By Andrew Smit
Herbs are not just small, green, leafy plants that are used to flavor food dishes. Plants, including huge trees to fungi and seaweed have herbal properties and their uses are just as varied. Herbal properties can be found in varying degrees in everything from the plants roots to its seeds. One part may be edible and the other may be extremely toxic, while certain herbs must be used when fresh and others are best when dried. If you are going to use herbs for culinary or medicinal purposes it is essential to research the herb. Common names may be deceiving since they may fall into the same species, and sub species and varieties may differ in chemistry. Be sure to only use the part indicated as the rest may be toxic.
Just because herbs are natural does not necessarily make them safe to use internally or externally. Using herbs must be done with the utmost care if the desired effect is to be achieved. All herbs are toxic in excess and can cause unpredictable results if used in conjunction with other herbs and medication. The use of herbs should be strictly controlled and consultation with a doctor is advisable. If you are novice herb user it is advisable to only use herbs for minor external treatments, such as cut and bruises. Do not exceed the dosage of a prescribed herbal remedy. Babies, pregnant woman, and elderly citizens should not take any herbal remedies unless they have been prescribed by a qualified practitioner. Take care when using inhalant remedies that are rich in essential oils, these are potent and highly toxic if used incorrectly. Think of herbs in terms of an aid to improving health rather than curing ailments. Used regularly in conjunction with a well balanced diet herbs can boost your immune system and give a sense of well being. Use herbs in cooking, salads, or teas, for skin and hair preparations or just enjoy their many colours and fragrances.
The whole plant refers to the parts above ground, the stems, leaves and flowers. Leaves and stems are best used in late spring and summer. In many plants the flowers form the reproductive part, consisting of the corolla (petals) protected by a ring of sepals forming the calyx. The centre contains the female organ, the pistil, and/or male part, or stamens. Below the surface we find roots, rhizomes, tubers, corns and bulbs. Many trees are also classed as herbs consisting of trunks and branches with a heartwood centre, surrounded by sapwood which is protected by inner and outer layers of bark. The hard tissue contains lignin rich in resins, gums and oils.
Poisonous Herbs to keep in mind
Monkshood (Aconnitum spp.)
Box (Buxus sempervirens)
Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus)
Meadow saffron (Colchicum spp.)
Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis)
Daphnes (Daphne spp.)
Foxgloves (Digitalis spp.)
Glory lilies (Gloriosa spp.)
Opium poppies (Papaver somniferum)
Pokeweeds (Phytolacca spp.)
Castor oil plant (Ricinus communis)
Variegated nightshade (Solanum dulcamara ‘Variegatum’)
Yew (Taxus baccata)