The gar­dener, the cook, the thrifty householder, the home medicine maker – all will be in­spired by our guide to grow­ing and us­ing herbs and su­per­foods.

Herbs & Superfoods - - What’s Inside? Contents -

Ed­i­tor Jane Wrig­glesworth makes a case for grow­ing more herbs.

Aherb, botan­i­cally speak­ing, is any plant that lacks the woody tis­sue that is char­ac­ter­is­tic of shrubs or trees. How­ever, a herb has also come to be known as a plant that can be used to flavour foods, ward off pests, freshen the air and treat ail­ments. Chamomile, for ex­am­ple, can be used for its calm­ing prop­er­ties, and the ac­tive con­stituents in cal­en­dula pro­mote wound heal­ing and soothe skin dis­or­ders. Tansy, rose­mary, fen­nel and pen­ny­royal are known for their flea-flee­ing ef­fec­tive­ness; the dried leaves can be scat­tered around pets’ bed­ding to send fleas pack­ing.

Over the past few years the in­ter­est in us­ing herbs medic­i­nally has come back into fash­ion. Many old recipes like the ones our great-grand­moth­ers and grand­moth­ers used are just as ef­fec­tive to­day as they were in their day. Be­fore the ad­vent of an­tibi­otics, for ex­am­ple, thyme leaves were mashed and used as a poul­tice for cuts and wounds to pre­vent in­fec­tion. Thy­mol, the nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring com­pound in thyme, is known to be an­ti­sep­tic, an­tibi­otic and an­tivi­ral. We can use thyme to­day for the same pur­pose, though most of us would take thyme as a herbal tea at the on­set of coughs and colds to nip them in the bud, or as an an­tibac­te­rial mouth­wash.

In the past, cal­en­dula flow­ers were used for the same an­timi­cro­bial pur­poses. Dur­ing World War I, the flow­ers were ap­plied to open wounds to stop bleed­ing, pre­vent in­fec­tion and pro­mote heal­ing.

Blue­ber­ries, long used as a food – and to­day classed as a su­per­food – were also used as a nat­u­ral preser­va­tive. Their high fi­bre and nat­u­ral sugar con­tent con­trib­ute to their water-ab­sorb­ing and bind­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties, which aids shelf-life. Blue­ber­ries also con­tain ben­zoic acid, which is a nat­u­ral an­timi­cro­bial com­pound. As a su­per­food, of course, we ben­e­fit from their abun­dance of vi­ta­mins, min­er­als and an­tiox­i­dants. Na­tive Amer­i­cans used blue­ber­ries for both their nu­tri­ents and pre­serv­ing power. The dried berries were mixed with dried pow­dered meat for a long-last­ing, nour­ish­ing food.

How­ever, herbs, just like pre­scribed med­i­ca­tions, can be dan­ger­ous or even deadly – or at the very least pro­duce un­wanted side ef­fects. If a herb is strong enough to pro­duce a positive ef­fect, such as lower choles­terol or anx­i­ety, it is also strong enough to carry risk. Some herbs in­ter­act with pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tions or can be dan­ger­ous if used in com­bi­na­tion with al­co­hol or seda­tives. Oth­ers may be dan­ger­ous when com­bined with pre­scrip­tion anti-de­pres­sants. It’s im­por­tant to in­ves­ti­gate all known side-ef­fects be­fore use. Do not as­sume be­cause it’s nat­u­ral that it is safe.

Al­ways con­sult with a qual­i­fied health prac­ti­tioner be­fore de­cid­ing on any course of treat­ment, es­pe­cially if you have chronic health prob­lems, you take pre­scribed med­i­ca­tions, or you are preg­nant or breast­feed­ing.

Ap­ply­ing herbs and es­sen­tial oils to the skin (in nat­u­ral creams and per­fumes) may also cause ad­verse re­ac­tions if you have sen­si­tive skin. I have been mak­ing my own nat­u­ral per­fumes and de­odor­ants for years and have no prob­lems, but a friend has a mild re­ac­tion when she uses botan­i­cals. Al­ways test a small patch of skin be­fore us­ing on your en­tire body. Like all things, if you are sen­si­ble in your use of herbs you can en­joy what they have to of­fer.

I hope you are in­spired by this guide to herbs and su­per­foods, and give herbal medicine-, per­fume- and cos­metic-mak­ing a go.

"Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food." Hip­pocrates (460-377 BC)

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