Find out ore about our 12 essential herbs, including some of their uses and guidelines to get started on your herbal apothecary.
Health made simple: A few herbs and you in your kitchen, preparing medicines with simple techniques as ancient as time.
1. Aloe vera (Aloe vera): fresh leaves
Leaf juice is used topically to treat minor burns and wounds; it is antiseptic, digestive, insecticidal and emollient.
2. Calendula (Calendula officinalis): flower petals
The petals are edible and used for their antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties in the bath and in infusions, ointments and salves.
3. Chickweed (Stellaria media): fresh or dried leaves and flowers
Used internally to ease the pain of rheumatism and externally to soothe itching and other skin discomforts; it is an anti-inflammatory herb.
Caution: Pregnant women should not eat large quantities of chickweed.
4. Comfrey (Symphytum officinale): for external use—leaf and root
Contains allantoin, a substance that speeds the healing of tissue, and rosmarinic acid, which is an anti-inflammatory. It is an astringent herb used in the bath, poultices and fomentations to heal bruises, broken bones and torn ligaments.
Caution: Comfrey is not recommended for internal use because of the presence of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which can cause liver damage and cancerous tumors in the liver. Comfrey products should not be used on broken skin or be used by pregnant women, nursing mothers or children.
5. Echinacea (Echinacea spp.): all parts
The tops and roots are used in teas and tinctures to boost the immune system, reduce the risk of sun damage to skin, fight viral infections and to heal minor wounds. The constituents include essential oils, glycosides, polysaccharides, inulin and caffeic acid esters.
Caution: Echinacea, when taken with other medications may increase the risk of drug side effects. Persons with allergies to the Asteraceae family could suffer adverse effects when using this herb.
6. Garlic (Allium sativum): fresh bulbs (cloves), aerial bulblets, flowers
Cloves are used as a medicinal and culinary herb. The cloves are antibiotic, antifungal, antiseptic and antiviral.
7. Ginger (Zingiber officinale): fresh rhizome
Ginger is warming, antiseptic, analgesic and antispasmodic. It is a traditional remedy for digestive complaints, bronchitis, muscle spasm and rheumatism.
Caution: Garlic should not be used by anyone suffering from digestive-tract ulcers, high fever or inflammatory skin conditions.
8. Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis): sustainably harvested fresh or dried rhizome
Rhizomes have been used to dye fibers and are still used medicinally. The yellow color of its rhizomes is attributed to berberine, a strongly antibacterial and bitter alkaloid.
Caution: Pregnant women and persons with high blood pressure should not use goldenseal. The herb should not be used for more than three months because the strong antibacterial action kills beneficial intestinal flora.
9. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia): leaves and flowers
It is antibiotic, antispasmodic on smooth muscle tissue and a depressant to the central nervous system. We carry a small vial of the essential oil of lavender with us everywhere we go, to use as first aid for burns, wounds, headaches and nervous tension.
10. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis): leaves and flowers
Antibacterial, antispasmodic and antiviral, and is used as an insect repellent and sedative. The leaf is used in tea, tincture and in the bath for its calming properties and pleasant lemon scent.
Caution: Pregnant or nursing women should consult a medical professional trained in the use of therapeutic herbs before taking lemon balm. Consult with your physician before taking lemon balm with other medications.
11. Mint (Mentha spp.): leaves and flowers
Leaves are used in tea and bath blends for their flavor, stimulating properties and fragrance. Mint leaves are also taken in tea to aid digestion, reduce gas and treat headache, colds and fevers.
12. Sage (Salvia officinalis): leaves and flowers
Garden sage contains the powerful compound thujone that controls profuse perspiration and dries up lactation. Sage tea is a traditional remedy for sore gums and throat, skin infections and insect stings, and for sharpening the memory. Currently, Salvia species are being researched for their antioxidant properties, specifically for the prevention or treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
Caution: Pregnant or nursing women should not take sage internally. It should not be taken internally in large amounts or for extended periods because of the side effects of thujone.
Susan Belsinger and Tina Marie Wilcox use herbs every day in and around their homes and greenhouses. Some of this article’s information and recipes are from their book The Creative Herbal Home (Herbspirit, 2007). Click here for the original article, Herbal Apothecary 101 .
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