HeN: Local herb networks for growing, learning, sharing the gifts of the Plant realm for health support and remedy, caring for ourselves and Earth.
Titans Among Herbs: Fennel, Hyssop, Lavender, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme
If I had only a small garden, or even just a few pots, I would make space to cultivate aromatic herbs. They offer us food, aid our good strong health, give us a very wide range of remedies when we are ailing, and are age-old aids for beauty, oh and herb bath, ahhh. I am featuring perennial aromatics here which are very worthwhile growing for local use and sharing. As a group, aromatics are (Rodale:) "substances with a strong, volatile, and fragrant aroma... are used to relieve flatulence, open nasal passages, or eliminate phlegm, and are often added to medicines to improve their palatability. Just the fragrance and flavour alone can provide a psychological uplift." Seriously good friends to have around. Depending on what attracts you and grows fabulously in your garden, itis also canny to explore relationships with Marjoram / Oregano (ref Deni Brown), Eucalyptus (growing in South West), and annuals including Basil (mmmm, pesto) and Dill (blessed colic relief!).
Science has been discovering that we communicate in many ways other than spoken language (which may be the least mode of communication), and that scent is an important and primal part of our communications. Aromatic plants speak to us loudly and clearly. Of course they are not the only scented plants used as health herbs. Easy Home Care Herbs in this set of Herb Network (HeN) articles includes Mint and Lemon Balm which have strong fragrances; though their oils dissipate more quickly, they have some aromatic medicinal qualities. Aromatics grow very strong oils, needing summer sun to do their best. They are native to Mediterranean latitudes, so not generally as hardy as e.g. mint.
Though many people are most familiar with their essential oils, or shop bought bottles of kitchen herbs, for the purpose of HeN - our home Green Medicine Chests and community store - I am highlighting uses of locally grown leaf & flower.
Fresh herbs sold at big grocers are OK if you must, but why bother? Most aromatics are evergreen, and / or preserve well for winter use. Superstore pots are 'factory grown', neither organic nor local. Far better will be the development of locally harvested, lovingly cultivated organic herbs supplied to local grocers. It won't be a get rich scheme but it will help make lots of people (including growers) happier and healthier.
Most aromatics are shrubs so harvesting is good for them too: if left they get 'leggy'. Pruning helps them to retain strong bushy vitality, and live longer.
FOOD All of these aromatics are great food. I'm going to include just a few details here because the ways these can bring health and delight to our food and drinks are nigh on endless. I keep a jar of mixed sage, thyme and rosemary always ready. Whole leaves keep their vitality far longer than powder so I make small batches: I wizz the dried leaves in my coffee mill into powder, and use it to make tea (1teaspoon herbs per mug), to add to soups, stews, dumplings, bread... especially when I'm low, or there are a lot of lurgies going round so I need to boost my immunity, or just because I enjoy them. Anyone can experiment with varying ingredients and quantities to make aromatic mixes just right for and unique to your family's tastes and uses.
Cleaning The excellent herbal company Herbs Hands Healing (see web site) produces two exceptional household cleaners which use, among other goodies, several aromatics. And the fragrance is heavenly. While they sort out micro-organism folks, they do not poison us or our water supply as the conventional Blast-it-to-Death-Killkillkill vast range of cleaners. Aromatics can also be used to make efficient, beautifully scented moth repellents. The wonder of these plants shines on and on, and remember they too are evolving.
HEALTH I've listed some, not all medicinal properties, nor are all uses mentioned intended to suggest home use, rather to give a wider picture of the great versatility of aromatics and why they are so important to grow for our families and community. Rosemary Gladstar points out the difference between food and medicine uses as usually the amount and frequency used: as preventatives and remedies we need to take more than a dash in the soup pot. Her Herbal Medicine: A Beginner's Guide includes masses of recipes, what for and how to use - I recommend a copy in every household.
There is one extraordinary recipe using a combination of aromatic herbs that is so important for general health care and as a multi-purpose remedy that I have put it on a separate Recipes page: Four Thieves Vinegar. It is also in Gladstar's Medicinal Herbs. We are fortunate to have in our area the Torre Cider Farm where we can buy 'on tap' live (unpasteurised) cider vinegar for this and other herbal recipes. Though not registered organic, they are so in practice. Even if you never use herbs, live cider vinegar itself has legion health benefits.
PLEASE make your first port of remedy call a lifestyle check! Aromatics cannot so easily help us if we will not firstly help ourselves. Chew food well and eat slowly sitting down. Check for too much fatty foods, or processed foods, or stimulants, alcohol, chocolate, crisps... Too much tension calls for a relaxation and meditation routine (can you afford not to make the time?) - join a yoga class, or... Are you generally breathing well (that is where our fundamental life force comes from), and getting fresh air? Throw away synthetic chemical house fresheners and furniture sprays - there are herbal ways more gentle and effective, less toxic to self and the rest of life (again: not just what the stuff is, also its production, packaging, transport, disposal pollution... not to mention the mental toxicity of fear of germs). See http://m0rd0r.hubpages.com/hub/8-aromatic-indoor-herbs-which-purify-air and similar web sites Be honest and wise and loving with yourself. Caring for ourselves is not about being a 'thou shalt not' ascetic, rather living conscious, informed moderation including occasional feasts. Thus endeth this sermon, and all hail the benefits of aromatics.
Fennel* Foeniculum vulgare FOOD Leaves in salads, seeds in tea HEALTH carminative, aromatic, calmative, decongestant; for relieving flatulence and colic, coughs (calming), colds, sore throats, bad breath, stimulating digestion and appetite. Improve flavour of other herbs; anti-inflammatory as a compress and eye wash for infected eyes and inflamed eye-lids; promotes flow of mother's milk.
Hyssop Hyssopus officinalis HP (DB:) Bitter, aromatic, astringent herb that is expectorant, and lowers fever. Tonic effect on the digestive, urinary, nervous, and bronchial systems. (Also, Ody:) carminative, relaxes peripheral blood vessels, promotes sweating, anticatarrhal, topical anti-inflammatory (external on specific place), anti-viral (Herpes simplex), antispasmodic. "Drink hot tea* during early stages of colds and influenza; take for digestive upsets and nervous stomach." * I recommend Hyssop as part of herbal mixes - teas, syrups, tinctures - for cough etc (Rodale:) A poultice of fresh ground leaves to promote healing of wounds and bruises (vulnerary) - supposedly clears a black eye. Handy little folks to have around!
Lavender Lavendula angustifolia The English Lavender (not the funny French stuff with the rabbit ears) the full sized variety that produces in-your-face strong scent, rather than the lovely small varieties which are great for other purposes. However, some people can't abide lavender, and can look to other plant folks for similar help. HEALTH Relaxant, antispasmodic. circulatory stimulant, tonic for the nervous system, anti-bacterial, analgesic, carminative, antiseptic. While most useful in the medicine chest in essential oil form (burns, cuts, wounds that won't heal... essential for the 1st aid box), keeping a small stock of dried flowers for tea mixes and cooking is worthwhile. Tea for (Ody:) nervous exhaustion, tension headaches or during labour; colic and indigestion. Give a weak infusion (25% normal strength) to babies for colic, irritability and excitement.
Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis The repens / prostrate / hanging varieties are OK to use. HEALTH Restorative herb that relaxes spasms, relieves pain, increases perspiration rate, improves digestion, controls many micro-organisms that easily make us sick. Used internally for depression, apathy, nervous exhaustion, headaches and migraines associated with nervous tension or feeling cold, poor circulation and digestive problems associated with anxiety. Externally (as massage oil) for rheumatism, arthritis, neuralgia, muscular injuries, wounds, dandruff, scurf. And, of course, Rosemary is for remembrance.
Sage Salvia officinalis Many kinds of sage offer health benefits, but it is common sage we use as a health herb. HEALTH carminative, anti-spasmodic, astringent, antiseptic, relaxes peripheral blood vessels, reduces perspiration, salivation and lactation, uterine stimulant, antibiotic, reduces blood sugar levels.
Thyme Thymus vulgaris Another wonderful big family! It is the common sort I refer to, not e.g. lemon thyme. I harvest when it's in flower (leaving some for bees) which is more mellow than leaf only. HEALTH Strongly antiseptic and anti-fungal. Warming, astringent herb that is expectorant, improves digestion, relaxes spasms and controls coughing. Diuretic, soothes coughs, heals wounds; externally increases blood flow to applied area. Tea for chest infections, stomach chills or irritable bowel.