Streams

How to Grow and Use Herbs

Friday, July 18, 2014

Herbs can be used in cooking, medicine, and more. Herbs can be used in cooking, medicine, and more. (Copyright: Elena Schweitzer/Shutterstock)

This week’s Please Explain, Dr. Michael J. Balick of the New York Botanical Garden talks about herbs! He’ll explain how to grow them and use them in cooking, medicine, cleaning, and more, and he’ll discuss the relationship between humans, plants, and culture. He’s the author of the new book Rodale's 21st-Century Herbal: A Practical Guide for Healthy Living Using Nature's Most Powerful Plants.

Some Common Herbs

Basil is easy to grow in a pot on a windowsill or outside in a garden. You can start it from seed or from a cutting—Cut a 6-inch stem with several leaf nodes on it. Strip the bottom two-thirds of the stem and dip it into a rooting solution. Then stick the cut end about three-inches deep in soil. Keep it moist and, ideally, keep it in a humid environment until the roots form—about 4-6 weeks. You can do the same with rosemary, lavender, sage, thyme, mint, and oregano, among others. For the best flavor, harvest the springs before flowers develop. You can cut back the tips every couple weeks to keep the plants bushy. There are many well known culinary uses for basil, but basil can also repel flies and mosquitoes. You can rub basil leaves on your clothing to keep mosquitoes away.

Aloe vera is a good indoor plant. It’s a succulent, so it doesn’t require a lot of water or attention to thrive. The leaves are thought to speed healing of skin and aloe is often used to treat sunburn and rashes. You can break off a leaf and rub the gel found inside on skin. Balick recommends harvesting the outermost leaves first, as new growth comes from the center of the plant.

Dill is a versatile herb in cooking and in pickling. Dill seed has been used to treat gas and calm the digestive tract. It's been shown to slow the growth of the bacteria E. coli. In the garden, dill flowers attract beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewings, which help control pests such as aphids.

Turmeric is used frequently in Indian, Persian, and Thai cuisine. It has long been thought to treat a wide range of health conditions and is used as an anti-inflammatory and an antiseptic. There are currently many scientific investigations into the medicinal qualities of turmeric. It’s also used to dye fabrics bright gold. It’s a tropical plant, but if you want to grow it inside, you can plant the rhizome in soil. Place the plant in a very sunny, warm place and keep it moist and misted.

Thyme is a great herb to use in soups and in poultry, fish, or vegetable dishes. It has antibacterial qualities made thyme useful for preserving meat before refrigeration. Balick writes that the emperor Charlemagne had thyme planted in all of his gardens. Like many herbs, thyme is believed to calm the stomach and ease digestion.

You can preserve herbs by drying them or freezing them. You can hang bunches of herbs or lay them out on trays and let the herbs air dry. The leaves of basil, thyme, cilantro, dill, mint, parsley, and tarragon also freeze well. Chop them and put them in an ice cube tray with a little water. You can just toss a cube into whatever you’re cooking. Use within 3 months.  

 

Guests:

Dr. Michael J. Balick

Comments [15]

jc276

Herbs, if they have an effect, have one because of the active compounds in them...drugs. Herbs and alternative medicine proven to work is called....medicine. Way too much woo on this show.

Jul. 19 2014 05:30 PM
Kathy from Clifton NJ

@ Carol from NYC: I save basil for later use by making pesto & freezing the pesto. Keeps for a year in the freezer.

Jul. 18 2014 02:00 PM
Paul

This is dreadful, irresponsible quackery.

Jul. 18 2014 01:59 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Garlic is also known as a blood thinner. Once I ate soup w/a lot of fresh garlic in it the night before I gave blood, & both the fingerstick & the vein puncture took a lot longer than usual to stop bleeding. I'm careful not to eat much garlic before giving blood now, & I wonder if people taking blood-thinning meds should avoid it too?

Jul. 18 2014 01:59 PM
Patricia from Brooklyn

I actually cured squamous cell cancer on my face using the eggplant curaderm cure from the island of Vanuatu---(where the Dr. just returned from?)
My dermatologist told me not to use it but was amazed and verified the fact that the leision was gone using the eggplant cream!

Also called Devils Apple? Not sure...

thoughts?

Jul. 18 2014 01:57 PM
Patricia from Brooklyn

I actually cured squamous cell cancer on my face using the eggplant curaderm cure from the island of Vanuatu---(where the Dr. just returned from?)
My dermatologist told me not to use it but was amazed and verified the fact that the leision was gone using the eggplant cream!

Also called Devils Apple? Not sure...

thoughts?

Jul. 18 2014 01:52 PM
Morton D. Rich from Warren County, NJ

Kava can cause liver damage, even in short term use. See WebMD.

Jul. 18 2014 01:52 PM
Carol from New York City

I am growing basil. How do I save it to use later on?
Thanks

Jul. 18 2014 01:51 PM
Kathy from Clifton NJ

Basil is soooo easy to grow from seed; just put seeds in a pot with loose soil and water well; Start outside in May or June & replant thruout the summer. Tiny little basil plants will sprout within a week. Take them out by the teaspoonful to place in other pots or your garden.

Question: Can you talk about Queen Anne's Lace? Does it have any purpose? I found some seeds and have lovely bunches of it growing in my garden now. I believe it is invasive, but not sure.

Jul. 18 2014 01:49 PM
Larry from Brooklyn

This discussion is starting to veer into the suggestion that herbs are somehow essentially different from drugs. Herbs such as kava work because they have psychoactive ingredients which are often not biochemically different from pharmaceuticals. As such, they can interact with each other (and other drugs) and be abused and misused. Just because something is found in a plant, does not mean it is benign.

Jul. 18 2014 01:49 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Aloe is also said to prevent poison ivy rash when applied soon after exposure, & they often grow close to each other.

Jul. 18 2014 01:41 PM
brian from midtown

Are there invasive species that we should not plant here?

Jul. 18 2014 01:39 PM
Isabel F. from Queens

What does your guest think about genetically modifying plants by inserting genes from other species to "enhance" certain features of a plant? And what does he think of companies like Monsanto being allowed to patent the genes of plants?

Jul. 18 2014 01:32 PM
jane from east village

Can your guest tell us how to grow cilantro in a window box? It grows OK but bolts so fast it's not worth the real estate, even "slow-bolt" varieties. Any workaround for this?

Jul. 18 2014 01:29 PM
Pat from nyc

Interesting, I was here researching nettle leaf for menstrual problems that won't aggravate my fibroids.

Jul. 18 2014 01:27 PM

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