The 10 Most Important Medicinal Herbs
by Isobel Finbow - UK journalist
When you’ve got a headache, indigestion, sore throat or insomnia, what is the first thing you do? Grab an aspirin, suck a throat sweet, maybe down some sleeping pills?
Learn about the uses and benefits of the humble herb.
If so, you should be aware that there is a much more natural way to cure all of these ailments. One that has been passed down through generations and allows people to find medicines in their own back gardens: the humble herb.
Peppermint, rosemary and lemon balm might be great for adding flavor and zest to food and drinks, but they also possess special healing and soothing qualities.
Here are the 10 most important herbs you need to know:
Aloysia citrodora is the Latin name of this plant with tiny purple or white flowers that emits a powerful lemon-like fragrance. Added to fish and poultry dishes and beverages for a lemony zest, it can also be used to make herbal teas, as its antioxidant qualities can help with muscular damage, especially among avid runners.
There are around 18 species of this aromatic, green-leafed herb, and ten times as many uses. Now known for flavoring toothpaste, chewing gum and choc-chip ice-cream, mint leaves were often used in traditional medicine to treat stomach aches, chest pains and nausea.
Also known as wild marjoram, oregano is in the mint family and is a perennial herb with purple flowers in long, erect spikes. Tastes range from spicy to sweet. In culinary use, oregano is important to Mediterranean cuisine or as a dietary supplement in oil form to sooth stomach and menstrual cramps.
True to its name, lemon balm leaves have a citrusy zest and are used in teas and to attract bees for honey production. Lemon balm essential oil is popular in aromatherapy for the treatment of the gastrointestinal tract, nervous system, liver and bile as well as a sleep and digestive aid.
This succulent plant species might look like it would spike you like a cactus if you get too close, but the liquid held in its leaves soothes uncomfortable skin conditions. It can be used as an ointment for burns and sunburns and calms rashes and some allergic reactions.
Native to the Mediterranean region, the name of this woody, perennial herb derives from the Latin for sea spray. It is often used for flavouring roast meats like lamb and chicken, and recently has been added to gin and tonics to make a sophisticated tipple – medicinal, in a sense – but is also used in teas to treat headaches.
Beware the Rheum rhabarbarum – its stalks are delicious cooked with sugar and baked into crumbles, but its large triangular leaves are highly poisonous. In traditional Chinese medicine, rhubarb is used to relieve constipation.
These daisy-like plants are often used to make aromatic teas, and have several uses in traditional medicine. Camomile can treat menstrual disorders, hay fever, inflammation, muscle spasms, insomnia, ulcers, gastrointestinal disorders and hemorrhoids.
Known as the “king of herbs”, green leafy basil is popular in the Italian cuisine and the main ingredient in pesto. In Ayurveda traditional medicine it is thought to have various therapeutic qualities.
Aromatic, nectar-producing flowers known as lime blossom grow on the tilia, or lime tree. When pollinated by bees they contribute to making a richly flavored honey and have various uses in traditional medicine, including the treatment of colds, coughs, fevers, infections, inflammation, high blood pressure, and headaches (particularly migraine). They also serve as a sedative.
You can learn more about medicinal herbs and their benefits by visiting the vast herbal gardens at My SachaJi Wellness Ecolodge in Ecuador.
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