Sunday, August 10, 2008

Are There Herbs Around Your House?

Have you ever wondered how life was for the pioneers who lived long ago? Has your mind ever pondered the question about how they survived without the modern technologies we take for granted today? What did they use for dyes, fragrance, spices and medicine? Well, after studying and researching I was amazed to discover how they made use of their surroundings, nature and herbs.

When the world began people didn't know why herbs cured certain diseases, helped aid in the healing of wounds or worked as a pain reliever. People began experimenting with herbs, and soon they discovered they had a substance at their disposal that was good for a variety of things. Once the word was out I can only imagine they treated this natural substance as gold. In a sense to them it was more precious than gold; it was hope for the dying. The Bible says, "He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man, that he may bring forth food out of the earth," Psalms 104:14.

Herbs have been around forever, but it has taken us thousands of years to discover their total beauty and use. People have been utilizing herbs as far back as the Bible days and the search continues on today. What are herbs? You would be amazed at the household items you use every day that consist of herbs. With their texture, taste, fragrance and color they are used in a variety of ways. Lotions, soaps, moisturizers, aftershave, hair care, facials, cleansers, seasons, candles, incense, perfumes, breath sweeteners, potpourris, sachets, medicines, tea, ink, glue, snuff and insect repellent.

Some herbal names you may recognize are myrrh, mistletoe, St. Johns Wort, thyme, onion, parsley, rose, rosemary, mint, coffee, cloves, chamomile, aloe, bay, birch, ginger, cinnamon, garlic, dandelions, eucalyptus. There are many more herbs but the list is too great to name. You probably use one type or another of herbs in your everyday life, but are unaware of their presence.

Herbs were first used for medicine. These plants were known for their healing effect and soon people caught on to this and started experimenting with them. Some herbs act as stimulants and others sedatives. They are used to treat things such as urinary disorders, sexual disorders, venereal disease, insomnia, hemorrhoids, constipation, minor stomach aches, kidney problems, memory, fatigue, blood pressure and headaches, etc.

Herbs are also used as a soothing agent in bath water in helping aching and sore joints. Some add it to their bath for the fragrance and feel. Many hair care companies have discovered herbs to be an asset to their shampoos, conditioners and gels. They look nice and work well when used in crafts too. When these plants are dried they make a perfect tool for making woven baskets, bouquets and dried wreaths.

The most common herbs that we know of today are the ones you use in your kitchen. Basil, chives, cinnamon, cloves, sage and parsley are only a few that are used as cooking agents. Take cinnamon, for instance; it's sweet and comes whole or ground. This is a common name amongst cooks and is an asset to any spice rack. The cinnamon comes from a small tender evergreen tree. Their leaves are bright red but with maturity turn green. The inner bark when dried would curl into sticks, called cinnamon sticks. Some cultures use it to stimulate flavors of carrots, spinach, onions, apricots, cherries, apples, etc. Children enjoy candy made of cinnamon because of its unique flavor. The taste of cinnamon is bitter-sweet. With its delightful smell, potpourri is also made out of this spice. It has been recommended by herbalist that this spice helps aid in digestion and relieves vomiting. Thousands of years ago it has been said that cinnamon was also used in the embalming mixture.

Herbs are also used for dyes. If you've been searching for that perfect color then consider using herbs. By boiling these plants you can create many colors such as yellow, green and orange. For example boom, dandelion, and dock herbs produce yellow colors while bloodroot makes an orange. After boiling the herb and following a few steps you can dye things such as yarn.

Some people use herbs to create a beautiful garden. They are often used in landscaping adding a special beauty to any yard. One example is a theme garden. By separating your herbs by the ones used to create fragrance, dyes, medicinal, cooking and color you can create a beautiful, useful garden you can be proud of. Herbs have been known for keeping pests such as caterpillars out of gardens. They can also improve the flavor of a plant nearby and have been known to kill neighbor plants. If you weren't born with a green thumb don't worry. Growing herbs is actually easier than growing vegetables. Some types of herbs need a well-drained, sunny area with plenty of room with fertile soil. Raised beds or containers are best when used to help with drainage. Other herbs prefer the shade and can survive in damp soil.
It has been told that Mary used herbs to stuff the bed that Christ laid in many years ago. Today people also use them to stuff pillows or beds because they aid sleep problems with their soothing vapors.

A common herb that we use today is the aloe plant. It's described as having long, tapering, fleshy leaves that when broken expose sap. Aloe is traced back 2,000 years ago when it was first used for medicine. People would apply aloe to wounds. Some believed it helped stop hair loss and so they applied this sap to their scalp. It was also used to help with constipation, insomnia, hemorrhoids, headaches and more. Today the most common use for the aloe plant is treating burns and poison ivy. Aloe has also been used to help clear up warts. It has a distinctive smell and soothing feel, and can be found in lotions, shampoos, shaving cream, face cream and many more things.

Another common herb to us today is eucalyptus. This comes from a tree that shimmers and has silver leaves and a creamy bark. There are over 500 species of eucalyptus. Since this tree has an ability to store water in its roots, to some people it has became a source of drinking water. The oil from the eucalyptus possesses a cooling taste. It has a spicy odor and is clear or pale yellow in color. This oil has an active germicide with the qualities of an antiseptic and astringent. The oil can be used as an antibacterial but must be diluted. The eucalyptus is mainly used for respiratory problems.

When gathering fresh herbs, pick or snip the young leaves or whole sprigs if the plant is large enough. Be careful not to over-pick too many leaves from just one stem or from very young plants. The herbs are richest in aromatic oils when they are just coming into bloom and so this is the best time to harvest the plants. You can dry your herbs by hanging them. Take caution when purchasing too many dried herbs because their lifespan is limited.

Pests and diseases are a problem for herb gardens. Certain flies, caterpillars and leafhoppers are troublesome to such tender plants. You can spray to aid with this problem. But disease has a long-term effects on the herbs.

If you wish to learn more about herbs and their uses go to your local library and check out their unlimited resources on the subject or search the Web by going to a search engine and typing in the word "herbs."

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