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Uses of Herbs

Updated on October 18, 2014


Since ancient times, herbs have played an important role in man's daily existence and the lore of herbs dates back thousands of years. Man has used plants for food, medicine, healing, adornment and as a source of poison. Consequently, they have also served as symbols of expression and superstition.

In the early days of Christianity, the use of herbs was regarded as being pagan and many early manuscripts about them were destroyed. It was the monks, in the privacy and seclusion of their monasteries, who kept alive the knowledge of the properties of herbs by patiently and carefully translating and copying the few remaining treatises.

Image Source: Various Herbs on Marble at

During the sixteenth century, when the printing press was established, a number of herbals were printed, notably William Turner's A New Herball, printed in 1551; Paradisi in sole Paradis us Terrestris and Theatrum Botanicum by John Parkinson royal botanist to King Charles I; and The English Physician, published in 1652, written by the controversial apothecary and herbalist Nicholas Culpeper. The current trend towards natural living has brought renewed and widespread interest in the use of herbs for food or flavoring, medicinal purposes, insect repellants, fragrance and aroma and merely beauty preparations.

Culinary Uses of Herbs

Herbs can be used to flavor numerous foods and the cuisine of many countries is closely associated with the distinctive flavor of a particular herb. Italian food, for instance, is characterized by the flavors of oregano and basil and the 'fines herbes' of parsley, chervil, tarragon and chives are an essential feature of many French recipes.

In most Asian cuisines, the root of ginger, chillies, curry, blends of aromatic spices and sesame seeds are extensively used. In the Middle East, coriander, parsley or mint are used in most dishes.

A subtle, discreet flavor of herbs is favored by most cultures. Dried herbs are about three times as strong as fresh herbs so they should be used in only small quantities. Herbs are also used as foods themselves.

Borage, nasturtium leaves and fennel roots are often used as salad greens and parsley can be served as a vegetable dish. Violets and roses may be candied and many herbs are the important ingredients of wines and liqueurs. Herbs readily release their fresh flavors in vinegar.

Wine vinegar is a more suitable base for herb vinegars than is malt vinegar because its own flavor is subtle. Some of the many herbs suitable for use in herb vinegars are tarragon, basil, thyme, marjoram, garlic and sage.

Herbs & Spices: The Cook's Reference

Herbs & Spices: The Cook's Reference
Herbs & Spices: The Cook's Reference

Learn how to prepare fresh and dried herbs, and how to use herbs and spices in cooking.

Hardcover: 336 pages


Culinary Herb Assortment

Herbal Medicinal Uses

Herbal teas, or tisanes, have long been regarded as having useful medicinal properties in addition to delicate and refreshing flavors.

Chamomile teas, made from dried flower tops, are claimed to provide relief from high temperatures and are also used to relieve indigestion, heartburn and loss of appetite.

Chamomile has antiseptic qualities and is applied externally to cure skin blemishes and abscesses, toothache and neuralgia.

The roots of comfrey have been used medicinally for centuries as a remedy for diarrhea and dysentery and for pulmonary and liver complaints. The leaves of comfrey are used by some people as an external remedy for sprains, swellings and bruises. Lemon balm tea is said to relieve stomach upsets and cooled dill tea may be given to babies suffering from indigestion.

Majoram tea is said to prevent seasickness and rosemary to cure nervous headaches and stimulate the memory. A tea made of peppermint, angelica leaves and elder flowers is claimed to be a cure for colds. Aromatic herbs

For centuries herbs have also been used to make perfume: beauty preparations and hair rinses, pot-pourri and pomanders.

Lavender and scented geraniums are two of the earliest herbs used to scent perfumes and oils and are now commonly used to make perfumed sachets and pot-pourri. Pot-pourri is a mixture of dried herbs and spices and can be made from dried lavender, scented geraniums, lemon verbena, rose petals, orange peel or blossoms, eau de-cologne mint and rosemary. A sachet mixture used to repel moths and silverfish is made from dried rosemary, mint, tansy, thyme and crushed cloves.

Because of its strong aroma, basil was widely used as a strewing herb. Strewing herbs were used before the development of adequate drainage and ventilation systems to mask unpleasant smells. Other strewing herbs included lemon-scented balm, rosemary, thyme and mint.

Indoor Herbal Tea Garden

Indoor Herbal Tea Garden Kit - Grow Herb Tea Herbs- Chamomile, Catnip, More
Indoor Herbal Tea Garden Kit - Grow Herb Tea Herbs- Chamomile, Catnip, More

Kit Includes an assortment of 12 Herb Tea seeds.

Lemon Balm, Catnip, Rosemary, Peppermint, German Chamomile, Fever Few, Lavender, Lemon Grass, Orange Gem Marigold, Lemon Bergamot, Angelica, and Anise.


Cultivation of Herbs

Herbs are easy to grow and require a sunny, well drained position, although chervil, angelica, parsley and bergamot prefer a partially shaded position and mints thrive in a moist, semi-shaded corner. Some plants grow well together and companion planting is often practiced.

Chives and garlic growing among roses ward off aphids, hyssop acts as a decoy for cabbage moths and, if basil is planted with tomatoes, the tomatoes remain free from disease and crop longer.

Such herbs as rue, lad's love, tansy and basil may be planted to assist in repelling ants, mosquitoes and flies. Most herbs may be propagated from seed, although lavender and rosemary grow better from cuttings.

Herb Gardening from the Ground Up

What Are Your Favorite Herbs?

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