Common Herbs – An Introduction into Herb-lore
Common herbs have been present in our kitchens since the earliest days of human civilization. Once people learned that roasting a dead animal in a fire made it taste better, it wasn’t long before they also discovered that roasting the dead animal with leaves and plants sprinkled on it increased the enjoyment factor even more.
Common herbs have also been used for medicinal purposes since the days of prehistory. Often through experimentation (and, sadly, often through fatal trial and error), many different plants were sampled and eaten. The ones that didn’t deliver us to death’s door often helped us feel better in various ways. Thus the earliest days of medicine and health care were born.
Witch doctors, apothecaries (medieval pharmacists) and local healers were all trained in herb-lore from the earliest days of their apprenticeship. Common herbs were the easiest, cheapest and often most successful way of treating illnesses and disease. People would come far and wide to acquire remedies, potions and herbal mixtures created by their healer.
In fact, modern medicine is still largely based around herbal remedies. Advanced medicines such as penicillin are derived from a certain type of mould. New plants are constantly being tested to discover cures for cancer and other persistent and devastating ailments. It can safely be assumed that the future of medicine will still involve plants and common herbs in a large way.
Common Herbs of the Kitchen
We’ve collected a bit of information about some of the most common herbs you’re likely to encounter in a kitchen. We all use them, but we often know very little about them besides the fact that they go great on a steak or mixed together in mashed potatoes.
· Cinnamon – We all know and love cinnamon. An apple pie without cinnamon is no apple pie at all, and this favorite of the common herbs goes great in just about any dessert or hot beverage. What many don’t realize is that the cinnamon plant is actually a small evergreen tree native to Sri Lanka and southern India.
The spice comes from an essential oil within the bark of the tree, which is harvested by pounding the bark, soaking it in sea water, and then distilling the resulting whole. The spice has been popular for many centuries, and was so valued by ancient empires that it was considered a gift fit for royalty
· Oregano – This member of the common herbs group is native to Europe, and extremely popular in Mediterranean cooking. Many Greek and Italian dishes depend upon oregano, making it one of the most valued spices in European cooking. Oregano has been found to have a high level of antioxidants, making it a healthy choice. In the Philippines, oregano is used medicinally to relieve symptoms of coughs in children.
· Cumin – Cumin is a powerfully strong and aromatic spice that is widely valued for cooking in North African, Middle Eastern, Indian and Mexican cooking. It is known to draw out the natural sweetness of a dish, and can be boiled in tea to produce cumin cider, which was first made by native Mexicans.
Common Herbs in Medicine
Perhaps even more valuable than their culinary attributes, common herbs have been utilized for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. Although it is always recommended to consult a medical professional before taking any form of medication, many of these common herbs can be used in a pinch to alleviate unfortunate symptoms of mild illness.
· Artemisia (wormwood) – Artemisia is a family of hardy shrubs and herbs well-known for their powerful oils. It is known to have a characteristically unpleasant bitter taste, and was often used to wean infants from their mothers’ breasts. It was most commonly used to help with stomach aches.
· St. John’s Wort – This variety of the common herbs is extremely easy to grow, and can be used to great effect as an antidepressant in humans. It was also traditionally used as a salve to treat minor cuts and abrasions.
· Ginger – Ginger, also a common spice for cooking is one of the most versatile of the common herbs. It has great value medicinally, and is used in a wide variety of ways around the world. Some effective uses are to help settle upset or nauseated stomachs, or as a preventative measure for dealing with the common cold. It can also help to neutralize the pain of a sore throat if boiled and drank as a strong tea.
Common Herbs – Conclusion
Now that you’ve learned a bit about some of the more common herbs often found around the house, we hope you’ve come away with some useful information. Fresh herbs make great gifts, and ones not often expected, which can be perfect for hard-to-buy-for people. Include a packet of herbs in a gift basket to produce a truly unique gift.
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