Essential Herbs for Home Storage and Use

Many people keep a variety of herbal remedies on hand for home use. This is not intended to be an exhaustive treatise on the use of medicinal herbs, but rather a simple list of easy-to-obtain healing herbs and some of their uses. Some have found the following herbs and applications useful. All herbal medicines carry some degree of risk: they are, after all, medicines. Be wise in your use of them, do your research. Having some knowledge about these natural remedies may help in an emergency. 

1. Calendula [kuh-len-juh-luh]. This herb is applied externally in the form of salves and ointments for treating skin irritations. It is also known as Pot Marigold, a member of the daisy family. An ointment made from the flower is used to reduce inflammation and swelling and to promote healing of injuries, sores and skin ulcers. In tea form it is used for sore mouths and throats, stomach ulcers, and to ease menstrual cramps?Pregnant women are not advised to take it!

2. Chamomile [kam-uh-mahyl, -meel]. The national flower of Russia and is also a member of the daisy family. Most often, Chamomile is taken as a tea made from the flower that calms, relaxes and eases stomach aches. Many people use it as a sleeping aid, and it is known to reduce stress and promote health throughout the digestive system.

3. Echinacea [ek-uh-ney-shuh, -see-uh]. Also known as Coneflower, Echinacea is generally taken in capsule or lozenge form or as a tincture to boost the immune system and help fight off colds and flu. (A tincture is an alcohol-based derivative of a plant.) The roots and above-ground parts of the Echinacea plant can be used. It is not a one-dose medication, but must be taken from the first symptoms every two to four hours to be effective. It should not be taken for more than ten days. North American plains Indians used it to treat sore throats, coughs and as a pain-reliever. As with any plant, allergic reactions may occur in some people.

4. Garlic [gahr-lik]. A pungent herb of the allium (lily) family, garlic may be taken raw or cooked as a flavoring agent. Raw, the bulbs (cloves) can be eaten for cardiovascular benefits, an antibacterial or an antiviral aid. When applied to the skin, garlic also has antibacterial and antiviral properties. Eaten cooked, it retains only its cardiovascular value (lowering blood pressure). Allowing it to sit for a few minutes after it is chopped or crushed before consuming or adding to salads or recipes increases its nutritional and medicinal value. It has several useful ingredients, including allicin and selenium. Commercially-prepared capsules do not seem to have the same level of benefits as fresh.

5. Ginger [jin-jer]. This popular herb is a stimulant, and was eaten candied by British soldiers in wartime to fight fatigue. It can be eaten raw or taken in capsule form or as a tea to combat motion sickness, nausea, indigestion and inflammation. Sweet and hot in flavor, it has been a staple spice in many world cuisines, including Chinese, Indian, and West Indies. Ginger ale, gingerbread, ginger snaps, pickled ginger and crystallized ginger all attest to the variety of uses this spicy herb has to offer. The rhizome of the plant is the part used?often mistakenly called the root. To make ginger tea, add 1 cup very hot water to 1 tsp. fresh-grated or powdered ginger, cover and steep for ten minutes. Strain and enjoy.

6. Lavender [lav-uh n-der]. This sweet-fragranced herb, known for its relaxing qualities in aroma therapy and massage oils, can be used in fresh or dried form or as an essential oil in baths and compresses to treat insomnia, headaches and to soothe burns. It can also be taken as a tea by combining 1 heaping tablespoon of dried flowers with one cup hot water, and allow it to steep. Many bakeries are adding lavendar to baked goods (especially sugar cookies) for a different and refreshing flavor. An old favorite in sachet packets, lavender flowers can also be combined with lemon balm leaves and hops strobiles (female flowers of the hops vine) to tuck into your pillowcase for a good night?s sleep.

7. Lemon Balm. Used as a tea to calm, soothe and uplift, this relative of mint often pairs with lavender in its applications, but can also function alone. The leaves have a lemony fragrance when crushed and an antiviral agent that shortens the duration of cold sores. It is also reputed to be able to calm a racing heart, but care must be taken by persons with an under-active thyroid, as lemon balm properties tend to slow thyroid function. Many European cuisines use lemon balm in salads, stuffing for poultry and in flavoring summer drinks.

8. Peppermint. This popular flavoring is not only used in candies and chewing gum, but as a decongestant to aid in cold and flu relief and as a tea to soothe stomachaches and headaches. It is useful in relaxing a spastic colon and helping to relieve morning sickness. Applying a few drops of peppermint oil to the temples or forehead can help to relieve tension headaches.

9. St. John's Wort. "Wort" is an Old English word that simply means plant. This herb got its name because its small yellow flowers usually begin to bloom around June 24, the day believed by some to be the birthday of John the Baptist. It is used in various forms to relieve mild to moderate anxiety and depression. It can be used in tea, tincture and capsules. The active ingredients include hypericin, hyperforin and several tannins and flavonoids. Research continues on its usefulness.

10. Valerian [vuh-leer-ee-uh n]. This hardy perennial plant with ferny leaves and pink or white heads of fragrant flowers has long been valued for the relaxing and sleep-producing effects of its root. It has also been used in perfumes as far back as the 1500?s. Studies have varied and been inconclusive as to the sleep-inducing properties, which are believed to result from a combination of factors present in valerian rather than from just one.

When preparing ourselves for the unknown, it is very wise to look around us to see what is available to help us cope. Herbs are nature's medicine cabinet and could be considered an important part of any preparedness plan.

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