Many people enjoy cooking with aromatic herbs like rosemary and sage. But have you considered other uses of these common herbs? Did you know they were used medicinally long before they found their way into the kitchen?
People who are interested in medicinal herbs are sometimes more intrigued with herbs from afar that are touted to be the best-ever, super herbs, promising some kind of restorative miracle. I was guilty of ordering many herb species to explore but over the years I found that most of the herbs I use for taste, nutrition, and as remedies are also some of the most common ones.
I find it interesting that our culture regularly promotes coffee as a solution for being tired but seldom recommends herbal teas as remedies. Developing the ritual of herbal tea breaks throughout a busy day is one of the best remedies we can adopt. In addition to the medicinal benefits described below, the intentional act of simply relaxing several times a day is good for our busy minds, our tired souls and during gardening season, our aching bodies. It’s taken many years for my over-achiever ego to practice relaxing every few hours and once again, it was the herbs that taught me the importance of this restorative act.
Brewing Herbal Teas
Herbal teas can be made with either fresh or dried herbs. If using dried herbs, use a teaspoon to measure. In the summer, I prune enough herb leaves to fill a small basket, grab a handful, chop roughly and place in a teapot. I can’t remember where I read this but the image remains: you want the herbs to be able to dance around in the water, so avoid using tea bags or tea balls. Pour just-boiled water into the teapot and cover. Covering tea while it’s steeping is important: the hot water breaks the leaf’s cell walls, releasing the essential oils that hold the aroma, flavor, and medicinal constituents. If using leaves and flowers, steep for 3-10 minutes, depending on how strong of a flavor you want. Strain and add honey, if desired.
Grow Your Own Tea Herbs
Organically grown herbs should be used for medicinal purposes and the best way to acquire organic and fresh herbs is to grow them. Herbs are incredibly easy to grow and maintain. They can be tucked into your ornamental landscapes, grown among vegetables in a garden, or tended to in a collection of pots on your patio or balcony.
Most culinary herbs do well in containers. Invest in several large glazed ceramic or clay pots. Herbs need good drainage so add a good quality potting mix (avoid one with synthetic fertilizers already added). Place in an area that receives 6-8 hours of sun. Thoroughly water once a week (more often in hotter weather). Herbs want to be used so take regular cuttings throughout the growing season. Snip off flowers to encourage new growth.
A Mediterranean native, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), noted as the “herb of remembrance” has historically been associated with benefiting memory and in more current research findings, enhancing cognitive tasks like concentration. Both dried and fresh rosemary make an aromatic earthy-tasting tea that research suggests can improve your mood, relieve tension headaches and enhance your ability to recall information. Rosemary contains rosmaricine, which assists with mild pain relief from inflammatory conditions. Additional research suggests that regular use of rosemary may prevent or slow cognitive decline.
Rosemary also contains a high level of antioxidants which are compounds that reduce oxidation and inflammation. Long ago, rosemary was rubbed into meat to help preserve it (by preventing oxidation). As a culinary herb, rosemary is added to fatty meats like lamb because it aids with the digestion of fats.
Some of the research supporting the benefits of rosemary uses rosemary extracts (essential oils). Sniffing this herb oil can improve your mood, aid cognitive function, and even reduce test anxiety.
Tea Dosage: 1 tsp of dried herb per cup of just-boiled water for 3-5 minutes.
TEA RECIPE: Rosemary Renewal Tea: 2 parts dried rosemary, and 1 part lemon balm or lemon verbena. Steep for 10 minutes and drink when you need a bit of clarity restored.
Another Mediterranean native, fresh common sage (Salvia officinalis) tastes far superior to that little jar of rubbed sage dust that is purchased each year around Thanksgiving. As an herbal medicine, sage is truly an unsung heroine! Sage aids with digestion (especially with fatty meats) and is used as a tonic for the liver. Drink a cup of sage tea (add some lemon or lemon balm to enhance flavor) after a rich meal.
Sage is another herb that aids cognitive function by protecting acetylcholine, a chemical in the brain that supports memory and attention.
What sage does best is help regulate fluids in the body, specifically with the astringent action of drying. Drinking several cups of sage tea each day may improve cholesterol levels and has long been used to reduce sweating associated with menopause.
Sage can be an essential ally when cold and flu season arrives: infuse fresh chopped sage into raw honey and steep for several weeks. The antiseptic, astringent, and relaxing actions of sage and the soothing property of honey make it the ideal remedy for sore throats. Sage honey keeps a long time if kept in a lidded jar in a dark pantry. Herbal oxymels (a mixture of honey and vinegar) is a historical herbal remedy and you can learn more about the benefits and making of oxymels in this article
Pregnant women and nursing moms should avoid the therapeutic use of sage as it was historically used to “dry up” mother’s milk.
Tea Dosage: 1 tsp. of dried sage per cup of just-boiled water for 3-5 minutes. Add a slice of lemon while steeping if desired.
A member of the mint family, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) offers a mild lemon-mint taste to poultry, fish, salads, and fruits. Lemon balm makes a delicious tea that is safe for all ages and soothes digestive complaints. Historically known to “gladden” the heart, lemon balm has a calming and relaxing effect. Introduce children (and maybe certain co-workers!) to tea-time along with some down-time when they become upset or over-anxious. Some herbalists recommend its use for overactivity, anxiety, memory enhancement, and insomnia.
Lemon balm’s antiviral properties are used for treating the herpes virus (take internally as a tea or tincture and apply topically to cold sores)
(Note: Lemon balm may inhibit thyroid function. Do ample research if this is a concern.)
Lemon balm is best used fresh or freshly dried as it loses its potency quickly.
Tea Dosage: 1 teaspoon of fresh herb for each ounce of water