Building Bridges With Basil, Rosemary And Yarrow
By Judith Andrews
Starting a medicinal herb garden in early spring of 2013 was the beginning of bridge awareness—the bridge between fresh herbs and their equivalent essential oils, between traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda. Both are so immersed in herbal medicine that the bridges go back and forth with reckless abandon.
I have spent years using herbs and essential oils in my acupuncture practice and with our horses, dogs and chickens—not the cats. They want to choose their own herbs, never oils, when they need them and absolutely refuse my interference.
Basil, for example, is building a bridge between my garden and Ayurveda, and the teachings of Hanna Kroeger, an author and veteran herbalist known around the world. Traditional Chinese medicine does not seem to have crossed this bridge. Basil is not listed in any of my Chinese medicine books; nor do I remember studying it in school. I also do not use the essential oil. It is just too strong and does not resonate with me.
Kroeger is a solid proponent of basil and recommends it for indigestion and treatment of gas pains and nausea, and is the carrier for all amino acids and supports the immune system.
With basil, I prefer the fresh herb. Basil is one of the most aromatic herbs in my garden and one of the most useful. hat a certain stimulus could be given to the brain by inhaling the scent of these aromatic substances, whether they be essential oils, fresh or dried herbs, cannot be doubted.
So while weeding the basil bed, it is having a medicinal effect with each breath I take. Basil removes mucus from the lungs, helps remove heavy metals from the body, and when combined with cloves and especially cilantro, it helps to remove medical and chemical drugs that are being stored in our fat cells. Basil improves the operation of the liver, and if taken before bed for insomnia and after waking up to enhance alertness, it will act as an adaptation, which means it tones down a deficiency and sedates an excess, or does whatever is needed by the body.
The mature flower head contains the most complete representation of the plant’s properties. So I no longer pinch the flower heads off and drop them to the ground, but make a tea with them flavored with lemon and/or honey, or a tincture preserved with apple cider vinegar or brandy, which last longer and, in my opinion, tastes better. It makes the medicine go down.
Richo Cech, in his book Making Plant Medicine, profiles only Tulsi, or Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum). It can be used as a medicinal herb or a culinary one. I have it in my medicinal herb garden as a safety precaution due to culinary incompetence.
Holy basil is traditionally used as a tincture, tea or decoction. It serves to sharpen the mind, treat gastro-intestinal distress, coughs, bronchitis and skin diseases, supplying us with antioxidants and it is anti-bacterial. The powder of the dried root is said to be an effective analgesic for insect bites and stings. I’ve never tried this, but I will.
As a tonic herb, it is a wise choice to treat adrenal burnout, normalizing blood pressure and blood sugar imbalances while nourishing the nervous system. It brings you into a place of deep calm and clear mindedness, centered, alert and yet calm.
I always grow several different basils, so I make as much pesto as time allows and freeze it. Since this is considered cooking, and I don’t like to cook and am not even a decent cook, I feel very pious as I enjoy the summer flavor in the winter.
Rosemary, another herb traditionally considered to be primarily a culinary herb, has many medicinal uses. As a matter of fact, I use it more for medicinal purposes than culinary. But one would jump to that conclusion from reading the above.
Rosemary puts me in mind of yoga class, or I could say, preparation for boot camp. Some of the classes I’ve attended have been held in places that smelled like a damp, used, closed-up sweat sock— not the best aroma to stimulate the meditative state said to be induced by the practice of yoga. So I bring along a bottle of rosemary essential oil, therapeutic grade. Drop several drops of the oil in the palm of your hand, rub your hands together and cup over your nose breathing in deeply. It helps to clear the mind, bringing circulation to the brain and supports the lungs; all good things to bring about in the practice of yoga and almost anything else.
This can also be done with the fresh herb any time you are gardening, or better yet, have a rosemary plant where you frequently walk and break off a small branch to rub between your hands and inhale. Rosemary acts strongly on the lungs, which is one of the “blood organs.”
Rosemary is also specific for cardiac edema and congestive heart failure. Juliette de Bairacle Levy used rosemary in this manner and recommended it brewed as a tea with honey. Rosemary tea is actually very nice, especially with lemon thyme added. Here in Florida, rosemary is winter hardy, and also where we lived in middle Georgia, but in more northern climes it needs to be brought inside or planted in a very protected place.
We are all familiar with Shakespeare’s quote, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.” But do we remember with our heart or our brain? Either way, rosemary’s warming influence on the circulatory system will help by increasing oxygenation throughout the body.
As glucose levels in the blood are brought down, all the functions of the body, most especially those of the heart and brain, which require large quantities of blood sugar, are strengthened. So true to Shakespearean herbal tradition, rosemary can be a great help to us in the memory department. Also rosemary contains several compounds that prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter in the brain, one that is needed for memory and healthy brain function.
Rosemary has a strong digestive ability bringing warmth in cold diseases and especially with cold in the stomach. Compare our stomach to a compost pile. If the ingredients are dry and cold, the rotting and ripening of the compost ingredients will not progress. It’s the same with our stomach, which is in charge of rotting and ripening our food—not a very picturesque way of putting it, but accurate. We should not consume cold food or drink, or too much drying food. Now, I, like so many southerners, was born with a glass of ice tea in my hand. So that habit has been very difficult to break. But since I know that putting cold food and drink in the stomach stops or drastically slows down digestion, so that the contents of the stomach putrify rather than digest, has been the impetus to change my dastardly habits. Remember rosemary warms the stomach.
Rosemary also increases the flow of bile through the liver and has an antiseptic quality. Besides, it is said to have been Napoleon’s favorite herb, and I have found Napoleon to be an interesting historical character. Perhaps if he had eaten more of his favorite herb he would not have suffered an untimely death (stomach cancer), if in fact he did.
All the years I studied Chinese herbs, I never remember any of them being tasty, so I guess that lets rosemary out of the Chinese Pharmacopeia. Ayurveda, on the other hand, embraces the herb enthusiastically.
Yarrow is one of the easiest to grow and one of the most useful. One cup of yarrow tea on a regular basis is said to be a fine thing to do. I know it sounds awful, but it is actually not bad. It is good for digestion and soothes the muscles of the stomach. It’s easy to grow from seed and naturalizes, so there’s always some to cut.
The oil is one of my favorites. If you get an unfavorable reaction when using any oil, just cover the area with diluted yarrow oil. It will soothe and reduce the adverse response. Many skin conditions respond to yarrow oil or the fresh herb tea. One of our horses came to us with the skin problem known as sweet itch. He would break out in giant hives, which when left untreated, graduated to weeping skin lesions and severe itching. Yarrow oil clears the hives up every time from one chore time to the next.
Use yarrow on the jaw line after dental work (one drop to 5 ml). The effects can be almost instant. It’s worth having around for this reason alone, especially after the equine dentist’s annual visit.
On an emotional level, yarrow is known to combat negative feelings and distance the receiver of the oil from negative and draining influences. If you are competing in any sport with horses, dogs or just yourself, yarrow oil can certainly be a valuable addition to your first aid box.
One final herb: Cilantro. I’ve heard that you either love it or hate it. I fall into the latter group. If it’s in a recipe I can’t taste anything else, and the taste is, well, it’s distasteful. However, due to its major health giving aspect, that of purging heavy metals from the body, I grow the herb in my garden. And that is where I consume it, in mouthfuls. That way it can do its job and not ruin the taste of any other foods. We grow Slow Bolt Cilantro, which will last a bit longer as our Florida spring rapidly turns into summer. I guess this herb stands alone.
Use the oils, the fresh or dried herbs, make tinctures, creams or even furniture polish with them. Use them with caution and knowledge, and a large dose of common sense, but use them.
This article is not meant to replace proper medical care. That’s where the common sense comes in. Peace and Many Blessings, Judith Andrews
Now About That Culinary Incompetence …
Several weeks ago, I decided to use some of the beeswax I had on hand to make furniture polish. One item I use frequently to clean furniture is vinegar, so it followed to include this ingredient in the recipe. In a double boiler, I slowly melted the beeswax.
Then I began to add the vinegar. It’s fascinating what the vinegar does when it hits the wax—cold vinegar rudely poured into warm wax—or stupidly poured into warm wax. Since it didn’t want to mix using a whisk, I thought to use a hand-held electric mixer. Brilliant! (I thought.) The contents flew over most of the kitchen. I even scraped splatters off the breakfast room window. The double boiler happened to be one of my husband’s favorite pots. Cleaning it was incredibly difficult, plus all the spoons, forks, whisk and anything else within 20 feet of the experiment. As I was washing all that wax down the drain with boiling water, I thought, “Well, we will probably have to call the plumber.” That’s all right. We have a very nice plumber. We have a very nice electrician, too, but I don’t think it got into the electric system.
I have thought since that I should have used some kind of oil instead of the vinegar, but I haven’t thought just what kind of oil to use. I’d be grateful for any suggestions. Not that I’m planning to do this again, but if there is a next time it will be done outside in a disposable pot bought at a yard sale.
The news of my lack of culinary skills will now spread among all, I hope, Countryside readers. I’ve spent years building my reputation. This should cement it.— Judith Andrews
I make this tea all summer.
• 1 teaspoon basil
• 1/2 teaspoon green jasmine tea
• 1/2 teaspoon rose petals
Steep for 5 minutes.
Blackberry Basil Vinaigretti
The first time I made this I didn’t read all the way to the end of the recipe, so I never added the oil. It’s good with and without the oil.
• 5 oz. blackberry preserves (half a jar)
• 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
• 6 fresh basil leaves
• 1 garlic clove, sliced
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon seasoned pepper
(Seasoned pepper is not a product I’m familiar with, so I used plain pepper.)
Ed. note: Seasoned pepper is a combination of peppers [black, sweet red bell] and select spices. Lawry’s and McCormick are two popular national brands. There are also various homemade versions online.
Add all of the above to a blender. Pulse 2-3 times until blended. With the blender running, add 3/4 cup vegetable oil (I used 1/2 coconut and 1/2 olive oil) in a slow steady stream, processing until smooth.
Makes 1 cup.
My Husband’s World Famous Rosemary/Garlic Oven Roasted Potatoes
(The title is longer than the recipe)
Cut up some red potatoes.
Oil the pan.
Mince some garlic cloves and rosemary leaves.
Mix the above together. Add to oiled pan.
Squeeze fresh lemon juice over all, sprinkle with salt and pepper, roast at 350°F until done.
Stir several times during roasting.
Editor’s note: All oils have a “flash point”—the point at which they start to smoke, so some oils are better for frying while others are better used cold, as in salad dressing for example. Check out the differences at: http://jonbarron.org/diet-andnutrition/ healthiest-cooking-oil-chart-smokepoints#. VJX5W0AI0EA. For those curious and without internet, Extra virgin olive oil has a smoke point of 320°F, while refined peanut oil, 450°F.