Herb'n Legend

Written by Leah Lemoine Category: At Home Issue: April 2012
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Rosemary’s culinary virtues are well known, but the so-called “herb of remembrance” is also great for memory and circulation, and when steeped into a tea, can allegedly relieve headaches. A recent study published in the Journal of Food Science found that when rosemary is used in marinades for meat, the carcinogens associated with grilling greatly diminish. Rosemary flourishes outdoors or indoors (especially in terracotta pots, which absorb less water than some other planters), provided the plant gets six to eight hours of sun per day.

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Another gustatory delight, sage has antibacterial properties (make a gargle for sore throats, colds and gum afflictions, or make sage tea to relieve food poisoning) and can be burned to kill airborne ickiness and alleviate asthma symptoms. It’s also believed to aid memory and has been used in natural Alzheimer’s treatments. The mint family (sage and rosemary included) “are kind of incestuous, all up in each other’s business,” says Kita Centella, owner of Chakra 4 Herb & Tea House. Their growth (best in partial sun, partial shade) can be contained in window boxes or “even woks or old teapots – get creative,” Rosky says.

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The crushed leaves of the desert willow are great for first aid – they kill bacteria and fungus gently but effectively. In Mexico, the flowers are steeped to make a tea to soothe coughs and relieve congestion. Desert willow trees – also known as Desert Amethyst – thrive in hot lowlands, require very little water, and can commonly be found along Arizona’s dry stream beds. It blooms
abundantly from spring to fall.

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A desert landscaping mainstay, brittlebush exudes a fragrant yellow sap that was burned as incense in Spanish Missions across the Southwest. Drinking two cups a day of a tea made from the leaves is said to ease the pain of arthritis, and the Seri people of Mexico used heated, bark-stripped branches from brittlebush to treat toothaches. This medium-sized shrub proliferates throughout the Sonoran Desert.

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Creosote Bush

The Tohono O’odham called it “first plant” and “the medicine chest of the desert.” At more than 11,000 years old, the “King Clone” creosote ring in the central Mojave Desert is believed to be one of the oldest living plant systems in the world. As a medicinal herb, creosote is often sold as chaparral, and the infused oil can be used as a mouthwash, deodorant, astringent and wound-healer – and it “smells like rain in the desert,” Centella says.