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Herb Basics

A Place to Start
Herb Companion
November/December 2004
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AYURVEDA: BASICS OF THE ANCIENT SCIENCE

Ayurveda, a 5,000-year-old East Indian healing system, is thought to be the world’s oldest system of medicine. It aims to create health by nurturing the body (shrira), the mind (manas) and the self (atman). The word Ayurveda means “the science of life.”

Those practicing Ayurveda believe that no single agent alone creates health or causes disease. They also believe there are three primary life forces present in everyone and everything, called doshas. The doshas are vata (air), pitta (fire) and kapha (water). In simple terms, a state of balance between the doshas causes health; imbalance causes disease.

Each dosha is associated with different aspects of the physical body. Vata is associated with movement, including breathing and blinking. Pitta governs the metabolic system — digestion, absorption and body temperature. Kapha forms bones, tendons and muscles, the body’s structure.

People are also classified into dosha categories. We each have a dominant dosha, but everyone contains elements of all three doshas. Herbal and dietary recommendations in Ayurveda aim to keep each dosha in balance. Emphasis also is placed on eating the right foods and spices for your dosha. There are six “tastes,” or flavors: sweet, salty, bitter pungent, sour and astringent. Different tastes are indicated for each dosha.

For further information, see The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies (Three Rivers, 1999) by Vasant Lad.

GIVE CHILDREN A GOOD START WITH THIS TEA

The herbs in this blend, created by herbalist Christopher Hobbs, help support children’s immune and digestive systems and build strong bones. This naturally sweet brew is a healthful drink to substitute for soft drinks and fruit juices.

CHILDREN’S DELIGHT
Makes 5 cups

1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon bark chips
6 cups water
1 teaspoon peppermint leaves
1 teaspoon chamomile flowers
1/2 teaspoon red clover blossoms
1/2 teaspoon nettle leaves
1/2 teaspoon oatstraw
1 teaspoon stevia leaves

Simmer fennel, cloves and cinnamon in water for 15 minutes. Add remaining herbs. Remove from heat and allow mixture to steep for 20 minutes. Strain and serve warm or refrigerate for iced tea.

MAKE YOUR OWN SPICY VINEGAR

Homemade vinegars make lovely, inexpensive holiday (or anytime) gifts. Try the following recipe, from herbalist Shatoiya de la Tour’s book Earth Mother Herbal (Fair Winds, 2002).

HOT STUFF VINEGAR

This vinegar is great for increasing circulation in the winter and to help prevent colds and flu.

1 bulb garlic, peeled and crushed
2 small cayenne peppers, sliced vertically
2 ginger “fingers,” sliced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro or parsley
1/2 cup chopped onion

Place herbs in a stainless steel pan. Cover with apple cider vinegar. Bring to a low heat (just as it starts to bubble, turn it down one notch), cover and let steep for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally. Remove from heat and allow to cool, still covered. Strain and bottle in clean jars.

Source: de la Tour, Shatoiya. Earth Mother Herbal. Gloucester, Massachusetts: Fair Winds Press, 2002.

SAGE: A MEDITERRANEAN STANDOUT

Common names: Sage, Dalmatian sage, garden sage, common sage

Latin name: Salvia officinalis

Family: Lamiaceae

Part used: Leaf

Medicinal uses: Sage tea is used to relieve upset stomach, night sweats and excessive sweating. The herb has antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and astringent activities. A gargle of sage tea helps soothe a sore throat. Sage traditionally has been used to dry up breast milk.

Forms commonly used: Fresh herb; whole, ground and powdered dried herb; tincture; and tea.

Side effects: In medicinal doses, sage should not be used long-term or by pregnant women. Sage is safe to use as a spice. Contact dermatitis may occur when handling the herb.

Notes: To make sage tea, steep 1 teaspoon dried sage in 1 cup boiling water for 10 minutes. Strain and drink. To reduce excessive sweating, use 2 tablespoons of sage.

Sage is a perennial member of the mint family and is native to the Mediterranean. Most commercial sage comes from Albania and the former Yugoslavia.

According to The Herb Companion, sister publication of Herbs for Health, sage works well in chicken and veal dishes and in sausage, is a good addition to cheese omelets and spreads, and complements stewed tomatoes, string beans, lima beans, carrots and peas.

HERBAL HAIR CARE

When shopping for herbal hair-care products, it helps to know what particular herbs can do to solve your hair troubles. Use this chart as a guide.

Source: Erickson, Kim. Drop-Dead Gorgeous. New York: Contemporary Books, 2002.


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