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Turn your kitchen garden into a medicine cabinet
Grandma knows best when using old-time herbal remedies. Herbs such as rosemary and sage will do more than cure your hunger.

3L Health and Beauty/Revival Herbal Farm
Address: 115 Towne Center Parkway, Suite 111, Hoschton
More info: 404-308-1785

Botanologos School for Herbal Studies
Address: P.O. Box W, Mountain City
More info: 706-746-5485

Clear the mind, calm the senses
A look at a few herbs and their use.
Holy basil
Use it for: Helps you adapt to stress, helps make you feel happy, particularly people suffering from seasonal affective disorder. Helps clear your mind, stimulates digestion
Part of the plant: Leaves and stems
How to use it: Makes a great tea; steep for at least 20 minutes

Use it for: Great for helping cognitive function and memory. Also, anti-depressant, stimulates digestion, increases circulation and an anti-inflammatory.
Part of the plant: Leaves and stems
How to use it: As a tea; 1 teaspoon of dried herb per cup of water; steep for at least 20 minutes

Use it for: Respiratory congestion, coughing, dementia prevention, inflammation and as a preventative for night sweats due to menopause.
Part of the plant: Leaves and stems
How to use it: As a tea or tincture

Shiitake mushroom
Use it for: Reduces cholesterol and blood pressure, protects the liver from toxins, reduces bronchial inflammation, regulates immune function.
Part of the plant: The mushroom cap
How to use it: Dehydrate it and add it later to soups, stews or a stir fry. Or, chop it up fresh into your favorite dish

Use it for: Congestion or spasmatic cough
Part of the plant: Leaves and stems
How to use it: As a tea or infused oil; you can also make a natural cough syrup by adding thyme in a glass jar with water and honey and putting it in the sun for a few weeks.

ATHENS — Rosemary makes a great addition to soups or roasted meats, but this ancient herb can do double duty as a natural anti-depressant or as a way to ward off “brain fog,” according to Rabun County herbalist Patricia Kyritsi Howell.

Howell, who directs the Botanologos School, a program which teaches people how to incorporate regional plants into healing practices, spoke to a seminar Saturday at the Georgia Organics conference in Athens. She pointed out a few common herbs used in cooking that, when made into a tea or a tincture, can have special healing qualities, too.

“If we were talking 50 years ago about herbs, we’d be talking about ways to reduce staph infections,” she said. “Now we don’t see those things as life-threatening. Today we see people with insomnia and high blood pressure.”

Luckily, she said, certain types of herbs can help alleviate some symptoms that often people treat with a prescription. Or, at least, something in pill form.

“Herbal plants have all the things you need to protect yourself from these stresses,” she added.

Dr. James Liang — aka Dr. Cool — who owns 3L Health and Beauty in Hoschton, agreed that herbs can have amazing healing qualities.

“I love common things — we live in a place that has all provided things we did not know,” he said. “We pay a lot of money for medical bills, so that’s my purpose.”

Both Howell and Liang teach classes on the healing powers of herbs. Howell’s next class starts March 20 and Liang’s starts March 15.

The two main types of herbs are those that strengthen the organs and their processes, Howell said, and those that are activators, or plants used to push a certain part of our body or its functions. These herbs can be consumed as:

  • Tinctures: herbs soaked over a period of time in vodka or another alcohol solution;
  • Infused oils: Dried herbs placed in oil and then baked in the oven at a low temperature until the oil takes on the herb’s qualities;
  • Teas: About 1 to 2 teaspoons of an herb is infused in a cup of boiling water for about 20 minutes, so it is much stronger than traditional tea.

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that because the remedies are natural, Howell stressed that the teas and tinctures made in the kitchen won’t have an immediate effect. Often, something will need to be consumed a couple times a day for a few months to start having an effect.

But an herb like rosemary, for example, can be a great and natural way to help increase circulation or serve as an anti-inflammatory — and, therefore, help fight cancer. To make a tea, put 1 teaspoon of dried rosemary into a cup of boiling hot water.

“When you really want the medicinal properties of an herb, you want to put 1 to 2 teaspoons and cover with boiling water for about 20 minutes,” she said. “So it’ll have a little kick. With herb teas, it’s important to cover them to keep the volatile oils in them.”

She said most store-bought teas come with an expiration date, and as long as they are not too old they can be used for this purpose. If the store where you’re shopping sells teas loosely in jars, she recommended checking the date before purchasing.

Also, drying the herb isn’t necessary before making it into a healing tea.

Sage is another ancient herb that has some pretty amazing effects on brain function, she said. A study by researchers in the United Kingdom found students who took an aptitude test, and then took some sage oil, then scored higher on the test compared with students who took a placebo before the second test.

Liang noted that there are dozens of naturally growing plants and herbs all around us, and one of his favorites isn’t necessarily something growing in your kitchen garden — or, it might be growing so much you can’t get rid of it.

Kudzu, that ubiquitous weed that covers trees and roadsides, is a great natural remedy for diabetes. He also noted mistletoe, privet, honeysuckle, persimmon and mulberry.

In parts of Hall County, he said, mulberry is even covered by another healing plant: privet.

“That privet has become a problem to the ecology — it grows too much too fast. But the people do not know this tree is good for depression.”

And one Howell said she makes sure to eat every day is shiitake mushrooms.

“What this fungi seems to do in the body is kind of mind blowing,” she said. “You’re crazy to not have this in your house or growing your own on some logs.”

She said this Chinese “herb” reduces cholesterol and blood pressure, protects your liver from toxins, reduces bronchial inflammation and regulates your immune function.

“All winter I put it in every soup I make,” she added.

Howell also emphasized the importance of using herbs that are common to where you live.

“There’s a lot of pressure to take a plant from exotic places and market them,” she said. “I disagree with that. I think we should use things that grow in our backyard, kind of like the local food movement.”

And because all these herbs grow in North Georgia, it’s easy to take a few extra clippings from your garden the next time you’re cooking with fresh herbs.

“It’s easy to grow sage, it’s easy to grow rosemary,” Howell said. Even the naturally growing elderberry, with its leggy stems and dark purple berries, can be harvested and transformed into a healing concoction.

Rather than consider it a weed, grandma kept it around as an easy home remedy. And, of course, some jam.