Mother Earth Living

Herb Basics

By Staff

A Place to Start

Guide to Common Aromatherapy Terms

Essential oils. Highly fragrant, concentrated
and potent plant essences. Essential oils can be irritating to the
skin if used undiluted. The term originated with 16th-century
alchemists searching for “quintessence,” or the secret of life.
Until the early part of the 20th century, many medicines and
personal-care products, such as soaps, were made with essential

Carrier oils. As a general rule, herbal
essential oils shouldn’t be applied to the skin–they are highly
concentrated and can sting or otherwise irritate the skin. Instead,
essential oils are diluted with carrier oils. The best carrier oils
are virgin cold-pressed oils, such as almond, walnut, wheat germ,
apricot kernel and hazelnut. Castor and jojoba oils also are
acceptable carrier oils. Essential oils are volatile, so they
evaporate quickly when exposed to air, but they are soluble in
carrier oils.

Perfume. From the Latin per fumare, meaning
“through smoke.” Asian cultures found religious and spiritual
connotations in the aromatic smoke of burning herbs; Native
Americans burn aromatic herbs to create smoke for their healing
ceremonies. Today’s perfumes are largely synthetic.

Diffuser. Often made of clay or glass,
diffusers are used to disperse essential oils into the air. Small
“potpourri pots” hold a container of water, to which drops of
essential oil are added. A candle heats the water and the heat
releases the scent. Electric diffusers are more efficient and
effective. They vaporize the drops of essential oil into a fine
mist throughout the environment.

Ease the Pain of Canker Sores

Aphthous ulcers, more commonly known as canker sores, are small
ulcers in the mouth that can be extremely painful. They’re often
linked to food allergies and nutritional deficiencies (particularly
of iron, vitamin B12 and folic acid). Here are some suggestions
from Eugene, Oregon, herbalist Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa that might
help provide relief:

• Because mouth ulcers stem from a breakdown in tissue
structure, gotu kola (Centella asiatica), which strengthens tissue
and promotes connective tissue growth, can be quite effective. Try
1 ounce of the dried herb, brewed as tea, daily.

• Helpful mouth rinses to try are alum, milk of magnesia and
cinchona bark (Cinchona spp.). Myrrh gum powder (Commiphora spp.)
can be applied directly to canker sores.

• Antiviral, tissue-healing and anti-inflammatory licorice root
(Glycyrrhiza glabra) is an outstanding remedy for mouth sores. Put
a pinch of dried, powdered root directly on the sore.

Meet Gentian: A Bitter Herb that Helps Digestion

Common names: Gentian, yellow gentian, wild
gentian, bitter root, bitterwort
Latin name: Gentiana lutea
Family: Gentianaceae
Part used: Root

Medicinal uses: Gentian is found in many herbal
“bitters” formulas for stimulating digestion and relieving gas,
poor appetite and indigestion. It is extremely bitter and, when
taken before meals, stimulates the taste buds and brain reflexes to
promote the secretion of saliva and gastric juices. It’s also used
for dyspepsia and anorexia.

Forms commonly used: Dried root, capsules,
liquid extracts, tinctures and teas

Side effects: Gentian should not be used by
individuals with stomach or duodenal ulcers. The herb sometimes can
cause headaches, according to Herbs for Health lead editorial
adviser Steven Foster. To be on the safe side, pregnant women
should not use it.

Notes: Gentian has been used medicinally for
more than 3,000 years. It was used by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks
and Romans.

The herb’s roots contain bitter compounds so intense that the
bitter flavor still can be tasted at a dilution of 1 drop gentian
tincture to 20,000 drops of water.

In 1865, a patent medicine of gentian and licorice root called
“Tobacco Antidote” was sold to help quell the desire for

Gentian is one of the herbs in the bitter soft drink Moxie,
which has been available in New England since the 1890s. Before
hops became popular, gentian root was an ingredient in beer
brewing. It is still used in liqueurs and vermouths, as well as
bitters formulations like the famous Angostura bitters.

Gentian is a tall, attractive perennial plant that has been
cultivated in gardens since at least the 16th century. It is native
to mountainous regions of Europe.

To make gentian tea, simmer 1/2 teaspoon dried gentian root per
cup of water for 10 minutes; strain and drink 1/2 cup tea two to
three times daily.

Sample a Wonderful Watercress Soup

Watercress is an excellent cooling and nourishing tonic for the
mind and body. It also is a blood cleanser and is a good food to
eat when you’re feeling stressed and run-down.


3 cups vegetable stock, divided
3 to 4 scallions, finely chopped
Pinch ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 medium potato, peeled and sliced
2 bunches watercress, washed and roughly chopped
Pinch salt
1 cup soy milk
Freshly ground black pepper
Watercress sprig, for garnish

Heat 1 cup stock in a large pot. Add scallions, nutmeg, thyme
and bay leaf. Cover and simmer 5 minutes. Add remaining 2 cups
stock and potato, cover and simmer 20 minutes, until potato is
cooked. Add watercress; simmer 2 minutes. Turn off heat and add soy
milk. Stir well and let stand 5 minutes. Puree until smooth and
creamy. Reheat, season with pepper and serve garnished with
watercress sprig.

Walters, Louisa, et al. Blissful Detox: Over 100 Simply
Delicious Cleansing Recipes. San Diego, California: Laurel Glen,

  • Published on May 1, 2007
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