From The Herbal Apothecary: Herbs to Start Using Today
by Linda Conroy
Herbalism is a tradition with ancient roots that is commonly practiced around the world. According to the World Health Organization, this healing methodology takes place primarily out of people’s kitchens and home apothecaries. Herbs help to support overall health and strengthen many body systems, offering significant nutrients, boosting immune function and enhancing cardiovascular and digestive health.
An herb is essentially any plant that provides leaves, seeds, roots or flowers which can be used to enhance flavors, promote health or as a medicine. While there are an abundance of herbal possibilities, it is easiest to start incorporating herbs into daily life by selecting easily accessible plants with many uses, such as stinging nettle, German chamomile and garlic. These three herbs are easy to procure and grow, and simple to incorporate into food or beverage to help improve health and well-being.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica): It is easily foraged or cultivated in most parts of North America, and for those not able to grow or forage the plant, many health food stores and online resources carry dried nettle.
Nettle meets the criteria for being a nutrient-dense herb. Herbalists often talk it about it as one of the most nourishing plants on the planet. The nutrient profile of nettle consistently outshines most common cultivated greens. Nettle cooked as a vegetable or dried and prepared as a water-based infusion includes a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals. This infusion provides a medium by which nutrients can be easily absorbed by the body. Nettle is a good source of vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B5, amino acids, calcium, fatty acids, folic acid, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and potassium.
For maximum benefit, nettle is best prepared as a nourishing herbal infusion. To make it, weigh one ounce of the dried herb and place in a quart canning jar. Pour a quart of boiling water over the herb and place the lid on the jar. Leave the jar sit for eight hours, and then strain. Drink it throughout the day. Unused portions will last for up to three days in the refrigerator. Nettle infusions can be drunk at room temperature or iced, as well as warm. The infusion can also be a delicious addition to any soup or stew.
German Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla or its wild foraged substitute Matricaria discoidea, commonly known as pineapple weed, wild chamomile or disc mayweed) is one of the most common herbs found in the American household. It promotes relaxation and sleep, is categorized by herbalists as a nervine and its effects are well established. Drinking a 10-minute steeped tea of fresh or dried flowers and/or bathing in a tea that has been steeped for an hour or longer is a classic remedy used to promote sleep and ease anxiety.
Lesser known effects of chamomile include inflammation reduction (internally and topically); soothing to the skin and mucous membranes; a bitter digestive aid; and possible anticancer properties.
To make chamomile tea, measure one teaspoon of flowers (fresh or dried) and place in a tea bag or tea ball. Place it in a cup and pour boiling water over it. For a soothing relaxing tea, drink after this has steeped for 10 minutes. As a digestive aid or to add to a bath, let the herb steep for up to an hour. To promote digestion, take one teaspoon of the strong, bitter tea. For the bath, remove the tea ball or bag and pour the tea into the bathtub, climb in and soothe the entire body, or add to a foot bath to enjoy a relaxing soak for tired feet.
Garlic (Allium sativum): Garlic and other related Allium family plants like onions, leeks and shallots are amazing herbs to bring into a diet on a regular basis. Many people enjoy garlic, which is readily available at almost any grocery store and it is quite easy to grow. In addition to being an amazing spice, garlic is an effective antibiotic herb. This plant family contains many important immune-boosting and infection-fighting varieties that are easy to grow, purchase and incorporate into meals. Garlic is widely recognized as an agent to help aid in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
One of the most important compounds in fresh garlic is an amino acid called allicin, a powerful substance responsible for some of the plant’s healing properties. When the clove is crushed, chopped or chewed, the enzyme alliinase is released and converted into other sulfur-containing compounds that exhibit antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral and antiprotozoal activity. Allicin also comprises the plant’s own defense against attacks by pests.
The most effective way to ingest garlic is fresh, not cooked. Add it to salad dressings, dips, spreads, cheese and even honey. A traditional preparation, known as fire cider, can be made by filling a jar with garlic, onions, horseradish and other spicy herbs and pouring apple cider vinegar over them. Let this mixture sit for up to six weeks, then strain. This preparation is often taken by the spoonful and used to help prevent colds and flu. Add to salad dressings, marinades and/or simply drizzle on to greens.
These three herbs help to build and protect immune health, strengthen the body by offering essential vitamins and minerals, support digestion and protect the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. They are relatively easy to incorporate into the kitchen and apothecary, and have the capacity to keep the body healthy and strong.