Category: Herb of the Month
Dandelions are more than a common lawn weed, in herbal medicine, they are extremely beneficial and even prized for their contributions to overall health. This beneficial weed has been used as a medicinal plant for over a thousand years, and is best known for its ability to support liver function and reduce the severity of various skin conditions, including eczema.
Dandelions also help to regulate the intestinal flora, which is another essential benefit of any detoxification routine, as do the numerous minerals available in the herb.
When to use it: Dandelion extract is ideally suited for those with inflammatory skin conditions or other forms of dermatitis. It is also a beneficial herbal bitter, which means that it can stimulate appetite and assist the digestive process.
Culinary Medicine: Dandelions are a fantastic addition to a garden salad. They add a bit of bright color to the overall appearance, and the flavor blends well with any combination of greens. However, it is important to note that consumption of dandelions should not include any wild harvested varieties. Considering the common use of herbicides used in today’s lawn care, most dandelions are laden with toxins and not suitable for human consumption. Instead, opt for dandelions that have been grown specifically for dietary use.
Optimal Dose: In the diet, dandelions can be added liberally to a salad or other green food. As an extract, ideal dose is 10-15 drops of a 1:5 ratio tincture up to 3 times per day.
When to avoid it: Dandelion should not be taken internally when gall stones are present or when there is an obstruction of the bile ducts without first consulting with a professional for assistance.
One suggestion I have for those that can’t commit to an herbal program just yet but want to get their feet wet is to begin by studying one herb each month to build a working knowledge of a handful of herbs. After doing this for a year or two, most people have saved enough to enter a formal program and learn about the science behind these herbs they’ve begun using. It’s a really great system because it enables the herb to be used practically right away!
To assist with that, I’m starting an herb of the month series on the blog – the tab has been on the side for a while now! We’ll focus on some of my favorite herbs and their medicinal / culinary uses. I strongly recommend beginning with the culinary use of herbs, especially if you’re new to an herb. It enables you to really learn the look, feel and taste of the herb, which is valuable info for when you begin studying the chemical composition later in a formal program.
For September, the herb of the month will be Basil – one of my absolute favorites! This one is a kitchen staple for many chefs, but its medicinal properties are equally impressive. The info is taken from an ebook I wrote several years ago called The Kitchen Herbal. Basil is also covered in the Handbook of Vintage Remedies and, in a more advanced format, through our study programs at the Vintage Remedies School of Natural Health.
Basil (Ocimum Basilicum)
This bushy plant has been cultivated for millennia, as a native to Asia’s tropical regions and the Mediterranean. It comes in many forms (over 60 varieties!) and is a close relative to peppermint, which explains the similarity in leaf shape. The name comes from a Greek word meaning “royal”, which reflects accurately the perception held of this herb. Tradition holds basil as a highly esteemed herb, and the Italians revered basil as a symbol of love and hospitality.
Nutritionally, basil is rich in vitamin K, with 2 t of dried herb offering a whopping 60% of the RDA. It also offers plenty of iron, calcium, vitamin A, fiber, and manganese. This impressive array of nutrients makes basil worth adding to the diet, but the benefits found in this tasty plant don’t end there.
Basil is also rich in a substance called flavonoids. These substances protect the cells of the body from damage by radiation and oxidation. The two flavonoids of most importance in basil are orietin and vicenin.
Medicinally, the plant is anti-inflammatory, which makes it beneficial for those with rheumatoid arthritis, depression, inflammatory bowel conditions, and even some headaches. The herb is also a digestive aid, helping to alleviate nausea and ease gastric upsets. Many of our culinary herbs are great at assisting with digestion, which probably is what led to their long tradition as a culinary herb.
Essential oils can also be extracted from basil, and these oils are valuable as well. Basil essential oil contains many substances, which are beneficial to the diet. Basil oil has been found in clinical trials to inhibit many species of pathogenic bacteria that have become resistant to conventional drugs. On this list is E coli, the cause of many common gastric problems, as well as types of listeria and staph.
Basil essential oil is also diffused throughout a room to create a general calm and uplifting feeling. The scent also promotes mental clarity and an overall sense of wellbeing. These benefits can be obtained by diffusing the oil, but also directly from a plant growing in a decorative pot inside the house. I prefer the fresh scent directly from the plant. Not only is it easier (no finding the oil and setting up the diffuser) it can be safer, as I don’t have to worry about the kids ingesting or spilling the oil on themselves.
While basil is often featured in the cuisine of the countries in its native region, Italian and Thai foods seem to top the list in uses for basil. Most chefs agree that fresh basil is preferred over the dried kind, and since it is so easy to grow in the kitchen, why not? The fresh herb is going to offer the most health benefits as well. When growing your own basil, keep in mind that it likes warm weather. We are prone to cold temperatures here during the winter, so I like to grow my basil in a pot. Since it requires good drainage, I line the pot first with gravel, then healthy fertile soil prior to planting. Then, I keep it near a window in my kitchen so it can get the 6-8 hours of sunlight it needs, but close enough to my stove for me to grab a few last minute clippings while I am cooking.
The seeds germinate in about a week, which is nice for impatient growers like myself. Once seedlings appear, the aroma begins to fill the kitchen through those healthy essential oils we discussed earlier. Then, as it grows, I can begin to pick off the leaves. Basil needs water about once a week, and it grows best when the flowers are plucked, to focus on the leaves. It also likes to have just a few leaves at a time plucked, rather than an all at once trimming, which is yet another reason to keep it on hand during food prep, grabbing those leaves just before consuming them.
Basil can be preserved by drying or freezing. Try finding mini ice cube trays, fill each spot up with chopped basil and cover with water or olive oil. Freeze and then dump into a freezer bag. To add basil to any recipe, just drop in a cube or two. To dry out basil, simply pluck a few fresh stems. Tie with a pretty ribbon and hang in a dry room in indirect sunlight. Other methods include spreading out the stems over a towel and plucking only the leaves to dry. Regardless of the method, the leaves and stems need to be fully dry prior to storage; otherwise there is a risk of mold. The pretty bundles will take longest to dry, and the flat leaves will dry the fastest. Once completely dry, store in an airtight container away from direct sunlight.
Basil blends perfectly with tomatoes, and this classic combination offers a variety of serving options. It is also a good match for garlic and other similarly strong flavors, as the intense essential (or volatile) oil can certainly hold its own.
Here are some of my favorite ways to add some basil to our day.
Basil Roasted Chicken with Basil Parmesan Butter
This is one of my favorite meals. The strong flavor of the basil coats the chicken while the smooth cheese mellows the taste. Use the extra butter for the diner bread or to top accompanying veggies. It can be prepared in advance and
stored in the fridge for up to a week.
4 free range chicken breasts
1 stick butter
1/3 cup fresh basil
3 T parmesan cheese
1 t each: salt and pepper
Chop the basil while allowing the butter to soften. In a medium bowl, mix together the butter, basil, salt and pepper. Take 4T of the mixture (1/4 cup) out to the grill with you. On the grill, over medium heat, begin to cook the chicken, coating each breast with 1T of the butter mixture while it cooks. Serve with warm parmesan risotto (recipe below), green salad and a crusty loaf of bread topped with the remaining butter.
Warm Parmesan Risotto
This dish only contains a hint of basil, making it the perfect accompaniment to the roasted chicken above. Risotto can be intimidating the first time it is tackled, but it is really simple once the procedure is mastered. It quickly
became one of my favorite comfort foods. Risotto is also a rice, meaning it is gluten free, which is important to the growing number of individuals with gluten intolerance or allergies.
1 cup Arborio rice
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated or shredded
3 cups chicken or veggie stock
1 t dried basil
1 t garlic powder
1 t onion powder
2 T olive oil
In a saucepan over low heat, combine the stock with 2 cups purified water. Warm but do not let come to a simmer or boil. In another pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and heat about a minute until flavors begin to mix. Add the rice. Stir about 3-5 minutes until the rice is transparent. Slowly add 1 cup of the stock mixture. Cook over medium to low heat until the liquid is almost all the way absorbed. Continue adding 1/2 to 1 cup liquid at a time, only adding more when the previous addition is absorbed until all the liquid has been used. (This will take about 20-30 minutes.) The resulting dish will be naturally creamy with its own sauce. To intensify the flavor, add the parmesan and basil to the sauce and serve right away.
This food holds a long history, dating back to at least the 15th century in central Italy. While tradition places it as a winter food, I love it in the summer piled high with fresh vine ripened tomatoes. There are many different versions of
the treat, so feel free to play around with this recipe, using whatever you have on hand as the topping.
2 pounds fresh Roma tomatoes
1/4 cup basil leaves, chopped
2-3T olive oil
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 loaf crusty wheat bread
2T minced garlic
Chop the tomatoes into small cubes. Place in a bowl with the basil, oil and 3T of the cheese. Set aside for the flavors to mellow. (This is a great time to toss it in the fridge overnight. It tastes better the next day, and saves you a step later.) Slice the bread into thick hearty slices. Spread with minced garlic and toast until firm but not browned. Scoop the tomato mixture over the top of the toasted slices. Arrange on a platter and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.
This is another classic Italian food. While the salad is simple to make, the way the flavors marry and blend into a rich intense treat always amazes me. Serve this alongside a light summery meal or before a big fall feast.
3 large ripe tomatoes
8-10 large fresh basil leaves
1 pound sliced fresh mozzarella
2T olive oil
dash salt and pepper
On a platter, arrange the tomatoes, cheese and basil in an alternating pattern until you have used all the ingredients. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle the salt and pepper over the top. This can sit in the fridge for a couple of hours prior to serving, or can be enjoyed right away.
What discussion of basil is complete without a mention of the popular dish pesto? Pesto rises and falls in popularity, but this light, easy to make dish is a staple in my home at all times. I make (or buy) a big batch, then I freeze it in ice cube trays to have little portions always available. Whenever we need some “fast food”, all I have to do is cook some pasta and the warmth thaws the pesto and we have a quick effortless meal. Here is a recipe to stock your freezer with.
4 cups fresh basil leaves
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup olive oil
3/4 cup pine nuts
3 T minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste
In a blender or food processor, chop the nuts and basil. Add the garlic and blend. Open the top and slowly add the oil. Finish with the cheese and spices. This makes enough to use now and freeze half for later. Toss 1 cup with 1 pound cooked pasta, scoop it over grilled chicken or spread over cream cheese for a party dip. The uses are limitless!
Basil Mozzarella Panini
This sandwich is a staple in my home, especially on busy afternoons when we want something healthy, filling and FAST! If you don’t have a panini grill, try making this sandwich over a griddle or even a regular frying pan over the stove. The look may be different, but the taste will still be there.
2 slices sourdough whole wheat bread (or your favorite sandwich bread)
2 slices fresh mozzarella cheese (in a pinch, I have used shredded mozzarella)
3-4 whole basil leaves
1/2 T olive oil
salt and pepper
sun dried tomatoes (2-3 halves, packed in oil)
Heat the panini. Brush both sides of each slice of bread with the oil. Place one in the hot grill. Cover with cheese, then tomatoes and basil. Top with the final slice and close the grill to press the sandwich. (If using the stove, you will need to turn the sandwich halfway through) Cook until cheese is smooth and serve immediately with a pasta salad.
**Take from The Kitchen Herbal**
June is always an exciting month at Vintage Remedies. I began my natural health career nearly a decade ago in a June, changed the name to Vintage Remedies in a June and began the Vintage Remedies School of Natural Health in a June – three years ago this month! So, we at Vintage Remedies feel it is an important time to celebrate and are thrilled with all of the new services we have to offer this month!
First up – we have a brand new website. We’ve always loved our beautiful and user friendly site, but after nearly two years of the same thing, we needed a fresh look. So, we got one – and we absolutely love it! It definitely reflects our commitment to healthy and natural living, and we love the calm and soothing appearance!
The new site features all of our new services and resources. We are now offering Vintage Remedies gear! Our organic, eco friendly tote features safe, natural dyes and the Vintage Remedies School of Natural Health logo – and it is the perfect size to carry around all of your Vintage Remedies textbooks! You can order them directly from us – or get a complimentary tote when you enroll in the Traditional Textbooks option of the Family Herbalist course this month.
What’s the Traditional Textbooks option? And why the Family Herbalist course? We’re now offering TWO methods of studying with us! Like holding a book in your hand? You still can. Our Traditional Textbooks option is the name of the traditional method of distance learning. You receive our high quality textbooks with all of your study material included. However, we now also have a Virtual Vintage Remedies option! With this new option, you can take advantage of our multi-media approach to learning, with a web based student portal, which provides all of your material, including downloadable projects and study helps. The technology fee included in this option is less than our book fee for the Traditional Textbooks, so you actually save money on your total enrollment fee. And, true to our tradition, you save even more when you pre-enroll in this exciting new option during the month of June! We never discount our programs, so this pre-enrollment phase is the ONLY time to ever save money on our courses! (available July 1)
All students will now have access to online testing with instant grading and 24/7 access to records, grades and testing. Our staff is still available 5 days a week during business hours to assist you as well. This exciting new feature makes our already fast turnaround for grading even faster! (We average 1-2 weeks, which is less than half the norm of 4-6 weeks for distance learning test grading!) Now, if you choose to use the online testing, your grades will be available immediately! This feature is available (at no additional cost) starting July 1 for both new and current students and is entirely optional.
We also are thrilled to announce the brand new revised edition of the Family Herbalist program. Our first and most popular program just got even better! The revised edition will be available in both the Traditional Textbooks format and the Virtual Vintage Remedies format. With the Traditional Textbooks option, students will now receive two textbooks and a student guide. The textbooks, Understanding Holistic Health and Botanical Medicine in the Home, provide the same 26 units, but in a completely revised and updated format! This new format will also be available July 1. Pre-enroll during the month of June and not only will you be one of the first to enjoy the new format, you’ll also receive a complimentary organic cotton tote to carry your textbooks with you wherever you go!