Herb of the Week

Week of 04/02/2012

Flax (also known as common flax or linseed) (binomial name: Linum usitatissimum) is a member of the genus Linum in the family Linaceae. It is native to the region extending from the eastern Mediterranean to India and was probably first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent. Flax was extensively cultivated in ancient Ethiopia and ancient Egypt. In a prehistoric cave in the Republic of Georgia, dyed flax fibers have been found that date to 30,000 BC implicating it as the first domesticated species in human history.
Flax is an erect annual plant growing to 3 ft 11 in tall, with slender stems. The leaves are glaucous green, slender lanceolate, 20–40 mm long and 3 mm broad. The flowers are pure pale blue, 15–25 mm diameter, with five petals; they can also be bright red. The fruit is a round, dry capsule 5–9 mm diameter, containing several glossy brown seeds shaped like an apple pip, 4–7 mm long.
Flax is grown both for its seeds and for its fiber. Various parts of the plant have been used to make fabric, dye, paper, medicines, fishing nets, hair gels, and soap. Flax seed is the source of linseed oil, which is used as an edible oil, as a nutritional supplement, and as an ingredient in many wood finishing products. Flax is also grown as an ornamental plant in gardens.

Flax seeds come in two basic varieties: (1) brown; and (2) yellow or golden. Most types have similar nutritional characteristics and equal numbers of short-chain omega-3 fatty acids. The exception is a type of yellow flax called solin (trade name Linola), which has a completely different oil profile and is very low in omega-3 FAs. Although brown flax can be consumed as readily as yellow, and has been for thousands of years, it is better known as an ingredient in paints, fiber and cattle feed. Flax seeds produce a vegetable oil known as flaxseed or linseed oil, which is one of the oldest commercial oils, and solvent-processed flax seed oil has been used for centuries as a drying oil in painting and varnishing.


Week of 04/04/2011

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) also known as catnip, kitty crack, or catmint is a plant in the Lamiaceae (mint) family. The common names can also be used to refer to the Nepeta genus as a whole. They are usually aromatic. Nepeta cataria is mostly used as a recreational drug for pet cats' enjoyment. Roughly 50% of cats will be affected by the plant, whether it is growing in the wild or harvested and dried.The common behaviors that are observed are: rubbing on the plant, rolling on the ground, drooling, sleepiness, anxiety, or consuming much of the plant. The plant terpenoid nepetalactone is the main chemical constituent of the essential oil of Nepeta cataria and acts as a feline attractant. This chemical enters the feline's nose, and produces effects on the cat.
Catnip has a history of human medicinal use for its soothing properties. It has also been known to have a slightly numbing effect. The plant has been consumed as a tea, juice, tincture, infusion or poultice, and has also been smoked. Nepetalactone is a mosquito and fly repellent.
Oil isolated from catnip by steam distillation is a repellent against insects, in particular mosquitoes, cockroaches and termites. Research suggests that in a test tube, distilled nepetalactone, the active ingredient in catnip, repels mosquitoes ten times more effectively than DEET, the active ingredient in most insect repellents, but that it is not as effective a repellent when used on the skin.

Growing Catnip is faily easy in full sun, Catnip grows readily in poor, dry, sandy, or hot soils where little else is successful. It grows readily and returns reliably for years. Catnip may be considered a noxious weed or invasive plant in some areas. Catnip is known to attract bees, butterflies or birds and has fragrant blossoms. Catnip self-sows freely; remove flowers (deadhead) if you do not want volunteer seedlings the following season.


Week of 01/31/2011

Common Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a small perennial evergreen shrub, with woody stems, grayish leaves, and blue to purplish flowers. It is a member of the family Lamiaceae and is native to the Mediterranean region.  Salvia officinalis was described by Carl Linnaeus in 1753.  It has been grown for centuries in the Old World for its food and healing properties, and was often described in old herbals for the many miraculous properties attributed to it. The specific epithet, officinalis, refers to the plant's medicinal use—the officina was the traditional storeroom of a monastery where herbs and medicines were stored. S. officinalis has been classified under many other scientific names over the years—including six different names since 1940 alone.
Cultivars are quite variable in size, leaf and flower color, and foliage pattern, with many variegated leaf types. The Old World type grows approximately 2 ft tall and wide, with lavender flowers most common, though they can also be white, pink, or purple. The plant flowers in late spring or summer. The leaves are oblong, ranging in size up to 2.5 in long by 1 in wide. Leaves are grey-green, rugose on the upper side, and nearly white underneath due to the many short soft hairs. Modern cultivars include leaves with purple, rose, cream, and yellow in many variegated combination.
Salvia officinalis has been used since ancient times for warding off evil, snakebites, increasing women's fertility, and more. The Romans likely introduced it to Europe from Egypt as a medicinal herb.  Pliny the Elder said that the latter plant was called "Salvia" by the Romans, and used as a diuretic, a local anesthetic for the skin, a styptic, and for other uses. Charlemagne recommended the plant for cultivation in the early Middle Ages and during the Carolingian Empire it was cultivated in monastery gardens.  The plant had a high reputation throughout the Middle Ages, with many sayings referring to its healing properties and value. It was sometimes called S. salvatrix (Sage the Savior), and was one of the ingredients of Four Thieves Vinegar, a blend of herbs which was supposed to ward off the plague.
Common sage is grown in parts of Europe for distillation of an essential oil. As a kitchen herb, sage has a slight peppery flavor. In British cooking, it is used for flavoring fatty meats, poultry or pork stuffing, and in sauces. Sage is also used in Italian cooking, in the Balkans, and the Middle East.
Salvia and "Sage" are derived from the Latin salvere ("to save"), referring to the healing properties long attributed to the various species.  It has been recommended at one time or another for virtually every ailment by various herbals. Modern evidence shows possible uses as an anhidrotic, antibiotic, antifungal, astringent, antispasmodic, estrogenic, hypoglycemic, and tonic.  In a double blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial, sage was found to be effective in the management of mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease.  The strongest active constituents of sage are within its essential oil.
(For this and other info see the Wikipedia page on Sage)


Week of 01/24/2011

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a woody, perennial herb with fragrant evergreen needle-like leaves. It is native to the Mediterranean region. It is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae, which also includes many other herbs.
The name rosemary derives from the Latin name rosmarinus, which is from "dew" (ros) and "sea" (marinus), or "dew of the sea" because in many locations it needs no other water than the humidity carried by the sea breeze to live.
Since it is attractive and tolerates some degree of drought, it is also used in landscaping, especially in areas having a Mediterranean climate. It is considered easy to grow for beginner gardeners, and is pest-resistant.
Rosemary grows on friable loam soil with good drainage in an open sunny position, it will not withstand water logging and some varieties may be susceptible to frost. It grows best in neutral to alkaline conditions pH (pH 7–7.8) with average fertility.
Rosemary is easily pruned into shapes and has been used for topiary. When grown in pots, it is best kept trimmed to stop it getting straggly and unsightly, though when grown in a garden, rosemary can grow quite large and still be attractive. It can be propagated from an existing plant by clipping a shoot 4–6 in long, stripping a few leaves from the bottom, and planting it directly into soil.


Week of 01/17/2011

Stevia is a genus of about 240 species of herbs and shrubs in the sunflower family (Asteraceae), native to subtropical and tropical regions from western North America to South America. The species Stevia rebaudiana, commonly known as sweetleaf, sweet leaf, sugarleaf, or simply stevia, is widely grown for its sweet leaves.
With its steviol glycoside extracts having up to 300 times the sweetness of sugar, stevia has garnered attention with the rise in demand for low-carbohydrate, low-sugar food alternatives. Medical research has also shown possible benefits of stevia in treating obesity and high blood pressure. Because stevia has a negligible effect on blood glucose, it is attractive as a natural sweetener to people on carbohydrate-controlled diets.
The availability of stevia varies from country to country. In a few countries, it has been available as a sweetener for decades or centuries; for example, stevia is widely used as a sweetener in Japan where it has been available for decades. In some countries, stevia is restricted or banned. In other countries, health concerns and political controversies have limited its availability; for example, the United States banned stevia in the early 1990s unless labeled as a supplement, but in 2008 approved rebaudioside A extract as a food additive. Over the years, the number of countries in which stevia is available as a sweetener has been increasing.


Week of 01/10/2011

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) is an annual herb in the family Apiaceae. Coriander is native to southern Europe and North Africa to southwestern Asia.  The leaves are variously referred to as coriander leaves, Chinese parsley, Cilantro (in America, from the Spanish for the plant).

Harvest the leaves and the seeds of this versatile herb for varied culinary treats. This annual herb has an unmistakable strong, sharp scent and taste that has become the staple ingredient in salsa and other Mexican dishes. A member of the carrot family, Cilantro grows slow and steady.  Some varieties allow you to keep harvesting leaves when others have already bolted to seed. After the 2- to 4-inch pale cream flower umbels have formed, allow them to go to seed. Cut and dry the heads, harvesting the seeds and using them as the spice coriander. Coriander can be used whole or ground in curries, Oriental dishes, and savory baked goods.  Cilantro is not fussy about soil; just plant it in any full sun site. Sow small patches at 2- to 3-week intervals for an extended harvest all season long. (Growing info credit Park Seed Company, Greenwood, SC)

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