Herb Basics

By Staff
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Raw garlic may provide the best health
benefits, but many people have trouble digesting the herb in its
raw form. Another good option is to roast garlic, which, although
it lacks some of raw garlic’s potent healing power, is delicious,
healthy and much easier on your stomach.

Roasted garlic is tasty spread on crusty breads or used along
with lemon juice in salad dressings. It’s also nice in pesto and
other sauces.

To make roasted garlic, select 6 to 8 heads of garlic. Break off
loose skins, but don’t peel or separate cloves. Rub heads
generously with olive oil. Place in a small skillet or ovenproof
pan and arrange small sprigs of bay, oregano, rosemary, sage and
thyme around garlic. Add white wine or chicken broth so garlic
heads are about halfway submerged. Cover and cook over low heat if
using a skillet; or cover and bake in a 350-degree oven until very
soft. Baste often, adding more wine or broth if needed.

After roasting, the cooked garlic heads should be very soft and
easily mashed or pureed. The garlic will easily slide out of its


Ayurveda, a 5,000-year-old East Indian healing
system, is thought to be the world’s oldest system of medicine.
Ayurvedic practitioners — who aim to create health by nurturing the
body, mind and spirit — commonly recommend the following four

Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera). With a name
that means “the strength of 10 horses,” this herb rejuvenates the
nervous system and is said to provide the vitality and energy of a
horse. It’s also used in treating immune disorders.

Amalaki (Emblica officinalis). One of the
strongest rejuvenating herbs in Ayurvedic medicine, amalaki
strengthens the blood, bones, liver and heart and is the highest
natural source of vitamin C, with 3,000 mg per fruit. Also called
Indian gooseberry.

Bala (Sida cordifolia). This herb is used as a
heart and nerve tonic. It contains alkaloids common to the ephedra
plant but is not as stimulating to the cardiovascular and central
nervous systems. Consult a qualified practitioner before use.

Guggul (Commiphora mukul). The most important
resin used in Ayurvedic medicine, this herb purifies, rejuvenates,
and is said to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Pregnant
women shouldn’t use it without medical supervision.


Most punches are too syrupy sweet to enjoy
without guilt. This fruity and delicious punch is sweetened with
stevia (Stevia rebaudiana), an herb with no calories but an
intensely sweet taste. Stevia is a good substitute for sugar and
artificial sweeteners — it helps normalize blood-sugar levels and
may help reduce cravings for sweets, alcohol and tobacco.


4 cups water
4 black tea bags
1 stevia tea bag or 1 teaspoon stevia leaf
10-ounce bag frozen strawberries
10-ounce bag frozen raspberries
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
Mint sprigs for garnish

In a 2-quart saucepan, bring water to a boil. Remove from heat
and add black tea bags and stevia. Steep 5 minutes; remove tea bags
and strain out any leaves. Cool to room temperature, then
refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Just before serving, puree
fruit and mint with tea in small batches in a blender, using about
1 cup fruit, 3/4 cup tea and 2 tablespoons mint at a time. Pour
into a punch bowl, then ladle into small cups garnished with mint


Common names: Echinacea, purple coneflower,

Latin name: Echinacea spp.

Family: Asteraceae

Part used: Roots, seeds, aboveground parts

Medicinal uses: Echinacea often is used to
boost the immune system, and is effective at treating colds.
Studies have shown the herb lessens the severity of cold symptoms
and shortens a cold’s duration (see “Defeat Cold and Flu Bugs” on
Page 22).

Forms commonly used: Tinctures, capsules,

Side effects: Echinacea is a safe herb for most
people. Those allergic to the pollen of other aster family members,
such as ragweed, also may be allergic to echinacea. Many health
practitioners believe that people with autoimmune diseases (such as
multiple sclerosis and lupus) should not take immune-stimulating

When used as a tincture, echinacea often causes a normal,
harmless tingling sensation on the tongue, which disappears within
a few minutes.

Notes: Although echinacea’s popularity waned
when antibiotics became widely used in the United States, the herb
has remained popular in Europe. In 101 Medicinal Herbs (Interweave,
1998), Steven Foster writes that German physicians prescribed
echinacea more than 2.5 million times in 1993.

Echinacea is easy to grow and is a great choice for dry
climates. It takes a few years for the plant’s roots to grow large
enough to harvest.

Several varieties of echinacea exist, but those most commonly
used for medicinal purposes are E. angustifolia, E. purpurea and E.
pallida. Interesting new cultivars make spectacular garden plants
(see the September 2005 issue of our sister publication, The Herb
Companion), but don’t have the medicinal qualities of the more
traditional varieties.


MSM, or methylsulfonylmethane, is a nutritional
supplement that may relieve rheumatoid and osteoarthritis symptoms.
Some of its benefits may include:

• MSM donates sulfur molecules for the manufacture of collagen,
which helps the body repair the damage from natural daily wear and
tear, or the accelerated damage seen in arthritis. Sulfur levels
tend to be low in people with arthritis.

• Sulfur also is a component of glutathione, the most important
antioxidant made in the body. Low levels of glutathione mean
decreased ability to quench free radicals that contribute to joint

• It reduces muscle spasms around arthritic joints. Muscle
spasms occur in damaged joints as they try to protect themselves
from further damage, and these knots can contribute a great deal to
joint pain.

• MSM relieves inflammation. MSM also may slow down swelling and
scar tissue formation. Sulfur compounds also are thought to remove
excess fluid from sites of inflammation.

• MSM relieves pain. It’s been shown to inhibit the nerve
impulses that send pain messages from injured tissues to the

Source: Mindell, Earl, R.Ph., Ph.D. Easing the Pain of Arthritis
Naturally. Laguna Beach, California: Basic Health Publications,