Extraordinary Herbs!!

Now that spring is on its way, let’s talk about the wonderful power of plants, in this article, specifically herbs.  Herbs are plants that are used in cooking and medicine.

For thousands of years, humans have relied upon plants for shelter, clothing, food and medicines. Herbs can be found in the hedgerow or the garden, for example.  It is known that many modern drugs are derived or synthesized from herbs and research continues to investigate the properties of herbal extracts. St John The Baptist founded St John’s wort, a highly prized herb for its mood enhancing assets hundreds of years ago.  

Herbs can be directly eaten – I’ve often used wild garlic (ramsons) in pesto sauces, in salads and in pasta dishes.  Wild garlic is said to have blood cleansing properties and help with fighting infections.  Garlic mustard has fiery tasting leaves and flowers which can be used in marinades and has been noted to aid digestion.  Likewise, dandelion leaves and petals make a nice salad ingredient and are nutrient rich, specifically high in iron, magnesium and potassium.  Poppy seed (and honey) paste is a superb bedtime treat, which assists sleep.

Herbs can be infused (fresh or dried from a hung bunch) in hot water, for example chamomile, mint or nettle tea.  Similarly, herbs can be infused in other culinary mediums such as honey, sugar syrup, vinegar, almond oil or olive oil.

Not only is the leaf or flower used in herb preparations, but in some cases, the root (dandelion, burdock, ginger, liquorice) or bark (black haw, witch hazel) is expended for their mighty properties.

For a number of years, I have been researching, collecting and making a series of tinctures and infusions. A tincture is a herbal tea (using alcohol), that for use, a few drops is diluted in water. The advantage to using alcohol is that it strips out the active chemicals in plants that other liquids cannot.  Here are a few locally collected herbs:-

1) Plantain  

2) Lemon balm

3) Cleavers (sticky bud plant) that can be tinctured. My infusions are made with Sage, Thyme in raw honey.   

Distillation equipment can be used to extract essential oils – we mostly have heard of Lavender, its uses to relieve headaches and to help us relax. Tea tree oil (from leaves) is a natural antiseptic remedy, always useful to have at home. Peppermint oil is added to toothpaste, in flavouring foods, helps cure symptoms of nausea and is a beneficial digestive aid.    

The list created here demonstrates just a few herbs that I know of and use;however, there are many other plants that have their place in modern medicine and culinary subjects.  

So, enjoy the power of plants!

For Health and Safety – Correct ID should always be a priority. This minimises the risk of handling, or worse still, eating an unwanted or poisonous plant.  Often red berries on trees should not be eaten, such as berries from yew tree. Hemlock, Lily-of-the-valley (not to be confused by wild garlic) and Nightshade are very dangerous plants and should never be handled. Always use a field guide.  There’s a good book – it’s a Collins nature guide; Herbs and Healing plants of Britain and Europe (Dieter Podlech).

Before using a plant, always rinse with clean cold water. Beware that some people may have allergic reactions to some herbs.  

A variety of powers exist to protect the environment from possible conflicts of interest, misuse and abuse. The bye-laws cover picking plants and flowers.

These rules apply from the original Countryside Code:

1.   Only pick what you need to eat, leave some for the wildlife

2.   Take care not to damage and trample vegetation

3.   Take care not to leave behind any discarded (rubbish) or unwanted items  

4.   Do not over pick or remove a single species. This may make the plant vulnerable to decline and impact the ecological balance

5.   With regard to fauna; report any rare species to local wildlife groups. Records of certain species are important for mapping purposes and species conservation.

Take Care – Love From Stanfree Valley!!

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