Herb Guide: S - U

Sage, Stinging Nettle, St. John's Wort, Spearmint, Sweet Woodruff, Tarragon, Thyme



(Salvia officinalis)

Member of the lamiaceae (mint) family

Common names: broadleaf sage, common sage, dalmatian sage, garden sage, kitchen sage, meadow sage, scarlet sage, true sage, slavia

"Why should a person die, when sage grows in his garden?" This is an adage, which originated at a medical school in Salerno, Italy. It is quite representative of the fact that, in days gone by, sage was renowned as a medicinal herb. Today, however, sage is best known for its culinary use.

The flavor, this regal looking, little herb provides, serves as a compliment to many dishes. Use it when preparing meat, vegetables, stew, soup, cottage cheese dishes, stuffing, and dressing. It can be used fresh, cooked, or dried. It is also a fabulous addition to tea, and makes a tasty infused oil or vinegar.

Sage's flavor is quite pungent and should be used sparingly.

This herb is shown to be an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor; making it a promising treatment for Alzheimer's disease. Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors are the only drugs which have been approved by the FDA for treating this condition.

Sage is classically used as a treatment for mouth ulcers, tonsillitis, and laryngitis. For convenience, it can be brewed as a tea or infused in water and used as a gargle or mouthwash to treat these conditions. If you prefer, you can freeze sage-infused water into cubes, chip the cubes, and suck on them to provide relief from any of these conditions.

Its leaves are a fabulous anti-inflammatory and astringent. They are quite useful as a treatment for sores, ulcers, varicose veins, abscesses, and wounds, when made into ointments or fomentations

Sage can be used to treat night sweats, hot flashes, and estrogen loss. It is useful when treating nervous disorders, and can effectively reduce the milk flow of a mother wishing to wean her nursing child.

There is scientific research to confirm the use of sage as a carminative.

This herb is a common ingredient in cosmetics; particularly soaps and perfumes. It makes a great after-bath splash; quite revitalizing!

Sage is not suitable for prolonged use.

Do not use when pregnant. Do not use if suffering from hypertension, epilepsy, hypoglycemia, or if you are receiving anticonvulsant therapy.

Spanish sage essential oil should be used moderately, and for no longer than two weeks at a time.

Clary sage essential oil cannot be used with alcohol.

Common sage oil is not suitable for internal or external use.


(Mentah spicata)

Member of the lamiaceae (mint) family

Common names: Our Lady's mint, mackerel mint, green spine, sage of Bethlehem, mismin, erba Santa Maria

I am among the few who favor spearmint over peppermint. I love the gentler nature of its scent and flavor. In the summer it is not at all unusual to find a pretty glass pitcher full of ice water, lemon slices, cucumbers, and a sprig of fresh spearmint sitting on my kitchen counter. It keeps me hydrated, and delights my senses all throughout the day!

Spearmint has other uses in the kitchen as well. It is the perfect compliment when preparing fish or lamb, and an absolute must in fruit salad. It works well in summer salad dressings and is a great infusion herb for oils and vinegars.

If you do nothing else with spearmint in your kitchen, take a fresh sprig and make yourself (and maybe a few friends) a big batch of mint juleps one lazy summer afternoon. You'll be glad you did!

Spearmint is scientifically proven to act as a carminative. It is just as effective at relieving indigestion as peppermint. However, its action on the body is much milder; making it a better choice when treating children and pregnant women. It is the perfect remedy for colic.

Spearmint oil can be used to treat conditions such as; vertigo, dizziness, mental fatigue, stress, headaches, and both panic and fainting attacks. Simply inhale it directly from the bottle, use it as a room spray, or add it to a cold forehead compress.

Cosmetically, spearmint is used as a stimulant in facial masks and steams, mouthwash, lotion, soap, and massage oil. It is also used for its invigorating scent and deodorizing properties.


(Urtica dioica)

Member of the urticaceae (nettle) family

Common names: garden nettle, common nettle, wild spinach

Stinging nettle is one of the most diverse herbs nature provides. It supplies us with a nutritous food source, yields many medicinal properties, serves as a chlorophyll resource, and provides a natural, green dye.

In addition to all of these wonderful gifts, the fibers of this plant produce a durable fabric. It is stronger than any other made from natural fibers, and has been made into clothing, linens, and sackcloth. It has even been used to produce sailcloth.

In the words of poet Thomas Campbell, "In Scotland, I have eaten nettles, I have slept in nettle sheets, and I have dined off a nettle tablecloth. The young and tender nettle is an excellent potherb. The stalks of the old nettle are as good as flax for making cloth. I have heard my mother say that she thought nettle cloth more durable than any other species of linen."

The young stalks of this beautiful herb are abundant in vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and protein. They are delicious, and suitable for tea, soup, and stew. They make an amazing homemade pasta, and are quite tasty when prepared as a side dish as well. Use the young shoots of this plant when cooking, as the older shoots can be tough and bitter. Young shoots lose their sting and become edible after boiling. Do not eat raw ... ouch!

This wondrous herb produces an effect known as counterirritation when it comes in contact with already painful, irritated skin; it is a rather fascinating phenomena. This plant is covered with 'stinging hairs', which cause irritation, burning, itching, and even blistering upon contact with normal skin. However, when the herb is brought into contact with already irritated skin, it encourages blood flow to the surface, helping to alleviate the adverse condition.

Nettle will cleanse wounds, and expedite their healing. The dried and powdered leaf of this herb can be used to stop external bleeding and nosebleeds. A poultice made from the same matter, relieves external pain caused by inflammation. It will also effectively clear insect bites and burns.

Consuming stinging nettle as a tea or tincture helps to regulate heavy menstruation, eases urinary tract inflammation, acts as a diuretic, treats bladder infection, and promotes the production of milk in nursing mothers. It also inhibits the release of histamine; making it useful for those who suffer from allergies and hay fever.

However, it is best to take only one cup of tea per day, for the first two or three days, as it may cause the symptoms to worsen in some people. Nettle tea is quite useful for those who are prone to kidney and bladder stones; it helps to prevent their formation.

Cosmetically, this herbal wonder results in radiant skin when added to lotions or used as an astringent. A tea made from nettle seeds is an effective hair growth stimulant, results in magnificent shine when used in hair rinses, and is quite effective in anti-dandruff shampoos.


(Hypericum perforatum)

Member of the hypericaceae family

Common names: Johnswort, St. Joan's wort, goat weed, Klamath weed, amber, hard-hay, touch-and-heal, rosin rose

The delicate, yellow flowers which adorn this beautiful herb turn bright red, as though they are bleeding, when pinched. Some believe this natural phenomena first occurred the very day St John the Baptist was beheaded; hence, the name 'St Johns' wort.

This herbs scent and flavor are both quite bland; almost negligible. It is not considered a culinary herb.

Its medicinal uses, however, are reasonably extensive and quite impressive.

Infused in oil, it will effectively relieve pain caused by fibromyalgia, sciatica, sprains, neuralgia, and rheumatism.

It possesses anti-inflammatory properties; making it an ideal treatment for varicose veins, burns, wounds, shingles, skin ulcers, bruises, and insect bites. Keep a spray bottle of vinegar infused with St Johns wort in the bathroom cabinet, to be used for sunburn relief, you'll be glad you did!

This herb is notorious for its use as an anti-depressant. It is the 'feel good' herb; the best nature provides! It can be used to alleviate depression, anxiety, seasonal affective disorder, insomnia, and tension. It also acts as a pain reliever.

I always include St Johns Wort in my daily herbal beverage, it helps me maintain an energetic sunny disposition. If for some reason (usually because I forgot to replenish my supply) I do not use it, I experience a dramatic shift in the way I feel.

Cosmetically, St Johns wort makes a magnificent sunscreen and promotes skin restoration. It is also quite effective as a scalp oil.

If taking St Johns wort for mood regulation, it may be 2 to 6 weeks before you see an effect. It reacts with many prescription anti-depressants, and should not be combined with them without physician approval. It is not generally an effective treatment for those who suffer from severe or chronic depression.

Interestingly enough, taking this herb internally can cause sun sensitivity in some individuals, even though it provides effective sun protection when applied externally.

St Johns wort may decrease the effectiveness of some contraceptives.


(Galium odorata)

Member of the rubiaceae (madder, bedstraw, or coffee) family

Common names: waldemeister

This tropical-looking little herb is grown primarily as a ground cover. If you have an area where this is needed, be sure to consider sweet woodruff; it is so hearty its almost indestructable!

This herb is used, as an aromatic, in many drinks; particularly punches. However, it is renown for its use in German May wine. Germans traditionally drink May wine to celebrate the coming of spring, and serve it at both spring and early summer weddings.

Unlike other herbs, this pretty little gems fragrance intensifies with time. It has a sweet haylike odor, which is so refreshingly pleasant, it was once used to scent homes and churches.

It was often the main ingredient of herbal mattress stuffing in days gone by; as it is a fabulous insect repellent. You can use it just as effectively by making up some potpourri or a few sachets with sweet woodruff and placing them in your drawers and closets.

Medicinally, sweet woodruff is taken as a tonic for arthritis and liver disorders. It is used as a laxative as well.

Do not take sweet woodruff in large doses, as it will cause dizziness and vomiting.


(Artemisia dracunculus)

Member of the asteraceae (daisy) family

Common names: French tarragon, estragon, little dragon, dragon's-mugwort

Tarragon and delicate foods are seemingly meant for each other. This herb has a distinct licorice taste. It compliments poultry, seafood, cheese, eggs, and vegetables perfectly. It is delicious in salads and dressings. It makes a delightful vinegar infusion. It is used for the 'sinfully delicious' French sauce, bearnaise, and can be found in any French kitchen.

Although tarragon is best known as a culinary herb, it is used medicinally as well.

It is not clear when, but at some point tarragon became classified as a "dragon herb"; a name given to herbs used as antidotes for venomous bites.

Eugenol oil, an anesthetic, can be found in tarragon. This makes it an ideal natural remedy for toothaches. It is also used as a diuretic, an emmenagogue, and to stimulate the appetite.

It is not safe to take tarragon's essential oil over long periods of time or in large quantities.


(Thymus vulgaris)

Member of the lamiaceae (mint) family

Common names: common thyme, garden thyme

This herbal gem, often used in cottage gardens, makes an enchanting ground cover. It is highly aromatic, and repels some bacteria; making it an ideal choice for surrounding porches or lining entryways.

Its fragrance was so admired in Ancient Greece that telling someone they smelled of thyme was considered a great compliment. It is traditionally associated with both strength and well-being.

This amazing little beauty is packed full of both minerals and trace minerals.

Some say that any good cook knows what to do with thyme. This herb is distinctively aromatic in flavor and can be used in literally any culinary dish. Use it as part of rub blends for meat, poultry, and seafood. Sprinkle a bit on top of a garden salad or a plate of fresh, steamy vegetables. Whip it into butter (along with some oregano if you like) and use it to top potatoes; baked, mashed, boiled, or fried.

It is one of the ingredients in the notorious French bouquet garni used when making soups, stews, and sauces. Don't save it just for creamy French sauces though; it is the perfect addition to Italian red sauces as well.

If you want to turn a zucchini into a mushroom ... saute it in a butter sauce made with lemon thyme and basil. Okay, okay it doesn't actually turn into a mushroom, but the flavor is there!

The list of medicinal uses for thyme is seemingly endless. It can be made into a tea and used to treat sore throats, laryngitis, and tonsillitis. It strengthens the nervous system; making it effective when treating stress, nervous disorders, headaches, and insomnia.

It is scientifically proven to work as both an antitussive and antispasmodic.

Thyme tea is a renown folk cure as a remedy for overindulgent imbibing ... better known as hangover.

Tea made with thyme should be taken four times daily, for no more than three weeks.

Thyme oil is the preferred form for using this herb medicinally today. It is highly effective as a treatment for skin infections, inflammations, and irritations. It can be used to treat bruises, burns, insect bites, acne, dermatitis, or virtually any skin eruption.

As a massage oil blend, it is perfect for relieving cramps, flatulence and gastric distress. It will aid digestion and work as an antispasmodic for the digestive system. It can be rubbed into your chest to bring relief from asthma symptoms, or on any area of the body to relieve pain.

When mixed with milk (3 drops of thyme oil to 1 tablespoon milk) thyme oil will act as a diuretic. This is helpful for those who suffer from gout, sciatica, rheumatism, and arthritis. Taken this same way, it can be used to strengthen the immune system and stimulate circulation.

It is believed that, due to its antioxidant properties,thyme oil slows down the aging process.

Cosmetically, thyme makes a great astringent, deodorant, mouthwash, and aromatic. It effectively treats both dandruff and hair loss.

Thyme oil should not be applied directly to the skin, use a 1 percent blend.

Dried thyme should be taken for no more than three consecutive weeks. Take only 1 teaspoon daily.

Undiluted thyme oil is toxic if taken in large quantities.

Do not use red thyme.

Do not take while pregnant or if you suffer from hypertension.


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