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Friday, February 8, 2013

Give That Spice Rack a Second Look!

We see wonderful charts such as these telling us the health benefits of various herbs, which is great, but how many of us know what to do with them?   Did you know these culinary herbs have other uses as well? Learn how you can utilize these plants not only in seasoning your food, but to improve your health and as part of your beauty care.
You don't have to be a gardener to easily find these plants. Being they are cooking herbs and spices they can easily be found at most grocery, health food or natural food stores. 
Dried herbs need to be used within a year for best potency.
The strength of the scent reflects the potency of the herb.
The worst things for dried plants are exposure to sunlight and moisture. 
Store your herbs in a cool, dark cabinet protected from exposure to light. They are out in the open on store shelves, so try to purchase from reputable suppliers where you can be confident they were not sitting on the shelves for months.

Oregano is usually associated with Italian food or Mediterranean food and rightly so. 
The leaves are used fresh or dried as a seasoning herb. 
Medicinally, not only is oregano good for indigestion and flatulence by way of soothing the stomach muscles, it has also been used to relieve diarrhea and vomiting. To use for this purpose, drink it as a hot tea or in the form of capsules. 
Another use for oregano tea is to utilize its antiseptic properties as a  gargle or mouthwash.
For those achy joints and muscles, put oregano leaves in a mesh bag, tie it to the spout on the tub and let the hot water run over it as you fill the tub. As you relax in the warm, fragrant water you will notice how useful it is to open up your respiratory tract.
A poultice can be made by pounding the fresh leaves into a paste with a bit of water. Apply the paste to swelling, itching or aches and hold in place with a strip of cloth.

  Thyme is a very versatile herb, long a staple in Middle Eastern cooking. It enhances soups, stews, and is a perfect seasoning for roasted or grilled vegetables.
Its thymol content and strong antiseptic properties make it useful for respiratory conditions, wound washes, athlete's foot soaks and blemish masks.
The standard procedure for treating acne is with washes and creams containing benzoyl peroxide. Though this method works, long term use may cause irritation.

 Try making a tincture:
Take a mason jar and fill to the top with fresh thyme or half way with dried thyme and cover with 100 proof vodka or apple cider vinegar. Using a wooden spoon, push down the herb so it is covered with the alcohol. Make sure the herb is covered at the top (fresh herb will mold unless submerged). Cap with a lid and put in a dark place for 4 - 6 weeks. Strain. Bottle in amber, glass dropper bottles for convenience to use and store the mason jar in a dark cabinet till needed.
This tincture can be applied to blemishes by way of a cotton ball or sprayed on the area from a mist spray bottle (avoid getting it in the eyes). 

For fungal conditions such as athlete's foot or jock itch the tincture method can be used and spot treated or make a strong thyme tea and use it as a foot bath.

 As an expectorant to help expel mucus from the respiratory tract, use the tincture internally. 
A recommended dose is 1/3 to 1 tsp., three times daily. Thyme tincture is considered to be safe, with no known side effects but check with your physician.

An herbal steam does wonders to open up the airways and relieve a stuffy head. Put a heaping tablespoon of thyme in a small bowl, cover with boiling water and form a tent by leaning over the steaming bowl with a towel over your head. Breathe the vapors for about 10 minutes. Fresh herbs are best but dry will work too. A great combination is a mixture of thyme, rosemary and peppermint.

Mint was mentioned as a stomach soother in the world's oldest surviving medical text, the Ebers Papyrus. Both spearmint and peppermint owe their value to aromatic oils, menthol and carvone. 
Many of us can remember picking mint as a child for homemade tea, hot or cold. Mint spreads by underground runners so it can easily escape a garden bed and turns up on roadside ditches or around ponds. 
Mint tea is great for bellyaches, intestinal gas and even hiccups.
Use the tent method described above to gain relief from not only headaches and asthma but it does wonders for perking up a tired complexion.
Infuse mint leaves in vinegar or oil (as described above for tinctures) and you'll create a tasty salad dressing.
Ants and rodents dislike the smell of peppermint. Sprinkle the leaves around the suspected areas of entry.

Tumeric is gaining popularity amidst the western world as an aid in the fight against cancer, as an anti-inflammatory, and even protects the heart by preventing clots.
For thousands of years, turmeric has held a place of honor as a healer in Ayurvedic medicine.
Not grown as a garden herb in North America, this tuberous root is grown from India to Indonesia.
Keep this powdered spice handy for sprinkling on wounds to prevent infection. With anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric reduces swelling, reduces pain, and speeds up healing.
                 Stimulate the flow of bile and improve digestion by including curry in your diet.
Those who may be at risk for liver damage from alcohol or pharmaceutical drugs can protect the liver tissue with the use of this pretty yellow spice. Add it to soups, casseroles, smoothies, or rice dishes.
Make a blemish treatment by adding a teaspoon of turmeric to coconut or jojoba oil. Dab onto the acne and leave on overnight. A few days of this routine should take care of the problem.

There is an old Indian saying, "Every good quality is contained in ginger". This aromatic root has been used in cooking and healing since the dawn of history. 
Known as an heating herb, it is used to warm the body and increase circulation. Great added to a foot bath to warm up if chilled but don't use if you have a fever.
Nip a cold in the bud by drinking plenty of ginger tea. Grate one teaspoon of the fresh root in a cup, cover with boiling water, simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and add honey and lemon.
Deal with nausea, motion sickness, or morning sickness by keeping on hand crystallized candied ginger. Suck and chew as needed for relief. These are also good dropped into a cup of black, green or herbal tea. Candied ginger is very convenient to take along while traveling or on vacation. Be prepared for the bellyaches, headaches, and nausea caused by the motion of being in a car.
Have it on hand for the churning stomach caused by amusement park rides or the swaying of a boat.

As with all mints, basil contains volatile oils that break down easily when dried. Open a jar of dried basil, if it has very little smell, it probably is no longer very potent. Basil is a sun loving annual, easy to grow during the heat of the summer. Use fresh or to preserve for later use, it works best to freeze it.  Lay the individual leaves out on a cookie sheet and freeze them. Once frozen put them in a plastic tub or bag till needed.
Basil is good for calming the nerves, ease cramps and settling the stomach. If you haven't a taste for it as a hot tea, perhaps you would enjoy a good pesto recipe. Serve tossed with pasta or a nice addition to soups.
Basil makes a great hair rinse for dark hair. Fill a mason jar with fresh basil leaves and top with apple cider vinegar. Cap with a plastic lid (a metal lid will corrode from the acidity of the vinegar), and let sit for a 2 - 4 weeks. Once strained it can be used as a hair rinse to remove gunk and residues (mix 1 tbsp. to a pint of water and pour over freshly washed hair). 
Basil infused vinegar makes for a delicious salad dressing.
And last, of course basil is a staple in cooking. Combined with oregano, fennel, bay leaves you have a recipe for great tomato based sauces, soups and pizza.

Listed in the Ebers Papyrus, an Egyptian medical reference dating to 1550 BC, garlic was the people's antibiotic long before the age of penicillin discovered in 1928.
 In the book "Herbal Medicine" there is the quote, "If garlic wasn't so cheap we would treasure it as if it were gold".  It sweeps through the body in a cleansing fashion without destroying the body's good intestinal flora.
 Known to reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol, reduce the chance of blood clots, garlic's allicin and ajoene content stand the test of time for a healthy heart.
Diabetics use garlic to reduce blood sugar.
There is growing evidence that garlic can be used in the treatment of cancer.
AIDS patients can even see an improvement in immune function by taking daily garlic cloves.
Any recipe that sautes onions can easily be adapted by adding a few crushed garlic cloves. Those who don't want to have garlic breath can follow a meal by chewing on a sprig of fresh parsley.
 Garlic is also easily found in capsule form to take as a daily supplement.

    A great way to help an ill child is to apply garlic to the soles of the feet. Steep three minced cloves in four ounces of olive oil 8 - 12 hours. Rub the oil onto the soles of your child's feet before bedtime and cover with socks. Garlic's healing antiviral properties will be absorbed through the skin and circulate throughout the bloodstream. This garlic oil can also be used for an earache. Warm the bottle a bit by running it under hot water. Add a drop into your child's ear and plug with a small piece of cotton. Keep the bottled oil in the refrigerator. Good for about one year.

Black Pepper
Pepper at the dinner table is such a common sight we may be surprised to know that in ancient times black pepper was actually used in the market in place of money. 
Its most common use is to relieve digestion problems. By causing the stomach to produce hydrochloric acid, pepper helps pass food along, thus an aid in treating gas and heartburn. Sprinkle this "warming" spice on your food as not only a seasoning, but as a way to help your system avoid the belching and bloat associated with poor assimilation of foods.

Before the 19th century, Fenugreek played a major role in healing, but has since fallen by the wayside. Veterinarians have long known that sick horses or cattle will eat fenugreek (Greek hay) when they wouldn't eat anything else. Animals have a sense of what is good for them and we now know that fenugreek seeds contain a great deal of mucilage. Mixed with water, it becomes very gelatinous and soothes inflamed tissue. 
It is also said that the seeds will increase milk production in nursing mothers.
Add fenugreek seeds to homemade scrubs and poultices for their soothing benefits.

There are studies observing the benefits of using fenugreek to help non-insulin dependant diabetics and as an aid in controlling cholesterol levels. Researchers are very interested in these findings since both high cholesterol and diabetes put one at risk for heart disease. Fenugreek can be taken in pill form or as a tea. For a tea, bruise the seeds a bit and simmer in water for 10 minutes. It will be bitter so add honey to improve the flavor.
Always check with your doctor before starting a new supplement for a medical condition.

 Cayenne is often added along with or in addition to chili pepper in any food dish that needs a touch of hot spice to perk it up. Red pepper owes its heat to the chemical found in the fruit called capsaicin.
Capsaicin is a digestive aid by stimulating the output of gastric juices.
 Capsaicin increases blood flow to the area of application, so a homemade liniment can be helpful at reducing pain and swelling in the joints.
Bring a pint of apple cider vinegar to a boil and add a tbsp. of cayenne pepper.
 Rub the vinegar onto the painful area and discover that the friction from the rubbing, the benefits of the vinegar and the heat of the cayenne, all combine to bring relief.
  For treatments to relieve the chronic pain associated with shingles or diabetic foot pain,
 ask your physician about the use of capsaicin.

Here is a folk remedy said to knock a cold out flat. 
It needs to be made ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator.
To a jar of honey add:
A one inch piece of bruised ginger, one chopped lemon including the rind, one tsp. cayenne pepper and five cloves sliced garlic.
Leave this blend to steep several months. 
When needed, add 2 tsp to a cup of hot water. Take three times a day.

There are reports that a heart attack can be halted by using cayenne. As long as the person is breathing, give him a cup of hot water with one tsp. of cayenne pepper. Don't ever fool around with a possible heart attack. Discuss this theory with your doctor before the need to ever use it.

Fennel is the secret ingredient that turns a good spaghetti sauce into a pizza sauce. Italian sausage uses fennel as its key component and it goes very well with fish.Sweet fennel tea has a pleasant, licorice flavor. All parts of the plant are safe. For a tea, use either the dried leaves or a tsp of bruised seeds per cup of boiling water. Let sit for 10 minutes.
Fennel has been used as a means to help lose weight. It has both diuretic properties as well as acts as and appetite suppressant. It has been used to help people get through a fast.
Eliminate bad breath by chewing on the seeds.
Being fennel helps relax the smooth muscle lining of the digestive tract, it works great for gas and as a weak tea for infant colic.

Fennel makes a great eyewash remedy for reviving tired eyes, allergies irritated from allergies, and infections. Add chamomile to the wash and it becomes a good antiseptic. Being you are using seeds the wash has to simmer longer than the delicate leaves for an infusion. Let it simmer for 20 minutes.
Facial steams are very refreshing and for those with dry skin, fennel is hydrating and smells so good.

 Cinnamon is called a spice with a punch. 
It is eaten as cinnamon sugar on toast and oatmeal, added to many quick bread recipes and is great in smoothies. More than a sweet treat, modern science has been supportive in its value for prevention of infection and indigestion.
As with many culinary spices, cinnamon is a powerful antiseptic. That is the reason you find it added to mouthwash and toothpastes. It kills decay causing bacteria in the mouth.

A fun and very useful project is to make cinnamon toothpicks.
 The first cinnamon toothpick was made by a drugstore owner in 1949 as a treat for neighborhood children. Cinnamon toothpicks are very useful to not only clean between the teeth but help curb the urge to smoke or snack.
Take a pack of toothpicks and add them to a mason jar. Cover them with cinnamon oil. 
You must use caution with cinnamon essential oil. It is hot and will burn if applied directly to the skin. Don't let the toothpicks soak longer than about six hours. Take them out of the oil and lay them on a non-porous surface to dry. Don't lay them on a paper towel or the oil will be absorbed out of the toothpick. If you get the oil on your fingers, wash very well with soap and rinse with water. 
Do not touch your eyes.

We are hearing a lot about cinnamon's usefulness in controlling blood sugar.
Cinnamon comes in two varieties -- Ceylon cinnamon and Cassia cinnamon. Cassia cinnamon is the kind found in most American supermarkets and the one usually used for baking and cooking. It's also the variety most researchers have used when they've studied cinnamon and diabetes. Cassia cinnamon is from the same family of tree as Ceylon cinnamon and has similar properties but Ceylon cinnamon may be harder to find and is more expensive. Though Cassia cinnamon is cheaper, it contains more of the anti-coagulant, coumarin, which can be irritating to the liver, so those with liver trouble should be careful. If using an herb or spice for medicinal purposes, it is important one be in communication with his/her physician.

Chances are your dentist is very familiar with the use of cloves in the care of the mouth and teeth. Clove oil is 60 to 90% eugenol which is the source of its anesthetic and antiseptic properties.
Cloves can offer temporary relief of toothache pain until you can get to the dentist.
Dip a cotton swab in clove essential oil and dab it to the affected area.
Don't overdo it, clove oil is very strong. 
An alternative would be to wedge the actual clove at the gum line of the affected tooth. Your inner cheek and tongue can help hold it in place.
Clove oil can also be used for blemishes by dabbing just a bit directly onto the blemish.

Dill is usually associated with flavoring pickles.
It is also a natural preservative, infection fighter and soothing digestive aid.
Dill is recommended for children over other digestive herbs such as fennel and anise because it is milder in its action with colic and stomachache.
As a digestive aid, take in tea form or a tincture as described under Thyme.  
Add  1/2 to 1 tsp. of the tincture to a glass of water and take up to three times a day.
For children under two, make a weak tea from the seeds.
Older children and adults use 2 tsp. seeds per cup of boiling water, let steep 10 minutes, and enjoy up to three times a day.
Chewing dill seeds makes a good breath freshener.

Sage is wonderful as a poultry seasoning but it has a unique property
 that sets it apart from other healing herbs - it reduces perspiration. 
A homemade deodorant recipe is rather easy to make:
Combine 3/4 cup arrowroot powder and 20 drops lavender essential oil in a small saucepan. 
(Use a pan you will not be using for cooking food)
Cover with a lid and gently heat for a few minutes until warm.
Add 12 drops of sage essential oil and 8 drops sandalwood essential oil.
Mix with a wooden spoon. Transfer to a miser bottle or a powder container. 
Let sit in a dark place for 48 hours before using.

Sage makes a great hair rinse for darker hair to not only help retain the color but to deter dandruff by maintaining a healthy scalp, and restore shine. Its antiseptic action helps remove scalp funk and the vinegar removes build-up from styling products. Make a vinegar hair rinse by filling a mason jar half-way with dried leaves or all the way with fresh leaves. Top to cover the herb with apple cider vinegar. Cap with a plastic lid and let sit in a dark place for six weeks. Strain.
To use as a hair rinse add 1 tbsp. to a pint of warm water. Stopper the sink and pour repeatedly over just washed hair or while in the shower, you can just pour a bit into the palm of your hand, rub throughout the scalp and rinse.
Sage vinegar also makes an excellent gargle for a sore throat.
Dilute a bit in a cup with water and gargle a few times a day.

Rosemary is known as the herb of Remembrance. 
Rosemary has long been used to help preserve meat dishes.
This herb helps delay meat spoilage because it is strongly antioxidant. 
Antioxidants prevent the fats in meat from oxidizing and going rank.

People began to also believe it helped preserve memory as well. Some cultures still add rosemary garlands to wedding ceremonies as a symbol of fidelity and to funerals to help remember the dead.
Over time, the association with weddings turned rosemary into a love charm.

Rosemary has the same excellent qualities for a hair rinse as does sage. Follow the same instructions for the vinegar rinse. An option would be to combine the rosemary with the sage for the infusion.
Rosemary is such a stimulating astringent and antiseptic herb that it makes an effective liniment for the relief of stiff joints. Queen of Hungary's Water originated in 1235 when Queen Elizabeth of Hungary became paralyzed. According to legend, a hermit soaked rosemary in wine and when ready he massaged it on a regular basis into her limbs which helped her regain function.
The rosemary vinegar can be used for stiff joints or if preferred you can make an olive oil infusion by soaking the rosemary sprigs in an olive oil filled mason jar. Let sit for 6 - 8 weeks and strain. 
Use the oil as a massage or moisturizing body oil.

A pot of rosemary by the door is good for the soul. Whenever you walk by the plant, take a pinch, rub together and inhale. You will find yourself smiling with a sigh and may not even realize it.
Rosemary not only wakes you up and helps sharpen your thinking skills, but is very good for uplifting one's spirits. Take along a sprig to work or school if you know it'll be a long day of test taking or meetings requiring mental alertness.