They are aromatic plants used in medicine or in seasoning.
For thousands of years, herbs have been used to remedy a wide range of health problems and to maintain good health.
Aspirin, tranquilizers, and laxatives all have their roots in herbal remedies.
Pharmaceutical firms routinely scour primitive jungles and other exotic locations for plants that may someday lead to new wonder drugs.
But Joyce Ruckle of Cool Ridge does not need to travel to the Amazon forests to find the herbs she is looking for.
Chances are, they are growing in her own backyard.
Joyce’s fascination with herbs began when she was a child.
“I’ve always had a personal interest in herbs,” she explains. “They were always part of daily cooking at our house. Mother’s kitchen was laden with the aromatic plants. They were always in the home.”
Joyce recalls getting chamomile tea when she was a child. “The tea is noted for calming restless children,” she says. “My grandmother gave it to me in the evenings before bedtime.”
Joyce says she now enjoys more leisure time than her parents and grandparents did.
But she spends much of her time researching the process for drying a variety of herbs the way they were prepared in the past.
And like her forebears, Joyce uses many of the herbs for health reasons. “Most all the culinary herbs are good for you. They increase your blood flow, metabolism, and they decrease your blood pressure.
“Garlic fights off a good many cold symptoms, and is good for your heart, good for your respiratory system. I use it nearly every meal.”
Joyce likes fresh herbs for salads. “Basil, rosemary, and tarragon make good combinations,” she says.
Even so, Joyce cautions persons about using herbs that are considered stimulants–such as rosemary–if they suffer from high blood pressure.
“Some herbs can cause allergic reactions, especially in children, and people need to be aware of their dangers. The oils are volatile in fresh material, and I always warn people about that.”
Joyce did quite a bit of research about herbs before she started growing and using them.
Herbs basically are described as perennial plants whose soft or succulent stems die down to ground level every year.
A modern definition of an herb could be any plant, generally aromatic or fragrant, whose parts–whether leaf, flower, seed, or root–are of use in food flavoring, medicine, or cosmetics.
Joyce uses herbs mainly for cooking.
But she, too, has found a variety of uses for the herbs she cultivates in her backyard garden.
“I use herbs to make insect repellent for the home or to spray on the body,” she explains. “Others can be used cosmetically–in facial oils, or for bath or shower, even for lotion.
“Lavender and rosemary are two of the most popular for the bath. They work well for the skin, and they are easy to grow.”
How many kinds of herbs does she use in her home?
In the culinary line, Joyce has 10 favorite herbs: they are basil, thyme, oregano, sage, rosemary, cilantro, dill, parsley, garlic, and fennel.
These all are grown in a 12-foot-by-24-foot garden near her house.
Joyce’s herbs are grown from seeds, except for rosemary, which is grown from sprigs, and for tarragon which is grown from corms or bulbs.
Herbs, she says, are more popular now than they have ever been, partly because of the mysticism and legend that surrounds them, gathered in centuries.
Another reason is because of a tremendous surge towards using natural and unadulterated food and medicine.
Aromatic herbs are the ones most used in cooking.
Culinary seeds can be obtained from local stores that sell garden supplies.
Miscellaneous herbs stored in Joyce’s kitchen include pennyroyal, lavender, chamomile, bee balm, tansy, and spearmint. “These are good for hot or cold tea,” she explains.
“Catnip also makes a good tea.”
Pennyroyal, lavender, and tansy are good insect repellents for the home.
Joyce has her own recipes for preparing the mysterious plants.
Tansy: cut it fresh, drop it in a pot of boiling water, let it simmer for 30 minutes; put it in a spray bottle with a few drops of alcohol; spray it on yourself to keep the bugs away.
Lavender: cut fresh, bind it together with strings, placed in drawers with clothing, repels moths and gives clothes a nice fresh scent.
Pennyroyal does the same: dry it first, put it in a bag, works well for moth control and it smells good.
Joyce adds, “When I am working in the garden, and the bugs are getting bad, I just reach down and grab a few sprigs of pennyroyal and mash them in my hand and rub it on my hands and face. It keeps insects away.”
For winter storage, Joyce advises that herbs must be dried and kept in airtight containers.
“I also cut small portions of herbs late in the season and freeze them in zip lock bags so that I always have a semi-fresh supply of herbs if I need them.”
Growing your own herbs can be economical, too.
“In the long run, it could save you money,” Joyce says. “A small patch can produce more herbs than you can use in a year.”
She adds, “That’s where gift giving comes in, too. All the extra herbs you have left over at the end of the year make wonderful Thanksgiving and Christmas gifts.
“People love getting them. All you must do is take a paper bag and punch a hole in the top and write on the bag what it is, put a ribbon on it. People just love it.”