Tag Archives: Caribbean

My Favorite Edible Flower

They’re here!!! The May flowers promised to us by April’s downpours are here! We’ve gotten a taste already with the stately Cherry Blossoms and graceful Tulips, and there are so many more blooms to come like the glorious Magnolias and Lilacs. Certainly, these flower-full spectacles are a delight to the eyes and nose (pollen allergies aside), but they are fast becoming known as a delight to the palate as well. Wildflowers are especially regarded in this manner as they’ve long served as that “secret- ingredient” sneaked into our favorite soups, sauces and stews. And my favorite is no exception.

Thyme. Picture taken in 2003.
Thyme. Picture taken in 2003. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My beloved Thyme. For whatever the reason, I just can’t get enough. And I’m clearly not alone, for it has admirers spread about the globe with at least two dozen different countries indulging in its versatility. Native to North Africa, Asia and Europe, this perennial plant is a savored ingredient in Nigerian, Caribbean, Indian, French and Italian cuisine. Alongside its culinary praise lies a rich history dabbed with a few folkloric claims. In Egypt, the Ancients used it to embalm their deceased; and during the Middle Ages the Europeans employed it as a sleep aid and declared it a wartime good luck – charm.

In my home, thyme is key. I use it to season fish, poultry, lamb, root veggies, stuffings and sauces. And though I’m aware of its therapeutic and medicinal components, I must admit that my experience in those ways only barely scratches the surface of this herb’s reputed worth.

  • A topical astringent and soothing body rub
  • An oral antiseptic for gum and throat infections
  • An internal worm expellant

The volatile oil within thyme contains antispasmodic compounds like phenols, thymol and carvacrol with calming qualities that soothe joints, muscles and organ systems. These compounds not only aid in the relief of discomfort and pain for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, but also make thyme tea a recommended remedy for labored digestion and flatulence.

To make thyme infused massage oil simply place a full sprig of the plant in the oil of your liking and let it keep a few weeks before using. Agitating the infusion with a gentle shake or two per day will trigger a release of the plant’s volatile oils. This oil can also be placed in the bath to counteract muscle aches and made into an ointment to treat everything from minor skin infections to severe viruses.

Thyme tea is prepared by pouring a cup of boiling water over one teaspoon of dried thyme. Cover and let it steep for fifteen minutes before straining, use this same mixture as a gargle for sore throats and mouth sores.

Thymol and carvacrol are also antibacterial and anti-fungal, and thus act as expectorants, breaking up mucus and helping relieve symptoms of the common cold, whooping-cough and bronchitis. To prepare a cough syrup, pour one pint of boiling water over one ounce of dried thyme and let it cool to room temperature. Once cooled, strain the liquid and add one cup of honey and mix well. Store in the refrigerator and shake before using.

A general rule of thumb when working with herbs is to use more when they’re fresh and less when dried. This is especially true for cullinary use but also applicable for therapeutic  mixtures. Though I’ve gotten quite happy with thyme in many of my dishes, I have never felt that I went too far. So trust your palate, indulge and enjoy!

Til next time…

Be Bold and BeWell

SOURCES

Richard Mabey, The New Age Herbalist. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster,1988

Jude C. Williams, Jude’s Herbal Home Remedies. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2001

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My Earth Day Homage to El Yunque

In honor of Earth Day I am taking the opportunity to rave about one of my many favorite places on the globe-Puerto Rico!

I feel very blessed to say I believe we live on an incredibly gorgeous planet, and even more blessed to vividly recall how magically I saw the world as a child and be able to say that I still do see it in that light. The thing about PR is how many natural beauties exist in such a small space. It is actually the smallest of the Greater AntillesCuba, Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic & Haiti), Puerto Rico and Jamaica. The island spans approximately 3500 square miles and boasts the world re-known surfing haven of Ponce, the sister isles of Culebra  and Vieques, and the Rio Camuy Caves (one of the world’s largest); and this is, to say the least, a very abbreviated list of PR’s glorious wonders. The island’s volcanic and plutonic rock foundation is primarily mountainous and lies at the intersection of the North Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.  Its precarious positioning not only makes it geographically diverse but keeps it geologically vulnerable. Beneath the island, the corresponding plates of those two bodies of water are shifting, sometimes moving along past one another, other times facing off at their meeting points. These various interactions are reshaping the island and making it susceptible to some extreme geological conditions. But geographically speaking, one might argue that that would be the price of the magnificence found in PR. Another perfect example is the inviting El Yunque National Forest, the United States’ only tropical rain forest.

El Yunque, as it is affectionately called, sits nearest to the northeastern city of Rio Grande, is predominately within the Luquillo Mountains and covers approximately 28,000 acres of land. Despite its relatively small size, El Yunque has some truly impressive stats:

  • Its namesake peak El Yunque is one of the highest points on the island
  • It was considered a holy place by the island’s indigenous Taino Indians
  • Houses over 100 different species of wildlife
  • Contains more species of trees than all of the forests in the US Forest System combined
  • Is home to more than 200 different species of trees and plants
  • More than 300 of the rainforest’s plants are valued for their therapeutic or medicinal properties

One medicinal plant with which you may be familiar is the Stinging Nettle or Ortiga Brava. Originally from the much colder regions of Europe and Asia, it is commonly found about the rainforest and known as a formidable shrub because of its tiny needle like hairs that, if touched, easily break off into the skin and release a poisonous liquid called Formic Acid. The stinging hairs are mostly found on the shrub’s twigs and lower leaves and usually only leave their victims with mild to severe skin irritations. If you should have a prickly run in with one, remove the needles as best you can, keep your hands away from your face, and wash them as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

Some other healthful constituents of the herb include chlorophyll, acetylcholine, histamine, Vitamins A and C, silicon, potassium, fiber and protein. Stinging nettle has been used for centuries to relieve or counteract a range of different physical ailments including:

  • Increasing the flow of urine
  • Expelling of mucus from the lungs and throat
  • Constricting hemorrhages and inflammatory conditions
  • Increasing the secretion of mother’s milk
  • Alleviate early symptoms of benign prostate enlargement (BPH)

These actions within the body make Stinging Nettle beneficial for asthma, allergies, malnourishment, pain management, urinary conditions, internal bleeding and arthritis. Currently, research is being done on the herb’s impact on blood pressure, blood clotting and blood sugar. Consequently, caution should be used and medical clearance obtained before combining Stinging Nettle with pharmaceutical hypertension treatments, blood thinners or diabetes medications. Stinging Nettle should not be consumed by pregnant women or women trying to conceive.

Stinging Nettle supplements are made from the specific parts of the plant as well as the whole plant and available in tincture, powder and capsule forms. Use as directed on the product’s label and always inform your physician of any herbs included in your nutritional regime.

As we move into the week, I intend to carry Earth Day with me and reflect on the alluring beauty of our world. I know Puerto Rico is just one of many healing places we are blessed with, so please feel free to share some others with me.

Until next week, Be Wild and BeWell

Sources

http://www.medicine.nevada.edu/wps/Proceedings/45/20-22.pdf

http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/elyunque/learning/nature-science/?cid=fsbdev3_043029

http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/stinging-nettle-000275.htm

Tierra, Michael, O.M.D. The Way of Herbs. Pocket Books, NY, NY. 1998