In societies living close to the land, the benefits of using herbs to ameliorate health problems has long been known and in Provence, herbal teas and infusions remain part of everyday life.
I know families who gather fresh herbs early each morning to drink at breakfast. Great-grandmother’s remedies for sleeplessness, stomach cramps, depression, healthy hair and skin are not forgotten jottings in a notebook stored in their attic – for these families, herbs are eveyday aids to a healthy life.
In the wider world, the move towards cooking with locally grown, organic produce and eating fresh , unrefined foods, has led to a revival of interest in the use of herbs as a means to improve corporal and mental wellbeing.
The most common method of taking one of the hundreds of herbs considered beneficial to humans, is by drinking it as a tissane (tea) or as an infusion. An herbal tea can be drunk for pleasure, or as an aid to well-being. Infusions are usually taken to help cure an illness. A tissane can be made from a single herb or a mixture of herbs and is most often brewed from dried leaves. An infusion, although similar to a tea, uses a larger amount of herb and is steeped for longer in hot water. It is therefore, stronger than a tea.
In Provence, the principal herbs used for medicinal purposes are Olive Leaf, Verveine, Rosemary, Thyme, Tilleul (lime), Chamomile, and Sage.
Olive leaves have properties that work against a wide variety of maladies. Taken as tea, they can help lower blood pressure and balance blood sugar levels. They are also believed to help in preventing the formation of ‘bad’ cholestrol (LDL), and in reducing inflamation.
In the Provencal countryside, many people have olive trees on their land and consequently, have the good fortune to be able to make tea from their own leaves. Town and city dwellers can buy olive leaves as an extract in liquid form, or as a dried powder from health stores or from specialist online traders. Ensure the leaves are from an organic plantation to avoid contamination from pesticides.
Olive Leaf Tea
Steep 1 tsp of dried leaves in a cup of hot water for 12 minutes, strain. If the tea tastes bitter it can be sweetened with a little honey. Three cups per day maximum.
The Vervain plant and its health benefits can be traced back to the ancient Romans. Principally used as a detoxicant it is also used in the treatment of depression. Vervain tea aids digestion. A cup, taken half an hour before going to bed, can help prevent a sleepless night.
Romarin (Rosemary), is one of the best known herbs. It has been used for thousands of years as a food flavoring and as an herbal health aid. Rosemary contains a powerful antioxidant that can improve blood circulation and may protect neurons from free-radical damage. It is also believed to help prevent memory loss in the elderly. Rosemary tea can be used to improve scalp health and hair growth – Brew 25 grams (an ounce) of dried rosemary in 1 liter (a quart) of water overnight and use as an after-shampoo rinse to stimulate hair growth
Rosemary tea is a refreshing, chilled drink in the hot summer months.
Thyme is known for its antiseptic and disinfectant properties. It is commonly used as a treatment for stomach cramps, and against flu, coughs and colds. To make thyme tea, boil a pot of water and then add the leaves.. Let the tea sit for two-three minutes before drinking. It can be allowed to cool and reheated at a later time. The cooled liquid can be used to cleanse small cuts and scratches on the body.
A Tilleul (Linden/lime) tree is a common sight in Provencal gardens because of its many perceived virtues. The dried flowers are used to make a tea which can help relieve stuffy noses, sore throats, headaches and, used as an expectorant, to loosen phlegm.The Tilleuil leaf is used as a mild diuretic to increase urine production.
Chamomile (or Camomile)
Chamomile tea is considered to have numerous health benefits. It is best known for its mildly sedative properties and is used to ease insomnia. A cup of hot chamomile tea taken just before bedtime is believed to ensure a good night’s sleep.
The non-flowering variety of sage is used as both a culinary and a medicinal herb. It is considered useful in easing biliousness and liver complaints, as a mouth rinse against infected gums or as a gargle for sore throats. The ancient Greeks used it to clean wounds and heal sores, and the Chinese believe it helps digestion.
Sage and Sea Salt Mouthwash
Filtered water – 1 cup
Sage leaves – 5 or 6
Sea salt – 2 tsp.
Dissolve the sea salt completely in boiling, filtered water. If using fresh leaves, add to hot water and simmer for around 10 minutes. If using dried leave, put leaves in a suitable container and add hot water..Allow liquid to cool and strain if necessary. Rinse mouth well and spit out.
I use this sage rinse as a mouthwash and find it effective, however, my favorite way of taking sage is in a Saltimbocca alla Romana, washed down with a glass or two of good Barolo wine.
- While herbal medicines are generally safe to use in moderate doses, it is advisable to consult with your medical practitioner before self-treating an illness, especially if prescription drugs have been already prescribed.
- Pregnant women and nursing mothers should not take any herbal products without first talking to their health care provider.
Stay healthy !