Celery Seed – The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

smallage flowersCelery seed comes from a variety of celery that is different from the celery (Apium graveolens) we see in grocery stores. The seed comes from an ancestor of celery called smallage or wild celery. The smallage variety is native to the Mediterranean area and the Middle East and is grown in India, China, and France specifically for the harvesting of its seeds.  The seeds are very small: 760,000 seeds make one pound. They have an aromatic, earthy smell, and a flavor that has a touch of spiciness. The seeds are used whole in brines, pickles, and marinades and in salads like coleslaw and potato salad. They can be added to breads, soups, and dressings, thus giving a celery taste without the bulk of fresh celery stalks. The seeds are used in French, New Orleans Creole, and other cuisines around the world. They are also ground and mixed with other spices to create unique herbal blends like Old Bay Seasoning, celery salt, Products containing celery seedCajun seasonings, etc.

These tiny seeds pack a lot of punch when it comes to nutrition. A teaspoon of the seed has only 8 calories and 0.5 grams of fat. They supply 0.9 milligrams of iron per teaspoon which is 11% of the daily requirement for men and 5% for women. Celery seed supplies trace amounts of zinc, manganese, and phosphorus, too. According to the late Dr. James Duke, an American economic botanist, ethnobotanist, and author of The Green Pharmacy, the seeds contain at least 20 anti-inflammatory properties. He credited his robust life to the celery seed being among his “baker’s dozen” of essential herbs. The seeds also contain coumarins, which help in thinning the blood. This component of celery, as well as its anti-inflammatory properties, has been the subject of recent research, but its effectiveness in treating humans still needs to be investigated. Celery seed is sold as a dietary supplement in many natural-foods stores and other stores specializing in natural remedies. It is available as an extract, as fresh or dried seeds, and celery seed oil-filled capsules.

It is said that celery was first cultivated for medicinal purposes in 850 BC. Ayurvedic physicians throughout history have used the seed to treat colds, flu, water retention, arthritis, and liver and spleen conditions. Celery was considered a holy plant in the Greek classical period and a wreath of smallage leaves was worn by the winners of the Nemean Games, which began in 573 BC. The Greeks also used it to create the wine they called selinites, while the Romans used celery primarily for seasoning. The Italians domesticated celery and developed a plant with a solid stem and without the bitterness of smallage. Thus began the development and popularity of the Pascal celery that we find in grocery stores today.

Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray SodaDr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda is a celery flavored soda that is made from celery seed. This celery inspired soda has been around since 1868, when it was developed as a tonic that was touted to be “good for calming stomachs and bowels.” It paired well with salty, fatty foods, like pastrami, and became popular in New York’s Jewish delicatessens and with Eastern European immigrants whose cuisines already included fermented botanical beverages. Dr. Brown’s is being noticed again as healthy botanical drinks become more popular. Author Stephen King once said “Sooner or later, everything old is new again.”

Oil is extracted from celery seeds to make “celery oil,” which can be added to colognes, perfumes, and soaps. A few drops of the essential oil can be added to water in a spray bottle or a diffuser for use as an effective mosquito repellent.

Some say that celery was an herb associated with death, and that a garland of smallage leaves was placed around King Tut. Some evidence of this association with death later occurred in a Robert Herrick (1591-1674) poem titled:

To Perenna, a Mistress

“DEAR Perenna, prithee come

and with smallage dress my tomb:

And a cypress sprig thereto,

With a tear, and so Adieu.”

Celery is a biennial plant, producing flowers and seeds in the second year of its growth. The flowers are white umbels similar to parsley blooms. It must have a relatively constant temperature of around 70 degrees and a lot of water and nutrients to grow. It needs a long growing season and does not tolerate high heat or frost. This would be a very difficult combination of requirements for me to grow celery in my southern Zone 8b garden! Seeds of the smallage variety of celery can be purchased online, if you are interested in trying your luck in growing celery for the seed and leaves. The stalks of smallage tend to be bitter.

As with using any herbal medicinal products, a health professional should be consulted. Allergic reactions and interactions with medications you may already be taking can be a danger to your health. Celery seed is not recommended for pregnant women.

For more information about celery seed, recipes, and a screen saver, please go to The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month webpage https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/herb-of-the-month.html.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.

References

American Botanical Council.HerbClip: Interview with Botanist Jim Duke.” April 30, 1999. http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbclip/155/review42307.html

Crowley, Chris. “Celery Forever: Where America’s Weirdest Soda Came From and How It’s Stuck Around.” Serious Eats.  August 2018. https://www.seriouseats.com/2014/10/dr-browns-cel-ray-celery-soda-history.html

Foodreference.com. “Celery History.” http://www.foodreference.com/html/celery-history.html

Kerr, Gord. “Celery Seed Extract Side Effects.”. https://www.livestrong.com/article/369362-celery-seed-extract-side-effects/   August 19, 2020.

Tweed, Vera. “4 Amazing Uses of Celery Seed.” Better Nutrition. September 2019.

Photo Credits: 1) Smallage flowers (Britannica Encyclopedia online); 2) Assortment of products containing celery seed (Maryann Readal); 3) Dr. Brown’s soda (Beverage Direct).


Maryann is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America. She is a Master Gardener and a member of the Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

Makrut Lime – Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

thai lime fruitThe Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month for August is the makrut lime, Citrus hystrix, a member of the Rutaceae family. This lime is also known as kaffir lime or Thai lime, and also wild lime. You may have spotted it in a produce market or Asian supermarket and wondered what makes it different from an ordinary lime. It certainly looks different, in that it has a gnarly, bumpy skin. The very aromatic leaves are different, too, because they look as though they are two leaves attached to each other. The juice is sour and bitter, and so is not usually used in cooking because it can overwhelm other flavors.

This lime has been widely grown in Asia for so long that it has become naturalized in many countries. Therefore, no one is certain of its origin. It is a staple ingredient in Thai, Cambodian, Vietnamese, and other Southeast Asian cuisines. The leaves, which are sold frozen, fresh, or dried, are usually finely chopped and incorporated into food or sprinkled on top. The makrut lime can be planted outdoors in warmer climates, or grown in a pot that can be brought inside for the winter in colder climates. It is a host plant for the giant swallowtail butterfly.

thai limeRecently, there has been a concerted effort among chefs and other food professionals to replace the name kaffir lime with the name makrut lime or Thai lime. The word “kaffir” has a derogatory, racist connotation in South Africa, and it has a derogatory religious meaning in Middle Eastern countries. 

Like other citrus species, the leaves, seeds, skin, bark, and root of the makrut lime have a number of medicinal benefits. In Southeast Asian countries, it has been used in shampoos, ointments, and in toothpaste and mouthwash products. A recent study published in the journal Nutrition by Kooltheat et al. (2016) has shown that the essence of the lime used on the teeth and gums  can prevent tooth decay. In Malaysian countries, the leaf is rubbed into the gums and on the teeth as a mouth and dental cleaner. And because of the fruit’s limonene and citronella content, it is added to shampoos to treat lice. The lime has been used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat colds and congestion and to help with digestion. Its oil is also used in aromatherapy to reduce stress, anxiety, and fatigue. In Thailand, makrut lime is added to household cleaning products. The authors of an article in Drug Intervention Today conclude that because of the lime’s antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial components, “extensive investigation on its pharmacology and clinical trials is needed to exploit their therapeutic utility to cure various diseases” (Abirami et al., 2014).

Distillers and bartenders have discovered that the addition of makrut lime to their beverages can make distinctive-tasting and aromatic drinks. Treaty Oak Distilling in waterlooDripping Springs, Texas, has developed a gin that incorporates the makrut lime, as well as other herbs. They describe their gin as making you “rethink everything you thought you knew about this spirit.”

Research on the medicinal qualities of the makrut lime underscores the importance of protecting native species that have been used for centuries as medicinal plants. It is promising that there is ongoing research on the effective medical applications of not only the makrut lime, but many other native medicinal plants as well.

For more information on the makrut lime, please visit The Herb Society of America’s website, where you will find more information, recipes and a beautiful screen saver of this unusual-looking fruit. https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/herb-of-the-month.html

Sources:

Kooltheat, N.  et al. Kaffir lime leaves extract inhibits biofilm formation by Streptococcus mutans. Nutrition. 32, (4). April 2016. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0899900715004165?via%3Dihub#!

Abirami, A., Nagarani, G., & Siddhuraju, P.  The medicinal and nutritional role of underutilized citrus fruit-Citrus hystrix (Kaffir Lime): A Review.  Drug Intervention Today.  6(1), January, 2014. Retrieved from http://docplayer.net/38584426-The-medicinal-and-nutritional-role-of-underutilized-citrus-fruit-citrus-hystrix-kaffir-lime-a-review.html

Photo Credits (from top): Makrut lime fruits (Creative Commons); Makrut lime leaves (Wikimedia Commons, courtesy Forrest & Kim Starr), Waterloo Old Yaupon Gin (courtesy Treaty Oaks Distillery).

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Maryann is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America. She is a Master Gardener and a member of the Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

Peppermint – Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

Most of us, gardeners or not, are familiar with mint. But how many of us know that there is a distinctive difference between spearmint and peppermint? The difference between these two mints may be important depending on how you want to use them.

Peppermint, Mentha × piperita, is The Herb Society’s Herb of the Month for July.  Peppermint is really a hybrid of two mints, water mint (Mentha aquatica) and spearmint (Mentha spicata). . Being a hybrid, peppermint does not produce seeds. If you want to propagate it, you must either take cuttings or divide the plant. Like other mints, peppermint is a vigorous grower, so must be contained if you don’t want it growing everywhere in your garden.  It favors growing in rich, moist soil. Peppermint has a narrow, coarse leaf and flowers that are pink-lavender.  Spearmint, on the other hand, is softer to the touch and has a darker green leaf with pink, lavender, or white flowers.

But the major difference in these two mints is in the taste. Spearmint has a sweeter, milder taste due to its lower menthol content (0.5%). Peppermint has a much higher menthol content at 40%, and therefore has a much stronger flavor, almost a peppery minty flavor.  Because of its high menthol content, peppermint is the mint preferred for medicinal applications. It is used in pain relief ointments because it produces a cooling sensation on sore muscles. It is a common ingredient in throat soothing teas and lozenges, and is often used to disguise the strong taste of some medicines. It has been found effective in the short-term  treatment of irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive problems (https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/peppermint-oil). Peppermint oil can be rubbed on the temples to alleviate tension headaches  (https://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-health-benefits-peppermint). Spearmint, with its much milder flavor, is used to treat mild cases of nausea and even hiccups.

In cooking, it really makes a difference which mint is used. Because of peppermint’s strong flavor, it can overpower the flavors of savory dishes. However, it works well with candies, pastries and chocolate. It is a popular addition to holiday treats such as candy canes, peppermint bark, and peppermint patties. A touch of peppermint in your hot cocoa makes it special. Spearmint, on the other hand, does not overpower other herbs and spices and can be used with a much broader spectrum of foods.  Use it in mint julep and in tabbouleh, or in a minty sauce for lamb.

Peppermint oil is becoming more important in the aromatherapy industry, and  is thought to have a positive effect on memory. According to a study reported in the International Journal of Neuroscience, the aroma from peppermint oil enhances memory and increases alertness  (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00207450601042094?journalCode=ines20&).

The United States is the major producer of peppermint oil in the world and accounts for half of the world’s trade, something that we don’t often hear when talking about the economics of herbs and spices  (https://www.agrifutures.com.au/farm-diversity/peppermint-oil/). Most of the peppermint in the U.S. is grown in the Pacific Northwest.  According to AgHires.com, an acre of mint produces about 70 pounds of oil. One pound of oil can flavor 1,500 tubes of toothpaste or 40,000 sticks of gum (https://aghires.com/u-s-produces-70-worlds-mint/). A drop of peppermint oil goes a long way. 

I would be remiss if I did not include here the story about the origin of peppermint according to Greek mythology. It is said that Hades (also known to the Greeks as Pluto) fell in love with a beautiful wood nymph.  Persephone, his wife, became jealous and turned the nymph into a lowly plant to be stepped on. Hades could not undo the damage done by Persephone’s spell, so he gave the plant a beautiful scent so that she would never be forgotten. He called her Minthe.

So there you have it─some interesting information about peppermint to help make you an enlightened user of mint —at least of spearmint and peppermint.

Please visit The Herb Society’s Herb of the Month webpage for more information about peppermint, a screensaver for your computer, and some minty recipes.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Maryann is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America. She is a Master Gardener and a member of the Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

Black Pepper – Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

Black pepper, Piper nigrum, is a ubiquitous spice that can be found on tables anywhere in the world where food is served. But what is the story behind this popular spice that is used in kitchens the world over? 

P. nigrum is native to the Malabar Coast of southern India. It is also grown in other parts of the tropical world, including Vietnam, which has taken the lead in production by exporting 287,000 tons of black pepper worth $722 million in 2019. This is about 35% of the world’s black pepper trade. 

pepppercorn drupe from Missouri Botantical Garden

Pepppercorn drupes. Photo credit: Missouri Botantical Garden

Black pepper is a perennial vine with heart shaped leaves and pendulous flowers. It is grown for its fruit, which is dried and then used as a seasoning. The black pepper vine grows in my Zone 8b garden; however, it has yet to produce any peppercorns, although it bloomed for the first time this year. Maybe one day I will have peppercorns.

“Pepper” comes from the Sanskrit word pippali, which means energy and spiritedness. When we say “peppy,” we are referring to the taste of black pepper that can “pep” us up.

Black, white, and green peppercorns come from the same plant. Black pepper is the dried, unripe fruit. White pepper is the seed of the dried, fully ripe fruit. Green pepper is the dried unripe fruit that is brined to preserve its flavor and color. Pink peppercorns are not a pepper at all, since they come from the Peruvian pepper tree, Schinus molle, which is in the cashew family.

Archaeological evidence shows that black pepper was used as a seasoning in India as early as 2000 BCE. Exportation brought it to Egypt, where it was used as a spice and as a medicine. Containers of peppercorns have been found in Egyptian tombs, and they were even found in the nostrils of Ramses II who was mummified in 1213 BCE. Egyptians were early users of toothpaste, which they made from rock salt, dried iris flowers, black pepper, and mint. Cleopatra is said to have had skin lotions made with black pepper.

peppercornsWith exploration came the spread of black pepper to the Roman Empire, where it was considered so valuable that large quantities were stored in the Roman treasury. The first century Roman cookbook, Cooking and Dining in Imperial Rome by Apicius, featured recipes in which 80% of them called for black pepper. Pliny the Elder (25-79 CE) could not understand the reason for pepper’s popularity. He remarked, “Whereas pepper has nothing in it that can plead as a recommendation to either fruit or berry, its only desirable quality being a certain pungency; and yet it is for this that we import it all the way from India!” Romans used black pepper as a treatment for digestive problems and gas relief. They also used it as currency. When Alaric the Visigoth laid siege to Rome around 400 CE, he demanded a ransom of three thousand pounds of black pepper, along with gold and silver. 

After the fall of Rome, the Persians and then the Arabs were in control of the spice trade. They created fantastic, frightening stories about where pepper grew in order to scare other traders away from the source of black pepper. Their trade created a new empire – the city states of Venice and Genoa. The black pepper trade was responsible, in part, for the wealth of these two cities that sold the commodity to the rest of Europe. 

Due to the high cost of trading between Europe and India, black pepper and other spices became a luxury and a symbol of wealth, as the taste for flavored foods and a belief in the medicinal qualities of spices grew.  Again, it was also used as currency: a pound of black pepper could free a serf, and many a young maiden was married with a black pepper dowry.

With the explorations of Vasco Da Gama and others in the 15th century, trade in black pepper fell to the Portuguese, then to the Dutch, and then to the British East India Company. At one time, pepper accounted for 70% of the world spice trade. As it became more available, prices dropped, and more people were able to use black pepper. As a result, many world cuisines developed special spice/herb blends that included black pepper.

nothingtodoinbermuda.com

Annual Peppercorn Ceremony in Bermuda. Photo credit: nothingtodoinbermuda.com

An amusing story about black pepper plays out in Bermuda, where each year, the 200 year old Annual Peppercorn Ceremony occurs. During this event, Freemasons present the Governor of Bermuda with one peppercorn on a cushioned silver platter in exchange for their rent of the Old State house. The idea of “peppercorn rent” is still practiced today in England and in other countries, where a nominal fee is charged to rent a property. This refers back to the time when peppercorns were used as currency. 

Piperine, a key constituent in black pepper, is being explored for its antioxidant properties and as a treatment for vitiligo, which is the loss of skin pigmentation (Mihăilă et al, 2019). In addition, piperine is found to fight inflammation, improve digestion, and increase absorption of some herbal and conventional drugs (Streit, 2019). A relatively recent study showed that smelling hot pepper oil helps to reduce the craving to smoke (Cordell & Buckle, 2013).

Black pepper is used extensively in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine to treat digestive tract problems. Traditionally, it was used to treat worms, coughs and colds, sinusitis, dental problems, diarrhea, etc. The oil was used to treat scalp infections and skin diseases. 

Who would have thought that this common culinary spice played such an important role in world history? It was used to pay taxes, ransoms, rent, and dowry. As a medium of exchange, it was called black gold. It was, and still is, an important medicinal ingredient. And, it was the reason sailors set sail on perilous journeys to find a passage to India. Although no longer considered a luxury spice, the world’s demand for black pepper has not abated through the years, and continues to be an important spice in most cuisines. It has a peppery hold in many of our kitchens and still reigns as the “king of spices.”

For more information and recipes using black pepper, go to The Herbs Society of America’s Herb of the Month webpage: https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/herb-of-the-month.html

Cordell, B. and Buckle, J. (2013). The effects of aromatherapy on nicotine cravings on a U.S. campus: A small comparison study. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 19 (8). Accessed May 27, 2020. Available from https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.2012.0537

Mihăilă,B., Dinică, R.M., Tatu, A.L., and Buzia, O. D. (2019). New insights in vitilago treatments using bioactive compounds from Piper nigrum. Exp Ther Med, 17 (2): 1039-1044. Accessed May 27, 2020. Available from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6327422/

Streit, L. (2019). Is black pepper good for you, or bad? Nutrition, uses, and more. Healthline. Accessed May 27, 2020. Available from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/is-black-pepper-good-for-you

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Maryann Readal is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America. She is a member of the Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX and is a Master Gardener. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

Sorrel – Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

Sorrel (Rumex acetosa), a tart, lemony herb, is used today primarily in cooking. However, you may have to grow your own sorrel or visit a farmer’s market or specialty store in early spring if you want to make any recipe with it. 

sorrelChopped and combined with cream and butter, sorrel makes a nice sauce for fish. If you have Eastern European or Jewish heritage, you may have had sorrel soup (schav) growing up. The leaves can be chopped and added to casseroles, or added to any soup to brighten the flavor. You can also make a pesto with the leaves or use it in combination with basil, mint, etc. to give your pesto a different flavor. Leaves can be cooked along with spinach, and baby leaves can be tossed into salads. Add it to salad dressing to give a tangy taste. It’s best to use the young leaves, as older leaves tend to acquire a more sour taste. Combining it with sour cream or cream will lessen its sourness. At one time, meat was wrapped with sorrel leaves to tenderize it. Sorrel is used in French cooking, for which the preferred species is Rumex scutatus. This species has a milder, lemon-like flavor and smaller, rounded leaves.

Sorrel was, at one time, a very popular herb in places where citrus fruits were not available. Because of its high Vitamin C content, it was eaten in the 16th-18th centuries to prevent scurvy. It was thought to also cure diseases of the mouth including loose teeth, which is a symptom of scurvy.  Because of the oxalic acid in sorrel, people with arthritic, renal, and gastrointestinal disorders should eat it with caution. However, light cooking of sorrel decreases the oxalic content of the leaves. Young leaves also have less oxalic acid than older leaves.

sorrel, red

Rumex sanguineus

The roots and seeds have been used in traditional medicines, with the roots as well as the leaves having components that produce a laxative effect. “Currently, studies on sorrel offer promising results in the areas of digestion, infection prevention, topical skin treatments, and anti-proliferative activity.” (American Botanical Council, HerbalEGram, May 2016).

In the past, sorrel was used to remove ink stains, rust, and mold from linen. Juice from the leaves makes an olive green dye, and the roots produce a bright yellow dye.

Sorrel has bright green, long, arrow-shaped leaves, and produces an inflorescence in May-June. It is easy to grow in zones 4-8.  Seeds can be sown directly in the ground before the last frost. Plants can also be divided and shared. It is a perennial in my zone 8b garden. Sorrel does like acidic soil and plenty of sun, but will tolerate some shade. There is a species with red veining, Rumex sanguineus, that makes a nice accent plant in the garden. It is also edible, though it lacks the strong flavor of garden sorrel, Rumex acetosa.

Here is my mother-in-law’s recipe for sorrel soup:

Sorrel Soup

¼ lb. sorrel leaves

1 tbsp. butter

2 cups chicken broth

3 eggs yolks

½ cup cream

Salt and white pepper

Shred the sorrel leaves that have been well-washed, with the stems and center ribs removed. Cook in the butter for a few minutes until soft. Add the chicken broth and simmer for 15 minutes. At serving time, beat three egg yolks with the cream and add to the hot soup, being careful not to let it boil. Season with salt and white pepper to taste and serve immediately.

For more information and recipes using sorrel, please go to The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month webpage.

Medicinal DisclaimerIt is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Maryann is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America. She is a member of the Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. and is a Master Gardener. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

Poppy Seed – Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

1586204466164blobPoppies are a colorful springtime addition to the garden bed. Their striking crepe paper-like flowers tower over other perennials that are just beginning to put on new growth for the season. The deeply lobed, light green leaves readily fill in the empty spaces that can later be filled in with summer annuals when the poppy finishes its dramatic display.

These show-stopping blooms are the source of poppy seeds, the Herb of the Month for The Herb Society of America. Each bulbous poppy seed pod contains hundreds, perhaps thousands of gray-black seeds. The seeds are edible and are often sprinkled on top of bagels and used in cakes. They are also added to salad dressings and are the star ingredient in one of my favorite Polish pastries—poppy seed strudel. The seed pod itself creates its own drama in the garden and when dried, makes a striking addition to flower arrangements.

However, the sap, also referred to as opium gum, from the unripe poppy seed capsule, leaves, and to a lesser extent  the stems, contains the compounds morphine, thebaine, and codeine. Morphine and thebaine are then used to synthesize heroine and oxycodone, respectively. Because of its pain-relieving properties, the poppy is an important medicinal plant in the pharmaceutical industry. Most of the medicinal opium comes from Turkey, India, and Australia. According to a United Nation report, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Mexico are the major illegal growers of opium poppies from which heroin is made. 

1586204635445blobPoppies have been used as a medicinal plant for nearly 6000 years, when it was first cultivated in Southwest Asia. The list of its uses in folk medicine is quite extensive. Ancient Sumerians referred to it as hul gil or “joy plant.” Its use and cultivation followed the Silk Road to China where it became the reason for the Opium Wars in the middle 1800s. 

Today, it is illegal to grow the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, for large-scale production in the United States. But growing P. somniferum is typically ok for ornamental uses in the home garden. An interesting read is an essay published in Harpers written by the food writer and journalist, Michael Pollan, who detailed his soul searching deliberations about growing ornamental poppies in his own garden. 

1586204527808blobPoppies are very easy to grow in sun and good soil. There are many different varieties and colors. In the north, they can be a perennial. However, in southern gardens they are only an annual. Seeds, which can be broadcast over the bare earth, are sown in the early spring in the north, and in the south they are sown in late fall.  Mixing the seed with sand helps to evenly distribute the seed. The plants have a deep taproot and do not like to be transplanted. If the seed pods are left on the plants, they will reseed themselves, and you will have plenty of stunning volunteers to color your garden the following year and for many years thereafter. They tend to hybridize easily, so if you want to maintain a certain variety of poppy, you need to keep different types separated. Growing P. somniferum for ornamental purposes can be illegal in some states. Consult with local law authorities.

Flanders poppy_public domain

Flanders poppy

Remembrance Day and Memorial Day are the times when we wear the red poppy to remember those who sacrificed their lives during wars. The Flanders poppy, Papaver rhoeas, grew profusely over the graves of fallen soldiers in WWI when the seeds were exposed to the light they needed to germinate. John McCrae, a brigade surgeon during the war, wrote of these poppies in his poem In Flanders Fields.

For more information, recipes, and a colorful poppy screensaver, visit The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month webpage. 

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Maryann  Readal is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America. She is a member of the Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX and gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

Bergamot Orange – March Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

What do Earl Gray tea, the confection Turkish Delight, the liqueur Bergamia, eau de cologne, and some air fresheners have in common? The answer is: the essential oil from the bergamot orange, Citrus ×bergamia, The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month for March.

March2020 HOM Bergamot OrangeWhen I first looked into March’s Herb of the Month, bergamot orange, I was sure there would not be much exciting information about this herbal tree. What can you expect from a tree that produces oddly shaped, yellow oranges? It turned out that I was very wrong.

Bergamot orange, C. ×bergamia, has a lot to satisfy the curious mind. The tree is a hybrid of lemon and sour orange, so I don’t think you are going to eat the fruit right from the tree. The origins of the tree are debated, but many believe it originated in Turkey. In fact, the origin of its name comes from the Turkish word “beg-a-mudi” which means “pears of the Prince” or “pears of the Lord.”

Today, the fruit is grown in many places, but the fruit which is produced in the coastal Calabria region of Italy is the most desirable. In fact, the Calabria region (the toe of the boot in Italy) is an economically protected area because of the fruit’s importance to not only the region’s economy, but also to future research into the fruit’s medicinal benefits. Eighty to ninety percent of the world’s production of bergamot essential oil (BEO) comes from this 60-mile strip of the Italian coastline.

1811-Rosoli-Flacon

Original “eau de cologne” containing bergamot, by Jean Marie Farina.

BEO is very important to the perfume industry. Its history in perfumery dates back to the late 1600s – early 1700s when the essence from the skin was first used to produce cologne water (eau de cologne) or toilet water. Still today, the essential oil is used in perfumes. According to Gina Maruca, et al., “bergamot oil, [sic] is one of the most important perfume materials; its pleasant refreshing scent, [sic] blends into almost, [sic] any perfume composition so that, today, there is not a perfume which does not contains BEO (Bergamot Essential Oil)” (Journal of Science and Engineering, 2017).

For use in cosmetics, the bergapten compound of bergamot essential oil is removed because it creates a photosensitivity to sunlight whenever used on the skin. People with photosensitivity should be careful using BEO that has not had this compound removed.

The juice from the bergamot orange was used in traditional Italian folk medicine to treat intestinal parasites and malaria. The oil was used as an antiseptic and to treat fevers. In Ayurvedic medicine, the oil has been used to treat a variety of skin problems, depression, flatulence, and loss of appetite. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, BEO was used to stimulate and re-balance the flow of energy in the body. Bergamot oil is still used in aromatherapy applications because, when inhaled, its ingredients soothe and calm the nervous system, reducing anxiety and stress and helping with sleep disorders.

BergaCal

Bergamot supplement (courtesy: madeinsouthitaly.com)

Still under investigation today are the therapeutic possibilities of bergamot, and there is great interest in its antioxidant, cancer- and cholesterol-fighting components. Other uses of the fruit include using the pulp and peel in animal feed and to improve soil. Because of its antimicrobial properties, researchers have recommended the use of bergamot essential oil on fresh fruit in order to prolong shelf life.

So for an herb that did not seem interesting at first, there is certainly a lot more to it than meets the eye. Or should I say the nose.

For more information about bergamot, recipes, and a colorful screensaver, please see The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month webpage.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Maryann is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America. She is a member of the Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

 

 

Chocolate – Food of the Gods

By Maryann Readal

In 1753, it was Carl Linnaeus who gave cacao, The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month, its botanical name: Theobroma cacao, from theos meaning god and broma meaning food – food of the gods. The Mayans gave it the name xocoatl, (pronounced sho-KWA-til). According to The True History of Chocolate authors Sophie and Michael Coe, the most likely history of the word “chocolate” is that the Spaniards combined the Maya word chocol, meaning “hot,” and the Aztec atl, meaning “water,” to produce chocolatl.

It is believed that Olmec Indians began using cacao beans for beverages as early as 250 BCE. But it was the Mayans who really domesticated the tree and discovered its many uses. They were the first to grow cacao trees on plantations. The drink they made from cacao beans was reserved for the Mayan wealthy and important and was used in religious ceremonies. The beans were also used as money in trade with the Aztecs.

theobroma

Flowers on cacao tree

The Aztecs, however, began to flavor the ground beans with other spices such as chile, cinnamon, pepper, and vanilla and then frothed the beverage with a molinillo, the Mexican chocolate whisk. The drink they created was also reserved for high government officials, priests, and the warrior classes. The Aztecs believed that their god, Quetzalcoatl, taught them about the many uses of cacao.

Along comes Christopher Columbus in 1492 on his fourth try to find a water route to India, but discovers the Americas instead. He brings back the cacao beans to King Ferdinand and Isabella, who were not as enamored with the beans as they were with the other treasures he brought from the New World.  A few years later, Hernando Cortez came to the Vera Cruz, Mexico area in the early 1500’s and learned first hand from the Aztec emperor, Montezuma, the exhilarating uses of cacao. He brought his discovery of the effects of the cacao beverage and its preparation to King Charles V of Spain, and this time it was greeted with much interest and led to Cortez conquering the Aztec Empire and developing  large cacao plantations for Spain. This was the beginning of the Spanish monopoly of cacao beans that lasted 200 years.

Europe accepted the use of chocolate as a medicine because the Mesoamericans used it as a remedy for many ailments for centuries. And Europeans found that it was a medicine that had pleasant, euphoric effects. These effects were what caused the church at the height of the Middle Ages to circumscribe its use, claiming that it caused immoral behaviors. Monks were forbidden to use chocolate and it was not allowed to be drunk while fasting. The chocolate beverage could only be drunk for medicinal reasons.

The debate about the medicinal qualities of chocolate continued well into the 1900’s in Europe, with many noted physicians chiming in on the subject. In the 18th century, it was Carl Linnaeus who wrote about the nourishment and therapeutic qualities of chocolate saying that “it could be used to lose weight, help lung and muscles diseases, hypochondria, and hemorrhoids.” In fact, cacao butter, which is the fat extracted from ground cacao beans, is still used today in suppositories for hemorrhoids. Now that will make you pause before eating a white chocolate rabbit at Easter.

The Nestle company introduced milk into chocolate to create milk chocolate in 1867, which completely changed the taste of chocolate. This new chocolate reignited the health debate concerning chocolate, with physicians claiming that the milk chocolate caused obesity, dental problems, and an unhealthy lifestyle.

In the early 20th century, chocolate became more important as food rather than as medicine. In fact, chocolate was included in World War II’s K and D rations as a healthy and quick source of energy for soldiers on the battlefield. In her book Plants Go To War, Judith Sumner discusses the use of chocolate in British Intelligence efforts in which chocolate bars were “impregnated with garlic to mimic the smell of the French whom they were impersonating.” She also reports that there was a German plan to assassinate Winston Churchill with a booby-trapped chocolate bar. The plot was never implemented.

In 1930, Nestle introduced white chocolate, which is cacao butter mixed with sugar. And in 2018 the Swiss company Barry-Callebaut introduced a ruby–or “pink”–chocolate into the market.

chocolate, pink

pink chocolate

Named the fourth chocolate, it is pink and fruity tasting.  This chocolate reportedly comes from special ruby cacao beans.

Debate and research continues on chocolate as a medicine.  Researchers do ascribe chocolate with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.  Some data also shows that apart from its pleasant effects, chocolate consumption improves brain function. Studies also link the flavonoids in dark chocolate with a reduced risk of diabetes. Consumption of dark chocolate is also believed to protect the heart.

However, chocolate may be returning to its Aztec roots with chocolate artisans introducing herbs, spices, flowers, and all kinds of ingredients into chocolate, making it not only a food of the gods but a food of the people, too – especially around Valentine’s Day.

A nice history of chocolate can be found at The Nibble https://www.thenibble.com/reviews/main/chocolate/the-history-of-chocolate.asp.

And for more information and chocolate recipes, please see The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month web page for February.


Maryann is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America. She is a member of the Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. She gardens among the pine trees in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

Raspberry, Herb of the Year and Herb of the Month: History and Lore

™™™HOM Brambles

By Pat Greathead

Raspberry, Rubus spp., is the International Herb Association’s Herb of the YearTM for 2020 and The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month for January (Brambles). The genus Rubus includes both the red and black raspberry and the blackberry as well as almost 700 other species. Rubus is in the Rosacea family.

My Wisconsin Unit of The Herb Society each year examines the IHA Herb of the Year.TM In this blog post, I have mainly focused on red raspberry leaf and have used information from many websites in writing this article. I hope you enjoy reading it as this is the year of the raspberry!

Raspberry leaves are among the most pleasant tasting of all the herbal remedies, with a taste much like black tea, without the caffeine. Raspberries are native to Asia and arrived in North America via prehistoric people, with the first records of domestication coming from the writings of the Roman agricultural writer Palladius in the 5th century. Evidence has been found that early cave-dwelling humans ate raspberries. Seeds were discovered in Roman forts in Britain, so it is thought the Romans and animals spread raspberries throughout Europe.

Red raspberries were said to have been discovered and much loved by the Olympian gods on Mount Ida in northwest Turkey, hence their botanical name Rubus idaeus, which means ‘bramble (branch) bush of Ida’ in Latin. According to Société’s Materia Medica blog, “In the story of Ida, the nursemaid to the infant Zeus pricked her finger while picking the snow-white berries, staining them red for all eternity.” (Société, 2018) Fruits were gathered from the wild by the people of Troy in the foothills of Mt. Ida around the time of Christ.

The leaf was traditionally used in ancient times to prepare the womb for childbirth, to aid delivery and breastfeeding, and some farmers used it for their pregnant goats. Other uses were as a remedy for common ailments due to its abundance of minerals, vitamins, and tannins. (Tannins help to tone and tighten tissue). Chemicals in the leaf were believed to help the blood vessels relax. The ancient Greeks, Romans, Chinese, and Ayurvedic physicians also used it widely as a treatment for wounds and diarrhea (somewhat interchanged with blackberry).

By Medieval times (5th-15th century), raspberry had a great many uses, including using the juices in paintings and illuminated manuscripts and the leaves as a woman’s tonic. Société’s blog on red raspberry states that, “In early Christian artwork raspberries were used to symbolize kindness. Its red juice invoked the energy of the blood which runs from the heart and carries love, nutrition, and kindness through the body.” (Société, 2018)  King Edward the 1st (1272-1307) was said to be the first to call for mass cultivation of raspberries, whose popularity spread quickly throughout Europe. Raspberry leaf was first described in 1597 in the book The Herbal, or A General History of Plants by John Norton, the Queen’s printer.

By the 17th century, British gardens were rich with berries and berry bushes. Culpeper (1616-1654) in his book The Complete Herbal talked about raspberry leaf as “very binding and good for fevers, ulcers, putrid sores of the mouth and secret parts, for stones of the kidneys and too much flowing of the women’s courses.”  By the 18th century, berry cultivation practices had spread throughout Europe. An old Irish beekeeper’s recipe was to gather foxglove, raspberry, wild marjoram, mint, chamomile and valerian on May day, mix with butter made that day, boil together with honey, and rub the vessel into which you want the bees to gather, both inside and out.  Place it in the middle of a tree, and bees will soon come.  Again from Société’s Materia Medica, “In Germany, raspberry was used to tame bewitched horses by tying a bit of the cane to the horse’s body. In the Philippines, raspberry canes were hung outside homes to protect those who dwelt within from any souls who may inadvertently wander in” (remember the thorns!). (Société, 2018)

When settlers from Europe came to America, they found Native Americans already utilizing and eating berries, some believing raspberry had strong protective powers against unwanted spiritual beings. Teas of raspberry leaves were given to women of the Cherokee, Iroquois, and Mohawk Nations to soothe labor pains, ease contractions, and ease nausea. Due to the nomadic nature of their culture, berries were dried for preservation and ease of transportation.

raspberrySettlers also brought cultivated raspberries that were native to Europe with them to the new colonies. In 1761, George Washington moved to his estate in Mount Vernon where he began to cultivate berries in his extensive gardens. The first commercial nursery plants were sold by William Price in 1771. Jefferson planted raspberries at Monticello on numerous occasions beginning in 1774. In 1735, Irish herbalist K’Eogh described these uses for raspberry: “An application of the flowers bruised with honey is beneficial for inflammations of the eyes, burning fever and boils…the fruit is food for the heart and diseases of the mouth.”

Raspberry tea made political history after England imposed the Boston Port Act, which exacted a tea tax on the American Colonies in 1773 to help the financially troubled East India Company. Tea made from sage or raspberry leaves then became a popular substitute for the colonists’ favorite beverage.

Collected by French botanist André Michaux and included in his Flora Boreali-Americana (1803), our native red raspberry, Rubus strigosus, is now found across much of North America, including all of Canada and the northern half of the US to North Carolina and California. After the Civil War (1861-1865), major production areas emerged in the regions of New York, Michigan, Oregon, Washington, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana. By 1880 approximately 2,000 acres were in cultivation.

By 1867 over 40 different varieties of raspberry were known. “In 1890, JM Hodge, a Scottish solicitor and raspberry grower from Blairgowrie, rented some land specifically to grow raspberries on a larger scale. He formed the Blairgowrie & Rattray Fruit Growers Association, bringing together local producers and beginning industrial production.” (Oxfordshire Gardener, 2019)

In King’s American Dispensatory (1898), it is described that the leaves and fruits are the parts of the plant that are used for medicinal purposes. The leaves impart some of their constituents to water, giving to the infusion an odor and flavor somewhat similar to that of some kinds of black tea, and that raspberry is “of much service in dysentery, pleasant to the taste, mitigating suffering and ultimately affecting a cure.”   According to M. Grieve (1931) experience has shown that raspberry leaf has been used in cases of severe dysmenorrhea. She writes an infusion of Raspberry leaves, taken cold is a reliable remedy for extreme laxity of the bowels. The infusion alone, or as a component part, never fails to give immediate relief and it is especially useful in stomach complaints of children.”

 According to the Telegraph’s Eleanor Doughty, “In the 1950’s, Scotland, known for its raspberry growing, brought raspberries down to London on a dedicated steam train known as The Raspberry Special.” (Doughty, 2015)

Today red raspberry leaf is used for gastrointestinal tract disorders, including diarrhea and stomach pains; also to treat heart problems, fevers, vitamin deficiencies, diabetes; and for respiratory system disorders, swine flu, and common flu. It is also beneficial in promoting urination, sweating, and bile production.

Many people use it for general skin and blood purification. Some use red raspberry leaf to ease painful periods, morning sickness associated with pregnancy, heavy periods, and in preventing miscarriage, as well as to ease labor and delivery. Similar to its ancient use, a strong raspberry leaf tea or tincture will soothe sunburn, eczema, and skin rashes when used externally. Swishing with a tincture or infusion of raspberry leaf is thought to relieve sore throats and the gums, and can help alleviate the symptoms of gingivitis or gum disease. In Europe, small quantities of red raspberry leaf are a source of natural flavoring in food preparation.

The website Practical Herbalist states that “Raspberry is one of the few herbs that must be processed from dry leaves. Fresh leaves contain a substance that causes stomach upset as they wilt. Making a tincture from raspberry leaves is simple. The easiest way to process this tincture is to add dried raspberry leaves to brandy.” The tincture should be shaken regularly for a few months and then strained.

For more information on raspberries and some recipes too, please see The Herb Society of America’s January Herb of the Month web page on Brambles.

Below are websites with more information about raspberries:


Pat Greathead is a very active Life Member of The Herb Society of America and the Wisconsin Unit. She gardens in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.


Herb Society of America Medical Disclaimer … It is the policy of The Herb Society of America not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any medical or health treatment.

%d bloggers like this: