Herbs are very misunderstood and therefore, underused in our society. However, recently, more people are turning to herbs for cooking, baking, and healing. Herbs are used in so many ways and there are so many purposes for each herb whether alone or in combination with others. This post will give you an introduction to herbs and their purposes.
This introduction should help teach you about what herbs actually are, and some of the different uses each one has. Furthermore, it should be noted that “herbs” are the leaves and sometimes other aromatic parts of a plant grown in a temperant zone. “Spices” are the seeds, stems, leaves, roots, flowers, buds or bark of aromatic plants grown in the tropics.
Uses of Herbs
People use herbs for many things, most noteworthy, for making cosmetics, dying fabrics, making exotic flavors of honey and oils, even medicinal uses. In addition, there are people that even decorate with them.
Here are some general uses:
- medicinal: anise, horehound, hyssop, feverfew
- decorative: lovage, rose, rosemary, tansy
- scented: chamomile, lavender, marigold, rose. patchouli,
- pesticidal: pennyroyal, pyrethrum
- culinary: basil, bay leaf, mint, parsley, rosemary, sage
- strong seasoned: garlic, horseradish, mustard, nasturtium
- edible flowers: marigold, lemon mint, borage, rose
The Herb Garden
Unlike spices, herbs can be used fresh from the kitchen garden, can be planted in a border of an already established garden, in a bed on their own with others, or even in pots inside the home on sunny window sills. And because they are usually grown bunched up together in a bed, they take up considerably less space.
Some can be grown as ground cover as in an edible food forest, some are grown for their visual appeal. Some are perennials and return year after year in the right climate. On the other hand, some must be replanted every year.
Buying and Using Herbs
Master chefs and cooks make use of herbs in their culinary cuisine. More and more cosmetic companies are using them in their cosmetic lines, and in body and hair products rather than using animal-based products as before.
Probably, the most popular use recently has been by people at home using them to cure simple ailments and in treating wounds. Many people are replacing antibiotics and medicines with herbal remedies that are being made in their own homes. As a result, fewer people are relying on over-the-counter drugs.
Consequently, caution must be taken when ingesting certain herbs and their parts. Some parts are highly toxic and can be fatal. Research is important as is an understanding of each one before taking it upon yourself to try new things in the home. Some herbs like stevia have been used instead of using white sugar, but there are other healthy sweetener alternatives too.
Remember, always gather herbs on dry days as early as possible after the morning dew has dried. Usually, the leaves of young plants before flowering, are the best. It is best to cut them with pruning shears or scissors. When harvesting, it is best to leave at least a 4-inch stem if it is an annual, and if a perennial, two-thirds. Always wash before use.
Herbs are a great addition to the garden as well as a sunny windowsill and have many uses. They will provide you with an abundance of harvest while requiring minimal work. Learn about preserving your harvest here. To get a free PDF of companion herbs, click here.
Specific Herbs and their Uses
This herb seasons curry sauces, rice dishes, homemade bread, and sweet pastries. Cardamon is used as a classic ingredient in Chai Tea. The seeds can be chewed as a breath freshener. Cardamon is often used as a digestive aid. Cardamon is grown in tropical conditions. The green pods slowly ripen before they are harvested and then dried in just one day in order to preserve their color and strength.
This herb is mostly used as a spice. Medically it is used as an anti-inflammatory, and an anti-emetic herbal remedy. Notably, Cinnamon has been traded and used for many years dating all the way back to Aristotle. Surprisingly, Cinnamon is actually the curled bark of the evergreen tree known as the Queen of Spices in India. It is native to Sri Lanka.
Aloe is best known for its use in soothing sunburn, minor burns, and insect bites. The juice is effective for treating psoriasis. This was Cleopatra’s favorite plant. Unless you live in a southern, tropical type climate, it is best to keep aloe in a pot as it cannot withstand the cold.
Used to help reduce the length and severity of common illnesses such as lower urinary tract infections, wounds, and ulcerations. This herb is a member of the coneflower family. It is known as a common prairie flower. Many herbalists make tea from this plant. Seeds germinate quickly, therefore plants can be easily propagated by dividing the roots. This plant does well in well-drained soil and will tolerate drought conditions.
Used as a throat-soothing herb. It is one of the major ingredients in over-the-counter cough drops. Horehound is a member of the mint family. It is best grown in a container because it spreads easily. Grow from seeds, go easy on the water, then harvest the flowers and leaves for their medicinal use. This herb is a perennial and harvested readily.
Has antibiotic and antiseptic properties. Used for treating gingivitis and canker sores as well as other inflammations of the mouth. Herbalists use sage for treating menopause, hot flashes, and night sweats. This herb is a perennial that grows best from starts, likes full sun, and doesn’t like its feet wet. It makes a great medicinal tea for digestion issues.
Used for many do-it-yourself lotions, salves, balms, soaps, and vinegar. It is also used in aromatherapy for sleep disorders and has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. Lavender loves the sun and needs an alkaline soil. The soil must be well-drained. This plant will not survive overwatering. This plant provides an abundance of essential oils which makes it so popular in herb gardens and making ointments.
This herb is used in lotions, salves, and ointments for chapped skin, dermatitis, minor cuts, minor burns, insect bites, diaper rash, and hemorrhoids. Calendula is known as the “Pot Marigold”. It’s simple daisy-like flowers make it a favorite in the herb and flower garden. Its colors ranch from yellow to oranges. It grows from seed and loves the sun. It requires loose soil and little fertilizer. An added bonus of this herb is that it self-seeds in the garden. Calendula flowers are edible and commonly placed in salads.
This herb has so many uses! It can stop the flow of blood, calm muscle spasms, reduce pain, calm anxiety, and reduce inflammation. Be careful because some people experience allergic reactions to yarrow. Yarrow is actually known as a perennial weed that grows abundantly along the roadside. Yarrow is an easy plant for beginners which requires almost no care and stays pest-free. It is a ferny plant with white, ivory, or pink clusters of flowers. It blooms from early summer well into the fall.
This herb is commonly used to treat indigestion, colds and cough, irritable bowel syndrome, muscle aches, and tension headaches. Peppermint has been around for thousands of years. It can be regrown from cuttings from your garden and spreads like crazy so you may want to contain it. Dried leaves from the plant are often used in teas.
This herb is used to treat common colds, reduce fevers, calm the digestive tract, relieve spasms related to cramps and headaches, and to overcome insomnia. It is a member of the aggressive growing mint family so know spreading will happen. This herb is very high in essential oil content. Lemon Balm will wilt in the hot sun but will sprawl in shady conditions. Know that this herb is best used fresh.
Dill is commonly used to treat colic in babies. It also settles digestion problems and actually helps promote sleep. Dill seed oil is actually an antibacterial. Chewing on a few seeds will actually help freshen your breath. Dill is recognized by its feathery yellow flower head and bright yellow flowers. As a culinary spice, it is mostly known for making pickles.
Fennel is closely related to Dill. All parts of the Fennel plant are edible and have a taste similar to licorice. Fennel freshens breath, aids in digestive problems, soothes colic, can balance your appetite, relieves sore throats and coughs, and even relieves the symptoms of bloating and gas. The plant is favored by the swallowtail butterfly. Fennel tends to grow wild and weedy and needs full sun to thrive.
This herb has also been around for a long time! Its apple scented teas have a terrific calming effect on the nervous system. It can soothe digestive problems, ease heartburn, and relieve mouth sores and sore throat. It has also been found to enhance the healing of skin and to prevent infection. Chamomille bolts quickly in the garden and cannot take the intense sun. There are 2 basic varieties. One is the German version which grows taller is less dense in foliage and the other is Roman, or English and tends to hug the ground.
For a great resource for buying seeds, check out Mary’s Heirloom Seeds!
The joy of growing an herb garden comes with the fact that most herbs are easy to grow. Sometimes, the “medicine” is as easy as brewing a cup of tea. The options and opportunities are endless when it comes to growing herbs on the homestead. You are sure to enjoy your rewards soon enough in more ways than one. Do you grow herbs in your gardens or in the home? What types do you grow and how do you use them?
For a great E-book packed with information on herb gardening from growing to harvesting and even using your herbs, check out my newest e-book, Herbs 101: Herb Gardening and Preserving for the Beginner.