History of Herbalism

Posted by Merlin on Sep 21, 2008

Herbalism is the use of plants and plant extracts as traditional medicine.  Many plants contain substances that are useful to the health of humans and other animals, including many of the herbs and spices used to season food.

The people of every continent have used plants for the treatment of ailments since prehistoric times.  Healers often claimed to have learned by observing sick animals food prefences.  Such an approach likely found many treatments as well as many sick and dead healers.

Modern herbalism is both much the same, and far removed from its beginnings.  The use of herbs to treat disease is almost universal among non-industrialized societies, and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 80% of the world’s population uses herbal medicine for primary care.

In a recent change, the search for drugs derived from plants has accelerated in industrialized nations. According to the WHO, approximately 25% of drugs used in the US are derived from plants.  And three quarter of plants used for prescription drugs came to researcher attention because of their use in traditional medicine.   

The modern herbalism movement is generally grouped under alternative medicine, also called complementary medicine.  This style of medicine centers on general body health as well as natural methods of focused medicine.

Cooking With Herbs and Spices

Posted by Merlin on Aug 21, 2008

Herbs have a variety of uses including culinary, medicinal, and in some cases spiritual use.  General useage is different with culinary, medicinal and spiritual herbs.  In medicinal and spiritual use, any part of the plant may be considered “herbs”, including the leaves, roots, flowers, resin, seeds, berries or other parts.  In cooking, “herbs” are from the leafy green parts of a plant, and “spices” are from other parts of the plant.

Herbs and spices are used in cooking to complement or change the flavor or aroma of a dish.  Every herb and spice has a unique character, but are many times complementary when used together on a particular meal.  Knowing the combination of herbs and spices for a particular dish is part science and part creative trial and error.

One of the most obvious principles of cooking is that you can’t make filet mignon from rump roast, and that principle applies to herbs and spices as well.  If you season good meat with fresh, high quality herbs and spices, you will end with a gourmet dish.  Use old, low quality herbs and spices on that same meat, and you likely will be disappointed with the result.   

Herbs and spices begin to lose their active ingredients as soon as they are crushed or otherwise prepared for the meal.  That means that the flavor, aroma, and medicinal effects begin to drop long before you get them to your kitchen in a jar.