The herbs and spices we use for seasoning food have been used for their healing properties for millennia. We don’t often realize that some of the food-spice combinations we consider classic are actually remedies or preventatives themselves.
Broadly speaking, the aromatic spices and seeds are used as digestive aids, while the herbs are used for their antiseptic properties. I have compiled examples of common seasonings and how they have been used to treat common conditions. You might consider these remedies yourself when the need arises. If you will be using this spice or herb to make a beverage tea, the general rule of thumb is to use 1 teaspoon botanical to a 10-12 ounce mug of tea, sweeten if desired. If making tea for children, dilute with water by half, and do not give honey to infants under 1 year old.
Please note that none of these remedies are to be taken as medical advice. Take responsibility for your well-being by seeking professional healthcare when you are ill, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. While ancient healers as well as modern practitioners used these home remedies with success, no one can foresee individual reactions or sensitivities. Just use common sense, and remember that sometimes less is enough.
Anise seed – crush and warm in milk (any kind) and take with a bit of honey for a sleepy-time toddy. Anise seed, sometimes spelled aniseed, makes a good tea for a colicky baby. Anise seed aids digestion, and you will often see it served with rich foods.
Basil – this fragrant herb can be made into a tea to relieve nausea and headache. A nursing mother can drink basil tea to relieve her baby’s gas. Mildly antiseptic.
Bay Leaf – use in salves as an antiseptic and body washes for cleansing. A general tonic, especially for the digestive system. Use in food rather than as tea.
Caraway seed – soothes the digestive tract (thus the pastrami on seeded rye), and like other seeds, helps eliminate gas. For babies, soak the seeds several hours or overnight, then strain; you might want to keep this on hand if your baby is colicky, since it takes so long to make (mama can sip it as well).
Cayenne – is a general tonic and stimulant, and helps the body fight off a cold. You can put a dried cayenne pepper in soup or broth to help heal sore throat. Fruit seasoned with cayenne will help you cool off from a fever because it induces perspiration.
Dill seed and leaf – is use to promote milk in nursing mothers. Dill is good for all digestive upsets, especially for babies, and it is said to be good for insomnia – use the fresh leafy fronds in a sleep pillow. (I don’t think eating dill pickles counts as a sleep remedy!)
Fennel seed – is made into a tea and used as a gargle to relieve cough, and is expectorant (helps bring up mucus). The tea is also good for a tummy ache. You will notice that sweet Italian sausage contains fennel; besides tasting delicious, it aids in the digestion of this fatty food.
Ginger root – 3-4 thin slices in a pint (2 cups) water, and simmered for about 10 minutes – is good tea for alleviating cold symptoms; its warming properties will produce sweating. Helps to relieve menstrual cramps as a tea, and can also be used as a compress over the abdomen or lower back. Taken preventatively, ginger root capsules (or crystallized ginger) are very good medicine for motion sickness. The tea has also been used for hangovers.
Marjoram – in a mild tea is taken for its calming effects; you can also simply crush the dried herb and breathe in the aroma for an easy aroma-therapeutic remedy.
Nutmeg – improves digestion in a pinch, not to mention it tastes great in fresh eggnog and mushroom gravy.
Oregano – tea is made out of the flowers and used for nausea. It is sometimes used in sleep pillows. A soft cloth dipped into a warm strong brew, then wrapped around the neck, is said to help remedy a sore throat.
Parsley – is very high in vitamins A and C. The leaf tea is very helpful for easing bladder irritation.
Rosemary – this tea makes a great mouthwash as well as an antiseptic wash for wounds. A strong tea is used as a scalp rinse and an invigorating bath as well.
Sage – leaf tea is said to decrease breast milk for mother ready to wean baby; the tea is taken cool 1 tablespoon at a time throughout the day. Honey-sweetened sage tea is used for a sore throat. Sage is another good hair rinse, especially for dark or gray hair.
Thyme is very beneficial in steam facials. A simple thyme tea is used for bronchial ailments.
Making a simple tea is the easiest remedy. Slowing down and fixing tea for yourself or a loved one is a generous and healing act, and the first step on your journey to wellness. And it’s right there on your kitchen shelf.
This article has been modified from one found in my book, The Wild & Weedy Apothecary, 2010 Llewellyn Publications.