The same things that flavor your food can aid your health.
The word "herb" can conjure up a multitude of images these days, especially since they have become so popular as the trend toward natural healing continues to grow. There are herbal teas, and herbal supplements that are in the form of pills. There are people who specialize in medicinal herbs, and specialize in a particular branch of herbal medicine, such as Chinese herbs, which are used differently than, say, country herbal remedies, or healing herbs as used by the American Indians.
All herbs have healing properties, however, and that includes culinary herbs, which we use to make our food taste great. Now that spring is around the corner, many people are thinking of putting in their gardens, which usually includes at least a couple types of herbs. Even people in the city can plant herbs in planters on their porches for taste, fragrance, and healing.
Linda Bennett, a master herbalist from Niles, became interested in the healing properties of herbs when her husband suffered a heart attack.
With a masters in chemistry from YSU, she had been a lab manager in toxicology, where hospitals would send samples of blood and urine, for example, to be tested. But when her husband had an adverse reaction to the medicines he was taking, Bennett began to explore other avenues of healing. She eventually got a masters in herbology from Dr. John Christopher School of Natural Healing, and now gives lectures on herb gardening, making herbal teas and other remedies for health, and herbs for women's health.
One of Bennett's favorite herbs is gingerroot, which she says is great for Oriental cooking and wonderful for healing
"It works well to relieve menstrual cramps and nausea, especially car or sea sickness and morning sickness," Bennett says.
She also likes powdered cayenne, which can be put on a cut that won't stop bleeding, and, amazingly, does not burn when used this way.
"Cayenne is good for those with heart disease," says Bennett. "It keeps platelets from clumping, and aids in circulation, making it a good herb for the elderly. Cayenne can also be used fresh for joint pain. Soak it in olive oil several days, then rub into the joints. You will feel heat, but it won't burn. The powdered form can be mixed in with plain lotion."
She adds that anyone with sensitive skin should use this remedy with caution.
Bennett praises the healing benefits of garlic. "It is best for an antibiotic and antiviral," she says. "It can be used to treat parasites in dogs, but should not be used with cats. To treat flu, mince a little and mix with a tablespoon of honey, to be eaten. It can also be made into a paste. Apply olive oil to the foot, then apply the paste and wrap. It is absorbed through the skin, which acts as a conduit." Bennett also says that garlic is good to help reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol.
Another of Bennett's favorite herbs is dandelion, a member of the chicory family. It works on the liver to detox and cleanse the system, and stimulates appetite. She cautions that someone with an inflamed gall bladder should not use dandelion, and adds that anyone with health conditions or who is on medications should always be careful when using herbs.
Something most of us may not consider to be an herb is red raspberry leaves. "Put a handful of clean, fresh leaves in a cup and steep in boiling water 10 minutes," Bennett says. "This is great for female problems, such as menstrual cramps. Drink 2 or 3 cups a day to smooth out the system. It also helps with infertility to balance the hormones. Raspberry should be taken over a period of time to be effective. It is safe during pregnancy, and aids labor."
Therese Pavilonis, HM, one of the sisters who tends the herb garden at Villa Maria, also shares her knowledge of herbal remedies.
"Caraway, which dates back to ancient Egypt, aids in digestion, and is traditionally used in sauerkraut dishes, to dissipate the gas effect," she says. "Costmary leaves were used as Bible bookmarks, and during a long sermon, could be waved in front of the nose to stay awake. Peppermint can also be used for that purpose. Keep some in the car for when you feel drowsy.
"Dill, however, induces sleep, and can also be used as a milk stimulant for nursing mothers. Lemon balm can soothe anger and stimulate the appetite. Comfrey is good for bone knitting. Just wrap the broken area with leaves and the effects will penetrate the skin. (Because comfrey contains toxins, it should be eaten very cautiously.) Chamomile calms and relaxes, and is a good bedtime tea."
In keeping with the earth spirituality philosophy at Villa Maria, Sister Therese adds that herbs have a spiritual healing quality, too, and that in tending them, their fragrance alone has a calming effect. She also says that we should be responsible for what we plant, and to plant only what we are able to properly care for.
XTo contact: Linda Bennett (330) 652-0405. To make arrangements to view the seasonal herb garden at Villa Maria (724) 964-8920 ext. 3387