Herbs Regenerate You
Throughout history, we’ve made allies of herbs and plants. We’ve cooked with them, healed with them, beautified and sanctified with them. Traditionally, it was the wise woman of the village to whom we went for help when a love-spell was wanted to secure a bond, when a child’s fever needed quenching when pain cried out to be soothed, or solace was sought for a soul in grief. According to archeologists, this love affair between humans and plants goes back somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 years—maybe longer.
Wise women knew the secrets of the living earth of which we are a living part. They were not only versed in each plant’s physical properties; they also sensed its sacred nature. They knew the beauty of each herb the way you know your own child or lover—its fragrance, its feel, its personality, and its touch. They were sensitive to when and how best to gather a plant. And, because they were also practical—believing only what they could experience themselves to be true—they knew how to call on the magic of a herb or flower, root or seed to whatever end they wished to apply it.
Modern urban life has robbed us of the wilderness in which we once carried out our love affair with plants, and ripped away much knowledge of herbs that used to be passed on from generation to generation. I have long been in love with the unique beauty of plants that have become my allies, enriching the quality of my own life and the lives of those around me immensely. As a result, I spent years badgering my friends—wise women, medical herbalists, and natural medicine doctors—until they taught me what I needed to know about how to work with herbs. Developing your own connection with herbs can not only regenerate your body when you most need energy. It can also make you richer in spirit.
The cool, slippery gel oozed out of a leaf of the aloe cactus has been used for 3000 years to treat burns and cuts and to undo the devastating effects of too much exposure to the sun. Recent studies show that phyto-substances from the aloe can penetrate damaged tissue, encouraging healing, increasing blood flow and easing inflammation and pain.
The Ancient Chinese first discovered this, then spent a fortune in money and time investigating this strange looking man-root. They still do. Thousands of years ago, ginseng was taken to extend life, to sharpen sexual functioning, to bring clarity to the brain and energy to the body. Russian and German scientists have carried out lengthy studies into the effects of ginseng on humans and animals and concluded that it does indeed sharpen the brain and shorten the reaction time. It also improves concentration and helps protect you from damage from exposure to long-term stress.
The ancient Greeks, including Pliny in the first century AD, insisted that garlic banishes worms and coughs. By now, there have been more than 5000 studies affirming its anti-microbial properties and its usefulness in warding off flu and colds, not to mention its ability to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels that are too high, and help clear yeast infections.
Its very name comes from the Latin conferta which means ‘grow together.’ In 400 BC, the Greek physician Dioscorides praised comfrey for its ability to stop heavy bleeding and clear bronchial infections. Modern science confirms that comfrey is rich in the healing compound allantoin, which enhances tissue growth and cell multiplication. That is why you find it added to ointments and face creams.
A core remedy in the Chinese pharmacopeia for nausea and gentle cleansing, the deliciously hot ginger plant has been used for more than 1500 years by wise women in Europe to treat tummy upsets. Scientific studies confirm that it eases travel sickness. Some even show it helps morning sickness in pregnancy—in part, this is because it can neutralize excess acid in the stomach.
Eccentric English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper sang the praises of this cheerful daisy-like plant with lacy leaves. It was, he claimed, ‘effectual for all pains in the head.’ Recent studies carried out in Britain confirm he knew what he was talking about. Feverfew can even reduce both the frequency and intensity of a migraine.
If you’re a confirmed tea drinker, try green tea. It comes from the same plant as black tea, but rather than allowing the leaf to ferment—which effectively eliminates most of black tea’s health benefits—green tea is produced by lightly steaming the freshly cut leaf. It offers great antioxidant protection against aging and degeneration, gobbles up free-radicals and boosts your body’s own antioxidant defenses. Although green tea can contain caffeine, it tends not to stimulate and irritate like a cup of black tea or coffee. Best of all, it tastes great. Green tea (Camellia sinensis) has remarkable antioxidant properties. Green tea is also a natural source of soluble fluoride. On its way into your mouth, the tannins it contains help stop plaque building up around your teeth. If you have an irresistible sweet tooth, so you always reach for the sugar, help is at hand. Sweeten your tea by adding a little licorice root to the pot while you are brewing it. Licorice contains glycyrrhizin, which also helps prevent tooth decay.
ENTER THE KITCHEN
I use my favorite culinary herbs constantly, lavishly, and even with dangerous abandon.
BASIL is my favorite culinary herb. Its distinctive fragrance and flavor is not only great with tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella. I grow masses of it in the garden so I can add it in large amounts to my green salads. When the basil growing season ends, I harvest all that remains, stuff it into plastic bags and freeze it so I can use it in the winter too.
CHERVIL—a first cousin to parsley—has a delicate aniseed quality that makes it the perfect complement to tarragon, chives, and parsley.
DILL adds a unique flavor to dressings. It loves cucumber, beetroot, and apple salads. Dill’s delicate flavor always reminds me of quiet afternoons spent beneath full-leafed trees.
FENNEL I could never be without. A lacy aniseed-flavored herb, fennel bulbs grow huge in summer. It goes well with salsify salads, cucumbers, and tomatoes, and sliced thinly is a beautiful plant to serve steamed in an electric steamer, and then smothered with salt-free butter. It is also a lovely decorative herb to place around the edge of a salad or a fish dish.
LOVAGE is far and away the most underrated of all common herbs. Plant a little of it in a corner of your garden and it will have tripled in size by next season. It is fabulous mixed with a selection of mint to create a cool green salad dressing. I put it into the blender, add a little bouillon powder, some garlic and an avocado to make a fresh dip for raw vegetables.
MARJORAM comes in many forms. There’s sweet marjoram, pot marjoram, winter marjoram, golden marjoram and many more. Each one is special, so experiment. The sweet variety is a winner served with Mediterranean vegetables.
OREGANO is known as a wild marjoram in Europe. Its volatile oils include carvacrol and thymol, with strong antioxidant properties known to inhibit the growth of bacteria. It is a great addition to Mediterranean and Mexican dishes.
MINTS—I grow them and love them all. There are even more varieties of mint than the marjorams: spearmint, peppermint, apple mint, pineapple mint, ginger mint, eau de cologne mint. I use spearmint and apple mint for green salads, fruit drinks, and in many of my dressings. Pineapple mint, with its gorgeous variegated leaves, makes a splendid garnish for fruit salads, drinks, and platters. Ginger mint is great in summer drinks, sorbets, and punches.
PARSLEY comes in two main varieties—fine and broadleaf. For most raw dishes I like the broadleaf best. It is more delicate in flavor and pleasant to munch. Both have a rich ‘green’ flavor that fits in well with other herbs. Parsley works beautifully with green salads and dressings, as well as being a lovely garnish for almost any dish.
THYME also comes in many varieties. Some are much richer in flavor than others. All have a wonderful warming sweet quality that enhances peppers, courgettes and nuts, as well as lending a unique flavor to green salads.
Start your own herb regeneration program. Stay with it for seven days, and your body will clear unwanted wastes with great abandon. As you begin to work with herbs to regenerate your body may experience a few uncomfortable detox symptoms. So it’s good to be prepared just in case. Your tongue and teeth may take on a film that tastes a bit unpleasant. You might have a mild headache (especially if you have been a heavy coffee drinker before beginning the process). A very few people may even run a mild fever the first day or two. Any of these symptoms—which by no means occur in every case—are simply a sign that your herbal cleanse is doing what it’s meant to do. Cleansing reactions quickly pass. The most common are a headache, sleeplessness, and a little emotional imbalance. Console yourself with the knowledge that, if any detox symptoms do take place, they are only temporary proof that your herb regeneration is doing its job. If you happen to find you have difficulty getting to sleep, try quietly sipping a cup of herbal tea before bed, or take a little tincture of valerian or passionflower. One of the greatest joys as you become part of the ancient herbal tradition is the love affair that takes place when the spirit of a herb meets the spirit of a human being—namely YOU. Enjoy. It will serve you well.
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