The Medicinal Uses of Herbs
The use of herbs and plants for medicinal purposes is nothing new. Contact between humans and plants is instinctive. They are all around us providing not just the basis for many healing tinctures but food. And there are those that attract us with their heady perfume and others that repel with an unpleasant smell.
There are written records too, from ancient Egyptian and Indian that show how healers used a cacophony of botanicals to cure what commonly afflicted their people. Some of the records show success, others not so. Science gradually took over, telling us that synthetic man-made compounds were more reliable than botanicals. And yet, some argue, the basis of modern-day drugs and treatment are based very closely on the structure of botanicals.
The use of herbs as medicine
We need to be careful with phrases like ‘drugs’, ‘medication’ and ‘medicine’ – their scientific use suggests a cure, alleviation of the symptoms, the potion that will put the body and mind back to how it should be.
Herbs as ‘medicine’ implies something slightly different. The consumption of herbs, either as part of someone’s diet or as a specific concoction to deal with a certain ailment, can have a beneficial effect. This infographic demonstrates the ‘healing’ nature of some herbs and is, in no way, meant to act as a substitute for seeking qualified medical help or accepting the treatment offered to deal with illness.
Having said that, some herbs have the ability to naturally increase minerals and nutrients in our system that can be helpful in dealing with some common problems and alleviate symptoms. Chamomile, for example, is a herb that grows without pomp and ceremony. It looks similar to the daisy you probably have growing in clumps in your lawn. Chamomile doesn’t have a strong smell and neither does it have a pungent flavour. After drying and steeping in boiled water, it releases all of its oils and nutrients, making a pleasant tasting light tea. Consume without milk before bed and you just may find that you sleep better. It is commonly used within homoeopathic circles too, to help with frayed nerves and an overactive nervous system.
If you struggle with allergens – known or unknown – and find your skin mildly irritated or you sneeze, cough or feel irritated when coming into contact with it, you could try bolstering your shields against allergens with Johnny Jump Up, a small, violet-like flower that some say helps ward off allergens. The perfume of lavender is surely recognised by everyone, brush against it on a summer’s evening, and the air is filled with its heady scent. Buzzing, bustling bees find it most attractive and so to, do the receptors in our brain. There is something soothing about lavender.
A plant full of scent and oil, it is commonly used in products that help us to unwind and relax, so we fall into a fitful sleep. Just look at the range of lavender-scented bath products and you will see that the use of herbs has not disappeared at all.
Grow your own and use the scented petals in bouquet garni for under your pillow or to give your home a pleasant perfume.
And there’s more…
There are 23 herbs on the infographic, many of which commonly grow in polytunnels, gardens and allotments across the UK. Herbs can be a delicious addition to your diet, whether we cook with them, eat them raw in salads or make a tea from them. Some herbs when treated in the right way, can make topical creams too, such as lip balm for protecting the lips against the cold, harsh wind that sweeps across the allotment in winter.
And it is how we treat them that matters. Some herbs can be eaten raw, some are better dried and rehydrated as we need them. Others should be consumed in only the smallest of quantities, whilst others can be enjoyed as and when we like them. Take care with herbs because they can be far more potent than you think. In the case of these common herbs, however, you have little to worry about. They will bring taste and flavour to your food, scent and colour to your garden and many benefits too if you add them to your diet. Because we are what eat, after all…
Sean Barker is the MD of First Tunnels, and is enthusiastic about providing quality gardening supplies to gardeners across the UK