healing herbs: parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

Submitted by MichaelE on Thu, 2010-04-08 08:42

That line made famous by Simon and Garfunkel, lists some of the most famous herbs, that many people will be able to recognize. Herbs are very useful plants and are the basis of many of our medicines and the perfume industry. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme are mostly associated with culinary uses, but they also have other properties that you may not know about. Most people probably have these herbs in a dry form, stashed away in the cupboard. However, fresh herbs are the best, as then the nutrient and health properties are at their best. You do not need a large space to have your own small herb garden – even your kitchen windowsill will do.


One of the most widely cultivated herbs in Europe, Parsley gained popularity during the Roman times. Parsley belongs to the Umbelliferae family, of which there are many varieties but the most common ones are curly parsley or flat leaf parsley, sometimes called Italian parsley.

Parsley can be used as a breath freshener, chew a couple of leaves after eating. You can also add it to dishes containing garlic or onion as it will help to neutralize their strong odour. A tea made from pouring boiling water over some fresh leaves and allowing it to steep, will produce a tea that is good for kidney infections and urinary tract problems. Parsley also stimulates the appetite, and is good for people who are ill. Warmed leaves of parsley, rubbed against stings will help take away the pain; and a lotion made of the leaves; rubbed into the scalp will help remove dandruff and stimulate hair growth.

Parsley is a very good companion plant. When grown near roses and tomato plants, pests are repelled from those plants. Parsley can be grown in small pots on your kitchen window sill, in-between your vegetables, or squeezed in as a filler in your flower pots. Parsley is best used fresh and you can keep bunches of it in a jar of water in the fridge for up to a week. It adds flavor to many meat dishes when added at the end, and goes very well with tomatoes.


There are over 900 species of this plant and they vary greatly. They love open and sunny places. The most commonly used one is S. officinalis, or common sage which has been cultivated since the middle ages. The Romans believed that it would increase fertility, and it has been associated with longevity since classical times. The meaning of sage comes from Latin and means “to be well”. South Africa has many indigenous sages such as Salvia africana and salvia africana-caerulea (blousalie, blue sage), which was found to be a good substitute for common sage by Dutch settlers and is used for bronchial infections and digestive problems, or to wash infected wounds.

Sage is also useful in reducing fevers, colds and sore throats. Chewing a couple of sage leaves will greatly reduce a sore throat. Sage leaves act as a moth and insect deterrent if used in potpourri sachets in cupboards. Using some sage oil in a bath is excellent for nasal congestion. Sage leaves rubbed on ones teeth is also supposed to help whiten them. Sage is a very strong herb and when taken medically, a teaspoon of chopped leaves to a cup of water is sufficient. It should also be used sparingly in cooking.

Sage grows well in sunny positions and does well in the Cape climate. It can be planted in pots, in a courtyard or balcony - it will also thrive in sunny spots in the garden.


This ranks as one of my personal favourites after basil. Naturally occurring around the Mediterranean, rosemary does very well here in the Cape. Rosemary also comes from Latin and means “the dew of the sea” referring to its blue flowers and the fact that it was found growing along the Mediterranean coastline. Rosemary is a symbol of friendship, loyalty and remembrance in many parts of the world, and was traditionally carried by mourners at a funeral and brides in their bouquets. Greek scholars wore garlands on rosemary whilst making examinations to help improve their memories and concentration. Rosemary has painkilling effects and anti-inflammatory properties.

Rosemary is a very good insecticide. Mix 5ml of rosemary oil with 300ml beer and spray on the affected plant. Rosemary can be used to treat high blood pressure and as a general heart tonic, one of the few that is not a drastic drug, always consult your doctor first, though before turning to homoeopathic medicine. Rosemary made into a strong teas will help alleviate headaches.

Rosemary was believed to have had protective properties and a bush was put in each corner of the garden to keep away bad influences. The Romans believed that it was a sacred herb which brought happiness in life and peace in death.

Rosemary grows easily in the Cape, though can become quite a big bush. It can look very nice planted in containers or in the a sunny spot in the garden.


This herb has always been associated with antiseptic and healing properties.Thyme was used by the ancient Egyptians in their preparations for embalming the dead. It is considered a symbol of elegance and courage. In parts of the Western Cape, a tincture of Thymus serpyllum is used as a remedy for diarrhea and abdominal cramps.

With so many varieties, it is easy to get confused. The best one for use in drinks and cooking is lemon thyme. Another good thyme for use in cooking is common garden thyme.

Thyme is considered to be one of the greatest of herbs as it contains thymol. It is used to treat whooping cough, bronchitis, headaches, nervousness and diseases of the uterus.

Thyme does not need much space in a garden and should grow well on a kitchen window sill.

The information was taken from Margaret Roberts Book of Herbs – The medicinal and culinary uses of herbs in South Africa. Further information on the history and uses were taken from The Royal Horticultural Society encyclopedia of herbs and their uses.

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