My recent (very appreciated) series about spices and herbs was never really finished. Perhaps it is impossible conclusively to finish such a topic, judging by the multitude of herbs and spices in existence, and by how the borderline to the definition of “spice” can be stretched to include much more than what it conventionally does. However, I will not write about this perpetually, but there are a few further spices and other substances I want to include. Let's briefly look at some green ones:
Old French, sauge; Latin, salvia; from salvus, safe, sound.
Sage is a perennial plant, Salvia officinalis, of the mint family. Its green-grey leaves are mainly used for flavouring and as a medical drug. It has its origin in the Mediterranean area it was held in high regard during Antiquity. It is known from the myths about Orpheus as well as from Ancient Egypt, and Hippocrates recommended it especially against lung disease.
It can be used in washings, to make hair darker, especially for originally dark people whose hair is beginning to turn grey.
Sage indeed has many good properties. Externally it is antiseptic and a very good fungicide. As a tea it stimulates secretion of gall, and it lowers the blood sugar level.
Unfortunately it also reduces or blocks sweating, which is very negative for your health. If you are sweating, you are doing so for a reason. Either you are warm, and need to cool down; or your body is trying to detoxify and get rid of poisons. If you block sweating then, you lock in the toxins and they immediately start to cause harm.
Sage also reduces the activity of certain other glandular systems, which, in general, is not a beneficial effect. The result can be accelerated ageing.
Among other substances, sage contains tannic acid, camphor and thujon. The latter is poisonous, and a VERY large intake can give toxic effects on the liver and the nervous system.
I would advise some caution to be exercised in the use of sage. It is not harmful to use it for flavouring now and then, but habitual use is definitely not to be recommended.
Anethum graveolens, or dill, is an annual plant of the parsley family, which is native to the Eastern part of the Mediterranean region. Its seeds have been used to flavour food and as a medicine for thousands of years. It is frequently mentioned in the literature from the Antiquities, and it has been recorded that dill was taxed by the Jews in Palestine 1800-2000 years ago; and oil derived from the seeds was massaged into the skin of Roman gladiators before their fights.
All parts of the plant can be used for flavouring, or for their medical properties, although the concentration of active substances is the highest in the seeds.
Dill is a diuretic [increases the flow of urine], it is anti-inflammatory, and it stimulates and balances digestion. Moreover, it has an interesting and little known effect only recently discovered: dill reduces the level of bad cholesterol in the blood!
There is good reason to believe that dill affects the blood in other beneficial ways as well, but so far that has not been subject to serious research.
Parsley, (Petroselinum hortensia, P. crispum, and other cultivated varieties), from Latin petroselinum, Greek petroselinon, French persil.
The word Petroselinum is a combination of petros, rock, and selinum, celery. This may be because there was no real distinction made between celery and wild parsley in Ancient Greece.
The origin of parsley is probably the eastern Mediterranean region, and it spread over Europe during the Middle Ages. It is mainly used in seasoning.
Both the leaves and the root contain compounds which are toxic, although in very small amounts. Otherwise the leaves contain a lot of Iron, Calcium, Phosphorus, beta carotene, and vitamins C and B12. They can be eaten as they are or taken as a macerate, which is excellent against Iron deficiency as well as prevention.
The root is a powerful diuretic, and the fruit even more so - so much that they should be avoided if you suffer from weakness of the kidney.
Oregano & Marjoram
These two spices are very closely related, so we look at them together. Both belong to the mint family, Lamiaceae, as do many other well-known spices.
OREGANO (Origanum vulgare L.) is a very strong antioxidant; it is antiseptic and anti-inflammatory; diuretic; stimulates expectoration and sweating, and is sometimes used against cramps.
During the Middle Ages, it was held to protect against witches and the evil eye. Today it is used mainly in seasoning.
MARJORAM (Origanum majorana L.) was used for wreaths of honour by the Greeks and Romans during the Antiquity. In Egypt it was used in the oils that were intended for embalming, and it was sacred to Osiris. Marjoram came to Europe during the Middle Ages, probably with returning crusaders.
Now mostly used for seasoning, it was once a much used medicine.
It is antiseptic, anaesthetic, and it lowers blood pressure.
Basil denotes various species of plants of the genus Ocimum. Ocimum basilicum and Ocimum minimum are commonly used in seasoning. Ocimum sanctum (Tulsi) is sacred to Vishnu in India, claimed to symbolise his wife Lakshmi. Several other varieties exist.
The word "basil" derives from Greek basilikos, royal; basileos, king.
Cultivation of basil began in India.
Contents vary a little between the species, but generally they contain eugenol (also in clove) and estragol (also in tarragon). African species often contain camphor.
Tea from the dried leaves can be used against cramps, as a sedative, or to stimulate digestion. Used in seasoning, it is a fairly strong antioxidant.
(This article is based on material previously published in TMA/Meriondho Leo and in my e-book “Spices & Herbs”, 2018.)
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More Spices: Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Clove & Pepper
Another Three Spices: Aphrodite's Birth, Smoke & King Minos' Daughter
Dictionary of Selected Spices + A Little Story
Copyright © 2005-2008, 2018, 2021 Meleonymica/Mictorrani. All Rights Reserved.
(The lead image shows oregano. Photo by Hans Hans Linde/Pixabay, CC0/Public Domain.)
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I've always loved basil, and it was more plentiful here. Once we planted so much basil in the farm and we didn't know what to do with. Now, I am finding a fondness for dill. Well, I've liked it since I first tasted it. Like the smell, love the taste. And since we've found a source and have been able to plant our own, I throw it in most anything and can make my tzatziki. Scrambled eggs, tomatoes, onion and dill? Perfect for breakfast. Thank you for this.