice as much as you would dried.)

 

Another trick I learned from herbalist Kami McBride. She recommends keeping herb blends and single herbs in a shaker right on the table with the salt and pepper. When they’re close at hand, she reasons, you’ll use them more often. Worked for me!

 

When it comes to herbal condiments though, my favorite is pesto. I like Basil pesto best, but only when it’s made from fresh Basil. Not always an option outside of summertime here in Massachusetts.

So during the “off-season”, I raid the Produce Department for their fresh leafy greens like Arugula, Lettuce, Chard and Kale, and blend those up with whatever fresh herbs are available.

Cilantro and Parsley work really well. You could try Rosemary and Sage too. And don’t forget to add some garlic!

 

For even more gourmet flair, infuse your herbs into olive or coconut oil. Herbal oils make great jumping off points for lots of recipes.

Oil infusions are perfect for salad dressings, marinades and sautéing. They can also be used for massage or bath oils, and are the base for ointments, salves, and creams.

Made with dried herbs, your infused oil should have a shelf-life of about one year. (Oils made with fresh plants have a much shorter time before they spoil. You might even want to keep these refrigerated for the longest shelf-life possible.)

 

Basic Oil Infusion Recipe, Simpler’s Method

1 part dried herb

2 parts oil

(a “part” is whatever unit of measure you’re using- if it’s a cup, then the recipe is 1 cup dried herb to 2 cups oil, if it’s a teaspoon, it’s 1 tsp. dried herb in 2 tsp. oil)

 

Solar-Infused: Put herb in glass Mason jar and add oil. Cover and leave in a warm, dry place for 2 weeks (this can be in the sun, but doesn’t have to be). Shake daily. Strain herbs from oil using cheesecloth or muslin. Then add another batch of herbs to oil and let sit for another 2 weeks. Strain out herbs and bottle oil.

 

Double Boiler: Put herbs and oil in double boiler and bring to a gentle simmer. Keep on low heat for 1-2 hours. *Keep an eye on it to make sure oil doesn’t overheat and scorch. Strain through cheesecloth or muslin and bottle.

(I add the spent herbs to my compost pile.)

 

Try 2 parts Rosemary with 1 part each Basil & Thyme for your herb blend. This oil would be perfect for:

– Dipping bread

  • On pasta
  • Marinating tofu
  • Hot Oil Treatment for hair & scalp
  • Massage Oil for aching muscles & sore joints

 

So jazz your taste buds and herb up your food! More than just adding flavor, it contributes to overall health and vitality, boosts immunity, and can heal illness should it happen to come down the pike.

 

(Written for my local food co-op, River Valley Market – Originally published in their Spring 2012 Newsletter)

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Keep your Roots in the Ground

tree with roots illustration

I’m not kidding when I say I’m eco-neurotic. I worry about everything I do and use, and how my actions impact everything I’m connected to. Perhaps this comes from gardening. When you garden, you learn to pay attention to all the connections of the plants: the soil and worms, the insects, birds and other animals, the wind, sun, and water.

(And you don’t have to be a climate scientist to understand that everyone and everything on this planet is connected and is in trouble. Pollution is out of control and humans are racing to cover any remaining bit of green with plastic and concrete!)

Many popular herbs are becoming endangered, and we all have to do our part to protect them. So I’m always glad to learn of a more conservative way to use the herbs I love.

Though the book may say to use the root, it’s very often true that you can use the aerial parts of the plant instead (like with echinacea and marshmallow). And why kill a plant unnecessarily?

On the December 8th episode of the radio show “The Herbal Highway”, I learned a new one: Goldenseal! Yes! You don’t need the root- the leaf works just as well.

Listen to this episode online as herbalist Karyn Sanders talks about her favorite herbs for Winter Immunity (you can also download the .mp3).

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Sweet Almond Oil, at last!

skin serum

Until now, I’ve avoided using sweet almond oil because it’s on the hit list for people with nut allergies (although someone with a nut allergy won’t necessarily be allergic to nut oil in a topical product- I just try to err on the side of caution).

But when developing my new Skin Serums, it was hard to find another oil as light-textured, as penetrating and well-absorbed as almond oil is. It feels and smells wonderful!

Sweet almond oil is a rich source of vitamins A and E, and has a long history of use in body care. It moisturizes and soothes skin, and is beneficial for all skin types. It’s also fabulous for your hair, nourishing hair and smoothing hair cuticles.

One of the things I love best about almond oil is that it’s as good used “straight” as it is blended with other oils. It brings its soft, satiny qualities to all my serums while remaining non-greasy feeling.

I’m really excited to have this “best-known beauty secret” added to my herbal pantry at last!

 


With one hesitation- While I am glad that I can source almond oil that comes from the U.S.,

the pollination of California’s almonds is the largest annual managed pollination event in the world, with close to one million hives (nearly half of all beehives in the USA) being trucked in February to the almond groves. Much of the pollination is managed by pollination brokers, who contract with migratory beekeepers from at least 49 states for the event. (Wikipedia)

This practice is one cause of colony collapse disorder. As much as I want to support our farmers, I cannot in good conscience use a product that is so harmful to bees.

I’ll continue this conversation in another post and welcome any comments you have….

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Eco-Conscious? I’m Eco-Neurotic!

bunnyluv

Eco-Conscious? I’m Eco-Neurotic! I worry about each and every ingredient used in my skin and body care just like I worry about each and every ingredient that goes in my food.

(And to keep going with the food analogy…. ) I worry about these ingredients from soup to nuts: where they came from, how they were grown and harvested, how they were stored, etc.

So I spend alot of time researching. Unfortunately, it’s a moving target.

I stopped using rosewood essential oil and substituted ho wood essential oil when I learned of rosewood’s endangered status. But like so many trees and plants today, ho wood is suffering from over exploitation and habitat destruction, and is now also considered threatened.

Ditto for amyris essential oil, which I use to substitute for sandalwood.

(check out “Unethical Use of Rare and Threatened Plant and Animal Products in the Aroma Industry” by Tony Burfiel)

The plight of animals in the beauty industry is well known. Legislators consistently let us down when it comes to animal cruelty. The much-lauded “Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011” does little to live up to its name and will likely result in even more animal testing.

These things could, and do, drive me crazy. Sometimes I feel like I’ve hit the wall, but I can’t give up.

An overwhelming majority of people say they would choose natural, cruelty-free products if they were more available. I’m dedicated to helping create this reality 🙂

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Love essential oils? Or Avoid them?

essential oils

Talking with a friend who’s just beginning to use essential oils has me reflecting on my own journey with these remarkable (and occasionally controversial) oils. It was an interest in aromatherapy that put me on the path to herbalism, so I’m curious about how others view and use these plant treasures.

Do you love essential oils? Do you use them individually, or make your own blends? How do you use them?

Or do you choose not to use them? Some people consider them “unnatural” because they are distilled. I remember being a bit surprised when my friend Melissa of Naturally Good Soaps posted in the Herbal Pantry that her herbal teacher called essential oils “drugs” and flatly stated they should never be used.

It was sage Becki of La Yerberia who reminded us that the origin of the word drug likely derives from the 14th century word “droge”, loosely meaning dry plant.

As I’ve worked with essential oils over the years, I’ve come to feel that less is more (my bodycare products are made with the lowest-possible concentrations). I don’t actually consider them “essential”, but would be so sad to have to live without them! They bring a depth of aroma that fragrance oils could never capture, not to mention psychological and physical therapeutic benefits.

What do you think? Please comment here, on my Facebook page, or Tweet me. Thanks!

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Do you Drink or Wear your tea?

Holy Basil (aka Tulsi)

I’ve been growing Holy Basil in the garden for three years and only fall deeper in love with each passing season! When you meet this plant, you understand instantly why it is so revered; its fragrance is truly heavenly! Being so useful medicinally while being so pleasant to consume really does seem a kind of miracle…..

Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum) is also commonly called Tulsi (which is Sanskrit for “the incomparable one”) and is worshipped by Hindus throughout India. In Ayurveda, it’s used as herbal tea, dried powder, fresh leaf, or mixed with ghee for the common cold, headaches, stomach disorders, inflammation, heart disease, poisoning, and malaria.

Essential oil can be extracted from Holy Basil and is used in skin care and herbal cosmetics for its anti-biotic, disinfectant, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.

 

D.I.Y.

If your skin is acne-prone like mine, you’ll love what Holy Basil can do for you! Make a tea with dried Holy Basil and use it like a toner. It helps clear up acne and blemishes, while making your complexion appear brighter.

You can also use the tea as a hair rinse to add luster to dry hair and soothe an itchy scalp, as well as for a breath-freshening mouth rinse.

I like to add Holy Basil to bathtub tea too. Talk about a reviving, skin-soothing soak!

 

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