Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

Five Herbs

Throughout Man's history herbs have been valued for their healing powers and today modern science is proving how effective they really are. A quarter of all prescriptions written by GPs are for medicines still based on traditional herbal remedies, even though in modern times they may be synthetically made in a pharmaceutical factory. Roman soldiers brought garlic to this country wedged between their toes to prevent athletes foot. Medieval herbalists used extracts of white willow to relieve pain and this remedy was the starting point for aspirin.

Many herbs with curative properties are also used in cooking and 'kitchen medicine' was where most traditional healing started. These six herbs are all effective when used as teas or other extracts and impart their healing properties to the delicious recipes they can be used in. Next time your brain needs a boost try the fishcakes; if your love life's flagging use oregano, grown by Venus in her own garden of love; if you're in need of a detox cook up a pot of weed soup.

When taking herbs as medicines buy reputable brands that are described as 'standardised extracts' on the label to make sure you get consistent and exact doses of the active chemicals in the plants.


An ancient proverb asks "why should a man die who has sage in his garden?" and this is one herb really worth growing, even if you've only got a pot on the balcony or back doorstep. Sage is a powerful antiseptic so add a chopped teaspoon to a glass of hot water as a gargle for sore throats. It also helps balance female hormones and evens out mood swings at difficult times of the month. It's no coincidence that the word sage means wisdom, and the essential oils in this plant are an aid to concentration and mental performance.

Potatoes - 250g (8 oz) roughly mashed
Tuna - 1 x 250g can
Onion - 1, medium, very finely chopped
Marjoram - 1 tspn fresh, finely chopped or half tspn dried
Sage - 1 tspn fresh, finely chopped or half tspn dried
Egg - 2, beaten
Extra virgin olive oil - about 5 fl oz (quarter pint)

Soften onion gently in butter. Allow to cool and mix thoroughly with tuna. Add potatoes and herbs and mix well. Add half the beaten egg and mix again. Form mixture into 8 flat cakes. Dip in rest of egg. Shallow fry gently in olive oil for 7 minutes each side.


The king of herbs that has both medicinal and culinary uses. Happily the British obsession with the smells of garlic seems to be fading as continental and oriental foods become increasingly popular. Don't ever turn your back on this humble bulb as it's healing properties are extraordinary. In recent years garlic has been the subject of a massive amount of intensive scientific research and as well as proving the accuracy of the traditional powers of the plant, exciting new benefits have come to light.

Garlic is a powerful antiseptic and antifungal and can be used externally in a hot footbath with the addition of two crushed cloves and two tablespoons of cider vinegar to treat athletes foot. Taken internally as food or standardised garlic extract tablets it helps with long term nail infections, thrush and similar fungal problems.

Taken as tablets two weeks before you travel and daily throughout your holiday it protects against food poisoning, diarrhoea and vomiting. It's also a traditional remedy for all kinds of chest infections. The most exciting recent discoveries show that it helps reduce cholesterol levels, make the blood less sticky and improve high blood pressure. Garlic both protects and helps in the treatment of heart and circulatory problems.


This is the unmistakable flavour of Italian cooking, used wherever tomatoes feature in a recipe. But as well as its distinctive taste it is a rich source of the antiseptic essential oil thymol, together with linalool and borneol. It has powerful antibacterial and antiviral properties but it's also one of the good mood herbs. Its reputation as an aphrodisiac goes back to ancient history when Venus was reputed to have grown this delicious plant in her own garden of love.

As a boost to your love life and for lots of protection against the coming cold and flu season, try this delicious recipe.


Spinach - 200g (7 oz), washed thoroughly
Red onion - 1 sliced in thin rings
Garlic - 2 cloves, finely chopped
Oregano - a generous sprinkle of fresh leaves
Extra virgin olive oil - 3 tbspns
Goat's cheese - 100g (3 ½ oz)
Double cream - 4 tbspns
Basil leaves - 1 tbspn, torn into small pieces
Spaghettini - 400g (14oz)
Freshly ground black pepper

Sweat onion, garlic and half the oregano in oil until onion is soft but not brown. Add spinach with a little water, stir thoroughly. Cover and cook until well wilted. Beat together the goat's cheese, cream, remaining oregano and pepper. Drain spinach, add goat's cheese mixture. Stir thoroughly and keep warm until pasta is cooked. Pour sauce over pasta. Serve sprinkled with basil leaves.


St. John's Wort (hypericum) is a popular garden shrub that grows wild throughout Europe and flowers normally appear around 24th June, St. John's Day, that's how it got its name. It's been used as a medicine for centuries in the treatment of chest infections, bladder problems, for wound healing and as a gentle sedative.

But its modern use is mainly for the treatment of mild to moderate depression and over two million people have tried it for this reason in the UK alone. The ancient Greeks knew about this wonderful property of St. John's Wort, and they called it the 'sunshine herb' as it brought sunshine back into the lives of depressed people. It contains the natural chemical hypericin, which is not only anti-depressant but also antiviral. Repeated studies prove that mild to moderate depression responds as well to this gentle, non-addictive herb as to powerful chemical sedatives, tranquillisers and antidepressants.

St. John's Wort may react with some prescribed medicines, specifically the blood thinning drug, warfarin, and some used for HIV, organ transplants and epilepsy. It's important to tell your GP if you're taking it and always mention it or any other herbal remedies if you're due for an operation.


Ginkgo biloba is one of the longest surviving plants on earth. It improves circulation to the brain and reduces stickiness of blood which is why it's highly effective at improving short term memory loss in the elderly. Even the early stages of Alzheimers' disease may improve with ginkgo.

Most recent research by Professor Ian Hindmarch at the University of Surrey, have also shown that it can even improve short term memory, concentration and dexterity in healthy young people. As a general circulatory stimulant ginkgo is helpful in the treatment of Raynaud's disease, chilblains and tinnitus.

This is one of the most exciting herbs to be studied with modern scientific methods but as with all effective medicines there are some precautions to be taken. Because of its action it may cause aggravated bleeding during surgery so stop taking ginkgo at least 30 hours before an operation.


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