Herbs and greens have been grown since time immemorial for cooking, as a salad, flavouring for food, as fragrances for potpourri, aroma oils or simply as leaves that one can pluck and chew for their medicinal properties. The good news is that one can easily create one’s own ‘Herbs-Aid Box’ with varieties that are needed most at home.
Herbal Medicine and Nature
Herbal medicine is an integral part of nature and therefore is an integral part of human life.
If we incorporate, as a daily routine, a few herbs and greens in our lifestyle, as far as food and preventative medication is concerned, we can help ourselves keep fit and healthy and reduce the burden on society and the nation as a whole. There are a few select herbs, both medicinal and culinary, and greens that are easy to grow at home. These can be made a part of our personal ’Herbs-Aid Box’.
There are a number of herbs that are immensely beneficial for health. Let’s see what these are:
Tulsi (Basil): In India, tulsi is considered a sacred plant and is used in curing many ailments. It is known to treat respiratory problems, coughs and colds. Its leaves can be chewed to cure mouth ulcers. The leaves can also be dried and used as flavouring agents in many dishes. It improves sore throats if taken in tea or hot water and is helpful in healing fevers of all types. Many varieties of tulsi are used as culinary herbs.
Brahmi ( Indian Pennywort):This is a memory enhancer and excellent for both young and old. It serves as an excellent brain tonic. Three to four strings of this herb can be used in sandwiches.
Ashwagandha (Winter cherry): This herb is used to make a nutritive tonic that helps in reducing obesity and is ideal for weight control. Just chewing five leaves each of ashwagandha and tulsi together is effective. An infusion made with one leaf in a cup of hot water, taken once a day, cures cough, cold and insomnia.
Aloe Vera: This is useful as a remedy for burns, dermatitis and skin disorders. Eating its gel after removing the skin is also good for stomach ailments. For indigestion, aloe vera is cut into small pieces, its skin removed, and black salt and ajwain (carom seeds) added. Then this is bottled for about a fortnight. Eating five to six pieces daily, one or two hours before meals is effective. Many cosmetic companies add the sap or other derivatives of aloe vera to their cosmetic products and toiletries such as moisturisers, soaps, shampoos and lotions.
Pudina (Mint):Pudina is known for its digestive preparations and fresh flavour. It can be used in everything from salads to tea to toothpaste. It acts as an antibacterial and an insect repellant.
Ghandhatrina( Lemongrass): Tea made by boiling the leaves of this plant relieves stomach and muscle cramps as well as colic pain. It is used in the perfumery industry and to impart flavour in cooking.
Giloy( Heartleaf moonseed): This herb is termed the medicine king. Take a ten inch stem of giloy and seven leaves of tulsi, soak them in water for some time, then boil them. Drink this after cooling and this will increase your body’s resistance (about three times) to swine flu infection. It is also useful in diabetes, fatigue, metabolic disorders, malaria, chikungunya and other fevers. Giloy also clears toxins from the body including brain toxins that hinder mental activity. To make it better tasting, rock salt and three to four grams of ajwain can be added.
Stevia ( Sweet honey leaf): This calorie free herbal sweetener has sweet leaves that provide a pleasant and guilt -free alternative to sugar. It is 30 per cent sweeter than normal sugar. Use just two pinches of stevia powder in tea, coffee and other sweet foods, for healthier living. It is ideal for diabetic patients.
Hibiscus ( Pink beauty variety): Hibiscus is a common medicinal plant and is good for curing hormonal imbalances. It can be had in the form of hibiscus water. For this soak four to five flowers overnight in a jug full of water. Drink this water the next day. For hibiscus sherbet, grind a few flowers with a little water and keep it aside. Now prepare a sugar syrup and mix with the ground flowers. The sherbet has cooling properties and is very refreshing. Hibiscus water is also good for controlling cholesterol.
There are a few select herbs whose parts are used in the preparation of food. They include essential culinary species such as dhania( coriander), lehsun (garlic), curry plant, methi ( fenugreek), mint, saunf ( fennel) and sowa ( dill). For a fragrant herb garden one can include rosemary, thyme and oregano along with the above. Most cooking experts agree that far too little is made of herbs in our daily cooking. It is by growing varieties of such herbs in your home garden, be it in the ground, on a terrace, a balcony or in a window box that you can encourage their use. These herbs can be planted as part of a landscape; annuals for seasonal varieties of herbs and perennials for edging, as ground covers or as part of a planned garden feature. By incorporating culinary herbs in your garden you have both beauty and nutrition.
Culinary herbs can be used in food preparations or as medicinal remedies. Let your medicine be your food and your food be your medicine. A few herbs which are valuable for flavour, aroma and for their medicinal properties are discussed below:
Oregano: Oregano is considered the king of herbs. As an antioxidant agent it is very good for healing sore throat and cough. Sedative in nature, it acts as a calming agent. Taken as a general tonic, it can also relieve headache and alleviate nervous tensions. Oregano seeds, when ripe, can be collected for use all year round.
Rusmari( Rosemary): This is a diuretic and stimulant. It reduces cholesterol in the blood and also relieves joint pains. It is used in the treatment of arthritis and inhalation of leaves relieves symptoms of cold. It is also said to improve memory. The leaves are medicinally valuable for treating depression, migraine and liver disorders. Fresh rusmari is used as a room freshener and insect repellant. As a culinary ingredient, it is used as a seasoning in continental dishes, particularly in baking and meat preparations.
Ajmoda( Celery):Ajmoda leaves can be used in salads. The celery soup of stem and leaves is delicious. It also acts as a tonic and stimulant for the treatment of dizziness, asthma, reduced blood pressure and liver related problems. The months of October and November are suitable to plant its seeds and seedlings.
Dhania( Coriander):Dhania is used in almost every household. It is easy to grow and needs to be planted during the winter season. Sow the seeds after soaking them overnight in water. Successive picking of leaves for use in the kitchen can be carried out during the growing period. The seeds and leaves of this herb are used in the treatment of indigestion, cold, dysentery, vomiting etc. It also acts as an antiseptic and a stimulant.
Haldi( Turmeric): Haldi has always been regarded as a symbol of prosperity. It is considered a cleansing herb for the whole body and is used in curing fever, infections and chest congestion. The leaves are attractive looking and it can be comfortably grown in pots. The tubers of haldi can be planted from February to May.
It is advisable to grow as many herbs as possible in your garden. The seeds and even seedlings of herbs are available in several nurseries. Now is the best season for starting a herbal garden. Even a large number of medicinal plants can find their place in terrace gardens with ease. Curry patta is one plant of great value which can be grown in a container as a dwarf tree.
With health consciousness on top of everyone’s mind, it is most prudent to grow your very own herbs for health and happiness in your kitchen garden, terrace garden, balcony and even hanging baskets, using only organic manure and pesticides. Why not go for your Herbs-Aid Box now!