Selected Herbs (1)

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Economic Plant Photographs #28

Selected Herbs (1) For Food & Medicines

Echinacea, Tarragon, Milk Thistle, Marigold, Yerba Mate & Rosemary

Sunflower Family (Asteraceae)

Purple Cone-flower (Echinacea purpurea)
Purple cone-flower (Echinacea purpurea), a lovely daisy native to the North American prairie. The ground rootstock is the source of the popular herbal remedy called echinacea. Echinacea capsules are taken at the first sign of a cold, primarily as an immunostimulant.

The dried leaves of (Artemisia dracunculus) provide the important herb known as tarragon. This herbaceous species belongs to the genus Artemisia, along with a number of species of sagebrush shrubs native to North America. Unlike true sages of the mint family (Lamiaceae), tarragon belongs to the sunflower family (Asteraceae). The left photo taken on Palomar Mountain in San Diego County shows a rather non-descript tarragon plant in the foreground. To the left and in the background is Lotus crassifolius, a native shrub of the legume family (Fabaceae). The tall, large-leaved herb to the right is common mullein (Verbascum thapsus), a naturalized Eurasian weed of the figwort family (Scrophulariaceae).

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum), a prickly herb used to treat disorders of the liver and to maintain a healthy liver by detoxification of harmful agents that accumulate in this vital organ. It is called milk thistle because of the milky-white blotches on the leaves. The seeds (achenes) contain silymarin, a group of flavonoid (flavonolignan) isomers. Silybin is the major component of this group of isomers. Silybin has been shown to be effective in treating liver poisoning by liver damaging agents such as carbon tetrachloride and other chemicals, hepatitis viruses, mushroom toxins (a-amantin and phalloidin), acetaminophen overdose, and excessive alcohol consumption. It is a good antioxidant, and taken regularly, detoxifies the liver and increases the level of liver glutathione (GSH). Milk thistle has also been used to treat patients with cirrhosis of the liver.

Scented marigold (Tagetes lemmonii), an aromatic shrub native to southeastern Arizona and south into Mexico. It is occasionally cultivated in southern California herb gardens. The fragrant foliage has a strong, distinctive flavor and aroma, reminiscent of lemon and mint. It is brewed into a pleasant aromatic tea.

Holly Family (Aquifoliaceae)

Yerba Mate: A Tea From South America

Some of the elaborate carved designs on South American gourds (mostly varieties of Lagenaria) are truly remarkable. In Argentina a small gourd is made into a special cup for drinking "yerba mate," a popular tea brewed from the leaves of a native holly (Ilex paraguariensis). There are many species of holly in the Americas and Asia, but yerba mate is indigenous to the mountains of northern Argentina, southeastern Brazil and Paraguay. Mate is sipped through a perforated metal straw called a "bombilla." Mate gourds are often fashioned with silver rims or collars and support bases. Old mate gourds improve the flavor of this caffeine-rich tea and mate connoisseurs would never think of using glass, pottery mugs or styrafoam cups. Mate powder is placed in the gourd (with or without sugar), and the gourd is filled with boiling water. After the mixture has steeped and settled, the tea is sipped through the metal straw (bombilla). The bombilla has perforations large enough to allow movement of the hot tea, but small enough to prevent pieces of the leaves from entering the straw.

Mate gourds and bombillas from Argentina. Yerba mate tea is sipped through the bombilla, a metal straw with perforations. Small pores allow the hot tea to flow into the lower, expanded end of the bombilla, but prevent leaf fragments from entering the straw.

An assortment of mate gourds from Uruguay. [From the extensive collection of Dylan Eastman].

An assortment of silver and wooden bombillas from Uruguay. [From the extensive collection of Dylan Eastman].

Yerba mate tea is a very popular drink in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay. Archeological evidence indicates that mate tea was widely used in pre-Columbian times by Andean Indians and by people in the lowlands of Paraguay. The tea contains about one percent caffeine, roughly the amount in coffee. Another South American drink called guaraná contains up to five percent caffeine. Called the "cola of Brazil," guaraná comes from the seeds of Paulinia cupana, a trailing shrub or vine in the soapberry family (Sapindaceae).

Yerba mate tea is derived from the leaves of Ilex paraguariensis, a native South American shrub in the holly family (Aquifoliaceae). It belongs to the genus Ilex, along with several native North American species of holly. Like other species of holly, yerba mate has bright red berries.

Holly plants typically have colorful red berries and shiny evergreen leaves. This species Ilex x altaclarensis 'wilsonii' (I. wilsonii) is a cultivated hybrid between the English holly (I. aquifolium) and a Canary Island species.

Yerba mate from Brazil and Uruguay. Yerba mate tea is made from the dried, pulverized leaves of Ilex paraguariensis, a native South American shrub in the holly family (Aquifoliaceae).

See The High Caffeine Drink Called Guaraná

Left: Yerba mate from Uruguay. The leather case holds the tea, mate gourd and a thermos of hot water. The hot water is poured into a gourd filled with ground mate leaves. The tea is sipped through a metal staw called a bombilla. Right: A very unusual mate gourd covered with the scrotum of a bull.

Mint Family (Lamiaceae)

The dried, aromatic leaves of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), one of the most popular and delicious cooking herbs in North America. This Mediterranean herb is unsurpassed for enhancing the flavor of grilled swordfish and other entrees. Like other members of the mint family (Lamiaceae), the leaves contain volatile and flavorful essential oils.

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