What makes a herb a herb? This is no a simple and straightforward answer. A herb can be a pretty plant pleasing to the eye, have a sweet or pleasant smell, or a pungent odour and bitter taste, or can be an annoying weed in our garden that grows profusely and is hard to get rid of.

There is a long tradition of using herbs for taste and flavouring in our food, or for their healing properties as is the case with herbal medicine. Herbs can be used in straightforward first aid for stings or abrasions, or they can be shrouded in mystery and magic, administered by practitioners with great wisdom in the arts of rare and exotic herbs, sourced from deep within rainforests or from high on mountain tops.

There has been in-depth research and proven results for some herbs, and for others mere opinion or word of mouth that certain herbs worked for someone, but upon trying the same herbs by others no noticeable effect either positive or otherwise. There are also the ones of wild claims of their great healing powers but with no proven foundation of these claims.

Pretty much any plant has the potential to be a herb, even the blandest of foods such as rice, oats, and vegetables have actions that help nourish the body. Most culinary herbs have some medicinal action so could be defined as a special subset of herbs. Plants can also be considered herbs even if we only use them as perfumes to scent our bodies, clothes and houses, and also the not so nice smelling ones that aid in repelling bugs and other pests.

However, somewhere amongst all the tradition and history it is certain that herbs have their place and may be used to improve our health and general well-being. We also need to consider sacred herbs used in ceremonies and rituals and the magic herbs used in charms and amulets. Some herbs bring on visions while other banish them. Some herbs attract bees and butterflies and some simply delight our eyes.

What are we to do with this such exotic abundance? I believe the answer is to embrace it with all that we can!

When considering what herbs can be useful we need to look towards not only the obvious but also the not so obvious. We need to consider the uses of leaf, bark, root and flower and how each part of the whole has its uses. We must also “weed out”, pardon the pun, of what is true or fact from the hype of media or Internet claims. We must also consider peoples hopes and fears, or whether any particular herb will cause harm due to conflicting with existing medications or drugs.

The use of herbs may be simple and straight forward, or more complicated in some instances, but it is absolutely certain that they have their place in society, whether they are used for ceremonial purposes or simply as a way to boost our well being in our daily lives through food or herbal drinks, or through potions or remedies created by herbalists for specific medical reasons such as stress, detoxing, digestion, or other more complicated issues.


Source: The Herb Handbook by Sujata Bristow