Know Your Herbs

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We know that plants have medicinal as well as culinary properties, but what exactly are herbs? The answer to that can depend on the context.

In the kitchen, herbs are edible plants that are used to season or flavor the food, rather than serving them as the primary components of the meal itself.

Rosemary, for example, is a leaf used to augment the taste of something else, so it would be classified as an herb as opposed to a leafy green like spinach that could be a main ingredient in a salad or side dish.

But identifying herbs is a little more complex than that. Many herbs offer benefits that go beyond taste and aromatic properties.

In fact, most herbs have vitamins and minerals that bring health benefits along with them. For that reason, we often make a distinction between “culinary herbs” and “medicinal herbs.”

Medicinal herbs are generally defined as plants and plant-extracts with properties that are used for health and welfare purposes rather than simply seasonings.

There are plenty of herbs that perform both medicinal and culinary functions, and studies are ongoing to determine their effectiveness at doing what their proponents claim.

Herbs have been used in both culinary and medicinal purposes for thousands of years—literally. The earliest human remains have been found with plants that are now believed to have helped aid in digestion, and their use has been noted around the globe.

With no drugstores to turn to or prescriptions to call in, early man naturally turned to the plants around him in an effort to heal what ailed him. In many cases, that involved looking at what the animals around him did when they had noticeable health problems and trying it themselves.

Modern day herbs come in more sophisticate packaging, and many herbs have medical uses that have hit the mainstream. Anyone who suffers from motion sickness or nausea resulting from pregnancy probably has at least tried using ginger to alleviate those symptoms.

The properties of marijuana to ease the discomfort associated with glaucoma and chemotherapy is also well-noted, inducing many jurisdictions to permit its use for medicinal purposes even as it remains otherwise illegal in those same places.

St. John’s Wort has been used as a natural treatment for depression. Aspirin generates from an ancient remedy—the bark of the willow plant.

Given that many companies use herbal remedies to develop new products for market, it’s likely that even those who don’t think they’ve ever used herbs as medicine have unknowingly done so.

Of course, herbs carry risks as well. Sometimes, the big issue is the dosage. Plenty of herbs can have beneficial effects in small quantities, but become toxic in larger doses.

In caveman days, the shamans might have figured out the correct amount and frequency of herbs to use via trial and error. Of course, shamans didn’t have to worry about getting sued if they turned out to be wrong (though if a shaman made enough mistakes, the fate was likely worse).

So as useful as herbs may be as seasonings, they are more than that. They are nature’s gift of healing, wrapped in a tasty package.

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Maite Cavemen

MAITE is the shaman of the tribe. Her knowledge of nature’s secrets is unparalleled and her powers are vast and supernatural. Her main weakness: impatience

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