Forgotten Herbs

The article on purslane showed the health benefits of this all-but-forgotten herb. People don’t immediately think of purslane as food or medicine. It hasn’t received much media attention, the way St. John’s Wort has. Purslane extract capsules are available but you wont’ find them at the corner drug store next to the chamomile, ginseng and ginkgo. What are some other overlooked plants? Do you have them in the pharmacy in your back yard?


Like purslane, borage grows enthusiastically and is often mistaken for a weed. Also called starflower, it is a large plant with ruffly leaves and beautiful blue flowers.

Borage is cultivated commercially for its seeds which contain gamma linolenic acid (GLA), a valuable fatty acid. When ingested GLA becomes prostaglandin E1. GLA regulates hormone activity and is useful against rheumatoid arthritis. Try it for PMS, cramps and breast pain, and menopause symptoms. Borage seed oil reduces cholesterol and prevents arterial plaque. It’s also great for your skin and hair. Preliminary studies indicate that it relieves and may cure eczema.

Borage flowers are good to eat, especially in salads. They have a light sweet scent that bees love. People use the flowers to decorate drinks, alcoholic or otherwise. You can actually freeze borage flowers into your ice cubes. The leaves taste something like spicy cucumber and can substitute for lettuce or spinach. Cut up the stems for salad or fry them in batter.

Borage is easy to grow. It needs partial sun. Plant the seeds twelve inches apart and keep them moist. It grows to about two or three feet high. Its companion plant is strawberry. Be sure to grow enough borage plants that you can leave some to go to seed and make more of themselves!


A familiar companion in the kitchen, chervil is one of the “fines herbes” of French cooking. It looks like and is related to parsley, but has a licorice- or anise-like taste that is a great addition to any mildly flavored food. It is good with eggs and fish, and in soup.

Chervil has vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and bioflavonoids. Its health properties were known to the ancient Romans, who used it as a digestive aid, blood purifier and antiseptic for wounds. Chervil tea is an excellent eyewash. Drink it to relieve chest congestion from a cold or flu. It’s also useful as a diuretic and mild laxative. Treat acne and insect bites by applying the juice from the stems and leaves of the fresh plant. A well-known spring tonic combines chervil with dandelion, goldenseal and yarrow.

Chervil likes a cool moist climate. Pick a spot that gets at least partial sun. Plant the seeds eight inches apart. You can grow this in a container but don’t try to transplant it. It isn’t as hardy as some other plants. Its companion plants are lettuce, broccoli and radishes. Start harvesting the leaves after the plant has been growing about eight weeks. Again, leave some plants alone and they will reseed themselves.

Garden Cress

Another tart and tangy herb, garden cress is also called peppergrass and is related to mustard. It looks a bit like cilantro and can grow just about anywhere. You might remember sprouting garden cress seeds on wet paper towels in kindergarten. It’s a big commercial plant in England and Europe where it is used to flavor salads, soups, stews and especially egg dishes. The sprouts go well on sandwiches. Parakeets like to eat them too.

The plant is a great source of antioxidant vitamins, calcium, iron and folic acid. The seed is rich in protein and has omega-6 fatty acids, similar to grape seed oil. Like the omega-3s, omega-6 fatty acids are important to brain function and are also good for skin and hair.

Garden cress regulates menstrual periods and promotes milk production for nursing mothers. Pregnant women should avoid it as it causes uterine contractions. Hypothyroid people should also use garden cress with caution because it can prevent absorption of iodine.

Drink garden cress tea as a laxative and to relieve indigestion. It can be given to babies in small doses for colic. Chew the seeds for sore throat and breathing problems. The high iron content is good for anemia when taken regularly. Cook and mash the seeds with water to make a poultice for sunburn.

Look for garden cress seeds at nurseries or gardening sections. Get heirloom seeds when you can. The plant grows to about four to six inches high, likes any soil and can take full or partial sun. It’s a good ground cover. When grown in containers it often has a somewhat milder flavor.

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