Herb Basics

A Place to Start

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RELISH ROASTED GARLIC

Raw garlic may provide the best health benefits, but many people have trouble digesting the herb in its raw form. Another good option is to roast garlic, which, although it lacks some of raw garlic’s potent healing power, is delicious, healthy and much easier on your stomach.

Roasted garlic is tasty spread on crusty breads or used along with lemon juice in salad dressings. It’s also nice in pesto and other sauces.

To make roasted garlic, select 6 to 8 heads of garlic. Break off loose skins, but don’t peel or separate cloves. Rub heads generously with olive oil. Place in a small skillet or ovenproof pan and arrange small sprigs of bay, oregano, rosemary, sage and thyme around garlic. Add white wine or chicken broth so garlic heads are about halfway submerged. Cover and cook over low heat if using a skillet; or cover and bake in a 350-degree oven until very soft. Baste often, adding more wine or broth if needed.

After roasting, the cooked garlic heads should be very soft and easily mashed or pureed. The garlic will easily slide out of its skin.

FOUR AYURVEDIC HERBS TO TRY

Ayurveda, a 5,000-year-old East Indian healing system, is thought to be the world’s oldest system of medicine. Ayurvedic practitioners — who aim to create health by nurturing the body, mind and spirit — commonly recommend the following four herbs:

Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera). With a name that means “the strength of 10 horses,” this herb rejuvenates the nervous system and is said to provide the vitality and energy of a horse. It’s also used in treating immune disorders.

Amalaki (Emblica officinalis). One of the strongest rejuvenating herbs in Ayurvedic medicine, amalaki strengthens the blood, bones, liver and heart and is the highest natural source of vitamin C, with 3,000 mg per fruit. Also called Indian gooseberry.

Bala (Sida cordifolia). This herb is used as a heart and nerve tonic. It contains alkaloids common to the ephedra plant but is not as stimulating to the cardiovascular and central nervous systems. Consult a qualified practitioner before use.

Guggul (Commiphora mukul). The most important resin used in Ayurvedic medicine, this herb purifies, rejuvenates, and is said to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Pregnant women shouldn’t use it without medical supervision.

NATURALLY SWEET STEVIA PUNCH

Most punches are too syrupy sweet to enjoy without guilt. This fruity and delicious punch is sweetened with stevia (Stevia rebaudiana), an herb with no calories but an intensely sweet taste. Stevia is a good substitute for sugar and artificial sweeteners — it helps normalize blood-sugar levels and may help reduce cravings for sweets, alcohol and tobacco.

STEVIA FRUIT PUNCH

4 cups water
4 black tea bags
1 stevia tea bag or 1 teaspoon stevia leaf
10-ounce bag frozen strawberries
10-ounce bag frozen raspberries
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
Mint sprigs for garnish

In a 2-quart saucepan, bring water to a boil. Remove from heat and add black tea bags and stevia. Steep 5 minutes; remove tea bags and strain out any leaves. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Just before serving, puree fruit and mint with tea in small batches in a blender, using about 1 cup fruit, 3/4 cup tea and 2 tablespoons mint at a time. Pour into a punch bowl, then ladle into small cups garnished with mint sprigs.

ECHINACEA: COLD-FIGHTING AND IMMUNE-BOOSTING FAVORITE

Common names: Echinacea, purple coneflower, snakeroot

Latin name: Echinacea spp.

Family: Asteraceae

Part used: Roots, seeds, aboveground parts

Medicinal uses: Echinacea often is used to boost the immune system, and is effective at treating colds. Studies have shown the herb lessens the severity of cold symptoms and shortens a cold’s duration (see “Defeat Cold and Flu Bugs” on Page 22).

Forms commonly used: Tinctures, capsules, teas.

Side effects: Echinacea is a safe herb for most people. Those allergic to the pollen of other aster family members, such as ragweed, also may be allergic to echinacea. Many health practitioners believe that people with autoimmune diseases (such as multiple sclerosis and lupus) should not take immune-stimulating herbs.

When used as a tincture, echinacea often causes a normal, harmless tingling sensation on the tongue, which disappears within a few minutes.

Notes: Although echinacea’s popularity waned when antibiotics became widely used in the United States, the herb has remained popular in Europe. In 101 Medicinal Herbs (Interweave, 1998), Steven Foster writes that German physicians prescribed echinacea more than 2.5 million times in 1993.

Echinacea is easy to grow and is a great choice for dry climates. It takes a few years for the plant’s roots to grow large enough to harvest.

Several varieties of echinacea exist, but those most commonly used for medicinal purposes are E. angustifolia, E. purpurea and E. pallida. Interesting new cultivars make spectacular garden plants (see the September 2005 issue of our sister publication, The Herb Companion), but don’t have the medicinal qualities of the more traditional varieties.

TRY MSM FOR ARTHRITIS RELIEF

MSM, or methylsulfonylmethane, is a nutritional supplement that may relieve rheumatoid and osteoarthritis symptoms. Some of its benefits may include:

• MSM donates sulfur molecules for the manufacture of collagen, which helps the body repair the damage from natural daily wear and tear, or the accelerated damage seen in arthritis. Sulfur levels tend to be low in people with arthritis.

• Sulfur also is a component of glutathione, the most important antioxidant made in the body. Low levels of glutathione mean decreased ability to quench free radicals that contribute to joint damage.

• It reduces muscle spasms around arthritic joints. Muscle spasms occur in damaged joints as they try to protect themselves from further damage, and these knots can contribute a great deal to joint pain.

• MSM relieves inflammation. MSM also may slow down swelling and scar tissue formation. Sulfur compounds also are thought to remove excess fluid from sites of inflammation.

• MSM relieves pain. It’s been shown to inhibit the nerve impulses that send pain messages from injured tissues to the brain.

Source: Mindell, Earl, R.Ph., Ph.D. Easing the Pain of Arthritis Naturally. Laguna Beach, California: Basic Health Publications, 2005.