Kitchen Herbs

Winter 2017-2018

Cabbage, garlic, rosemary, sage and thyme – just some of the kitchen herbs and vegetables that promote health. English photo

By Roberta Bailey

As farmers, gardeners and overly busy people, we barely make time to feed ourselves well, let alone truly nourish and support our bodies. Our lives are a constant juggle of making time, using time and taking time. Some goals are just out of our reach. Self-care is often one of them. It took me 30 years to start to make herbal tinctures and oils. Not there yet? Take heart, the herbs in your everyday fare are nourishing you and supporting the health of your body.

This article of herbal lore was inspired by a 2016 Common Ground Country Fair talk by Dr. Aline Potvin, a naturopath in Kennebunk. After that talk I did broader research for this piece, including drawing from Sandra Lory’s “Medicinal Use of Culinary Herbs” ( and from “Making Plant Medicine” by Richo Cech (Horizon Herbs, 2000).
Culinary herbs don’t just season our dinner, they stimulate the body’s innate ability to digest food, to ward off illness and to heal itself. If we can make the time to prepare foods rich in fresh herbs and spices, we can deeply nourish ourselves. With a little knowledge of the specific medicinal properties of our garden herbs, we can target specific needs. It is time to remember that the garden is a medicine cabinet.
Garlic is the powerhouse of all the culinary herbs, with antiviral, antiseptic, anti-oxidant, antispasmodic, anti-parasitic and immune-enhancing properties that get absorbed in the digestive tract and passed out through the lungs, skin, bowels and urinary tract, disinfecting them all. In World War I, garlic oil and sphagnum were used to dress wounds. An oil to treat earaches can be made by warming crushed garlic in a small amount of olive oil and straining it. Place a few warm (never hot) drops in the ear three times a day and massage around the ear.
Mix crushed garlic and honey and take the mixture straight or as a tea for acute flu or head colds, or as a pre-biotic if you feel something coming on or want to ward off a sickness that you were exposed to. Crushed garlic can also knock out fungal infections.
Rosemary contains volatile oils that have antiseptic, anti-bacterial and antifungal and, therefore, immune-enhancing properties. Its circulatory and nervine properties are wonderful for moving and loosening stuck places. Create a steam inhalation to free up sinuses and loosen the respiratory system: Simply place fresh or dried herbs in a bowl and add boiling water. Inhale the steam or cover your head and the bowl in a towel and breathe. Take caution not to get too close or to let the steam burn your skin.
Rosemary tea is traditionally used to treat headaches, migraines and digestive upsets. It tones and calms digestion and nervous tension. I use rosemary essential oil sprinkled in my car to increase my mental awareness. Rosemary oil can be massaged into the skin to stimulate movement in the lymphatic system.
Culinary sage has antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal and antioxidant properties. As a tea, it can be sipped after meals to improve digestion, it calms the central nervous system, it helps settle stomach bugs and helps prevent colds. Sage tea mixed with a little salt can be gargled for sore throats. Sage eases inflammation, especially in the mouth. Use a strong tea as a mouthwash for infected or bleeding gums or canker sores. Sage tea can be used to slow breast milk production.
Sage can help heal external ailments, as well. A sage rinse can tone tissue or be used as an antiseptic to wash scrapes and burns. Place a warm compress or poultice over a swollen area or painful joints for improved circulation and healing. Make a poultice or compress by wrapping the herb in a tea towel or cloth and placing it in a bowl and then pouring very hot water over the cloth. Let it steep for 10 minutes or longer. Place the hot but not scalding compress on the affected area. Grated raw potato added to a poultice helps draw out products of inflammation from tissues.
Cabbage has sulfuric compounds in it that help reduce flare-ups of arthritis. Shred cabbage and blanch it by dunking it in boiling water for about two minutes. Wrap hot cabbage in a tea towel or cloth and place the compress over arthritic joints for 15 minutes, twice daily, to help reduce inflammation.
Thyme helps the body fight viral, bacterial, fungal, gastrointestinal and genito-urinary tract infections. It makes an effective tea for colds, congestion, respiratory and digestive infections. Simply place a teaspoon or so of fresh or dried thyme in a mug and pour just-boiled water over it. Steep the tea for 5 minutes or longer and then sip. Its expectorant properties can help expel mucus due to bronchitis, whooping cough and asthma. Use the tea as an external wash for infected wounds. Thyme can help re-establish healthy gut bacteria in those taking antibiotics or experiencing excess candida.
Basil has strong anti-microbial, ant-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Tulsi or sacred basil is particularly immune boosting. Basil tea stimulates the appetite, eases stomach upset, reduces fever and sore throat, supports kidney function and can help relieve anxiety and migraines. A cooled tea rinse can help prevent and heal skin and gum infections.
The cleansing properties of parsley go beyond cleansing the breath. It is a diuretic that can help heal urinary tract and bladder infections. Mayans used the fresh juice as a liver cleanse. 
Cilantro has antibacterial properties, and it helps chelate and remove heavy metals from the body. A tea of coriander seed can stimulate digestive juices, relieving flatulence, indigestion and colic.
Peppermint made into a tea can aid digestion and reduce gas or colic. Since it loosens the esophageal sphincter, avoid it if you get heartburn. It is a popular tea to drink with colds and flus due to its ability to open the sinuses. Add honey to ease a sore throat. Add it to a steam inhalation, especially in conjunction with thyme, to help open sinuses.

Fennel is a great digestive aid. Chew the seeds after a heavy meal to help settle the stomach and increase digestion. Eaten as a plant or seed or used in a tea, it effectively treats bloating and flatulence. Fennel seed helps promote lactation. A mother can drink fennel leaf or seed tea to ease colic in her nursing baby. Tea can be given to a baby to ease colic, as well.
Cayenne pepper is another powerhouse. Hot peppers contain a phytochemical called capsaicin. Capsaicin consumption can dilate blood vessels and speed metabolism, which can increase circulation and blood flow to organs. As a topical paste or powder, it can relieve muscle pain, arthritis and the nerve pain of shingles. It can support cardiovascular health, as it prevents blood clots by keeping platelets from sticking together. As it dilates blood vessels, it can help improve circulation and lower blood pressure. It promotes sweating, so it has detoxifying properties.
Our gardens are brimming with powerful medicine. This article just scratches the surface of what these plants can do – and so many more plants could be included, such as ginger and turmeric. Small amounts of herbs can be immensely healing.


This article is for informational purposes only. Please check with a health care practitioner before using any plant as a medicine.

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