Herb Basics

A Place to Start

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ADD PIZZAZZ WITH EXOTIC VANILLA SUGAR

Placing a vanilla bean into a pint jar of sugar transforms plain sugar into a pleasing, fragrant addition to cakes, cookies, custards, whipping cream and all sorts of sweets. If you do a lot of baking, you can make this recipe in larger quantities — a quart or half-gallon jar — and use it often.

About 2 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, cut into 4 pieces

Fill a pint jar about one-third full of sugar. Place 2 pieces of vanilla bean in the sugar. Cover vanilla bean with sugar until the jar is two-thirds full; add remaining vanilla pieces and cover with sugar, leaving about 1/2 inch of headspace in the jar. Seal with lid, shake the jar, and place it on a shelf in a cool, dark place. The sugar will be ready to use in about three weeks and will become more flavorful with age.

REVITALIZE WITH HERBS AND SUPPLEMENTS

The following herbs and supplements can help maintain the health and vitality of various parts of the body. Use these herbs on a regular basis for the best effect.

Source: Gladstar, Rosemary. Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal. North Adams, Massachusetts: Storey Books, 2001.

GREAT NUTRITION FROM WILD MUSHROOMS

When mushrooms are in season, flavorful wild varieties bursting with health benefits can be found at grocery stores and farmer’s markets. For year-round wild mushroom enjoyment, most varieties (such as shiitake, porcini, chanterelle and morel) are available dried.

Dried mushrooms are easy to use — just reconstitute them by soaking the mushrooms in warm water for 20 to 30 minutes. Dried mushrooms retain most of their health benefits, and also taste great, although their flavor is a bit stronger than that of fresh mushrooms. Their texture also becomes less delicate when dried, so dried mushrooms are best enjoyed in soups and stews, risottos and casseroles.

Source: Underkoffler, Renée Loux. Living Cuisine: The Art and Spirit of Raw Foods. New York: Avery, 2003.

MARSHMALLOW: A GENTLE, SOOTHING HERB

Common names: Marshmallow, Althea

Latin name: Althaea officinalis

Family: Malvaceae

Part used: Root, leaf and flower

Medicinal uses: Marshmallow is a mucilaginous, or “slimy,” herb, which makes it useful for soothing irritated tissues, such as in sore throats and digestive discomforts. It also soothes coughs associated with bronchitis and helps relieve an inflamed urinary tract. The herb also is mildly stimulating to the immune system. When applied topically, the plant’s mucilage gel can help soothe and protect cuts and scrapes.

Forms commonly used: Teas, capsules, tablets and tinctures.

Side effects: According to the Botanical Safety Handbook (CRC Press, 1997), marshmallow is a Class 1 herb, meaning it is safe to consume when used appropriately. The German Commission E notes that the herb may delay the absorption of drugs taken at the same time, due to the herb’s mucilaginous properties. For best effect, take marshmallow apart from other medications.

Notes: The herb has been used as a medicine for about 2,500 years. Although marshmallows once were made by sweetening an extract of the herb’s roots, today’s marshmallows are a combination of corn syrup, gelatin, gum arabic and flavorings — they contain no marshmallow.

True to its name, marshmallow grows best in marshes, as well as meadows, bogs and other moist areas.

Marshmallow’s genus name, Althaea, comes from the Greek word altho, meaning “associated with healing.” Some historians believe that people once ate marshmallow during times of famine.

FROZEN HERBAL TREATS FOR KIDS

If your child balks at the idea of drinking herbal teas, try introducing him or her to teas gradually with great-tasting “herbal juice-sicles.” Although the juice pops may not work for strong- or bitter-tasting herbs, they work well for milder herbs, such as chamomile (Matricaria recutita), ginger (Zingiber officinale) or peppermint (Mentha ¥piperita).

To make the frozen treats, bring 1 cup of water to a boil and add 1 teaspoon of a good-tasting dried herb. Simmer gently for several minutes, until the liquid is reduced by about half. Strain the tea and stir in 1/2 cup of your child’s favorite unsweetened fruit juice — apple juice would taste good with all of the herbs mentioned above. Pour the liquid into molds or ice-cube trays and put them in the freezer. When the juice-sicles are partly solid, insert a tongue depressor or plastic spoon into each treat to use as a stick.

Source, White, Linda and Sunny Mavor. Kids, Herbs, & Health. Loveland, Colorado: Interweave, 1998.

Terms to Know

Arthritis: An assorted collection of more than 100 joint diseases. Arthritis diseases afflict nearly 43 million Americans, and are the most common cause of disability in people ages 65 and older (see Page 8).

Exfoliation: The process of removing dead, dry skin cells to reveal the healthy new skin beneath the surface. Because it stimulates cell turnover and collagen production, regular exfoliation can even result in more youthful looking skin (see Page 18).

Hoodia: A cactus-like plant used by Kalahari bushmen to cut appetite during frequent food shortages. Hoodia may fool the hypothalamus into thinking the body has enough energy, so less food is desired (see Page 28).

Inulin: A substance, found in onions, garlic and chicory root, that supports the growth of beneficial bacteria; increases the body’s ability to absorb calcium; and benefits overall bone density (see Page 51).

Lymphocyte: A type of white blood cell that is able to “read” antigens as the body is exposed to them. Lymphocytes circulate throughout the body within the blood and lymph. Many herbs can help boost lymphocyte production and function (see Page 32).

Phenylethylamine: A compound that stimulates the release of endorphins in the brain. Dark chocolate triggers this reaction, as well as feelings of love and passion (see Page 44).

Reserpine: A compound found in the herb rauwolfia (Rauvolfia serpentina) that became a standard blood pressure medication in the 1960s (see Page 22).