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.
Cayenne, Capsicum annuum
Cayenne peppers (in fact all peppers) are stimulants to the system. Cayenne stirs up the blood and has an equalizing effect in that it helps to move stagnant blood. It moves blood to the surface, and is a corrector of circulatory problems. Alternately, cayenne will also staunch the flow of blood. If you sprinkle some in a scratch or wound, it will sting, but it will also stop the blood flow.
It has vitamins A, C, and E. You can use small amounts in a tea for colds, flu, and fevers, mix it with chamomile, yarrow, or oregano, and perhaps add a little honey if your throat is sore as well. You can even gargle with it for sore throats, just be sure to use a tiny amount, or heavily dilute it!
Use as a tea with chamomile or peppermint to help with sluggish digestion or flatulence. It will tone the heart muscles and clear the sinuses. Heating cayenne to a high heat destroys its medicinal benefits.
Use with caution, as it is very spicy and will burn if you get it in your eyes or in the tender mucus membranes of the nose (so be careful not to inhale it). I remember all too well cutting up peppers to put into a salsa, washing my hands really well, and at some point later in the day touching my eyes and the burning sensation that ensued (even after some time had passed since I had handled the peppers)! Now I wear gloves when cutting up the fresh peppers for salsas and other dishes.
Another way to get the benefits of cayenne as a blood stimulator, is to take it in capsule form. It will open in the acidic environment of the stomach, which is built to handle tougher situations than our mouths and esophagus are! This way you also avoid getting it in your eyes.