Growing Using Herbs

How to grow and use herbs in your daily life

Mediterranean Native

Hyssop

Hyssopus officinale -  a native of the Mediterranean where it grows  wild  in dry sandy or rocky areas. It has been cultivated throughout Europe for the last 600 years and is often a garden escapee. Hyssop makes an excellent plant for borders and informal hedging, with its pretty blue, white  and pink flowers, that attract bees and butterflies. Hyssop likes dry , neutral to alkaline soils in the sun and is fully hardy. Plants should be well trimmed back in the spring,  particularly hedges. Softwood cuttings can be taken in late spring or early summer from non-flowering stems. Hyssop grows very well in containers, giving a lovely scent on a summers evening.


Hyssop was referred to in the Bible, although there has been much debate as to whether it was Hyssopus officinale  or Origanum syriacum  as both contain a similar camphoraceous volatile oil. The volatile oil means it is useful for bronchial complaints  and has been used since ancient times and is still used by herbalists today – although I have to say an infusion of hyssop tastes rather like hot liquid soil!!   The Persians used distilled hyssop water as a body lotion , apparently to give their skin a glorious colour. Ritually hyssop has been used for purification  and is believed to have been used by lepers.


As a companion plant Hyssop is excellent grown near cabbages to attract cabbage whiteflies. Grown near vines it is believed to increase yields – we are still waiting! The flowers sprinkled on salads are delicious, the leaves can also  be used but sparingly as they are bitter. A sprig of hyssop is used in the recipe for Basque –style chicken.
As with many herbs, Hyssop should be used with caution and should not be taken when pregnant

Herb dedicated to the goddess Venus

Myrtle

Myrtus communis  is widespread throughout the temperate and tropical regions of the world. It is found in the Mediterranean and  makes a useful wind-resistant hedge. All parts of this shrub are fragrant, the white flowers particularly so. Myrtle prefers well-drained  neutral to alkaline soil in the sun, although hardy to -10oC. Take softwood cuttings in the Spring and semi-hardwood cuttings in the summer, these are best put into pots for the first 2 years, then planted out.  A light trim in the Spring will keep it shape. Like most aromatic plants, Myrtle is generally free from pests and diseases.

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Herbal Hangover Cure

Hangovers produce a range of disagreeable symptoms, however all is not lost as there is a wide selection of herbs that can help restore your equilibrium, not to mention one that can help reduce the amount of alcohol you consume in the first place.  Harvard medical  students discovered that the essential fatty acids in Evening Primrose can help reduce the effects of an hangover, take two capsules before you go out and two  more - if you remember ! when you go to bed. To help limit damage to your liver, take a milk thistle tincture , made from the seeds of milk thistle – known locally in Spain as Cardo Mariano. Massaging your left big toe also helps as this is your liver meridian ! There is a herb from the Fat East called kudzu , that is the chief ingredient in a Chinese formula known as the ‘drunkenness dispeller’ . Double blind trials at an US hospital found that those participants given kudzu reduced their alcohol intake on average by 50% and drank more slowly. Kudzu can be sourced online.

Herbal Cures for Insomnia

There are a number of herbs that can be used to have a calming and relaxing effect. A small handful of Lemon Verbena leaves can be made into a tea, and drunk at bedtime, this will have a mildly sedative effect. If you are a persistent insomniac and well organised, then a teaspoon of crushed Valerian root soaked in cold water for 12-24 hours and drunk will also have a soothing and soporific  effect. A number of essential oils can be used in the bath, NEVER use oils directly into the water, always use oils with a buffer, such as a tablespoon of milk. The most well known oil to aid sleep is of course Lavender, however Chamomile and Orange Blossom are also good and smell wonderful. Although not strictly an herb, lettuce has a strong sedative effect, so try a lettuce soup for dinner; or if you don’t mind foliage in your bath a few leaves in a warm bath is also good and particularly effective at  soothing fractious babies.

Herb to Banish the Blues

Bergamot

Monarda didyma and M.fistulosa  are the varieties most commonly found in gardens. There are approximately 15 species of Monarda – named after the Spanish botanist  Nicholas Monardes of Seville , a physician and botanist who was the first European to author a book on American medicinal plants in 1577.  Although a native to north America, Bergamots can be found cultivated across the globe. Most prefer a rich moist soil, and are prone to mildew in dry conditions, something my Bergamots suffer from in the summer.  Plants can be grown from seed in spring or autumn, division in spring and softwood cuttings in summer. Bergamot can be grown in large pots , as long as the soil is moist and there is some shade in the afternoon.
Also known as bee-balm, Bergamot has a long tradition as a medicinal herb by many Native Americans, including the Blackfoot, Menominee, Ojibwa and Winnebago tribes.  A tea made from the leaves were used to treat mouth and throat infections. A poultice of leaves has a strong antiseptic action and is beneficial for cuts and minor wounds.  Bergamot grew prolifically around the Oswego river near Lake Ontario , where it was made into a tea, that replaced Indian Tea for many Americans after the Boston Tea Party in 1773. Although not a popular culinary herb, the petals can be sprinkled on a salad to add a aromatic flavour. A few leaves can be added to tea , to give an Earl Grey flavour – however it is Bergamot orange that Earl Grey tea is made from.  Bergamot oil is used by aromatherapists  to help relieve depression

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