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FEATURE ARTICLE - April/May 2013

Herbs for the Health of It

Most of us have been using immunity boosting medicinal herbs all of our lives without even realizing it. Just take a quick peek inside your cupboard or refrigerator, and you’re likely to find spice jars filled with garlic, curry, cloves, cardamom, cayenne, and turmeric. Certainly your crisper, at one time or another, contained fresh foods such as parsley, ginger root, citrus, red peppers, green peppers, or horseradish. All of these items pack an herbal wellness punch, and many of them can be grown in your own garden.Credit Card Rules

The best herbal medicines are those plants that we can easily grow near home, rather than having them shipped from thousands of miles away. Many herbs can be grown in one 3’ x 6’ raised garden bed or on a small garden plot.

Although your backyard medicinal garden is not going to cure all cold and flu evils, it will help hold symptoms at bay as you strengthen your immunity. Heading to your garden for your first line of defense could save your family the expense of over-the-counter medicine and, hopefully, a trip to the doctor.

Consider those issues that plague your family the most during the winter—and sometimes warmer—months, and then plant the herbs you need for those recipes. Make that garden organic to benefit your health and the Earth.

Herbs that Boost Immunity

It’s important to find a variety of ways to introduce herbs to our bodies that we enjoy. Don’t try to get your partner to become a tea drinker if s/he has never enjoyed drinking tea. Your children will not suddenly become thrilled about herbal salves if they dislike the greasy feel or the smell of essential oils. Each person will choose his/her own avenue for remedies.

There are many ways to administer herbal remedies; some of those include infusions, teas, tinctures, syrups, salves, balms, and simply eating fresh foods, herbs, and spices.

Study the herbs that you can grow in your area, how to harvest them, and how to properly store them. The healing herbs listed below grow abundantly, with ease for organic gardeners in a variety of zones.

• Catnip (Nepeta cataria) The leaf and the flowering top are typically used as a traditional cold and flu remedy. It is a diaphoretic (sweat-inducing) plant, which is helpful when suffering fever symptoms. Catnip is generally consumed as a tincture or as a tea drunk three times per day.

Safety precautions: There are no known side effects or drug interactions reported with the use of catnip.

• Cayenne (Capsicum annuum) is grown for its fruit, and tones the circulatory system. It is beneficial in warding off colds at the first sign. Cayenne is best consumed as an infusion that is then combined with hot water to drink as needed.

Safety precautions: There are no known side effects or drug interactions reported with the use of cayenne.

• Echinacea (Echinacea spp.) is commonly called purple coneflower and is useful to ward off infections of the upper respiratory tract, including the common cold, at the first sign. It can be taken as a tea or tincture. Remedies are best prepared using all parts of the plant. Echinacea is not intended to be used daily but at the first signs of an acute infection.

Harvest echinacea leaves, stems, and flowers during the summer months; Echinacea roots will have the most potency during the fall months when the plant’s energy moves downward.

Safety precautions: Do not consume echinacea if prone to allergies from the Asteraceae (aster, daisy, sunflower) family or if you have auto-immune disorders such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.

• Elderberries (Sambucus nigra) or black elderberry have compounds that shorten the duration and complexity of flu symptoms. It is typically consumed as elderberry syrup or as a tincture.

Safety precautions: There are no known side effects or drug interactions. There are varieties of elderberry that are toxic and should not be consumed, including Red Elderberry. Cook elderberries before consuming, or they may cause stomach upset.

• Garlic (Allium sativum) is a common garden bulb that many people grow and eat for sheer culinary flavor. Garlic cloves have a volatile oil that helps battle colds and flu, particularly when eaten raw.

Safety precautions: Garlic taken in large doses can irritate the mouth and mucous membranes.

• Ginger Root (Zingiber officinale) is a rhizome or spice that can be purchased at any grocery store. It increases circulation and promotes perspiration. Ginger tea can be gargled for sore throat relief.

Safety precautions: The use of ginger may influence bleeding. Ginger root may enhance the effects of anti-coagulant drugs. Pregnant women should not use in large doses without consulting a doctor.

• Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) or white horehound is used by consuming the dried leaf and flowering top. Horehound is best known for its ability to promote mucus production as an expectorant. It can be prepared as a tea or tincture, as well as syrup or cough drops.

Safety precautions: There are no known side effects or drug interactions.

• Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) is harvested using the dried or fresh aerial (i.e. above-ground) parts and is high in oils that are beneficial in the treatment of the flu. Lemon balm is best consumed as a tea each morning and night as needed.

Safety precautions: Lemon balm may interfere with the action of thyroid hormones. Consult your doctor before using if you have a thyroid condition.

• Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) is a rampant-growing and sometimes invasive herb. Harvest the aerial parts of the plant. When inhaled, the volatile oil provides temporary relief for stuffy nasal passages and tension headaches. Peppermint is consumed as a tea and used in salves and balms for chest congestion.

Safety precautions: There are no known side effects or drug interactions.

• Rosehips (Rosa canina) are those bright red fruits you find in the fall once a rose bush had dropped it blossoms. They are a good source of immune-boosting vitamin C when made into an infusion. Harvest them from your rose bushes after the first frost, and remove the prickly center of the hips before consuming.

Safety precautions: There are no known side effects or drug interactions. Do not harvest rosehips from ornamental bushes unless you are certain they have not been treated with pesticides or herbicides.

• Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is easily grown. Harvest the leaf and flowering top. Thyme is an excellent cough remedy and, used as a gargle, eases sore throat pain. It is best consumed as a tincture or as a tea drunk three times a day and is typically used in balms and salves.

Safety precautions: There are no known side effects or drug interactions.

• Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) The aerial parts of the yarrow plant are typically used as a fever remedy. Drink yarrow-leaf tea hourly when feverish.

Safety precautions: People that are allergic to plants in the Asteraceae family should avoid it, as should pregnant women, as it’s an abortifacient.

Do Your Research

Before you use any herbal remedy, consult your doctor, and always read at least three sources of information when using one either topically or internally. Also, use caution if you have any other medical conditions that could be impacted by the use of herbs, especially pregnant and nursing mothers, those with heart, kidney, or liver conditions; diabetics; and those who have blood-thinning concerns. Have fun turning the herbs you grow into home remedies. There is something very satisfying about knowing you are providing your family with Earth’s bounty and, hopefully, reducing the occurrence of illness in your home.

Debra Doubek is the owner of Peterman Brook Herb Farm,
a sustainable herb farm from which she makes and sells
body care products and teaches classes on the many uses of herbs.


Horehound Cough Drops
4 cups dried horehound
4 cups water
6 cups honey
1 tsp. cream of tartar

Put horehound and water into a pot and bring to a boil for two minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let sit for ½ hour. Strain the herbs, pour into a clean pot, and add the honey and cream of tartar. Bring mixture to a boil. Insert a candy thermometer and boil until the mixture reaches 300°F. Butter a large cookie sheet with sides, or coat with cooking spray. Pour mixture into prepared pan, spread out with a wooden spoon, and allow to cool. When it’s cool but not completely hardened, score with a knife. When it has completely cooled, break into pieces. Use to relieve cough and sore throat.

Herbal Wellness Balm
1 cup olive oil infused with peppermint, thyme, and eucalyptus
2 T. beeswax
½ T. of menthol crystals
1-2 drops of vitamin E
¼ tsp. of essential oils for decongestant to include any combination of the following: eucalyptus, wintergreen, cajeput, clove, sage, basil, ginger, oregano, peppermint, rosemary, tea tree, or thyme.

This balm is an all-natural alternative to Vicks Vapor Rub. Infuse herbs and olive oil in a crock pot on warm setting overnight or on the stove on low heat for 15 minutes. Strain with cheesecloth. Add beeswax to a double boiler and melt, then add the olive oil and menthol crystals. Heat until the crystals dissolve, then remove and allow temperature to drop to 110°F. Add essential oils and vitamin E. Pour into a container of your choice and allow to cool.

Elderberry Syrup
1 cup fresh or ½ cup dried elderberries
3 cups of water
1 cup of regular honey or creamed honey
2 T. grated fresh ginger or 1T. dried ginger
Cloves, cinnamon, or anise as desired

For coughs and cold and flu relief. Place elderberries, spices, and water in a pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer over low heat for 40 minutes. Crush the berries and then strain through cheesecloth. Add honey. Bottle syrup and refrigerate for three months (it gets yummier with age). Dosage: Child—1 tsp. per waking hour at the onset of cold or flu symptoms. Adult—1 T. per waking hour at onset of symptoms. Warning: Not to be used by children under the age of 1.

Cold and Flu Tea
1 Tbsp. peppermint leaves
1 Tbsp. catnip leaves
1 Tbsp. echinacea root
½ Tbsp. elder flowers
½ Tbsp. yarrow leaves

Boil 4 cups water with the echinacea root. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Add the rest of the herbs, stir, and cover. Steep for 15 minutes. Strain and serve with a small amount of honey or stevia, or lemon wedges.


Organic Herbs and Seeds
Choosing organic (or close-to-organic, “consciously wildcrafted” herbs) from responsible green companies helps you avoid toxic pesticide residues and support organic farming. The following companies bear Green America’s Green Business Certification for their top-level green practices:

Frontier Natural Products Co-op, 800/786-1388. Loose herbs and herbal products.

Herbalist & Alchemist, Inc., 800/611-8235. Loose herbs and herbal remedies.

Inner Ecology Custom Herbal Formulas, 773/747-1907. Loose herbs and herbal remedies.

Mountain Rose Herbs, 800/879-3337. Loose herbs, herbal products, and organic herb seeds.

Owen’s Acres, 530/626-3587. Loose herbs and herbal remedies.

Taos Herb Co. Inc., 800/353-1991. Loose herbs, herbal remedies, and herbal body care.

More green-living articles from the Green American »

Article Summary

Grow herbs that promote wellness.

Save money on over-the-counter medicines and maybe even doctor visits.

Be ready for cold and flu season with organic herbs you grow yourself, or purchase organic herbs from green companies to support the green economy.

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