Spice Up Your Wellness Goals with Herbs!


“And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food.”  -Genesis 1:29 (NKJV)

Herbs & spices have a rich history in humankind’s every day experience. Herbs & spices have been highly traded, highly valued, & highly important to the world of naturopathic & holistic medicine (not to mention the world of culinary arts). Let’s first consider some fun facts about herbs & spices you may have never known before.

For as long as there has been an earth there have been herb & spices. Drawings & depictions of herbs dating between 13,000 B.C. & 25,000B.C. have been found on cave paintings in France! Anthropological researchers believe that the use of fragrant plants (in this case herbs) in making healing ointments with olive & sesame oils began as early as 7000B.C. By the 28th century B.C., Egyptians & Sumerians were writing about herbs & by 700 B.C., Greek merchants were economically secure thanks to incredible heavy trade in marjoram, thyme, & sage in the city of Athens’ open markets. Trading which continued to expand through time as new plants were discovered. Meanwhile, the Romans used herbs & spices, brought by boat for trade with India, for perfume, cosmetics, medicine, & cooking. Fast forward about 300 years later. Hippocrates- well regarded as the Father of Medicine- extensively studied the many uses of plants (herbs & spices) to treat diseases in the body. In all, Hippocrates cataloged & noted these uses for over 400 herbs commonly used in that time. Greeks carried on with the study of these fragrant plants & introduced the use of herbs still being used in our modern day culture- among them fennel, parsley, mint, bay leaf, St. John’s Wort, saffron, & “mountain tea” (Tsai Tou Vounou)- as relief from gastrointestinal disorders, digestive issues, bad breath, body odor, & even as an aphrodisiac.  

Moving into the late 15th & throughout the 16th century, explorers Magellan, Vasco DeGama, & Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortez would return from travels to exotic places like the Caribbean, bringing back with them new herb & spice plants to study. This greatly expanded interest in & use of these fragrant plants. So much so that in 1545 the first medicinal herb garden (designed for study of these plants) was established in Padua, Italy & in 1602 the famed Dutch East India Company was founded, which regulated & monopolized spice trade throughout Europe- a monopoly which lasted for nearly 200 years! It was the European settlers of the 1600’s & 1700’s who introduced plantain, mint, lavender, parsley, calendula, roses, dandelion, chamomile, thyme, & yarrow to the New World. Seeds of these important medicinal plants from their native homelands- considered among the most important of all personal possessions- was crucial for their wellbeing in this new, unknown land. Soon these settlers were studying with the Native American people & learning about the powerful medicinals in cayenne, goldenrod, & echinacea for treatment of fevers, wounds, & even snakebites.

There are around 60 or so references to herbs in the NKJV of the Bible (although, for many reasons, it is unknown how many were used for medicinal use). Most of us are fairly familiar with the story of the gifts of frankincense & myrrh as told in the Bible. These two herbs were so highly regarded, exceptionally expensive, & so incredibly valuable they were presented as birthday gifts to honor baby Jesus, as a gift fit only for the King of kings. Inventor, statesman, & United States Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson- who was also an avid gardener- kept thorough records of his gardens at Monticello. Some of the therapeutic herbs Jefferson grew included lemon balm, sage, mint, thyme, chamomile, rosemary, & lavender.

A Brief Botany Lesson

Although we often used the words “herbs” & “spices” interchangeably, there are some important & distinct differences between an herb & a spice. While herbs & spices are plants used to add or enhance flavor & color in food- & both can be used or saved fresh or through drying-  that is where their similarities begin to end.

Herbs are the fresh or (oftentimes) dried green leaves of herbaceous (“non-woody” or soft stemmed) plants are seed-producing annuals (one growing season), biennials (two growing seasons), or perennials (new plants every growing season). In the holisitic/naturopathic world, herbs can also include plants such as sea greens, mushrooms, spices, & other parts of non-herbaceous plants, including fruits. Herbs are super rich in antioxidants- particularly if they are enjoyed fresh. Known for their savory, medicinal, or aromatic qualities, (as mentioned earlier) these plants originated in countries such like England, Italy, & France where the climate is very temperate. We know herbs by their common names such as sage, thyme, oregano, parsley, & mint among many others.

Spices, on the other hand, are crafted from harvesting the bark, flowers, seeds, fruit, & roots of woody or herbaceous plants that thrive in more tropical climates. The more pungent “kick”  of spices such as clove, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, saffron, & vanilla are familiar flavors to our palate used to- yes- spice it up in the kitchen for cooking & add flavoring to baked goods. There are a couple of exceptions to this- for example, coriander & dill- which are harvested both as an herb (the leaves and/or stems) & as a spice (by grinding the seed). Some commonly known spices include turmeric, nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, black pepper, basil, anise, & hundreds of others we experience every day.

Better Wellness Through Herbs!

Today we use herbs & spices for far more than just spicing up the dinner table. Retailers are increasingly catering to consumer demand for more natural, herbal-based products. From fragrant candles to toothpaste to dish detergent, consumers can become utterly overwhelmed with plant-based products for limitless numbers of personal & household uses.

Not only just for making perfumes & cosmetics or steeping in a cup of tea, herbs & spices are swiftly growing in interest as alternative treatments to westernized pharmaceutical & over-the-counter medications.  These amazing plants are equally as often as equally powerful (sometimes more) a treatment, have few contraindications, & rarely any uncomfortable side effects, making herbs & spices a very attractive therapy for treating external wounds, inflammation within the body, & even more serious conditions diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, & cancer.

The first most important note regarding the use of herbal therapies is to understand that herbs used for medicinal therapies are really meant to be taken in small doses- & not just during times of illness! The most powerful benefit of herbal therapies is their ability to help us maintain a state of homeostasis; that is, daily wellness maintenance. Herbal therapies when use properly & daily, help provide information to our bodies which, in turn, encourages our body systems to naturally prevent disease, detox our blood & internal organs, & heal disease.

By clicking on these links & purchasing from these companies, as an affiliate, Fig Tree Nutrition may receive a small commission. Funds generated through earned commissions will be used to establish FigTreeKids Kamp summer programs & educational gardens in our community.

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