Herbs are defined as any plant used as a garnish that is green. However, my own definition might be: herbs are edible plants. We make a big mistake in thinking that herbs are dried spicy things in jars or something a cook knows about, or something in a weird tea or something in a pill at a health food store. Herbs can be dangerous when taken in large amounts, but so can vegetables. Herbs may be classified as drugs, but most drugs are derived from herbs. Simply said, herbs cross boundaries. They are food, they are drugs, they are spices, they are teas.

Tonics are herbs that strengthen and promote health. Sometimes they act particularly on one part of the body, but most are mild and gradually improve health. We call them herbs because most of our green vegetables have been bred to be milder tasting, have more water and thus, be less nutritious. White celery stalks are almost all water. Iceberg lettuce is almost all water. Parsley and leaf celery and dandelions are among the most nutrient rich foods on the planet. We learn a little about nutrition from school or from our parents or doctors, yet what does it really mean for something to be nutritious?


In this first picture, it would seem that there is little difference, and lettuce even comes out ahead in Omega-3 acids, which we hear are "good." The calories are certainly higher, not good for people who count calories. The carbs are higher for those who count carbs. So far, lettuce looks better. This data is from, but is common for anyone doing nutritional analysis. They have done this again and again for certain foods and measure it against what doctors think is the recommended dietary allowance, or RDA. This is usually a minimum amount of nutrition needed by a person of average weight to not get deficient. Many diseases are caused by a lack of something. Scurvy is a disease caused by eating a diet lacking in vitamin C. Rickets is a disease of the bones caused by not eating enough vitamin D. Yet there are "ailments" or problems caused by deficiencies that people might write off as mild disorders that you have to tough out. Winter depression is caused by lack of vitamin D. Slight changes in mineral uptake can cause a host of problems that we are only now starting to understand. Certainly the ancients did not understand this. So let us look at a comparison of lettuce and dandelion based a closer survey of their nutrients.


There is a vast difference. Look at the vitamins. Everything except some of the B vitamins are in much high quantities in dandelions. However, minerals is where the tonics really shine. Calcium alone is nine times greater in dandelion, iron over five times greater. I could do a listing of every plant and its modern counterpart like lettuce and dandelion, but the important thing to know is that most modern foods are bred to taste sweeter, be more watery, and bred to survive shipping and storage. The market farmer choses plants to sell, not to nourish. Farming is such a difficult way to make a living that the farmer has little choice but to grow what will sell. It is we who buy the food who can make a difference. Over my lifetime I have seen the entire cycle from nutritious foods to commercial foods and now, once again, more nutritious foods showing up in our markets.

Herbs, taken in salads or added to pestos can make a huge difference in nutrition. Tonifying herbs can improve a person's health over a long period. Rather than wait for illness, isn't it better to build health? Having said that, there are also herbs that are powerful healers, nutrient packed, and yet benign enough to feed to the sick, for general improvement and also for specific improvement. Here are some charts. I am listing here only European herbs. If you want to know about Asian and American herbs, please visit some of the wonderful nutrition sites on the internet. Please note that these herbs are classed by families. This means that most of them will have similar properties and nutritional profiles, but also cause the same allergies.

Herbal Tonics

All of these herbs are all right to eat every day. (Yes, I know about the controversy about comfrey.) These are used for leaves. Be very careful that you identify the leaves in the parsley family (Apiaceae) rose family (Rosaceae) and spinach family (Amaranthaceae.) A relative of parsley is hemlock. Rose family plants can have too much cyanide. Spinach family plants have oxalic acid, which in higher quantities can cause damage. Some of these plants are natural blood thinners like violets. The key to nutrition is to eat a varied diet, not balanced, but varied. If you eat spinach all the time, it will make you sick. I'm going to give you some recipes for pesto and salads.

Parsley Pesto

1 cup minced parsley
1/4 cup fresh minced dill
1/8 cup minced onion
1/2 cup ground hazelnuts, beechnuts or acorns

The nuts should be soaked for overnight, rinsed and left to dry out. Grind up the nuts in a mortar and pestle. Mince up the herbs as fine as possible. Add to the nuts and the salt. Add in a little oil at a time until the paste is thick but not runny. Put on bread, cheese, or eat with salmon.

There are many variations, sage for dill if you want this with chicken or duck. Cicely and chervil make good dill substitutes for egg dishes if you don't want sage or dill. It goes very well on baked root crops. Try not to cook with it as you might with an Alfredo sauce, for the nutrients are at their best eaten as soon as possible and raw. I have also substituted linden and birch leaves for the parsley. They are bland, and when young, very tender.

Seafood Relish or Salad

1 cup saltwort (or orache or dock) leaves chopped fine
1 cup burdock (or chicory) leaves chopped fine
1/2 cup cress leaves chopped fine
1/2 cup nettle leaves macerated (no sting if they are mashed up)
1/4 cup rowan (or seaberry) berries chopped fine
(use a very sour red or orange berry)
tsp dulse or other seaweed, dried or minced fine
pinch fennel or dill seeds, ground

Chop the ingredients together in a bowl just before serving the fish. The sour, hot and salt of this relish is delightful with a bland fish.

Many people assume that just because people had no writing that they didn't know how to cook or prepare food! We made flatcakes and sourdoughs that rivaled any of the best breads from the store. I encourage you to use pestos and relishes to give your diet (and that of your family) a boost of nutrition. Many people take tonic herbs in teas. Look on my pages about food preparation for more recipes and ways to prepare foods.

© 2012, A.R. Stone

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