I’ve got a thing about herbs
you may have noticed that I’ve got kind of a thing about herbs: I’m
always organizing herb classes at the store, promoting herbal products,
and talking about things like medicinal herbs and herbal tea and
herbal-infused honey. I’ve been known to go on a bit about it, so I want
to say a word about why.
I think that staying healthy in the
modern world comes down to this: putting less bad stuff and more good
stuff in and on our bodies. That means limiting exposure to the bad
stuff, by improving your diet and making careful choices about body care
and cleaning products and so on. That’s why I teach classes on toxins
and chemicals (more on that another day).
Getting the good stuff
in can be a challenge. With so much fast, tasty, processed food so
readily available, it’s easy to slip into a diet that is lacking. Even
if we do eat whole foods, industrial farming has changed the value of
the foods available. As a result most Americans are missing out on key
nutritional building blocks that are essential for our bodies to
function properly. So then we pop a vitamin pill to try and make up the
difference -- but lately I’m reading bad news about the vitamin industry
(think vitamins made in Chinese labs), so that doesn’t seem like it’s
really an answer either.
It's about the nutrient density, stupid
food is obviously the answer: grow some of your own, and know your
farmer. But good food, well cooked is not necessarily simple for those
of us who are amateurs in the kitchen. Let alone the time it takes. So
I’m always looking for the most bang for my nutritional buck -- I want
to incorporate nutrient-dense foods in my diet as much as possible,
because I’m always thinking about how I can get more good stuff in,
without it requiring me to be a gourmet.
Enter herbs. Herbs are
nutrient dynamos, and for all of human kind they have been a part of our
diet -- not just for flavor, but because they add nutritional value.
They also offer a myriad of (proven) healing benefits, such as pulling
toxins out of our bodies (cilantro), soothing nerves to aid sleep
(lavender), or treating an irritable bowel (peppermint). Many herbs are
being studied now to take us beyond the traditional knowledge of
medicinal value to the kind of evidence we are more comfortable with
these days. The results are no surprise to an herbalist -- herbs have
anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal and even
anticancer properties, and they are proving valuable to treat a wide
range of ailments, from allergies to prostate cancer.
much the rest of the world beyond the US, herbs and spices are
integrated into the food cultures and herbal tea is a go-to standard
beverage for people of all ages, but we’ve lost that here. If you are
like me, even if you do actually cook whole foods for yourself, you’ve
never been taught about using herbs in your cooking. And nowadays there
is little traditional knowledge passed down about the medicinal
qualities of even the most common herbs.
Here’s what herbs used
to mean to me: a who-knows-how-old shaker of Herbs de Provence in the
cupboard (I couldn’t have told you what was in it), those expensive
packets of fresh basil in the produce aisle in January when I had some
recipe that called for it, and four or five boxes of herbal tea bags
that I usually only remembered to pull out when I had a guest who didn’t
drink coffee. Maybe you weren’t as bad as this, but I bet you don’t use
herbs as often as you could.
If I can do it, you can do it
the last year or two I have been making an effort to learn about herbs
and incorporate them into my diet on a regular basis, and I feel that
herbs are one thing that has made a significant positive impact on my
health during this time. I have something herby every day: fresh tea,
pesto, herb-infused honey, sprinkled herbs, in the summer I have fresh
herbs in salad, and in the winter I use many dried herbs. And I swear by
a few herbal remedies that helped me survive the cold and flu season.
Nowadays my relationship with herbs is all about nettles and peppermint
and three kinds of basil, and many more herbs that I've become
Herbs help to keep me in balance, and strengthen
my immune system, and soothe my sniffles. Now I want to tell everyone
about the nutritional and medicinal value they offer, and I'd like to
get you on the herbal bandwagon. It's really not hard (believe me, if it
was hard, I wouldn't be doing it).
In Central Ohio we are so
lucky to have some amazing herbalists and herb farmers who are growing
their own herbs, making high-quality herbal products, and sharing their
knowledge. And we [carried] many of their products in the store, including
from Dawn Combs of Mockingbird Meadows, Lauren Genter of Ancient Roots
Botanicals, and Janell Baran of Blue Owl Garden Emporium. These are the people I've learned from, and
these are the products I use.
Here are some resources that highlight the evidence supporting the value of herbs:
American Botanical Council
The Herb Research Foundation
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, About Herbs, Botanicals & Other Products