Herb Appeal – Summer 2002

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Common weeds, such as nettles, are an aid to a healthy lifestyle, says herbalist Dr. Dilis Clare

When I come to think about the popularity of herbs it is the wide range of people who are interested that never ceases to amaze me. But on reflection it is the variety of uses that herbs play in our lives that is responsible for this. Between gardening for pleasure or for the medicine chest and herbs for the table or for the beauty treatments it seems that herbs have something to offer most of us.

Herbal teas

My favourite relationship to herbs is via my teapot. Although we have high tech access to herbs for health in the form of capsules/tablets or even tinctures (herbs extracted in a weak alcohol solution), if you talk to most herbalists, they will agree that the best way to use herbs is as an infusion i.e. as a cup of tea.

This is a good time of year to talk teas as you can catch the end of the Hawthorn blossom and the full swing of the Elderflowers. You can use the Hawthorn (Crataegus spp) blossom and leaves but use only the Elderflowers without the leaves.

Hawthorn is rich in antioxidants and vitamins and is generally good for the circulatory system while Elderflower is antiviral and helps clear the blood through increased perspiration. lt also helps with hay fever symptoms.

Nettles

Anytime in the summer you can put nettles into your teapot for an iron rich tonic. This iron is accompanied by other minerals that are taken up by the plant to add to the tonic effect. After

spring the nettles are too tough to cook but if you strim back a stand of nettles you get new tender shoots which can be cooked as for spring nettles. Basically, they are cooked as for spinach except you wear rubber gloves while chopping or tearing them up! A common question is how much of the herb do you put in per cup? Mostly the answer is individual, some people like a very strong flavour and others prefer it weak. To begin with use two to three teaspoons of fresh herb per cup or mug. Often people start with a weak infusion, as herb teas can be an acquired taste, gradually they notice that they are adding more herb.

In Season

Coming up to midsummer Meadowsweet (Filipendula spirea) is a pleasant herb tea which is rich in natural aspirin (the name aspirin comes from the Latin name for this plant). It eases digestion and benefits painful joints. Yarrow (Achiliea milefolia) and Dandelion Leaves (Taraxacum fol) are also good for us in different ways but are quite bitter as teas. Young dandelion leaves can be added to a salad and dandelion root (Taraxacum rad) can be washed, chopped up and boiled. This is not particularly pleasant to drink but is a good nutritional tonic for the liver. Another cleansing herb  which acts on the lymph drainage system is Cleavers (Galium aperine). This is known by many common names such as Robin run the hedge and Sticky Willy or Sticky Back. Children use it to stick to each other in games of tag. It has a weak stem and clings to other plants to reach towards the light. Again this makes a pleasant tea.

Weeds

lt’s interesting that it is our weed patch which turns into our herb garden rather than the Mediterranean herbs we cultivate such as Rosemary, Chamomile and Thyme. These also make good herb teas mainly to relax the nervous system and aid digestion. Chamomile is the star of the show by having both actions and several others including an anti-allergy effect and wound healing. Rosemary is a  pleasant tea that aids digestion and helps circulation making it a calming herb without sedation, perfect for after supper if you are heading out to a meeting or for a hot date.

Lemon Balm (Melissa off) is worth mentioning for gardeners as it grows easily and prolifically and provides a zesty lemony tea throughout the summer months. It is available at most garden centres and has a very relaxing effect.

More information

l hope you all enjoy some of these suggestions, remember to only put in your teapot herbs you are confident of identifying. lf you would like to know more about herbs or would like to join in a herb walk you can contact the Irish Herb Society, c/o Alternative Health and Herbs, 11 William Street West, Galway.

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About this record

Written by Dr Dilis Clare

Published here 15 Jul 2023 and originally published Summer 2002

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