Catnip – Nepeta cataria
Catnip is a hardy perennial. It can grow from 3 to 5 feet tall! It likes full sun, and can tolerate dry conditions. Left to flower and set seed, it will seed itself all around the garden, and beyond it as well. It is a member of the mint family and has the square stem characteristic of that family. Its blooms are clustered at the top of the stems and are a soft white color. It is a really great plant for attracting bees, and is a must-have for the pollinators in your garden.
Use aerial parts (leaves, stems, and flowers), either fresh or dried. Harvest by cutting back the whole stalk (leaving a few terminal buds at the base of the stalk to regrow). Dry in bunches with stems tied together, or pick off fresh leaves a few at a time to use as needed.
While catnip is a known stimulant for cats, who roll in it, eat it, and otherwise enjoy it, in humans it has the opposite effect. It is calming and soothes nervousness. A good sleepy-time tea, it is a gentle relaxant and digestive aid. Sip it to help settle nerves and anxiety. It is also used in cold and flu remedies, and for feverish conditions.
Catnip tea is gentle enough to use for infants and children, for such ailments as measles, chicken pox, colic, fevers, indigestion, nervousness, headaches, stomach aches, insomnia, and hyper activity.
A nice blend for nervousness in both adults and children, mix it with chamomile and lemonbalm, and steep for 5-7 minutes.
Lemonbalm, Melissa officinalis
Let’s talk about lemonbalm! Lemonbalm is a very aromatic perennial herb that likes lots of room to grow. It grows well in full sun or part shade, and it gets a bit wider each year. It is easy to divide in the spring. Just dig up the whole plant and cut it into pieces to replant in other spots in your garden, or simply use your shovel to cut out and dig up the section that you would like to remove. They transplant well and you can easily get another clump going.
As someone who harvests a lot of lemonbalm, I try to get two harvests each year. I’ll do one in early summer and one in the fall. I cut back the whole stem, leaving one or two sets of leaves at the bottome of each stem. If you let it flower and go to seed, it will sprout up happily all over your garden, and you may get more lemonbalm than you bargained for! If harvesting only once, wait until it flowers and harevest flowers, stems, and leaves which can all be used both fresh and dried.
Lemonbalm is a lovely calming and soothing herb, especially when dried and used as a tea. If you are feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or overstimulated, brew a nice cup of lemonbalm tea, cover it and let it steep for at least 5 minutes. It is a gentle and effective fever reducer for children and babies (and adults). The hot tea opens pores and brings on sweat to help with colds, fevers, and flu.
If cooking is more your style, try using dried lemon balm in sauces, stews, rice, and soups, or use fresh leaves in salads or as a garnish with sweet or savory dishes.
Lemonbalm also makes a lovely essential oil, also known as Melissa. While lemonbalm grows quite prolifically, the essential oil usually comes with a big price tag because it takes so much material to produce a tiny bit of oil. It takes 7 tonnes of lemonbalm to produce 1 kg of Melissa essential oil!
Horseradish, Armoracea rusticana
A wonderful herb that packs quite a punch!
I was given a small clump of horseradish to plant in my garden a few years ago. After a year, I decided I didn’t like where I had planted it, so I moved it about 2 meters to the right… Now I have two clumps of horseradish, the original one that I had planted, and the second one about 2 meters to the right! Believe me when I tell you not to plant horseradish in your garden, but to cultivate it outside of your beds in a special place all on its own. It seems the more you try to dig it out, the more it comes back.
Thank goodness it is such a wonderful ally to have in our diet. Not only does it add flavor and bit of a kick to pork, sauces, and as a condiment, it also stimulates digestion, is good for bladder and lung infections, and is great for clearing out the sinuses. I have a friend who, when suffering from severe congestion, digs horseradish root to gnaw on to clear out her sinuses. It really works!
Initially I was distressed about the tenacious nature of horseradish, but now I feel happy and blessed that such a strong and beneficial plant exists in my garden. I happily dig a pile of the roots out each fall and process them to store for use over the winter.
So, what do you do with them? First, dig your roots, late fall is best. Scrub and wash all the dirt off and chop them into fine pieces (or use a blender, do a few quick pulses to get the roots down to the size of coarse salt). Put the chopped root in a jar and cover it completely with apple cider vinegar. Cap the jar and store in the fridge. Now you have a ready made condiment that you can add to pork and other meats. Try adding a tablespoon or two to sauces (its sharpness will diminish as you cook it). Here is a great recipe for Dresden Sauce that I found in Kathy Kevilles Encyclopedia of Herbs:
1 cup sour cream or yogurt
1/2 tsp. prepared mustard
1/2 tsp. horseradish fresh if possible
1/4 tsp. salt
Combine ingredients and serve with main course.
Cinnamon – Cinamomum zeylanicum
Almost all of us are familiar with cinnamon. I remember eating it as a child. Making toast, spreading a decent amount of butter, and sprinkling cinnamon and sugar on it. Not the healthiest of breakfast foods, but at the time I thought I was getting ahead! Now it is a spice I use when making curries, squash, chicken, or to add a little zing to Thanksgiving and Holiday meals and treats.
Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of the cinnamon tree. The outer bark is striped and discarded, and the inner bark is removed and dried. As it dries, it curls, and is then cut into 5 to 10 cm lengths. These dried curls are known as quills. There are several species of cinnamon grown around the world, including places like Sri Lanka, China, and India.
Did you know that cinnamon is also a stimulating spice that increases circulation and helps balance blood sugar? It is warming, especially to cold hands and feet, and soothes and aids the digestive system. Drink cinnamon tea for an upset stomach and nausea. Drink it before a meal to stimulate digestion and help with acid re-flux. Just steep a bit of cinnamon bark for no more than 10 minutes, or use the tiniest pinch of powdered cinnamon to brew a cup of stomach soothing tea.
Avoid it if you are pregnant or have intestinal ulcers.
As you spice up your tea and meals this Holiday Season, remember that a little bit is great and goes a long way, but consuming large doses can be dangerous.
Ginger – Zingiber officianale
Most of us are familiar with ginger as a food, commonly used in ginger bread, ginger cookies, stir-fry, and lots of delicious Indian cuisine. Did you know, it is a also a medicinal plant that can be used to treat some common ailments?
Ginger is in the Zingiberacaea family along with cardamom and turmeric. It is native to south east Asia, and is cultivated in warm climates. You can try planting your own rhizome in a pot and put it in a sunny window. Even store bought ginger will grow, but it is a very slow process…
The top of the ginger plant has a main stalk that looks a bit like bamboo or solomon’s seal, but it is the root or rhizome that we use medicinally and for cooking. If you can incorporate good medicinal foods into your daily diet, your body systems will be better supported and better able to weather and ward off sickness.
Use fresh grated ginger in tea for colds and flu that include nausea and chills. Ginger will help to settled an upset stomach, even relieve simple indigestion and gas. It is warming to the body as well, and stimulates circulation.
If using ginger for motion sickness, take small frequent sips to help calm your symptoms. Ginger also helps to reduce dizziness and vertigo.
Well known for its ability to help with nausea, sometimes, like with morning sickness, you can’t keep anything down. If this is the case, you can get the same gut soothing benefits from ginger by steeping it in a foot bath and absorbing its medicinal goodness through your feet.