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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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Bathtub Therapy

bathtub therapy

Stressful day? Try some “Bathtub Therapy” (or, when the going gets tough, the tough get into the tub)!

Baths can be so soothing, both for body and mind. When I’m feeling fritzed, there’s nothing better than sinking into a big tub with a cup of tea and good book.

I like to soak in herbal teas as well as drink them! San Franciscan herbalist and aromatherapist Jeanne Rose calls herbal baths “the organic antidote to impure air and harsh water conditions”. She recommends taking a herbal bath 2-3 times a week to smooth and hydrate the skin, and keep it healthy and young looking.

I tend to have lots of different herbs on hand, so can make lots of different bathtub teas to suit my mood. Some of my favorite blends are:

  • 2 parts red roses, 1 part jasmine flowers, 1 part patchouli leaf
  • 2 parts lavender flowers, 1 part comfrey leaf, 1 part marjoram leaf
  • 2 parts calendula flowers, 1 part lemon balm leaf, 1 part lemongrass leaf
  • 2 parts chamomile flowers, 1 part catnip leaves, 1 part lavender flowers

But you don’t have to have a huge herbal apothecary- Common kitchen ingredients like apple cider vinegar, oatmeal, and sea salt are perfect for turning your bath into a therapeutic spa experience.

Vinegar and salt (½ cup-1 cup) can be added directly to the tub as it’s filling, but oatmeal and herbs I put in a muslin bag before tossing into the tub. An easy substitute if you don’t have a bath tea bag is to use a washcloth. Wrap a large handful of herbs up in the washcloth and tie it with a string.

(I let the bath tea keep steeping in the tub with me while I soak.)

Sit back, relax, and enjoy your soak. Oh, and don’t forget to bring your luffa!

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