Herbs and spices have been cultivated for centuries for their medicinal or culinary properties. Nutritionists Dr Adela Jamorabo-Ruiz and Dr Virginia Serraon-Claudio made their own study on the subject and concluded that “plants contain several chemical constituents, eg, phytochemicals and phytonutrients, which have health-enhancing properties”.
Raymond Rubia can speak of their benefits firsthand. He and his wife Mariel have been involved in organic farming since 2007 at their Daily DOSE Farm in Candelaria, Quezon, Philippines. DOSE stands for Diverse, Organic, Sustainable and Eco-friendly – three hectares of land previously overgrown with weeds, now transformed into a sustainable, small-scale farm, home to about 100 kinds of vegetables and herbs.
While not many people can tend and till a farm, a garden right in one’s own backyard may well be within reach. Rubia views the act of gardening and being surrounded by greenery as already therapeutic, in contrast to the common perception that one can only indulge in this kind of hobby or activity after retirement.
Those who’ve been bitten by the green bug need the right elements to make that dream garden a reality. Rubia lists the essentials:
• Soil. Fertile soil is abundant in rural areas; urban dwellers may opt to buy soil from garden shops.
• Compost. Natural fertiliser from organic matter, eg, decaying leaves or manure, can be made or bought.
• Sunlight. Herbs need sunlight, so make sure your herbal garden has access to sun at least six hours a day.
• Water. Herbs don’t need as much water. “[They’re] for the lazy gardener,” claims Rubia. “Depending on the weather, most herbs need to be watered only thrice a week. Over-watering is usually the cause of their death.”
Some simple herbs to start
Rubia advises that newbie gardeners choose herbs based on hardiness, eg:
Basil: Leaves and tender stems from an herb of the mint family with a strong, aromatic, sweet and spicy flavour.
Culinary use: It is ideal for tomato dishes, salads, meat and poultry, especially Italian dishes.
Medicinal use: It is a natural tranquiliser, a tonic to calm the nervous system. Tea is a useful gargle for yeast infections of the mouth and throat. Rubbing crushed leaves on skin can reduce itchiness from insect bites and ward off warts. Adding fresh leaves to hot baths relaxes tired muscles.
Bay leaves or laurel:
Leaves of evergreen, a member of the laurel family.
It is excellent for bouillons, soups and as a flavour accent for meat stews and sauces.
It stimulates and aids digestion. Oil of bay may be rubbed on to relieve arthritic aches, muscle pain and tendon swelling. It can help the body use insulin more efficiently at quantities as low as 500 mg (about 2 tsp).
Grassy blades or basal stems with a lemony aroma.
It is used widely in Malay and Thai cuisines. The leaves flavour meats and salads, while basal stems are chopped and used in fish curries.
Tea removes stomach queasiness and bloatedness. It is rich in vitamin A, and is used as an antiseptic and for cleansing oily skin.
Erect shrub with slender and long leaves, spirally crowded towards the base of the plant.
It is great for flavouring drinks and desserts, and masks undesirable odours in rice.
Pulverised dried leaves are used to facilitate wound healing.
A mild-flavoured herb that grows in tight clumps.
It is used as garnish and seasoning for vegetables, soups, sauces, salads and marinade.
It can be used to remove excess fluid in congested heart disease and to treat problems of the urinary tract.
A green thumb
The gardening aficionado shares two important factors in starting an herbal garden: a genuine love for plants and adequate knowledge.
“Learn before you plant, rather than plant and learn,” says Rubia. “The latter would be called experimenting, not gardening.” With the right information, proper tools and an enthusiastic approach, you can be well on your way to growing wellness, right in the backyard.
Dr Jamorabo-Ruiz and Dr Serraon-Claudio list the following
ways to use herbs grown at home:
Break into fragments, dry and store in paper bags or tins.
Pound fresh plant materials and filter through a piece of fine cloth or squeeze the plant parts to extract the juice.
For a standard infusion, pour about two cups of boiling water over half a cup of dried herbs or three handfuls of fresh plant material. Let the mixture stand for 3-4 hours to let the fine solids settle.
Boil aqueous preparations of plant parts until the water volume is halved. Simmer a quarter cup of dried or fresh material in two cups of water for 20 minutes until the water is reduced to one cup. Strain the liquid.
• Herbal tinctures.
Use one-and-a-half cup of powdered dried herb to four cups of spirits, eg, alcohol, toddy (coconut wine), tapai (rice wine) or wine. Store tincture in air-tight jars, keep in a warm place and give the jar a vigorous shake every day. It takes three weeks to age.
Crush and grind dried plant materials with mortar and pestle. Store in clean bottles.