Flavor your life with these herbs & spices! They are so common in society that many forget or invalidate their healing abilities. Your health is heavily influenced by all you put (and don’t put) into your body. You can experience big shifts in the long run by steadily incorporating a number of smaller dietary shifts into your days. Add these tasty treats from Mother Nature into your food routine to experience a different level of vitality.
Chamomile is called the “remedy for babies of any age”…from teething & colicky infants to whiny adults. This makes sense as its scientific name of Matricaria (for German chamomile) comes from the Latin word matrix, translated to mean “womb” or “mother.” Making a hot infusion of this lovely herb relaxes the nerves, eases stomachaches and menstrual cramps, and soothes motion sickness. However, if you make a cold infusion of chamomile (steep in cold water for a couple hours or overnight), the resulting beverage will wake you up instead of helping with insomnia. Experiment with making a large pot of the hot tea and straining it into a bath. In addition to the fun of bathing in a ginormous cup of tea, the herb relaxes muscles and stimulates skin repair of various cuts and abrasions. Chamomile is healing to plants, too; it is called the plants’ physician. Add the cooled tea to a vase of droopy flowers to revive them, and planting chamomile in your garden can help prevent disease and remedy ailing plants. Lastly, if your eyes are tired from too much screen time, you can use cooled chamomile tea bags as a compress to ease the soreness. Like a good mother, chamomile has the ability to soothe many irritations in life.
Cinnamon is a paradoxical spice: smelling its aroma will stimulate the senses while calming the nerves. It is generally drying to the body (e.g. will dissolve mucus when you get a cold), yet will act as a moistening agent if needed. Cinnamon is wonderful at increasing warmth and circulation, supporting fat digestion, and calming menstrual cramps. It keeps blood sugar steady, which prevents the insulin spikes that lead to wrinkles and blemishes. That being said, keep in mind it’s not a magic bullet to stabilize excessive sugar consumption. Use cinnamon to balance cooling foods such as fruits, milk, and desserts. Make a tea to warm a chilled body on a cold day, either by itself or with other chai spices. An added benefit of incorporating cinnamon into your diet is prolonged use can beautify skin and promote a rosy complexion. In addition to drinking and smelling cinnamon, use it externally. Add a large pot of cinnamon tea to a bath if you have sore muscles. To make a tea (for drinking and baths), the best preparation is a decoction, where you simmer it covered in water for about 20 minutes. Using a smashed cinnamon stick makes for an easier clean-up than the powder. Lastly, cinnamon will deter ants when you sprinkle the powder in their path; to create an stronger barrier, put some cloves amidst the cinnamon.
Garlic is a wonderful example of using food as medicine. It is called the “slayer of monsters” in Ayurvedic medicine, and rightly so. Garlic is antimicrobial and works to kill viruses and bacteria – raw garlic is more effective at this, so mince some and put it on food when you feel a cold or flu coming on. If your stomach can’t handle raw garlic, halve a clove and rub it on the soles of your feet to get its antibacterial oils into your bloodstream. Garlic stimulates the immune system and, when used regularly, has been shown to reduce blood pressure in those in which it is elevated. When cooking with garlic, wait 5-10 minutes after chopping it up before eating it raw or adding it to your pan of food; its sulfur-rich compounds that have medicinal benefits are activated by oxygen. For many centuries, people from multiple cultures have used garlic for both its health and “magical” benefits…bridesgrooms in Sweden wore it as a protection against envious elves (who knew they had this issue?), and Roman soldiers ate garlic to give them courage.
Ginger is one of those items that no kitchen should be without. Many are aware that ginger helps with nausea and motion sickness (candied ginger pieces are lovely to bring on trips with windy roads). Did you know it’s helpful for colds and flus? Fresh ginger (like in a tea with honey and/or lemon) increases heat and helps the body perspire (sweat out those germs!), and gargling with ginger tea can soothe sore throats. Ginger helps relieve aches and pains associated with inflammation, and it can be a dear friend to women with menstrual cramps (it inhibits the inflammatory prostaglandins that contribute to these). Plus, if you get cold, dried ginger is wonderful at warming the body – make sure it’s in your chai blend. Just a word of caution – those on blood thinning medication shouldn’t overindulge in their ginger consumption. If you need more convincing on whether you should try this wonderful herb…ginger has an ancient reputation as being an aphrodisiac, and it was promoted as a prescription for a happy life in later years. There’s no time like the present to add some fire to your life!
Honey has been referred to as nectar of the gods. While all honey tastes sweet, raw honey is better for your body as it contains a number of vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. In order to retain these beneficial nutrients, it has to remain unheated. Honey soothes inflammation in respiratory organs – check it out by combining raw honey & hot water the next time you have a cough or sore throat. In addition to its lubricating quality, raw honey acts as a gentle astringent and anti-inflammatory agent for facial tissue. Do an online search for honey masks and try one out. While you’re online, find oxymel recipes to experiment with – an oxymel is a combination of honey, an acid (e.g. apple cider vinegar), and various herbs. Lastly, keep in mind that for optimal health, sweeteners (even ones that have medicinal benefits like raw honey) should be considered an occasional indulgence, not something consumed daily; and those with hypoglycemia or diabetes need to be extra careful with sugary items in general.
Lavender is so much more than an herb you delegate to potpourri bowls. Drink a cup of lavender tea to relieve tension, restlessness, agitation, and stress headaches. You can also use the tea as a gargle for sore throats, a mouthwash to get rid of bad breath, and in a foot bath to relieve fatigue. Hang bunches of lavender around your home (or in your closet) to repel moths, flies, and mosquitos. Infuse honey with this fragrant herb or make a lavender cordial – both are delicious! Lavender is antimicrobial and antiseptic (“laver” means “to wash”); consider making a lavender-infused vinegar to use in your house cleaning regimen; or boil a large pot of lavender with the lid off, and let the aroma permeate & disinfect your space. Smelling the essential oil is a quick tension tamer, and you can put a drop of the essential oil on your pillowcase to help take you into dreamtime. Folklore has spoken of people carrying lavender to see ghosts, wearing it to protect themselves from the evil eye, and smelling it frequently as it was thought to be conducive to a long life. And, its “magical” powers are said to be ones that promote love, protection, happiness, and peace – things all people need to thrive.
Start your day with sunshine in a glass – drink a cup of warm lemon water for a caffeine-free boost to your day. This beverage is high in Vitamin C (which is great for the immune system!); and it has a detoxifying effect on your liver, which will in turn help keep your skin clearer over time with regular usage. Throw the rinds into a dishpan of soapy water, as these help cut grease when washing dishes. Using a squeeze of lemon on food helps your digestive system assimilate nutrients, eliminate toxins, and helps your body get rid of mucus and fats (which can work with a weight loss program). If you find yourself under the weather, drink warm lemon water to cool a fever; plus, lemon is thought to be a tonic for the nervous system. Just for fun, when you have folks over to your home, place a slice of fresh lemon under your visitor’s chair. This is said to ensure that you both will have a lasting friendship. If nothing else, it will promote some laughter, which is great medicine in itself.
There are many ways to enjoy an orange other than eating the sections and tossing the peel. For starters, really inhale its fragrance; the scent of an orange will uplift and calm you at the same time. The “common” sectionals are rich in vitamin C, help to clear cholesterol from the arteries, and contribute to healthy skin. Instead of tossing the peels into compost, use some now and dry the rest for later. The peel is rich in vitamin C and pectin; pectin feeds the “good” bacteria in your gut. Making a tea out of the fresh or dried peel is useful for a wet cough, chronic chest congestion, hiccups, gas, bloating, and constipation. When fresh, grate the (organic) peel to add a delicious flavor to bread and desserts. Add pieces of the peel to chicken or duck stews. Make a paste out of powdered dried peel and a little olive oil to put on fish and chicken dishes before cooking. The next time you pick up an orange to eat, have some fun. A folklore divination practice is to think of a yes/no question while eating an orange and then count the number of seeds at the end. If you get an even number, the answer is no; if odd, then it is yes. And, remember to save and dry the peels for later! Another folklore belief of yesteryear was that if you drank an orange peel infusion, this would guard you against later drunkenness. Not saying you should try this, but it can turn drinking into a “scientific” experiment.
Go into most kitchens and you’ll encounter something many wouldn’t think to call medicine – pepper! Commercially, black and white pepper come from the same plant; the difference is that black pepper is the unripe but fully grown berry, while the milder white pepper is the mature fruit that has been soaked and peeled. When added to food in moderation, pepper stimulates the production of gastric juices that help digest rich foods (think bleu cheese dressing!). In addition, it warms the body, improves circulation, helps ease gas and bloating, helps disperse nutrients throughout the body, dissolves mucus, and drains chronic sinus congestion. A simple recipe to help get rid of a wet cough is to drink 1 cup of hot water that is mixed with ¼ tsp of (powdered) black pepper and 1 tsp of honey. Pepper has non-culinary uses, too. In folkloric tradition, pepper was used to dispel negative energy – people mixed it with salt and scattered the combination around their homes. Lastly, it is believed that eating large amounts of pepper will make you less desirable to mosquitos; however, please keep in mind that ingesting large amounts may elevate blood pressure, so experiment cautiously.
PEPPER – CAYENNE
Cayenne has been called the flower of fire, and its name comes from a Greek word meaning “to bite.” It’s a head-cleaning herb, helping with colds, runny noses, and headaches. It’s great at warming those prone to feeling cold, as it is a major stimulant to the circulatory system. You can even place cayenne powder in wool socks to warm your feet on cold days. Want another creative use for cayenne? The next time you get a cut, rinse the cut with tepid water to let it bleed a bit, then cake it with cayenne powder. Yes, you read that right. It will sting for a moment, but then will stop the bleeding, take away the pain, and disinfect the wound (it’s antibacterial). Consider getting crafty and make a cayenne oil. Topical application of the oil helps with sore muscles, arthritic pain, nerve pain (specifically shingles), and bruises. Applying the oil to bruises several times a day on a consistent basis will see them gone in record time. This is common sense, but I still must advise to avoid touching your eyes after working with cayenne. And, the next time you put too much cayenne in your food, don’t reach for water, as this will increase its fire. Instead, eat some fat (e.g. milk, cheese, buttered bread) to stop the burn.
Sage has been called the flower of immortality; Ancient Greeks thought sage would render man immortal. While this isn’t actually true, it does have strong antioxidant properties that protect cells from free radicals. Sage improves the digestion of fatty foods, regulates bile flow, and helps with colds and flus – drink a cool tea if you have night sweats, but a hot tea to induce perspiration. Sage has a tonic effect on the female reproductive system; however, it should not be taken in pregnancy (it stimulates the uterus) or while breastfeeding (it dries up milk production). Like many herbs and spices, sage is versatile in its uses. Use the tea as a hair rinse to help darken gray hair, to treat dandruff, or to treat an oily scalp. A facial steam of sage can treat oily or blemished skin; and its strong antiseptic properties make it useful for cuts and wounds. Smelling sage helps promote mental alertness – people of yesteryear would carry the herb to promote wisdom. One other added piece of info: in some folkloric traditions, people were told to eat sage in May to live to an old age.
Turmeric calls to mind the vibrant orange color seen in tropical sunsets. Gazing at this type of vista brings about a deep sense of well-being, and turmeric’s benefits are similar in nature. This is one of those “power” herbs that has a whole host of healing packed into its tiny form. Turmeric helps the body digest fat and protein, promotes blood circulation, aids liver function, works to regulate the menses, has strong anti-inflammatory properties, and can enhance immunity. When cooking with it, add black pepper and a fat (such as ghee or coconut oil) to increase how much is absorbed into your body. In some folkloric traditions turmeric is considered a symbol of prosperity and is used for purification. In regards to purification, it is known to be a rejuvenating remedy for the skin. Make a paste with turmeric, water, and oil; and apply the paste to your skin for 15 minutes before washing it off. It will leave your skin a bit yellow for awhile, but then you are left with a lasting radiance once the yellow color fades away. If this sounds a bit too much, here’s another suggestion – search for golden milk recipes online & incorporate drinking this beverage into your evening ritual. Your body will thank you for it.