These are a selection of herbs which I have enjoyed growing and using and recommending to others over a period of years. They come mainly from the English and European traditions which continue to be relevant to current culinary trends and health needs, and it is now time for
me to include some of the delicious Asian plants as well
Most of the photos are of herbs from my current garden in Ocean Shores with a few from the garden of my friend Ursula nearby. The featured image above is the beautiful turmeric flower. The Turmeric root is now playing an invaluable role in natural medicine, treating many conditions.
I originally collated this information as background material for a talk I gave at the Ocean Shores Garden Club a few years ago.
I hope you enjoy leafing through it and find it useful.
Try keeping a print-out on handy in the kitchen for reference when cooking.
Aloe Vera is a powerful medicinal plant belonging to the Lilly family. Grows well in indirect sunlight. Keep a pot near the kitchen for first aid. Its gel is excellent for minor cuts, scalds and bruises and also sunburn.
The plant contains a rich, complex chemistry with a vast list of healing applications, both internally and externally, capable of benefiting all organs and cell tissues.
It can inhibit pain and allergies, ease inflammation and itching, helps close cuts, destroy parasites, harmful bacteria and fungi in the intestines. It can soften and penetrate the skin to reach tendons, muscles and joints and the lymphatic system. It helps to normalize fluid levels and acid/alkaline balance and activate the immune system when needed.
Drink a quarter of a glass of aloe juice with a quarter of a glass of apple juice twice daily for internal use. Apply its jelly generously to burns and itchy rashes.
Take the time to explore Isabell Shiphard’s website under ‘Herbs are Special’ for more details on most of the plants included.
BASIL species – is an annual. Assists sleep by easing nervous irritability, eases indigestion, can ease migraines, esp. in
summer, clearing the head, helps to disinfect the bowel and expel worms.
Sow sweet basil, lemon basil and greek basil outdoors. Bush basil is good indoors in pots – and also discourages flies!
Pinch out the centre stem for bushier growth, and water carefully during the heat of the day to stop wilting.
When cooking with it, add towards the end to avoid bitterness. Perfect with tomatoes, fresh or cooked!
BAY LAUREL tree.
It is a famous sacred tree from ancient times – remember the Laurel Wreath. Use a couple of Its leaves regularly in soups and stews, – it helps to revive the appetite and digestive juices, regulating the stomach and upper intestine as well as improving flavour.
Leaves can be used fresh or dried. The dried leaves are best used while still green and are stronger than the fresh leaves. remember to remove them from the dish before serving.
Sip an infusion of bay leaves after meals if needed for flatulence or indigestion.
BORAGE. Borago officinalis – also known as Star Flower.
Borage is prized as a beautiful tradition medicinal plant. It is a self-seeding fairly bushy annual with bright starry blue flowers that are edible so can be used as decoration. The leaves have a mild cucumber flavour and make a pleasant tea.
Plant it near strawberries to increase their fruit yields and attract bees and certain helpful wasps.
A small leaved perennial ground cover which spreads along up to 10 cms, with tiny white flowers, so provides good ground cover. Propagate it by seed, cuttings or root division. It likes damp spots. Feed with seaweed solution. or organic fertilizer. It is frost sensitive. Looks good in hanging baskets.
It is a valuable natural medicinal, very popular for assisting the memory, being a cardiac, nerve and brain tonic. Often combined with Gingko Biloba in capsule form.
Use as a tea, with sweetener if needed. A tincture can be made by soaking dried leaves in vodka or brandy for a month and decanting. Suggested dose: one teaspoonful daily to help reduce those ‘senior’s moments’!
Is a popular Asian herb used in many dishes – hot and cold. It is an annual with a strong pleasant flavour. It stimulates digestion, reduces flatulence, dysentery, and garlic breath. Is a mild diuretic, and assists with maintaining cholesterol balance. (so-called “bad cholesterol ‘ is no more than damaged cholesterol caused by stress and poor nutrition which builds up along the walls of blood vessels and can be reduced through good nutrition – particularly anti-oxidents.)
Thai Coriander, also called Saw-tooth Coriander. A biennial that has a similar flavour and properties, though very different in appearance, has the advantage of being able to be dried and stored. Fine in both hot and cold dishes especially fish.
Chives – a mild natural antibiotic, which strengthens the stomach. They help to combat high blood pressure, tone the kidneys, and act as an appetizer, assisting in fat digestion (e.g. Cholesterol balance). Improve many dishes, especially salads and egg dishes.
Onion Chives are a perennial. Nip the flowers as they appear. They grow bushier with constant use, picking from the base. Feed in autumn for winter use, which keeps them growing all year. If they do die off mark the spot till they appear again in spring
Garlic Chives are also antiseptic and deter germs that enter via the breath. Use daily with fresh parsley for a fresh breath. Their leaves are flatter than the onion chives.
Store by quick freezing. Coffee grounds, sprinkled around, act as a tonic for better growth of all chives. Also remember to use coffee grounds around seedling as a general deterrent for snails etc.
Chamomile is a perennial groundcover, which produces small yellow flowers in its second year, and from then on in spring and summer. It can spread into a lawn and invigorates other plants if grown among them. Pick the flowers carefully in dry weather.
It is best known as a soothing tea, high in calcium for digestion and magnesium for relaxing muscle.
Use two teabags steeped for 5 minutes in a cup of boiled water an hour before retiring for about a week in order to break an insomnia pattern, using a little honey or stevia drops for sweetness if needed. Add a brew to bath water for inflamed skin and sunburn. Use as a hair rinse to brighten up fair hair.
CALENDULA officianalis or POT MARIGOLD
This is a great disinfecting healing herb. Make a tincture of the petals of this annual by pressing them into a glass jar. Cover with brandy and leave for a month before decanting, bottling and labelling.
Excellent too for bruising. It is easy to add the tincture to a cream base and keep a pot handy in the first aid kit – or purchase from a health food store.
Grow it in full sun, adding lime or dolomite to alkalize the soil. It and all the marigolds will help deter pests in the garden. Decorate salads with the flowers – they are edible.
CHERVIL – Anthriscus cerefolium.
Chervil is a small delicate herb with a mild aniseed flavour that likes a sunny spot with some shade, moist well-drained soil, and plenty of nourishment in spring and summer, and will grow well in a pot. It is versatile and tasty and deserves to be used more often than it is.
Add to salads and as a garnish – great in omelettes and many other dishes.
It can act as a tonic and mild diuretic, detoxifying and strengthening the body while cleansing it. It stimulates appetite and digestion.
A chervil decoction made with boiled, filtered water can also be used as an eyewash for irritated eyes.
COMFREY . Symphytum officianalis, or Knitbone
Is a very valuable herb therapeutically, rapidly healing damaged tissue and encouraging cell proliferation. It is a great source of Calcium and also Vitamin B 12, therefore helpful for vegetarians.
Add a couple of leaves to green smoothies, and also add any leftover bits of the plants to compost to hasten its break down.
It has multiple uses, from skin ulcers to sprains. Pulped leaves are safe to use as a poultice, bandaged onto an affected area.
Dig surplus foliage into garden soil to provide Calcium and Nitrogen.
Search Isabel Shiphard’s website under “Herbs List” for excellent information on this and many other plants..
CURRY LEAVES Murraya Koenigli – also known as sweet neem leaves.
The curry bush can be grown in a pot or in the ground. The flavour of the leaves are enhanced by quick frying in olive oil (and onion). Great in curries though not spicy.
Leaves can be stored in the freezer if well wrapped.
The plant has a role in ayurvedic medicine as an anti-diabetic.
Plant its fresh seeds in a pot after removing the pulp from the reddish berries. making sure to keep the soil moist. It can also be propagated from cuttings.
DILL Anethum graveolens
The bulbous root is delicious eaten fresh in salads or roasted and the feathery leaves chopped finely make a garnish,or throw it in the water when simmering broad beans.
The seeds of dill are the main part of the plant used medicinally.
Soak one ounce (two tablespoonfuls) of bruised seeds in a pint of cold water for 6 hours and sweetening with honey.
Adult dose is one tablespoonful, and one teaspoonful for children whenever needed. It acts as an antispasmodic, calming digestive.
Remember when Dill Water or Gripe water was given for babies’ colic? Dill also cleans the breath.
DANDELION Taraxacum officionale
True dandelion plants have a single flower and hollow stem and pointed, hairless leaves.
Both leaves and roots have valuable healing properties for the liver and kidneys. Use a few leaves in a salad with chives, parsley, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. The dried root granules make a tasty nutritious coffee, minus the caffeine.
Roots can be dried in an oven after one year’s growth. Add a pinch of salt to improve flavour.
ELDER OR ELDERBERRY
Is not strictly a herb but a shrub, is easily propagated and the flowers dried and stored. It is found in herbals because of its medicinal and culinary uses from time immemorial.
The honey scented flowers make a sweet flavoured tea which promotes perspiration and when lime leaves and chamomile flowers are added, are ideal for treating a mild cold or fever and is safe for children.
All parts of the plant can be used, the berries for wine, the flower heads battered.
Birds love to eat and get drunk on the purple-red berries, so take care not to let them spread into the bush.
Also known as Pennywort or Indian Ginseng.
It is a perennial often regarded as a weed but it makes a good ground-cover and can be found growing in most gardens.
Select the leaves – ideally the ones that have a pink petiole stem – for use to deter arthritis and encourage longevity. Include in a daily herbal tea. There is a saying that chewing 2 leaves a day keeps arthritis away!
It is rich both in vitamins and a long list of minerals.
HERB ROBERT or CRANESBILL
Herb Robert (or Cranesbill) is a delicate looking plant with stems branching out in all directions. It has dainty pink flowers with seed receptacles that look like birds beaks, hence the name cranesbill.
The seed are widely dispersed when the bills spring open, making it easy to cultivate through the garden.
It is a very versatile therapeutic herb, with many medicinal properties and uses worth researching. See Isabel Shiphard’s site.
HORSERADISH – From the Brassicaceae family.
The taproot is where the most intense flavour is and is the part of the plant used for culinary and medicinal purposes. Plant in cool, moist deep soil, about 2 ft. deep. Add sand, compost and blood and bone, and take care to keep snails away from the leaves.
It stimulates the liver and digestion and reduces flatulence. It acts as a diuretic and can benefit diabetics. It helps the lymphatic system to stay clear if used regularly, so reducing tendency to seasonal hayfever and allergies.
It is a hardy perennial but its seeds are rarely viable. It is an extremely powerful stimulant, a great spring-cleaning herb. It has antibiotic and germ killing properties, protecting the intestine from harmful bacteria, purifying the bloodstream and reducing inflammation.
Wasabi or Japanese horseradish is also a perennial from the Brassicaceae family. The whole herb is used. It has a very strong taste and pungent odour similar to horseradish, clearing the head and bringing tears to the eyes. It is now being grown commercially in Tasmania.
It is valuable as an antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant. Can be used for coughs, colds, sinusitis, and diarrhoea. It stimulates appetite, clears toxins and inhibits blood clots.
So remember to always eat your sushi rolls with a little wasabi and ginger as well as tamari sauce!
LEMON BALM or Bee Balm – one of the mints.
It brings bees to the garden to help fertilize plants and fruit trees.
The tea helps with studying, clearing the head, sharpening memory and understanding. Use an ounce of fresh leaves to a pint of boiling water for five minutes or add the leaves to ordinary tea. Add the leaves, together with mint to apple juice, lemon juice and lemonade for a cooling summer drink.
Sow by seeds in Spring or by root division in Autumn and Spring. Soak the seeds for 24 hours before planting in full sunlight, using plenty of water.
A fast growing , sun loving grass with thirsty roots, resembling flax in appearance and growth habit.
Lemongrass is rich in Vitamin A, so drink the tea to encourage clear skin and bright eyes.
Slice up the leaves and add to boiling water. Add honey and a drop of lemon juice. It makes an ideal nightcap, and can make chamomile more palatable.
The roots are also a delicious addition to rice dishes – a favourite in Asian cooking.
This South American plant likes a warm climate and well-drained soil, so is happy in a pot, and gentle pruning in spring.
Lemon Verbena has beautifully scented leaves.
It can be used as a refreshing tea, either hot or cold or simply add to other teas and dishes for its lemon flavour.
LION’s TAIL – LEONATUS LEONURUS or Wild Dagga
This plant can grow a metre high or more. and very broadly in full sunlight and produces decorative orange and white flowers
A tea made from Its leaves has a calming effect and can be sipped to lessen high blood pressure It is mildly psychoactive.
MARJORAM Origanum marjorana and OREGANO Origananum vulgare
Marjoram and oregano are powerful antiseptic herbs, and with regular use can help the body maintain resistance to disease. They are hardy perennials that like sunshine and light soil. Cut and dry and store before flowering.
Both are widely used especially in Mediterranean cooking and have a natural affinity for tomato dishes. Oregano or wild marjoram is the parent stock and is the stronger one.
Hang in bunches to dry, then store the leaves in sealed glass containers. Keep the stems to throw on the barbecue!
A tea acts as an internal antiseptic for tummy upsets, being antibacterial. Chew the leaves for toothache. Simmer a handful of leaves in one cup of water and rub into the scalp if hair is falling out.
The MINT family.
Peppermint (mentha piperata), the most widely used of the mints, is a stimulating, cooling digestive mint, and helps with flatulence by sipping the tea slowly for 5 minutes.
It stimulates bile secretion helping to emulsify fats and reduce gallstones and easing constipation.
Spearmint (Mentha Spicata) is also an excellent member of the mint family with similar properties and probably has the better flavour.
Apple mint (Mentha suaveolens) is great in cooling summer drinks, and chocolate mint is also fun to use.
Eau de Cologne mint goes well in the bath.
Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) is an attractive, fresh smelling groundcover, ideal for borders, as it is a powerful pest deterrent and insecticide. Plant near ants nests. Its flavour is very strong so use very sparingly as a garnish.
The mints need plenty of water but also good drainage and some shade. Cut down vertically through the root runners to promote growth.
Plant all mints away from one another to avoid hybridizing.
MUSHROOM PLANT – Rungia kiosii.
A perennial herb which prefers growing in shade. Use the leaves to add a muhroom-like flavour to ssalads, stir-frys and soups at the end of cooking. It is high in Vitamin A, Calcium and iron and has more protein content than mushrooms.
MOTHER OF HERBS – Plectranthus Ambionicus. also known by lots of other names – 5 spice herb, 5 in one herb, Cuban or Puerto Riccan Oregano.
is a sprawling aromatic herb with a mauvy-pink flower that is very easy to grow, spreading much like a succulent and needing very little water, and is propagated by cuttings or root division; it is useful as a ground cover or in rockeries, or as a border along the vegie garden if you need to keep brush turkeys at bay. – seems they have an aversion to its aroma! Same family as dogbane which discourages dogs in a similar way.
The variegated version with a white of pink edging has the advantage of growing more slowly ( less chlorophyll in the leaves). – and it looks good in a hanging basket.
Mother of herbs has a number of simple medicinal uses. Chop up a leaf and steep in boiling water to drink for insomnia, or put a large leaf on the forehead to ease a headache. Chew a leaf to soothe a sore throat. It is an astringent that has anti-inflammatory, anti- catarrhal and anti-diarrhoeal and anti-viral properties.
Parsley is the most widely used of all herbs, rich in multi vitamins and minerals – worth studying for its many healing properties. It is especially rich in Iron and Vitamin C. It can help regulate menstrual cycles and also protect against carcinogens in fried food.
Chop the stems of parsley finely and add to salads and stews as well in order to get maximum benefit, but remember, overcooking will cause Vit.C loss. Parsley and basil should be stirred in to a dish just when nearly cooked. This will avoid bitterness as well.
Italian flat-leafed parsley and curly leafed parsley are equally valuable. Their flavours are just a little different.
ROSEMARY Rosemarinus officianalis and Prostratus
The Herb of Remembrance is yet another brain and memory strengthener. It is used in true eau de cologne as well as neroli and has great benefit to skin and hair. Its oil is the best hair conditioner. Simply rub it straight into the scalp.
Its perfume will also help clear the head and a little on the temples can shift a tension headache.
Rosemary grows best in full sun in sandy loam, preferably near salt water. It grows easily from cuttings.
(Also called Honey Leaf and Honey Yerba) is a small green shrub of the chrysanthemum
family. It is a perennial, growing from 60 to 100cms.high, producing small, white flowers.
Three drops of the liquid extract in a cup of tea replaces one teaspoon of sugar, and adds protein, fibre, complex carbohydrates and vitamins, but no calories.
It can control appetite and suppress sweet cravings by regulating and balancing blood sugar levels. It also assists in preventing tooth decay.
Crush the leaves very finely and use sparingly in cooking when substituting for sugar. The drops and powder are available in pharmacies and health food stores. It is the answer to sugar and artificial sweeteners.
The Japanese, who can teach us much about good nutrition, have banned the use of artificial sweeteners and now rely on Stevia for 40% of their sweetened products.
SAGE Salvia officianalis
Sage grows well in poor dry soil in the sun as long as it is alkaline.
It is calming, and strengthens the brain and the heart and quickens the memory and the senses, so drink it as a regular tea for longevity!
Put a teaspoonful of dried herbs or two teaspoons of fresh leaves in a cup of boiling water, and steep for 5 minutes.
This is the time needed for all herbal teas to give of their best. It is also used to strengthen the gums.
The use of sage in stuffing helps to break down fats and oils in the meat. It is good too in vegetable and cheese dishes.
All varieties of thyme are perennials and are edible and valuable medicinally. They thrive in the garden with heat and good drainage.
Garden thyme, thymus vulgaris, produces the best oil and is a powerful germicide.
Thyme tea made with the fresh leaves is excellent for sore throats, colds and mouthwashes and is often gargled.
Lemon thyme, thymus citrodorus,
It has many uses in cookery – is delicious with meats, fish and vegetables, especially when a lemony flavour is needed. Try it in scrambled eggs with a little ricotta mixed in, making it smooth and creamy.
TANSY – Tanacetum vulgare – sometimes called Bitter Buttons.
Tansy is a mineral rich herb with feathery leaves and yellow button like flowers.
Its leaves provide many elements otherwise missing from other plants, so organic gardeners use a few leaves in compost, together with yarrow and comfrey leaves.
Tansy helps to speedily breakdown compost and enrich it. Tansy thrives in difficult spots in the garden.
Bruise it leaves and spread around to deter ants, fleas, other nuisance insects, and even rodents.
Some other pest deterrents that are easy to spread through the herb and vegie garden are Pyrethrum daisies, Nasturtiums and marigolds.
Tarragon is an easily grown perennial propagated by root division. or seeds in the case of Mexican Tarragon.
It has an aniseed flavour, great to use with chicken, fish and eggs, and in Bearnaise sauce.
The French variety is prized in Europe for cooking, and the Mexican Tarragon, which has a bright yellow flower, grows very well in hot humid conditions.
Tarragon vinegar can be easily made by adding the bruised leaves to cider vinegar, or simply insert a stalk into a bottle of oil and vinegar dressing, after first gently bruising the leaves.
Sprinkle finely chopped leaves over salads and other dishes to help promote appetite when needed for convalescing.
YARROW Achillea millifolium (pink or white flowers) & A. tormentosa (yellow flowers)
Yarrow grows in showy, thousand-leaved tufted clumps that spread readily and enhances the health of nearby plants.
Use the leaves and flowers to brew a tea which can be sipped to relieve all bodily weaknesses caused by infectious diseases and any prolonged debilitating illness. Drink it hot at bedtime to break a cold or fever or to prevent cramps after exercise in cold weather.
Use as a safe tea in combination with elder flowers and rose hips for children’s’ colds and fevers. Get started with a cup of the tea on those mornings when you don’t feel like facing the day. It also goes well with dandelion.
It also acts as a styptic, so a leaf applied to a small cut can help to staunch bleeding.
VIETNAMESE MINT or Vietnamese Coriander’ Persicara odorata.
A tropical fast-growing perennial ,very popular in Thai and Vietnamese dishes, picked fresh and finely chopped,- better in spring rolls than ordinary mint. has plenty of flavour and a pleasant, fresh perfume.
It likes a warm, damp climate, They say if it wilts it’s time to water the whole garden! It needs regular pruning, and is often grown in a pot. Its flowers are pink and the stems a reddy colour.
Medicinally, it has anti- inflammatory, antibacterial and astringent properties and may be helpful with catarrh and diarrhoea.
Try sipping a mild tea made with a few leaves in boiling water.
WINTER SAVOURY OR MOUNTAIN SAVOURY – Satureja Montana.
I first grew this herb in my first herb garden in Wagga about 50 years ago and have recently rediscovered it.
It is a hardy bushy easily cultivated perennial growing to about 30 cm. in height and will grow from cuttings. It likes a sunny spot in moist well drained soil. good too in rockeries and borders and in pots. It has small white flowers in summer and likes a good prune after flowering.
It has a savoury flavour and is very popular in bean dishes. one reason I imagine is because its flavour replaces the need for salt and pepper, and beans grow harder and more slowly if cooked in salt.
Summer Savoury – A relative, popular on the mediterranean coast, is an annual and grows from seed, so needs more attention than winter savoury, and also has an excellent flavour.
Both can successfully treat bee and wasp stings by rubbing the bite with a crushed leaf.
It is a quick growing annual which enjoys sun and lots of moisture. It has a sharp peppery taste.
Sprinkle in chopped fresh leaves to give zest to salads, soups and egg dishes.
ZA’ATAR – Za’atar origanum syriacum
Za’atar, or Za’atar origanum syriacum, is a Middle Eastern Herb.
It is the main ingredient in a blend of herbs making up an Arabian condiment, also known commonly as Za’atar which usually consists of thyme, savoury and sumac, together with sesame seeds and salt.
It is a delicious addition to many vegetable dishes, or in dips with oil and pita bread. Try mixing it into a blend of ricotta and feta cheese to enhance a mediterranean salad.. Grow the plant in full sunlight.
Isabell Shipard, a well known Queensland herbalist, gives lots of information about Za’atar in her excellent book, ‘ How can I use herbs in my daily life.’
Dorothy Hall’s Book Of Herbs
Herbs for Health and Cookery by Claire Loewenfield and Phillipa Black
Herbal Remedies by Christopher Hedley and Non Shaw
“How can I use Herbs in my life” by Isabel Shiphard. Book and website.
Post script. While updating this article I was saddened to hear that Isabel died in November 2014. She has bequeathed to us a very rich body of practical knowledge and love of edible plants.
Please feel free to add any tidbits about the herbs in the Comments space provided below the glossary. It’s good to share the knowledge.