Herb 101- Basil

December 31, 2010 by  
Filed under Herb Tips

Originally, Basil was not the most popular herb in the bunch. Actually there were some who simply hated it, mainly the ancient people. The name basil means “be fragrant” but still various cultures battled with a love hate relationship over basil. Americans and Romans loved it while Hindus plant it in their homes as a sign of happiness. On the contrary it was the Greeks who despised it most but those from India and Persia were not too fond of it either. One place that took a special liking to Basil was Italy and to this day not many people prepare a classic pasta sauce without the Basil.

To this day basil and tomato sauce have formed somewhat of a marriage almost globally. Basil is very easy to grow as long as the temperature does not fall below 50 degrees and is in full sunshine. It is popularly used both in the fresh form as well as the dried. A rare known fact about Basil is that the longer it simmers in a dish the more the flavor intensifies. This makes sense as to why people simmer their pasta sauces for so long, to bring out all of the rich herb flavors. Normally in pasta sauces Basil is used in combination with Oregano. However, Basil is not just used for pasta or tomato sauce, it is also used for flavoring fish, vegetables, meats, and soups.

If you decide to grow an herb garden, you can thank the Basil plants for keeping the flies away as flies are also part of the group that does not care for Basil. Another interesting fact about Basil is that it was considered a royal herb with a strong association pertaining to love. Basil had a relationship with how men of a much earlier time planned on proposing to their fair maidens. The man would bring a branch of Basil and if the woman accepted his gift she silently agreed to love him and be faithful to him for eternity.

Basil is related to the Mint family and just knowing that should give you a good idea that it will have many medicinal uses as well. Right away most people associate anything mint with aiding the digestive system and also for its anti gas properties. Herbalists use Basil quite commonly for health ailments such as stomach cramps, vomiting, constipation, headaches and anxiety. When Basil is used for these purposes it is generally made into a hot tea for drinking. Some also claim that a nice hot cup of Basil tea can contribute greatly to a good nights sleep. At herbal stores you can also purchase Basil capsules as well if you do not care for the taste of the tea.

Basil is still one of the most common household herbs used today and in most areas of culinary art it is a necessity there too. When used in its freshest form, Basil is torn from the plant and then just minced up with a knife. Usually somewhere nearby the Basil you will find some olive oil, garlic, and someone getting ready to prepare a fantastic tomato sauce.

Herb Gardening

December 31, 2010 by  
Filed under Herb Tips

Herbs have been around since time immemorial and served different kinds of purposes. They have been used to treat illness and flavour cooking; they were even believed to have magical powers.  Do you want to have your own herb garden?  Here are a few ideas on how to establish an herb garden.

Plan your garden.

Consider the herbs you want to plant.  Think about their types.  Would you like annuals, biennials or perennials?

How much space will they occupy in your garden?  If you want, you can purchase a book that can give you the right information on what specific plants you are planning to grow.

List or draw your garden on paper first.  Separate the annuals from the perennials so when the time comes that you have to pull out the annuals, you won’t be disturbing the perennials.  Perennials can be planted on the edge of your garden so when it is time to till your garden they won’t be in danger of getting dug up.

Another thing to remember is that you have to plant the tall ones at the back and the shorter ones in front.  Also, provide your plants with enough space to grow. Proper position shall help you in this area.

If you would rather keep herbs out of your garden (and some are quite invasive) you could have herb pots. These are large containers with three or more outlets for the herbs. Fill the pot up to the first outlet and plant it before continuing on with the filling and planting process. Usually, the herb that requires the most water is planted in the bottom hole, while the variety that requires the least, goes in the highest hole.

Some Design Ideas

You can consider having a square herb bed.  You can have your square bed divided into four by two paths crossing at mid point measuring 3 feet.  You can border it with stone or brick.  A wooden ladder may also do the trick.  You can lay it down on your garden and plant your herbs between its rungs.  You can also choose to have a wagon wheel bed.  Planting here is like planting with the wooden ladders.  Plant your herbs in between the wagon wheel’s wedges.

Get Your Plants Growing

Of course, different plants have different needs, but many of them require alkaline soil.  This is the reason why you have to determine the herbs you want to plant in the planning stage.  This can more or less help you find out how you should care for your plants.  If you germinate your herbs from seeds, remember to follow the directions on the packet for soil, watering and temperature.

Herbs are some of the easiest plants to grow. You just have to provide them with an effective drainage, sunlight, enough humidity or moisture and fertile soil.  Even with just minimally meeting these requirements they will be bound produce a good harvest.

Dandelion

December 19, 2010 by  
Filed under Herb Tips

The Dandelion is an herbaceous plant that really is much more than just a nuisance in your yard. For all purposes, the Dandelion leaves are at their best just as they emerge from the ground and they are very distinct as nothing really resembles this at all. Depending on when you harvest the Dandelion leaves will determine the bitterness of them but it is an appealing bitterness.

These leaves that are considered an herb blend nicely with salads and do well either sautéed or steamed. Many claim the taste is similar to that of endive. People who are into eating the fruits of nature claim that it is perfectly acceptable to eat the Dandelion flower as well. Some claim that they make outstanding fritters if they are battered up and fried and make a colorful contribution to any stir fry.

Dandelions leaves are actually extremely nutritious, much more so than any herb that can be purchased in the stores. They are higher in bets carotene than carrots are and they have more iron and calcium and iron than spinach does. Dandelion leaves are also full of vitamins B-1, B-2, B-5, B-6, B-12, C, E, P, D, biotin, inositol, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc. Dandelion root is one of the safest and most popular herbal remedies on the market and is widely used today.

Traditionally it can be made into a tonic that is known for strengthening the entire body, especially the liver and gallbladder because it promotes the flow of bile. Dandelion root contains taraxacin so it reduces the inflammation to the bile ducts and reduces gallstones. It is commonly used for Hepatitis, liver swelling, and jaundice. It also helps with indigestion.

This plant also goes by the French name, Pissenlit. Ironically enough when used in the tea form made by the leaves or the root has a tendency to act as a diuretic on the kidneys. Over the counter diuretics have a tendency to suck the potassium out of the body but not the Dandelion leaves. Dandelion root tea has helped some actually avoid surgery for urinary stones. Dandelions are really just good for overall health and well being so just about anyone could benefit from a cup of dandelion tea. Many herbalists say that incorporated the Dandelion plant into dinner each night will assist in easier digestion.

When you take a Dandelion plant and break the stem you will find a milky white substance inside. This substance is great for removing warts, pimples, moles, calluses, soothing of bee stings, and blisters. Some other things that Dandelion has been popular in the past for is making Dandelion jam and others use it for a coffee substitute when it is roasted and ground Dandelion root. Many also drink Dandelion wine.

Today, Europeans use plenty of Dandelion roots to make herbal medicines and find it hard to believe that Americans refer to this highly beneficial plant as a weed when it has such positive benefits for the liver, spleen, kidneys, bladder, and the stomach.

Ginseng

December 19, 2010 by  
Filed under Herb Tips

Out of all of the herbal supplements on the market today, Ginseng is the most widely used. In earlier times Ginseng went by a different name, “man root.” because the root resembled that of the shape of a man. To this day many people believe in the powers of Ginseng as they believe that it has healing and mystical powers. The Ancient Chinese thought that when a plant resembles a human body part that it would have a healing effect on that part of the body. In other words if a plant resembled a hand it would have the ability to heal the hands. But since Ginseng resembles the entire body it is thought that is can bring balance and well being to the whole body.

Ginseng contains complex carbohydrates, is an anti inflammatory, an anti oxidant, and has anti cancer elements. Notice today that many energy drinks contain Ginseng which is because it is known for creating energy, this was brought to the forefront by the Chinese but Americans have a different plan for Ginseng which is use it for mental lucidity and treating stress. There has been a growing relationship between Ginseng and its ability to strengthen physically as well as mentally and maintain good balance.

It was the Russians who actually made that discovery however the Asians have discovered that Ginseng helps mental improvement, eliminates anemia, and helps prevent diabetes, neurosis, coughs, asthma, and TB. Further they found that it can be very beneficial to the liver and can also reduce the effects significantly of a hangover.

There has been more recent research on Ginseng than on any other herbal supplement, ever. The concern is that many times when people purchase Ginseng at various stores it may have been over processed and therefore not as effective. The best way is to make sure that you are purchasing authentic Ginseng and in order to do that you may have to purchase the Ginseng root. Oddly enough, with all of the research and studies that have been conducted on Ginseng the FDA has yet to endorse it. It is known that people who suffer from high blood pressure, heart disease, bleeding or clotting disorders, or diabetes should not use Ginseng unless they speak with their physician first.

While it is true that Ginseng is most widely recognized as a medicinal herb it is also used quite frequently in teas and in cooking. Most people are aware of the infamous Ginseng tea but many are not aware that Ginseng is sliced and put into soups and often boiled and mashed, added to stir fry dishes, and added to boiling water when making rice. It is much more common for cooking in Chinese, Korean, and Asian foods.

Often Ginseng is used when cooking chicken and mushroom dishes. Many people also use it in desserts for some added zing. It is often used in soups, salads, and even jellies. It seems that most people who enjoy the benefits of Ginseng for cooking are vegetarians but it might be becoming more popular since people are now learning the true benefits of this very popular herb.

Oregano

December 19, 2010 by  
Filed under Herb Tips

If someone says Oregano, it is likely that you will think in terms of cuisine. You would be right as most people do think of Oregano is sauces and so forth. However, there are actual medicinal properties to Oregano as well. Oregano makes a luscious cup of savory tea that works well for gas, indigestion, bloating, coughs, urinary problems, bronchial problems, headaches, and swollen glands and to induce and regulate a woman’s menstrual cycle. Others swear that is can cure fevers, diarrhea, vomiting, and same jaundice.

In the capsule form the leaves are dried and then crushed and placed into the empty capsule shell. Further, even others use the dried leaves by crushing them and adding just enough water to create a paste like substance and use it for a cream to apply for arthritis, itchy skin, sore muscles, and swelling. For a relaxing and soothing bath use Oregano leaves in the bath water. Finally, some people make Oregano oil and claim it helps rid toothaches.

In Jamaica people burn Oregano scented incense to ward off coughs and other respiratory distresses. Oregano has been used in ancient Greece and many other places across the globe where people have found a different use for Oregano besides cooking. Oregano is a perennial herb that is relative to the mint family and it is a very important culinary herb that is used in a lot of Greek and Italian cuisines. For cooking purposes it is the leaves that are used and while some like nothing but a fresh Oregano sprig, most will agree that the dried Oregano is much more flavorful.

Especially in Italian cooking you will notice a distinct relationship between the uses of Oregano in combination with Basil. The two always seem to create the perfect marriage especially in a tomato sauce. Oregano is also used on many vegetable dishes as well as a seasoning on various meats. The Greeks would never consider cooking with Oregano in their pantry. The famous Greek salad boasts its flavor of Oregano. No one could imagine eating a piece of pizza without a taste of Oregano added to it.

Oregano is commonly mistaken for Marjoram as the plants look very similar. Outside of the kitchen Marjoram and Oregano are best friends and do a lot together. The pair has quite plentiful properties in the areas of antioxidants and antibacterial. Together they are not only a great combination for flavoring food but also for preserving it too. Because both of their oils are perfumery they are placed in many different soaps and lotions. They are also used in combination for many potpourris and home décor.

There is no denying that Oregano has been around since ancient times both in and out of the kitchen. It had many medicinal properties then and it still does now. It was used in the kitchen and it is still used there now so those from ancient times started a tradition that is still followed to this day. Oregano’s uniqueness is fully utilized in many different ways and will be for years to come.

Parsley

December 19, 2010 by  
Filed under Herb Tips

When it comes to herbs, traditions have changed, varieties have increased, but through it all, Parsley has just stayed Parsley, flat or curly leaf, nothing major and no need for change. Use it as an herb or use it as a garnish, it does not matter people still love it. Often used fresh or dried, fresh is more popular and has very easy access when purchasing it or growing it. Storing it is simple, just wrap it is a damp paper towel and place it in a baggie and store it in the fridge. Parsley is used for all kinds of sauces and salads. Parsley can pretty much be added to anything and is used often to color pestos but it is very frequently used as a garnish.

Throughout history, parsley has been used for cooking as well as for medicinal purposes but has also been used for a lot more. Early Greeks used Parsley to make crowns for the Olympian winners. Hebrew tradition uses Parsley as part of Passover as a symbol of spring and rebirth. Parsley tracks all the way back to Hippocrates who used it for medicinal purposes for cure alls and as an antidote for poisons.

He also used it for ridding kidney and bladder stones. Many of these prior claims have been validated through modern science and it is true that Parsley is rich in vitamin A and C and is also shown to clear toxins from the body and reduces inflammation. Parsley has three times the amount of Vitamin C than oranges do!

Back in much earlier times, any ailments that was thought to be caused from a lack of Vitamin C was treated with Parsley such as for bad gums and loose teeth, for brightening what were considered dim eyes. The Greeks almost feared Parsley because it was associated with Archemorus, who too was an ancient Greek. Ancient tales tell that Archemorus was left as a baby on a parsley leaf by his nurse and was eaten by a serpent. For this reason the Greeks were terrified of Parsley which sounds kind of silly now but it took a while for them to get over that.

Parsley was also used to regulate menstrual cycles because parsley contains apiol which mimics estrogen, the female sex hormone. Parsley was also used to ward off Malaria and is told to have been very successful in doing so and it aided with water retention as well. Although these are old wives tales as some might call them when you consider them for just a minute they really do make a lot of sense.

Some of these old remedies still are used in part today such as the use of Parsley for kidney stones, as a diuretic, for rheumatoid arthritis, as a stimulant, for menstrual regulation, to settle the stomach, and as an appetite stimulant. You can purchase Parsley juice at herbal stores and it can be very healthy for you although it might not taste the greatest it can be mixed with other juices to enhance the flavor. Dried Parsley really has the least amount of nutritional value to it.

Sage

December 19, 2010 by  
Filed under Herb Tips

Sage is a relative to the mint family. It is common for Sage to be ground, whole or rubbed but is generally in more of a coarse grain. Sage is grown in the United States but is also grown in Albania and Dalmatia. Sage is a very popular herb in the United States and is used quite frequently for flavoring such things s sausage, pork, lamb, and other meats, salads, pickles, cheese, and stuffing. The smell of Sage is very aromatic and distinct.

Sage loves to hang around in the kitchen with Thyme, Rosemary, and Basil. They work very well together. Sage is normally one of the main herbs in stuffing for poultry but is often added to lamb and pork dishes as well. Sage is very strong and should be used sparingly as a little goes a long way. Sage, like many other herbs develops its full flavor the longer it cooks and withstands lengthy cooking times which might be why it is so good when used in the stuffing for the Thanksgiving turkey that cooks for about five hours.

If you grow your own Sage you will find that all you have to do is snip off the tops of the plant with scissors and add it right to your favorite recipe. Sage is still at its best when dried but if you prefer just simply place the fresh Sage leaves in a baggie in the freezer and pull them out as required.

Today, Sage has no medicinal purposes to speak of but back in a different time Sage was used regularly to cure snake bites and was also used to invigorate the body and cleanse the mind. In the middle ages it was quite common for people to make a Sage tea and drink it for ailments such as colds, fever, liver trouble, and epilepsy.

Although there is nothing to solidify these claims it is also said that a chewed Sage leaf applied to a sting or an insect bite will reduce the sting and bring down the swelling. Sage tea has been said to soothe a sore throat and also help in drying up a mother’s breast milk and also reduces blood clots. Further it has been known to help with itching skin if it is added to hot bath water. Today, it is mainly the Native Indians who still rely on the herbal powers of Sage.

The word Sage means salvation from its Latin origin and is associated with longevity, immortality, and mental capacity. Sage never loses its fragrance even after being dried out so it is often added to potpourri and is also added to many soaps and perfumes. It has been used in insect repellents and has antibacterial properties which have helped it become a preservative for many things such as meats, fish, and condiments. Sage has a musky smoky flavor and works very nicely for cutting down some of the richness in many foods. It also goes great with almost any vegetable too. Sage is definitely an herb that most people almost always have in their pantry if they do any cooking at all.

Catnip

December 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Herb Tips

“Catnip” is the common name for a perennial herb of the mint family. Catnip is native to Europe and is imported into the United States. In North America it is a common widespread weed. Catnip is most popular with cats and the reaction that it causes in them when they receive some dried nip from their owner. They roll around in it in all of their glory. The fact is that humans do not smell what cats smell when it comes to catnip so humans do not react the same way that cats do. It is known that the chemical nepetalactone in catnip is the thing that triggers the response. Apparently, it somehow kicks off a stereotypical pattern in cats that are sensitive to the chemical.

In humans catnip has been used for several ailments including the treatment of colic, headache, toothache, colds, and spasms. It is also known to induce sleep in most people but it others it can have a counter effect. Catnip also has antibacterial properties to it too. In the 15th century the English cooks would season meats with catnip and also add a pinch to salads. Many people also prefer catnip tea to Chinese tea. Some of the agents in catnip also act as a very effective cockroach repellent. It has actually been proven to be more effective by 100% than DEET.

When taken orally, catnip shows a great benefit for anxiety, insomnia, and nervousness. Nepetalactone is the active ingredient in catnip and is commonly used as an herbal sedative. Because of this it is also great for easing migraine headaches, stomach complaints, and also reduces swelling associated with arthritis, hemorrhoids, and soft tissue injuries. Catnip can be purchased in a liquid, dried, or a capsule form. It is the dried form that is commonly brewed into a tea. Folklore has it that if catnip is smoked it might produce minor hallucinogenic effects but that has since been disregarded. It was also said that when children would throw fits that catnip would be able to calm them and also stop children from having nightmares.

Some claims have been made that catnip is a distant relative of marijuana. There really is no validity to this claim except for the way that the cats act when they roll around in the nip which looks like they have a buzz. When the cat rolls around in it a euphoric effect is displayed but if the cat eats any of the nips, he is certain to fall fast asleep. Catnip has been called the mysterious herb by many. It is related to common kitchen herbs like thyme and sage, and can be easily cultivated as a houseplant.

Another fact about Catnip is that as much as cats seem to love it is as much as mosquitoes hate it. These are all the things that make catnip such a unique herb that it has the ability to entertain cats, it has medicinal properties, there are a few funny myths about it and is an insect repellant all in one.