New year, new herbs

Herb table at London's Garden Museum
Herb table at London’s Garden Museum

Happy 2015! And welcome to my new blog and new business. I’ve been a food & poetry blogger for many years, but now that I’ve qualified as a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, I’m starting up this blog to capture the nittier grittier side of food and nutrition.

I’ve been in the UK for a few weeks and a recent visit to London’s Garden Museum made me think a bit about the many properties of herbs.

The museum’s own garden is in its winter sleep, by and large, but outside the cafe door is a small table of herbs, showing a simple and elegant way to grow your own. In Permaculture design, such herbs are always placed within easy reach of the kitchen, which seems obvious, but isn’t always part of the plan. Herbs are a great thing for novice gardeners to grow because they are usually fairly hardy, self-seeding or perennial, and more or less immune from interference by pests and grazing animals. Some of them grow a little too well (mint and lemon balm for example can go berserk with little prompting) so a container, or series of large pots are recommended.

While we tend to think of herbs as flavourings, they have medicinal and nutritional benefits too. A handful of common, easy-growing herbs and uses include:

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) – a calming, soothing herb, promoting sleep, easing indigestion and boosting the immune system. Take fresh or dried as a tea.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – a good source of vitamin A, it’s an antioxidant, aids indigestion and concentration, eases anxiety and stress. Infuse in hot water for tea, sprinkle in your bath water and of course ingest in Mediterranean cuisine.

Sage (Salvia officinalis) – anti-inflammatory, soothing to the digestive tract, antioxidant, memory enhancer, may help to control blood sugar and an excellent source of vitamin K1. Fresh leaves are delicious crisped in butter and tossed with pasta; it complements squash, game, poultry and pork dishes.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) – antimicrobial, antioxidant; it eases digestion and gas, soothes sore throats and respiratory problems. Add to tea mixes or lavish in your bean, egg and vegetable dishes. Nutritionally, it is an excellent source of vitamin C, a very good source of vitamin A, and a good source of iron, manganese, copper, and dietary fiber.

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