Why are herbs so important?
For as long as humans have existed on the earth, so too has our plant kingdom. We have cared for them and they in turn have cared for us. They have nourished and sustained us, provided shelter, clothed us and provided much inspiration to many a creative eye.
With all the advancements in modern medicine there has been a loss (or perhaps even an abandonment) of how to treat common ailments naturally. When we get a cold or fever we often reach for medicine to relieve pain or manage a fever. While this relieves our immediate symptoms (and is necessary in some instances) it can suppress our natural immune response and sometimes prolong illness.
So I want to share with you some reasons why I believe herbs are still so important today.
Herbs work gently and effectively with your body
Even if you take herbs long term (as in a tincture or tablet for instance) they have considerably fewer side effects than many prescription treatments. They are designed to work with your body and support you on an ongoing basis. There is always a place for modern medicine (don’t get me wrong here), but I believe the two can work beautifully together based on an individual’s needs.
Despite their high effectiveness, herbs also have a lower rate of adverse reactions and reliance. You will not face debilitating side effects if you decide to quit taking herbal medicine.
I’ve found herbal teas to be a very gentle and supportive way to introduce the benefits of herbs into your diet. With exception to a few health conditions, herbs are very safe to consume as tea and provide such a wonderful opportunity to nourish your body and nurture your mind.
Herbs are freely available to everyone
You can grow your own ‘medicine’ garden to support you in times of illness, and to keep you well with a generous variety of nutrients. No matter how much space you have, as long as there is sunshine you have the ability to grow something. My journey started out in a small city flat with a couple of pots on my window sill. The basil I grew received enough sunlight to provide my family with multiple jars of pesto during the summer months. All you need is a little knowledge to get started and I’ll bet you get hooked! Start small with something easy like parsley, rosemary or thyme. Even these common garden herbs offer some wonderful healing properties.
It’s empowering to use your garden as ‘medicine’
When I get a sore throat I head to my garden for a lemon, ginger root and lemongrass. I keep these on hand all year round as these plants have multiple healing powers which I’ll list for you below.
Having even a little knowledge of herbs and their healing abilities can feel so empowering. And having these herbs at your doorstep is ultra-convenient. Nurturing a garden (be it a pot or a whole patch) can also provide an opportunity for connection with the earth and a sense of gratitude for all she provides.
“Gardens offer us something beyond the material world, they provide a spiritual component allowing us to participate in the wonder and mystery of creation.” ~ Anon
My favourite herbs to grow and why:
If you suffer from digestive upsets get yourself a peppermint plant. It’s one of the most common herbs found in the garden with good reason! It’s my go-to herb for stomach aches, nervous stomach tension, diarrhoea, bloating, gas, and even menstrual cramps. Best of all, it tastes great and always gives me a pick-me-up. It’s easy to grow – even if you don’t have lots of sunshine.
I used to keep this herb in my garden purely because I love burnt sage butter. YUM! Like Peppermint, Sage is great for digestive upsets, particularly if you struggle to digest fats.
But Sage can do way more than garnish a meal. It’s an excellent herb to use with a sore swollen throat as it helps to tighten and tone swollen tissues. Sage can relieve pain and heal mouth ulcers, bleeding gums and even cold sores.
Sage has been known for centuries as an herb that assists with brain function. John Gerard (an English herbalist who lived in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, wrote in his book, The Herbal
“Sage is singularly good for the head and the brain, it quickeneth the senses and memory.”
Recent scientific studies have confirmed that sage improves memory, attention and mood in young and old alike. It is now used in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease. In one study, those taking a sage extract for four months showed a significant improvement in cognitive functions and less agitation as compared with the placebo group.1
These little guys pack some punch when it comes to colds and flu. They are best known for their ability to reduce symptoms and shorten the duration of colds and the flu. They also have the ability to prevent upper respiratory infections. Elder plants are really easy to grow – I keep mine in a pot as it will otherwise take over my garden! I keep dried Elderberries all year round to brew in tea when I feel cold symptoms coming on. They are also the star ingredient in my Cold + Flu Armour Tea blend if you want to kick your cold to the curb.
In Ayurvedic medicine, ginger is called the ‘universal medicine’. It’s great for easing nausea and digestive upsets, and relieving various types of pain (for instance menstrual pain and inflammatory pain such as osteoarthritis). Ginger is a great ally when fighting both bacterial and viral infections and preventing further infection. It’s the first thing I reach for when chills or shivering set in at the beginning of a virus as it is so warming. If you are feeling congested ginger can stimulate the flow of mucus and relieve congested coughs and a stuffy nose. In this instance a strong ginger tea works best.
Lemongrass is refreshing and delicious as a hot or cold tea, in Thai-inspired meals, and bone broth. Lemongrass is a jack-of-all-trades. It aids digestion, can support your body with pain reduction, anxiety and preventing infection – particularly fungal infections.
Rosemary is another herb that supports the brain in multiple ways. It can stimulate circulation and increase blood flow to the brain, boost mental alertness, and also protect the brain from Alzheimer’s disease. Like Ginger, Rosemary is warming and very useful if you are feeling cold or have shivers at the onset of a cold or flu.
A couple of things to consider when consuming herbals teas:
Tea during pregnancy and nursing:
Many herbs have not been tested on women during pregnancy and nursing (for obvious reasons), and so there are a select few herbs that are deemed ‘safe’ during this special time of life.
Blood pressure: Some herbs have the ability to raise and lower blood pressure if you are using them regularly. If you have high blood pressure it is best not to consume licorice root on a regular basis as this will increase your blood pressure. Hibiscus on the other hand can naturally lower blood pressure.
As always if you have health challenges or are on medications, it is always best to consult your medical practitioner.
The information above is just a guide and not to be taken as personal advice. If you have any health concerns, always seek the advice of a general practitioner before consuming herbal medicine.
- Akhondzadeh, S, M Noroozian, M Mohammadi, S Ohadinia, A H Jamshidi, and M Khani. “Salvia Officinalis Extract in the Treatment of Patients with Mild to Moderate Alzheimer’s Disease: A Double Blind, Randomized and Placebo-controlled Trial.” Journal of clinical pharmacy and therapeutics 28, no. 1 (2003): 53-9.