The history of herbs is vast, and the list of benefits of these plants is almost as long.
It is reported that in about 2000 BC the first interpretation of herbs was documented in Babylon, where Egyptians imported herbs, spices and aromatic oils from, as well as from India. Eventually, ancient Greeks also wrote about their understanding and use of herbs, the most important writings being those of Hippocrates, “the father of medicine”. Setting the pattern for modern medicine, Hippocrates taught about the value of herbs in easing pain and curing diseases. However, herbs had been in use long before people started keeping records.
South Africa has an abundance of indigenous herbal plants that can be used for culinary or health purposes.
“South Africa is the third most biodiverse country in the world and inhabitants have for centuries employed the help of indigenous medicinal plants. These healing plants treated all sorts of maladies, including cancer, diabetes and tuberculosis as well as more benign complaints such as the common cold, arthritis, menstrual problems, stomach issues to warding off lightning, evil powers and chase away mosquitoes and dogs”. – South Africa Online
African traditional healers have vast knowledge about ancient African healing plants, yet little is documented and some of the plants are disappearing due to deforestation. South Africa has a few plants that were initially used in herbalism or traditional medicine and are now used in western medicine after scientific research supported their healing properties. Such plants are Pennywort/ varkoortjies, Coral Tree/ umsinsi, Madagascar periwinkle/ isisushlungu, Kouterie/ imphewula as well as Hoodia/ bitterghaap.
To fully enjoy our herbal abundance, grow your own herb garden. Fortunately, herbs don’t need much space – a pot plant does well on a window sill. Simply repurpose an old container, add organic potting soil and your plant of choice and, with a bit of love and tending, you’ll have yourself fresh herbs at hand. Boil some to produce aromatic oils, enjoy a herbal cuppa in the evenings for good sleep and take advantage of all the health benefits.
Here are a few tips on how you can use them and make them stretch.
Infuse into oils
Using a bottle that has been disinfected, place your herb of choice into the bottle and pour in your favourite culinary oil, like olive or avocado oil. Place this in a cool dry place for about a week or two and use as a salad dressing or with pasta or bread. Remember to wash and dry your herb to prevent bacterial growth. Our favourite for this is Rosemary, but we advise you to experiment – especially with hardy/ leafy herbs.
Sage butter was recommended to us by one of our customers, and it is a hit! Using unsalted butter, add your herbs, a bit of finely chopped garlic, salt and pepper to taste and a couple of teaspoons of lemon – and mix it all in a saucepan on low heat. Sage, parsley or dill make good flavours for butter.
We all know how important H20 is for us but for some, it is easier said than done. Try adding herbs and fruits to your water to add flavour instead of store-bought, flavoured water. Think mint and grapefruit or strawberries and basil. A good looking jug of water might make you more inclined to drink your 8 daily glasses.
Add to smoothies
Especially for winter, herbs that boost immunity and prevent colds and flu can be taken with your smoothies. We’ve been experimenting with mint, fennel and lemon verbena, and the results are yummy.
Good old Google showed up with this trick. Add together finely chopped parsley, cumin, olive oil, a garlic clove, chilli flakes and a squeeze of lemon, and you have magic. This can be added to all sorts of dishes or used as a condiment. Add a bit of salt and pepper to taste.
Freeze your herbs
For hardy herbs like oregano, thyme, rosemary and sage, freeze in oil in ice cubes and pop them out for your everyday cooking as a herby base. Separate a couple of leaves into ice trays, cover with your choice of cooking oil and stick in the freezer. Oil is recommended instead of water to prevent freezer burn.
An oldie but a goodie. Take fresh herbs and string the stems, place them upside down in a cool dry place for about a week or until the leaves start to crumble. This is great for creating your own special spice mixes. Dried herbs like marjoram, thyme and rosemary are good for cooking, and dried lemon verbena and mint are great for herbal tea.
Herbs can be enjoyed in so many ways, so have fun and play with how you use them. And if you have any great tips, leave us a comment!