Many cultures and ethnic backgrounds incorporate spices and herbs into their lifestyles, not only, for culinary needs but spiritual and medicinal benefits and effects as well. Herbs have been around for along time, in fact the Chinese have been using herbs as far back as the first century. Herbs can be synonymous with any part of a plants makeup, such as stem, roots, leaves, flowers, seeds, berries and bark. The term “Herb” can be considered a botanical herb, culinary, sacred, apothecary or medicinal or combination of two or more of these terms. Which ever form of the so-called herbaceous terminology you choose, considering the myriad of herbs on the market, the benefits perceived can be very diverse. Distinct flavor and aroma, health and religious attributes and even pest control can be associated with these important plants, many of us take for granted or may not be aware of.
As I mentioned above, herbs are not considered a food, because, for the most part, only nominal amounts are required for proper use. Some of the herbs can cause harmful side effects if taken in high doses. Two examples of this are St. John’s Wart and Kava which are commonly taken to reduce stress and depression. If these herbs are taken in elevated doses, complications can arise. Another point I should mention is that some herbs can potentially pose a different reactions from one person to the next, especially with regards to age, sex, and prescription drug usage, so consultation with your health care provider is a good idea.
Some examples of popular and commonly used herbs for culinary purposes to enhance the flavor of foods are, basil, thyme, bay leaves, paprika, oregano, marjoram, curry powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel seed, mustard seed and fennel geek. Their are a plethora of herbs used for culinary purposes. I only scratched the surface listing a few of these. Ethnic and culture play a large part in the amount and types of herbs used for cooking purposes. For example people that live in India would use herbs like fennel geek, curry powder and cumin, more so than people of Italian decent that would find basil, oregano and thyme more common place.
Various religions incorporate herbs into various rites and ceremonies due to their symbolic meanings and/or are used for religious customary purposes are myrrh, white sage, cedar, cannabis, basil and frankincense. Rite of spiritual healing, spiritual passage and visual quest are just a few of the religious customs that are enhanced by incorporating herbs into their rituals.
As for medicinal properties, studies have been performed and are ongoing regarding certain herbs that may be responsible for the treatment and possible cure of certain ailments ranging from alleviating digestion problems to improving liver functions and even reducing certain forms of cancer growth and diabetic incapabilities. As I mentioned above St.John’s Wart and Kava are known to help reduce stress and depression. An herb called shilijit may help to lower blood glucose levels which is great news to diabetic. Yarrow if eaten quickly after consuming poison works to counteract the poison. Feverfew relieves migraines, ginger can ease nausea encountered after going through chemotherapy and horehound is a great expectorant. Their are an abundance of herbs that aid in relieving various ailments and can even help to control certain types of cancer, lower blood pressure, maintain proper liver function, reduce urinary tract infections, used to limit water retention and help with irritable bowel syndrome. So you see, herbs can have a healthy effect on people and are encountered over the counter at pharmacies, drug stores, health food stores and supermarkets as well as in many home gardens.
Gardeners, farmers and home owners will find that certain herbs will benefit them as well in that these herbs will help keep unwanted pests away such as ants, flies, ticks, mice and moths. Mint, spearmint, peppermint and penny royal will suffice in obtaining this valuable benefit.
It is best to talk to your primary physician to determine if any herb may not be right for you due to medications taken that may become counteractive when taking a particular herb or liver problems. Herbs for the most part are commonly found and not very expensive. Some are eaten, drank or come in pill or capsule form making herbs easy to consume.
Enjoy learning about the myriad of herbs available to you, and start incorporating them in your culinary dishes, religious beliefs, and as a compliment to your daily vitamin regimen.