- The health benefits of herbs
- Healthy, tasty, easy herbs are a gardener’s friend
- Herbs Archives
- Plan & Create A Medicinal Herb Garden
- Grow Medicinal, Culinary and Cosmetic Herbs in a Small Space
- Medicinal Herbs
- English Lavender
- Melissa or Lemon B alm
- St John’s Wort
- Pot Marigolds
- Further Information on Medicinal Herbs
- Herb Seed and Plant Suppliers
- Further Reading
The health benefits of herbs
Basil. (Susan Biddle/For The Washington Post)
As a passionate food lover as well as a nutritionist, I’m always searching for that sweet spot where delicious and healthful meet. Herbs hit it perfectly.
These luscious leaves — parsley, basil, cilantro, mint, thyme, oregano, rosemary and the — not only add enticing aroma, fresh flavor and vivid green color to food, but also have remarkable health benefits.
When you move beyond thinking of herbs as mere garnishes and start to see them as major culinary players, a whole world of healthy taste opens up to you.
Herbs have been used since ancient times for their medicinal properties, mostly concentrated into teas and tinctures. More recently, their healthful value as a food ingredient has been realized.
For one, herbs add a burst of flavor to food, allowing you to cut back on salt without sacrificing taste.
And several herbs, including parsley, have significant amounts of the essential vitamins A, C and K.
But the true power of herbs lies in their wealth of protective polyphenols — plant compounds with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Piles of studies show that polyphenols in herbs help combat such diseases as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and more.
Polyphenols are anti-microbial, so they can help protect us from harmful bacteria as well.
Although many of the studies on herbs’ effects have involved concentrated solutions of the leaves’ active components, there is evidence that their benefits still apply when they are cooked and eaten as part of a regular meal, too.
The best way to have fresh herbs at your fingertips is to grow them yourself, in your garden or in pots on your windowsill. This way, all you need to do is snip as desired, and the beauty and scent of the plants will be a natural reminder to use them.
When buying cut herbs, make sure the leaves are not wilted or yellowing — they should be bright or deep green, depending on the variety, and perky looking. To store them, wash and pat or spin dry in a salad spinner, then wrap them in a damp paper towel and place in a plastic bag or an airtight container.
Regardless of how carefully you select or refrigerate them, fresh cut herbs are highly perishable. The tenderest leaves, such as basil and cilantro, will usually not last more than a week in the refrigerator.
Firmer types such as parsley and oregano will keep a bit longer, and hearty rosemary and thyme will last a couple of weeks. To preserve them longer, chop them and place in ice cube trays with stock or water.
Freeze; then transfer the herb cubes into a plastic bag and keep frozen to add to soups, stews and sauces.
Although fresh herbs offer a clean, bright flavor and spring appeal, don’t write off dried, which have upsides of their own.
Dried herbs are easy to keep on hand, and they are at least as beneficial as fresh, if not more so, because the drying process actually concentrates the polyphenols and flavors.
When buying dried herbs, get them in small quantities that you can use up in less than a year, because their flavor fades with time. And keep in mind that, as a rule, if a recipe calls for one tablespoon of a fresh chopped herb, you can generally substitute one teaspoon dried.
While there are plenty of inspiring herb-centric recipes from all over the world to explore — think of pesto, tabbouleh salad, chimichurri sauce — you don’t need any special instructions or culinary skills to get more herbs into your life. You can simply add them to foods you are already making. Here are 10 ways to get you started:
●Add chopped fresh or dried parsley or dill to your scrambled eggs.
●Tuck a few leaves of mint and/or basil into your ham or turkey sandwich.
●Pile fresh cilantro leaves onto your turkey or veggie burger.
●Toss handfuls of fresh tender herbs — parsley, basil, cilantro, mint — into your basic green salad, treating them more a lettuce than a seasoning.
●Add a generous pinch of dried oregano or thyme to your vinaigrette-type salad dressing.
●Mix a handful of fresh Italian parsley or dill into your boiled or mashed potatoes.
●Rub a mix of dried rosemary and thyme onto your chicken breast before grilling.
●Muddle fresh mint or basil leaves in a glass then fill with iced tea or sparkling water and a twist of citrus.
●Spruce up jarred pasta sauce with a handful of fresh chopped basil leaves.
●Stir fresh basil, parsley or mint leaves with grilled zucchini or sauteed green beans.
Krieger is a registered dietitian, nutritionist and author. She blogs and offers a biweekly newsletter at www.elliekrieger.com. She also writes weekly Nourish recipes in The Washington Post’s Food section.
Chat April 23 at 1 p.m. Join Krieger for a live Q&A about healthful eating.
“,”author”:”Ellie Krieger”,”date_published”:”2015-04-14T13:00:00.000Z”,”lead_image_url”:”https://www.washingtonpost.com/rf/image_1484w/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/2015/04/13/Production/LocalLiving/Images/hp1_10_0_163557763.JPG?t=20170517″,”dek”:null,”next_page_url”:null,”url”:”https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/the-health-benefits-of-herbs/2015/04/13/4668c73a-dd59-11e4-acfe-cd057abefa9a_story.html”,”domain”:”www.washingtonpost.com”,”excerpt”:”They add taste, vitamins and powerful disease-fighting polyphenols. Plus, theyâre pretty.”,”word_count”:819,”direction”:”ltr”,”total_pages”:1,”rendered_pages”:1}
Healthy, tasty, easy herbs are a gardener’s friend
At Denver Botanic Gardens, the Herb Garden typically is one of the most understated spaces. The sun-drenched expanse of hardscape is softened by about 200 herb species with beguiling scents and 50 shades of green.
“You don’t have to have blooms on everything,” said Loddie Dolinski, a botanic gardens senior horticulturist who has tended the Herb Garden for about 20 years. “Sometimes, the leaf is the most interesting.”
Currently, the Herb Garden enjoys limelight as a backdrop for one of the sculptures in “Calder: Monumental,” the garden’s latest art extravaganza.
“The structure of the Herb Garden offers a visually appropriate setting for ‘A Two-Faced Guy,’” said Lisa Eldred, director of exhibitions, art and interpretation. “The sculpture’s circular base fits nicely within the concentric circles of the garden plan.”
Working in the formally structured Herb Garden on a recent sunny day, Dolinski wasn’t wearing gloves, but she did wear a broad-brimmed hat — the bricks in the Herb Garden reflect the full-on sun many herbs require to flourish.
“Most herbs need a minimum of half a day of sun; but in Colorado, our half day equals a full day back east,” Dolinski said.
Dolinski also wore a jolly gardener’s grin, handed out Lindt Emoji chocolates and brewed a pot of coffee for the Denver Botanic Gardens Guild volunteers who were there to help maintain the Herb Garden.
The guild’s current president, Pat Trefry, showed wares made with the garden’s organic dried herbs. To raise funds for the gardens, the guild produces small batch herbal soaps, sugars, vinegars, culinary rubs and cat toys for the botanic gardens’ winter gift sale.
Herb gardens were the first gardens. Their ancient roots date to 2000 B.C. written records in Egypt, according to “Herbs: Leaves of Magic,” by Carol Riggs.
Since time immemorial, herbs have provided humanity with food, medicine, and personal care products. Native Americans used lamb’s ear leaves as toilet paper and as a dressing to stop bleeding.
An ornamental herb with a pretty purple flower, monkshood yielded poison for hunting, war and witchcraft. Shakespeare’s Romeo committed suicide with the herb.
“In medieval cloistered garden, plants weren’t grown for beautiful bouquets. Their purpose was medicinal,” Dolinski said. “They probably appreciated the nice blossoms, but they wanted the rose hips.
We go to Costco for Vitamin C, but 100 years ago, if you had some herbal knowledge or brought seeds, you survived better. We look at dandelions as weeds, but [pioneers] used it as a spring tonic.
Trefry mentioned that her family didn’t view them as weeds. “I grew up on dandelion salad. In North Denver, the Italians just added vinegar and oil to the greens. We ate dandelion flowers, too.”
Dolinksi noted that herbs can serve as salt substitutes for people restricting sodium in their diets.
“You start out with the Simon and Garfunkel song ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.’ They’re the easy ones, almost no-fail, and the flavors appeal to most people’s taste,” she said.
“But when your taste broadens, you move on to lovage — a celery substitute, a huge plant, stately and architectural. If you to cook, go after culinary herbs. Fennel has a beautiful, airy leaf. You can use fronds on fish, but the seed heads also are a breath-freshener. They’re anise, so you have to licorice.”
Herbs’ multi-purpose nature lines up with 2017 landscaping trends identified by the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado. The ALCC’s number one trend: putting the garden to work.
Another ALCC inclination is planting for climate change. Most herbs can survive the roller-coaster weather of Denver’s steppe climate. Herbs also fit the bill for the ALCC’s call for low-maintenance, low-water, easy-to-grow plants.
“Herbs can go dry. They are not difficult plants. Herbs are not divas. They’re not prissy. As far as pests–minimal. Herbs don’t require fussing. You don’t buy special fertilizer or a special container, and you don’t have to invest a lot of time,” Dolinski said.
“They’re not totally carefree, but they’re on the lower end of maintenance. Everyone wants low-maintenance, but you have to do something.”
What Dolinksi does: Adds a light application of compost as a top-dressing in spring and a spreads a thin layer of wood mulch in bald spots.
“Maybe the herbs in containers get fed with some kelp,” she said.
Otherwise, she and her volunteers weed. And weed. And weed some more.
“The weeding is relentless, but it’s your attitude,” Dolinski said. “You’re going to have weeds, so get out there and get your vitamin D.”
To help keep weeds down, she sprays brick pavers with vinegar. And she doesn’t allow most herbal flowers to go to seed lest they self-sow.
Basil and cilantro are good herbs to plant right now, she said. But wait until fall to plant perennials — it’s too tough to monitor their water in this heat.
“With herbs, you can mix them in. They blend so well,” Dolinski said. “You don’t need a strictly herb garden. Plant what you . Stick in some calendula and nasturtium. Keep a mini garden of favorite savory herbs close to your kitchen so you can snip them. They smell so good when you brush up against them,” Dolinski said.
“Not everything grows. I had no luck with stevia. Maybe I’ll try it again.”
Colleen Smith writes and gardens in Denver.
Angelica is a beautiful biennial herb that has been grown for centuries for its aromatic edible stems, medicinal roots, and large bold foliage. This majestic plant can be propagated in a number of different ways and is easy to grow once you know how to get it started. Read on to learn how to propagate angelica.
Lovage doesn’t get the attention in the home garden that it deserves. Its flavor is fresh and herbal, and cultivation is fuss-free. It self seeds without being invasive and attracts beneficial insects. It also has some medicinal properties. What’s not to love? Read more now to learn how to grow and care for lovage.
Tasty and fragrant, basil is a delicious ingredient when eaten fresh or added to recipes. Its lush growth and pretty flowers have great ornamental appeal. Did you know that there are a number of different basil cultivars available? Learn about 13 of our favorite basil varieties to add to your herb garden. Read more now.
Have you ever thought of growing motherwort? Or do you already have an abundance growing wild in your garden, and you’re unsure of what to do with it? This hardy perennial herb has a reputation for reducing anxiety and supporting women’s health. Read more to learn how to grow, harvest, and utilize this powerful plant.
You may be familiar with the beneficial properties of nettle leaves, but did you know that the roots of this hardy perennial herb are also medicinal, and have some very special attributes of their own? Discover how to harvest, process, store, and use nettle root. Read more now.
Why not try starting an herb garden this spring? There are many edible, medicinal, fragrant, and ornamental herbs to choose from. And there are gardening options for everyone, whether it’s in the landscape or in raised beds, window boxes, or pots. Learn how to start your own herb garden this spring. Read more now.
Though often overlooked as an undesirable weed, stinging nettle is an astonishing plant with an abundance of uses, many dating back for thousands of years. Learn to appreciate this forager’s favorite and discover tips for growing, harvesting, and using nettle greens, with some bonus cooking tips too. Read more now.
Impatient for a homegrown harvest you can serve or snack on? Opt for quick-growing vegetables and herbs that yield tasty, fresh ingredients, some in just 14 days. These early-season homegrown shoots, microgreens, and even a flower will perk up your end of winter, pantry-based meals. Forget slow and steady! Read more.
Parsley has a rich and storied history, and its substantial health properties and usefulness as a garden herb are timeless. Easy to grow and propagate, this attractive herb is a welcome addition to veggie patches and flower containers, and storage of surplus stock is simple as well. Get all the details on how to grow and enjoy parsley – read more now on Gardener’s Path.
Ramps are an incredibly delicious treat in the kitchen, but they’re overharvested in the wild. The solution? Grow your own. Ramps are a fuss-free plant once they’re established, with a flavor that can’t be imitated. Our guide to growing Allium tricoccum includes everything you need to get started. Read more now.
Mint is a prolific, perennial herb that’s easy to grow and propagate, so you can always enjoy a fresh supply of leaves. With a tingling flavor and bright scent, it’s ideal for beverages, savory dishes, and sweets. And it can repel pests in the home and garden as well. Get all the details on how to grow mint right here.
It’s the perfect time to start growing your own herbs, fruits, veggies, and mushrooms at home, or to take up a new hobby terrarium-making or succulent propagation. We’ve found the best kits to help you get started. Most include everything you need, with helpful instructions. Pick your favorite, and get growing!
Garlic boasts a deliciously pungent smell and makes an excellent repellent of pests and even fungi. While there’s a short list of plants not to grow alongside garlic, the list of plants that thrive next to garlic is longer. We narrow down the nine best options for you to companion plant with garlic. Read more now.
If you love garlic and want to grow your own, you’ll need to know how to propagate it. Learn about the three different methods of propagating garlic – from cloves, bulbils, or from seed. Discover the pros and cons of each method and you’ll be on your way to an aromatic garlic garden in no time. Read more now.
Looking to add some depth to your garden this season? Try angelica. This long-cultivated biennial herb has a history of medicinal use, with edible roots, leaves, and stalks. Growing to a towering eight feet tall, these plants have an aromatic scent and impressive stature. Discover how to add angelica to your garden now.
Looking for a plant that’s easy to grow, with more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy green? Meet purslane. This juicy green “superfood” grows a weed, and adds oomph to everything from salads to spanakopita. Our guide to growing Portulaca oleracea will teach you everything you need to know. Read more now.
Yarrow is a perennial flowering herb with a long history of medicinal use, from treating wounds on the battlefield to modern herbal remedies. With feathery leaves and delicate flowers, it repels pests and provides ornamental interest in the garden. Read on to learn all about the history of yarrow and its many uses.
You may think of common plantain as an irksome weed, but did you know that this underappreciated herb is actually edible and nutritious, highly medicinal, and restorative to compacted soil? Plus, it’s abundant and easy to grow! Read more now to get our tips for cultivating and enjoying this useful plant at home.
Plan & Create A Medicinal Herb Garden
By Dafydd Monks, BSc (Hons). Medical Herbalist
Many of us have a few culinary herbs growing in our gardens, but would you to grow 14 really useful herbs in a small space and learn how to use them for your own health, beauty and well-being?
Man has used medicines made from herbs and other plants for millennia. Traditionally in England the lady of the house would have kept the family medicine chest, and it would have been her responsibility to keep it stocked with medicinal plants she would have grown.
Then as a wave of exploration exploded from Western Europe in the 1600s interesting and rare plants were collected and cultivated in ‘Physic Gardens’ – large gardens used by apothecaries and botanists.
Latterly, some of our most widely used pharmaceutical drugs have been derived from such collected medicinal plants; quinine from Chinchona, a plant from South America is an example of a rare plant introduced in the time of the Physic gardens and later developed into a drug.
As gardeners and growers, the link we have with medicinal plants and preparing medicines was always strong, and should rightly be strong again.
Many herbalists were appreciable gardeners and botanists, and many gardeners and botanists would have been involved in the cultivation of medicines right up to the early 20th Century.
So how can we start to re-root that connection? Planting your own herb bed or herb garden is a great way of getting involved, and broadening your horticultural horizons.
Grow Medicinal, Culinary and Cosmetic Herbs in a Small Space
When it comes to cultivating your own herbs, A 3 x 3 yard herb bed will be enough to give you a comprehensive herb bed for family use. With this space, you will be able to grow 15 – 20 different medicinal, culinary and cosmetic herbs; most of which also look nice and will brighten up your garden no end.
They will also add interest to your garden (herbs are always a good conversation starter!), give a steady supply of cut flowers for the home, attract bees and other beneficial pollinators, and preserve the medicinal (or ‘officinal’) strains of some more widely hybridised plants such as roses.
Of course, you may not have 3 x 3 yards of space spare if you have a smaller garden or small allotment. That’s fine – read this article and get a feel for what you’d to plant, and select what you have space for and plant it anyway.
If you have an allotment, why not share this article with other allotment holders and have a communal herb bed, or share some of your herbs with others?
I’ve created a simple plan of a garden that fits within a 3 x 3 yard square and gives a balanced selection of herbs and medicinal plants for family use. I suggest making it in 3D, by either making a mound of soil giving you gently sloping sides, or having a large pot in the middle, with smaller pots around that, then down to soil at the edges of the bed. This maximises space and light.
- Purple Sage
- Damask Rose
- Englisher Lavender
- St, John’s Wort
- Pot Marigolds
The centrepiece of this bed is a Damask Rose. This is one of the three commonly used medicinal roses, and has lovely pink-red petals and most importantly a lovely aromatic scent.
There are many damask roses, and the original hybrid is probably lost to us, however most medicines and perfumes are made with the Kazanlak variety, which is grown extensively in Bulgaria in ‘the rose capital of Europe’. This particular variety is very vigorous and sturdy while being lovely in the garden and when used in flower arrangements, crafts, etc. It also has many medicinal uses.
Next come four larger plants, positioned around the central rose. You can plant them in pots if you , or plant them on the level: they’re taller than the outer edge of plants, so they will still give a pleasing pyramidal shape to your herb bed.
We’ll start with Rosemary. This culinary herb will be familiar to many but did you know that as well as hugely improving the taste of meat and stews, Rosemary also calms the digestion and improves the flow of blood to the brain? When I was at university, I remember the exam room stinking of rosemary tea from all the herbal students taking in litre bottles of the stuff.
Fennel is the ultimate digestif herb. It dispels flatulence, calms gripes, soothes those with an overproduction of stomach acid, and also helps those who experience stomach upsets as a result of stress. Chewing Fennel seeds also freshens breath!
Feverfew (Tanacetum Parthenium)
Feverfew is a familiar sight to many gardeners as it often grows as a weed. It really should be encouraged though as it is an excellent treatment for migraines. Long term use is effective in preventing migraines.
A herb that is very good for inducing sleep or relaxation is lavender. The flowers are highly scented and used in such diverse ways as lavender sugar, where it adds a slightly scented aroma, through to a tea made from the dried flowers, which is quite bitter and stimulating to the digestion.
Lavender is most known for its relaxing qualities though. A small bunch of flowers hung in the shower or under the hot tap of the bath is particularly calming and soothing before bed.
Next, we’ll plant herbs around the outside of the bed. Starting with Peppermint, another familiar culinary herb. This herb is lovely with lamb dishes. It is also a key ingredient in ‘winter ills’ tea, along with Yarrow and Elderflower.
Thyme is a small plant and can be ‘popped in’ to corners of your herb bed or where you have space between bigger plants, although it does good exposure to sunlight, so avoid shading it too much.
Thyme aids digestion, many culinary herbs, hence it’s use in food. It is however so much more, being highly antifungal and antibacterial. You can use an infusion of Thyme as a mouthwash, a disinfectant for wounds, and as a wash for mild fungal skin infections.
The natural companion to Thyme, both gastronomically and medicinally is Sage. Sage has similar properties to Thyme, but complements and extends them. It is antispasmodic, relaxing muscle tissue. Herbalists use Sage in cases of asthma or panic attacks for this purpose. It is also a liver tonic due to its bitterness. Sage dries up catarrh and reduces night sweating.
Melissa or Lemon B alm
Melissa or Lemon Balm is best taken as a tea brewed from the fresh leaves. It is calming to the mood and emotions and is relaxing while not being overly sedative. It has a lovely aroma and can be incorporated into ‘herb pillows’ to aid sleep.
St John’s Wort
St John’s Wort has received a lot of attention as an antidepressant, but it is also really very useful as an antiviral herb and as a wound healer. The fresh flowers are infused in olive oil on a sunlit windowsill which makes a lovely deep red oil suitable for applying to cuts and burns.
Pot marigolds are very useful for clearing the skin. A face wash can be made by brewing the flower heads into a tea and washing your face in the resulting liquid. They also soothe and tone mucus membranes. An example of this is using the brewed liquid as a rinse for ulcers, etc.
Yarrow is a grassland loving ‘weed’. It will grow happily in a bed, and if you don’t the white flowers of the native strain, the American strain of yarrow (they’re both Achillea millefolium) has pinkish red flowers and behaves in the same was as its European cousin medicinally.
Yarrow is a great winter herb alongside peppermint and elderflower, equal parts of which make an excellent ‘winter ills’ tea.
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)
Echinacea is a well-known herbal medicine; it has become very popular as an immune tonic. It has a rather lovely pink-purple daisy flower which would be suited to any herb bed or cottage garden. All parts of the plant are medicinally active.
Lastly we come to Heartsease. This is another ‘skin herb’ that is often used alongside marigolds to treat eczema, as it clears the skin and is mildly anti-allergenic. It is also used in rheumatic conditions.
If this article aims to do one thing, it’s to whet your appetite to have a go at growing a few herbs and to learn a bit about what they do. If you can only grow one or two herbs in your allotment or garden, that’s still better than none.
Also, be sure to look out for medicinal plants in your lawn, in the hedgerow, in verges or gutters. In fact everywhere! You’d be amazed at how many medicinal plants are already around you, many you may think of as weeds. Once the interest in herbs in medicinal plants takes hold, it is hard to stop peering at weeds excitedly.
Of course this is just the barest of starts, the rest is up to you. So plant your herb garden, read up on the many uses herbs will have in your life, and inspire yourself to start using your herbs, creating your own ‘family medicine chest’ using your new found knowledge and interest!
Further Information on Medicinal Herbs
Snowdonia Botanical Medicine My website, with other articles, news and events I organise across North Wales. I welcome relevant and constructive comments or questions and can be contacted via my web site.
Brief Herb Growing Guides
Herb Seed and Plant Suppliers
- Herbs in the Allotment Shop
- Poyntzfield Herb Nurseries
- National Herb Centre
Grow Your Own Drugs: Fantastically Easy Recipes for Natural Remedies and Beauty TreatsJames Wong. Collins, 2009Herbcraft Naturally, Christina Stapley. Heartsease Books, 1994Herbwise Naturally, Christina Stapley. Heartsease Books, 2000
The Herb Garden (New ed.), Sarah Garland. Frances Lincoln, 2003