Herbs, Teas and TonicsJuly 22nd, 2008
I grow a wide range of plants to enhance our diet. Hops, St. John's Wort, dandelion, purple cone flower, lemon balm, burdock, thyme, rosemary, dill, parsley, sage, oregano, basil, and many kinds of mint. I also prepare Tonics which are supposed to improve our health, or help fight off disease. I am NOT making any claims that these are real Medicines. They are old fashion traditional ways of dealing with common health problems.
Different parts of the plant are used. Sometimes the leaves are collected and dried, or it might be the blossoms or flowers, or even the roots of the plant. Dried herbs should be stored in glass jars to protect them from moisture. They may be crushed, and sprinkled over food or added while cooking. Some are made into tea by pouring hot water over them, called an infusion. Other herb recipes call for immersing in alcohol, which is called a tincture. I use Vodka for that. Once prepared for storage, they should be kept in a cool dark place. Some are so sensitive to light, I use of dark colored bottles, or many layers of paper secured around the jars to block all light from reaching the preparation.
I have some traditional tonic recipes which concentrate the fruit of the plant by boiling it for hours with sugar into a thick syrup. For a cough syrup, my Grandmother used onions with sugar on the back of the stove, and bottled it for Winter. A good neighbor and friend who grew up in Poland uses black currants boiled down with a lot of sugar to make a tonic. A big spoonful is put in a cup, and boiling water is poured over it to make a hot tea to drink. She recommends it when ever you feel like you may be coming down with something. Elderberries can be used in the same way, but we usually just dry them, and make a tea. Dark fruits like those may be extremely high in anti-oxidants. Science is just starting to learn about how important they may be in our diet. We don't have to wait for Science though. We can enjoy them now.
My favorite herb book, the one I actually use the most, it is a very, very old one, originally published in 1649. It has been reprinted with new drawings and modern uses. It is called 'Culpeper's Color Herbal' edited by David Potterton. My copy was printed in 1983, but there is now a 2007 edition. It tells where the plant would be found in the wild, as well as what parts are used, and how to prepare it. There are of course many other Herb books out there as well. To find a really useful book, see what your library can get for you to look over. Otherwise rely on a good publisher of historical books for old information, or a company like Storey Publishing. Used books from Rodale Press first printed in the 1960's and 1970's were often good too.