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JUST WHAT IS AN HERB?



Published: Sat, February 26, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



JUST WHAT IS AN HERB?

"The Herb Society of America Encyclopedia of Herbs" includes any plant valued for flavor, healthful qualities, economic and industrial uses, pesticidal properties, and coloring materials (dyes).

SOME EASY-TO-GROW CULINARY GARDEN HERBS

Note: While culinary herbs are generally safe to eat, as opposed to many medicinal herbs, which should be used only with the advice of an expert, all herbs should be used only under the guidance of an herbal specialist when used for healing.

BASILS

Probably the most popular of all cooking herbs, basil is an easy-to-grow annual which comes in a multitude of varieties. These include the flavored types, like cinnamon, lemon, lime, licorice, Thai; the "course-leaved "ruffles" types, in green and purple: the tiny-leaved Italian types, and the huge "lettuce leaved" types. Holy basil is a tender perennial, with a clove flavor and should only be eaten raw. All basils can be grown from seed or plants, and like hot, dry weather, and will succumb to the first hint of frost. They can also be grown in pots, and brought in for the winter. Basil leaves make great vinegar infusions and jelly.

Healing qualities: relaxes spasms, lowers fevers, improves digestion, and is effective against bacterial infections and intestinal parasites. Also good for migraine, insomnia, low spirits and exhaustion, and can be used externally for acne, insect stings, and skin infections.

MINTS

Another herb that comes in a multitude of flavors, such as chocolate, pineapple, applemint, and lemon mint, along with the common spearmint and peppermint. The flavored mints must be grown from cuttings, as they often do not grow true to variety if grown from seed. Spearmint and peppermint are easily grown from seed. All true mints are very hardy, invasive perennials, and grow best where they are allowed to spread. Do not grow several varieties of mints together because they will cross-pollinate. Mint leaves can be used for teas, jellies, and to flavor dishes.

Healing qualities: good for the lower bowel, irritable bowel syndrome, colic, flu, nausea, increases perspiration, antiseptic.

THE UMBELLIFERAE

This huge family includes aromatics such as anise, caraway, dill, cumin, fennel, lovage, coriander, parsley, carrot, parsnip and celery and cutting celery.

These herbs are perennial or biennial, but often the annuals, like dill, will self seed if planted in a fertile, weed-free environment. Many of these herbs are used for their aromatic seeds, like caraway, anise, fennel and dill. Fennel and dill leaves are great in green salads or potato salad. Celery leaves should not be eaten. Only the stalks should be consumed as the leaves contain toxin. Cutting celery, a cross between celery and parsley, and a very hardy perennial, should be grown for the edible, celery-flavored leaves. Queen Anne's Lace is a wild member of this family, and should not be confused with its very similar but deadly relative, poison hemlock.

Healing qualities: Carrots are rich in beta-carotene for eye and skin health, and anti-cancer effects. Lovage and parsley are good for kidney health and cystitis. Try dill for hiatus hernia.

THYME

Another herb that comes in a wide variety of types and flavors, thyme is a hardy, woody perennial with tiny leaves used to flavor just about any dish. Easy to grow from seed or plant, in a field or pot.

Healing qualities: While all thyme is rich in thymol, a powerful antiseptic, certain thymes have greater healing qualities than others. Common thyme is good for dry cough and whooping cough, excess bronchial mucus, asthma, laryngitis, and diarrhea in children. Pregnant women should not use thyme.

ALTERNATIVES

Have you considered;

Borage: Hardy, self-seeding plant with cucumber flavored blue or white flowers. Attracts hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. Good for pleurisy, TB, cirrhosis and PMS.

Burnet: Hardy perennial to grow from plant or seed. Cucumber flavored leaves used in salad. Good for heartburn, urinary stones, gout, and insufficient lactation.

Bay: Usually purchased as a plant, it is actually woody bush, fairly hardy, but needs protection in winter. Easily kept in a big pot. Leathery leaves traditional for soups and stews. Good for indigestion, poor appetite, colic, and flatulence.




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