Brother Cadfael, fictional monk in 12th century England, solved murders as an adjunct to his day job growing and preparing herbs to treat the sick and injured who lived and visited the Benedictine Abbey at Shrewsbury. This paladin left his military life in the Crusades behind, thinking to spend the rest of his days cloistered quietly within the sanctity of the abbey walls, but author Ellis Peters kept creating murder mysteries to be solved by this brilliant and inquisitive man who only wanted to tend his herb beds and make potions. Thankfully, our prosaic times provide us with fewer unaccounted for bodies, and with the creation of professional detectives those of us interested in the healthful plants are spared the frequent distractions that make Cadfael stories such excellent reading.
On the subject of excellent reading, in his book The Green Pharmacy, botanist James Duke points out, “From what we know about mind/body medicine, I’m confident that self-grown herbal medicines should work better than anything store bought or foraged.” He continues by claiming if you take prepared supplements “you get one mineral or a few plant chemicals (phytochemicals) but with whole herbs, you get every therapeutic phytochemical in the plant — possibly hundreds.”
For example, two ounces of sprouted fava beans contain enough L-dopa to have a physiological effect. L-dopa is a proprietary medication used to treat Parkinson’s disease but is far more expensive than simply eating the beans. If I had Parkinson’s I’d be looking into the latest research on these beans; David says if he was married to someone with Parkinson’s he’d be looking into an air filter.
In previous columns I have gone into the loss of minerals across the board when produce, including herbs, leaves the farmers’ gates. At the risk of repeating myself, we give our own health a boost by growing herbs in fully remineralized soil.
The good news is that most herbs are easy to grow. For example, basil, bee balm, chives, dill, fennel, hyssop, lavender, lemon balm, oregano, parsley, peppermint, rosemary, sage, savory, spearmint and thyme can flavour a meal while providing a variety of nutrients that treat or help prevent bad breath, headaches, cancer, stomach upset, tension and blood clots. Since these herbs, like most, abound with antioxidants, Professor Duke makes a tea using them along with a dash of ginger and turmeric. He suggests using two parts of the ingredients one likes with one part of the less appealing herbs.
Herbs don’t require much space to grow and suffer from less predation than other crops. I harvest mine several times during the season just before they flower, but if I want to save any for seed, I tag the best ones and let them grow on. When I dry my herbs and pull off the leaves to store, I toss the stems onto my garden paths where they release their scent when trodden on.
Herbal sachets have been used for centuries to sweeten the air.
You can also make a sachet of herbs, tie it over the bathtub faucet and allow the water to flow through to create a scented bath. It’s an easy stocking stuffer any time of year.