One of my favorite ways to help people connect with nature and health is to take them out on medicinal herb walks. Often, as we walk around in a wild space, someone will point to something and say “is that an herb or a weed?” Well, the difference is really just semantics: when we decide that a plant is valuable to us personally, we call it an herb. When we decide we don’t like it, it’s in the way of something else we’d prefer to have in that spot, or we just don’t know what to do with it, it’s a weed.
The dividing line between medicinal and culinary herbs can also often be thin. On a broad level, the differences are obvious: medicinal herbs serve a health promoting purpose and culinary herbs taste good. Also, many medicinal herbs have potential toxicity so they must be taken in specific dosages to avoid causing problems. However, on the other hand many culinary herbs have potent medicinal properties of which we are often unaware. Often these herbs are dried, concentrated, or distilled to create medicines, but they also have value fresh from your backyard or the fridge.
For many culinary herbs, they are medicinal for the same reason that they are delicious. Their flavoring properties come from volatile oils contained in the seeds or foliage of the plant. Those oils can also be medicinal. Oregano and thyme oils are quite good at killing yeasts, and lavender and garlic are useful for killing bacteria. Rosemary oil has been found to be an excellent antioxidant and is actually used as a preservative in many natural foods.
Beyond this, we can find that almost all of our common culinary herbs can be of use to promote health. Mint and lemon balm teas are quite good for soothing an upset stomach, and fennel is quite good at helping to dispel gas. Parsley (most often the root) has traditionally been used to promote kidney health. Cilantro is an excellent adjunct to a detoxification regimen as it helps to move toxins from the body. And sorrel is a very cooling plant that can be eaten to reduce a fever (raspberries and mushrooms are good for this as well)!
Every parent is a nurse and a doctor at some point and it always helps to have some tricks up your sleeve when a little one is feeling yucky. The recipe below is handy for babies, kids, and adults with a colicky or upset tummy and helps to promote restful sleep through the night.
Soothing Tummy Sleep Tea
In a glass jar, combine equal parts (start with ¼ oz or 3 Tbsp of each):
Put 1 tsp of the mixture in a tea ball or bag. Pour 1 cup boiled water over the tea, steep 5-8 minutes (you don’t need to take the tea ball out when it’s done steeping). For adults and kids over 12 months, add 1 tsp honey. For babies over 4 months, add 1 oz apple juice and give them 1-2 oz of the mixture in a bottle (can combine with breast milk or other milk without the sweetener).