Herbs have a variety of uses including medicine,dyes, aroma, food, or even just for decorative purposes. General usage differs between the various types of herbs. For the multitude of uses different parts of the plant might be considered "herbs", including leaves, roots, flowers, seeds, resin, root bark, inner bark (cambium), berries and sometimes the pericarp or other portions of the plant.
Plants contain phytochemicals that have effects on the body. Some types of herbal extract, such as the extract of St. John's-wort or of Kava can be used for medical purposes to relieve depression and stress. One herb, called Shilajit, may actually help lower blood glucose levels which is especially important for those suffering from diabetes. Herbs have long been used as the basis of traditional Chinese herbal medicine, with usage dating as far back as the first century CE and far before.
Medicinal use of herbs in Western cultures has its roots in the Hippocratic (Greek) elemental healing system, based on a 4-fold elements healing metaphor. Famous herbalist of the Western tradition include Avicenna (Persian), Galen (Roman), Paracelsus (German Swiss), Culpepper (English) and the botanically inclined Eclectic physicians of 19th century/early 20th century America (John Milton Scudder, Harvey Wickes Felter, John Uri Lloyd). Modern pharmaceuticals had their origins in crude herbal medicines, and to this day, many drugs are still extracted as fractionate/isolate compounds from raw herbs and then purified to meet pharmaceutical standards.
Man has been using plants to dye cloth and other materials for centuries, the first recorded use is as early as A.D. 700; But quite likely herbs have been used for dyes many thousands of years .
Fresh plant material is preferred in preparing the "dye bath," since they yield their colors easily, whereas dried plants and roots must be soaked for several hours. Cloth, or skeins of wool are dipped or soaked in the herbal dye bath solution and then hung to dry. Today, "mordants" are often used to deepen and "fix" colors Some popular mordants used today are chrome, tin, iron and cream of tartar.
Often, plants produce a very different dye color than you might expect based on their general appearance. The paintbrush plant, for instance, yields a beige-colored dye in spite of its bright red flowers. Lichen, which ranges in color from white to bright green, produces an orange dye.
Aromatics have been used since the time of the Egyptians over 5,000 years ago. Most Aromatics take the form of essential oils. Essential oils can be used in lamp rings or candle lamp diffusers. When combined with carrier oils such as sweet almond oil, they can be poured under running water for a soothing bath.
Aromatherapy, the therapeutic use of pure essential oils for benefiting the body, mind and spirit, is an ancient practice. Use of essential oils can be traced back 5000 years to the ancient Indian practice of Ayurveda. From ancient Egypt mummification evidence, hieroglyphs and the remains of scented oils from tombs confirm the historic use of essential oils for healing and spiritual practice.
Four thousand years ago the Chinese used aromatherapy preparations. These are recorded in the Materia Medica of Li Shih-Chen. He described nearly 2000 herbs and 20 essential oils.
Culinary use of the term "herb" typically distinguishes between herbs, from the leafy green parts of a plant (either fresh or dried), and spices, from other parts of the plant (usually dried), including seeds, berries, bark, root and fruit. Culinary herbs are distinguished from vegetables in that, like spices, they are used in small amounts and provide flavor rather than substance to food. Culinary herbs can take the form of both seasonings and teas.
Many culinary herbs are perennials such as thyme or lavender, while others are biennials such as parsley or annuals like basil. Some perennial herbs are shrubs (such as rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis), or trees (such as bay laurel, Laurus nobilis) – this contrasts with botanical herbs, which by definition cannot be woody plants. Some plants are used as both an herb and a spice, such as dill weed and dill seed or coriander leaves and seeds.
Herb gardening is a rewarding hobby for many people, partly because of the usefulness of its bounty. Unlike flower gardens, which generally are considered only decorative, herb gardens can be harvested and used to add a burst of fresh flavor to your meals. Even if you are a novice gardener or landscaper, you can create a healthy and lively herb garden that will keep you supplied with fresh herbs for many months
There are many different styles and types of herb gardens from the traditional knot garden to theme gardens to some that are even grown purely decorative purposes.
As you can see herb use has a long history and herbs can be used in a wide variety of different ways. So come and explore The Herborium and get a look at these fascinating and valuable plants.