Long before the days of priority mail and global trade, simple housewives nursed their families back to health using the plants and foods that were available to them. The distinction between food and medicine was often blurred, as the spices and staples they consumed daily also served as their healing agents.
As an herbalist, one of the questions I get asked most often is “Where do I begin?” Wives and mothers are hungry for knowledge about using the plants around them to treat their families. But when you consider the hundreds of plants used as medicinal herbs, the task of learning herbal medicine can seem overwhelming.
Another obstacle many ladies face is the cost of buying ready-made tinctures and dried herbs. When you are just beginning to learn about herbal medicine, it is difficult to know which herbs to buy and in what quantities. Being frugal is often a necessity. Most of us don’t have the luxury of buying extra herbs that we may not need or use.
With these two points in mind, I would like to help you learn to use the herbal medicines that are already in your kitchen.
Herbal Medicines Hiding in Your Kitchen Pantry
- Thyme – Thyme is one of my favorite herbs to use in the wintertime. I usually add a good ½ cup of the dried herb to my soups and stews as a preventative or to help get rid of colds and flu’s. Thyme has an affinity for the respiratory system, especially the lungs. So anytime there is chest or nasal congestion, thyme would be beneficial.
It also relieves sore throats. In cases of strep throat, I like to combine thyme and echinacea.
Thyme is also an excellent digestive aid, working particularly well at dispelling gas. If gas is caused by a yeast overgrowth in the gut, thyme’s anti-fungal properties can be utilized on a long-term basis to help balance gut flora.
- Rosemary – I love eating rosemary pan-fried potatoes. I am so thankful that some of the best herbal medicines taste so good! Rosemary is considered a nootropic herb–it enhances memory and cognitive functions. As a mom of many, I need my memory and cognitive functions enhanced.
Our circulatory and nervous systems benefit from regular use of rosemary.
Muscle pain and sciatica can be relieved by rubbing with rosemary infused oil or salve.
And for those who experience dandruff, a strong rosemary tea can relieve itchy, dry scalps.
- Fennel – Fennel seeds are one of those herbs that sit in the spice rack for years because most of us don’t know what to do with them! After 20 plus years of marriage, I finally have a use for my fennel seeds.
As far as being an herb, fennel is best known as a carminative, dispelling gas and relieving colic in infants. It also stimulates digestion and relieves indigestion. The wonderful thing about fennel is that it is mild enough to use safely during pregnancy.
Fennel, along with other aromatic herbs in the same family (anise, caraway, cumin, dill), makes a wonderful tea for nursing mothers who need a boost in their milk supply.
One other hidden use of fennel seed is for conjunctivitis (pink eye). Simply make a “tea” with fennel seeds and strain through a paper towel, making sure there are no herb particles left in the tea. Soak a cotton ball in the tea and apply to the affected eye(s).
- Sage – Sage is an herb that works wonders in the mouth. I include powdered sage in my toothpaste recipe. It is known for whitening teeth, strengthening gums, and freshening breath. A strong infusion can be used as a mouth rinse for canker sores or any type of inflammation in the mouth.
For those seeking a youthful appearance, a hair rinse made of sage is said to darken grey hair and help prevent hair loss.
*Note* Do Not Take Sage while Pregnant or Breastfeeding. Sage can cause uterine contractions during pregnancy. It also dries up breastmilk and should not be used by nursing mothers.
- Oatmeal – Oatmeal is not something we tend to think of as an herb, but in reality it has many healing qualities. Oatmeal is a nervous system tonic, both anatomically and physiologically. This means that it not only builds up the physical components of the nervous system, it also helps it to work more smoothly. Eating oatmeal has been shown to lessen stress and depression. As a nursing mother, I try to eat oatmeal and ground flaxseed (another kitchen pantry herb!) several times a week to help boost and enrich my milk supply.
And don’t forget about oatmeal’s soothing, demulcent properties for all types of skin irritations. Grind up some oatmeal and add to the bath water for chicken pox, rashes, poison ivy, and eczema.
- Garlic – I saved the best for last! Garlic really is one of the best, most universal herbal medicines available. Garlic is antimicrobial, working against bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. I like to use garlic as part of my herbal protocol for just about any type of infection. In fact, our family came down with the swine flu several years ago and garlic was one of our main medicines.
Fungal infections respond very well to garlic, especially ringworm, thrush, and yeast infections.
Garlic strengthens the immune system by supporting the good bacteria in the body while killing the bad.
Eating a clove of garlic everyday is an excellent remedy for reducing cholesterol and lowering blood pressure. And for those who suffer from high blood sugar or hypoglycemia, garlic also has a balancing effect on blood sugar levels.
Most herbalists agree that it is better to know a few herbs really well than to know many herbs only a little. If you are just starting your herbal learning journey, be encouraged and learn to use the herbs around you. Especially the ones hiding in your pantry!