Using Herbs – Sage

Wild sage (Salvia Selvaġġa in Maltese) is an indigenous plant, originating in the Maltese islands before man. It is to be found frequently in garigues rich in soil, rocky places, roadsides and valley-sides. It flowers between October and June and may reach a height of 60 centimeters and a spread of 45 centimeters. Sage has a very pleasant scent and is easily recognizable from its light grey-green, velvety leaves.

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Sage is a perennial evergreen sub-shrub of the mint family. Its flowers are white, blue or purple and it has a long history of medicinal and culinary use in the Mediterranean region. The flowers and leaves can be dried for herbal uses, although the leaves are most commonly used. The light peppery flavor of sage is the perfect foil for meats such as pork, turkey and chicken. Sage also pairs well with cheese. Sprinkling roughly chopped sage leaves near the end of cooking caramelizing onions or mushrooms, egg bakes, omelettes, and even tea are other delicious ways to use this herb. It can be used both fresh or dried. Dried sage tends to loose its flavor after a year or so and its best stored in a cool, dark place, in a glass jar with a tightly fitted lid.

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Common sage is also distilled and used to make essential oils, as well as ceremonial incense.

In traditional medicine, especially during the middle ages, sage leaves were made into a poultice and used externally to treat sprains, swelling, ulcers and bleeding. It was also commonly used to make teas in order to treat sore throats and was considered to be a good herb to alleviate coughs, as well as in the treatment of menopausal ‘hot flashes’. When made into a tea, sage is said to further ease anxiety and fight off depression.

Sage contains high percentages of Vitamin K, and is also an excellent source of fiber, vitamin A, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, and B vitamins such as folic acid, as well as Vitamin E and copper. Although it has not been officially verified, said is also said to have the power to enhance memory and cognitive recall.

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Salvia Officinalis has also been clinically shown to contain anti-fungal properties, therefore making it beneficial for people suffering from certain conditions, such as candida, eczema, and influenza. Sage helps reduce excessive perspiration and salivation. It may also support liver and pancreatic function and it does appear to have a mild calming effect as well.

Old wives’ tales maintain it can also be used dissolved in water and applied over an aching tooth to relieve pain, as well as placed into bath water to darken hair.

Sage is very easy to grow in plant containers. It is better to place such a container in partial shade and to use dry soil. Be careful not to over-water it. Pests such as slugs and garden mites may be an issue with this plant, as well as mildew and root rot, which may be a problem. It is important not to harvest sage during the cold winter months, as this may damage the plant. It should be harvested in spring or summer. Further plants may be propagated through cuttings or seeds.

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This article was written by me and originally published in the online magazine LivingInMalta. It can be found here.

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Herbs for Healing – Thyme

This winter’s spate of people suffering from the flu has definitely led to a surge in the purchasing of antibiotics. Primarily used to combat viruses and infections, antibiotics come in all shapes and sizes, but are generally prescribed by a doctor and bought at a pharmacy or hospital in the form of pills or pastilles.

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The use of antibiotics revolutionarized medicine in the 20th century, however what did people do before these started to be discovered and used? Before the onset of modern medicine, there were other, more natural means of affecting cures. In fact, many people still prefer to use these natural cures even today. I am of course talking about the beneficial and medicinal use of natural herbs and spices. These plants, which may have so many uses, both culinary and medicinal, are found in the wilderness and are, therefore, unlike modern medicine, free or very cheap to purchase from your local apothecary or health store.

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One of the most common local herbs which can be found around the Maltese countryside is Mediterranean thyme (Sagħtar). Being an indigenous plant, that is a plant which originates from the Maltese islands, not one which was imported. Thyme is generally to be found in rocky arid places, such as the garigue and the tops of valleys. Being a perennial evergreen herb, it can be found growing throughout the four seasons.

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Thyme has been historically used for a number of purposes throughout ancient times. The Egyptians used the oil extracted from this plant for embalming, the Greeks used it in incense form to lighten the spirits, and the Romans used it to purify their rooms and linens. Christians in the middle ages often burned thyme leaves during funerals and memorials.

Thyme can be used both fresh and dried. In Arab countries, it is very popular in culinary dishes, as well as to brew hot invigorating teas, since thyme retains its original flavor when dried better than many other herbs.

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Scientifically speaking, thyme is a natural antiseptic, since it contains ‘thymol’, which, when prepared as an essential oil contains a range of compounds normally used in mouthwashes and disinfectants. In fact, thyme was generally used to medicate bandages, before the modernisation of medicine. A tisane or tea brewed from thyme can be a gentle remedy for coughs, colds, arthritis and upset stomachs. It is a natural diuretic and appetite stimulant. Due to its antibacterial properties, it can also be used to help treat acne and fungal infections.

Thyme also contains Vitamin A and Vitamin C and can also help to boost one’s immunity system. A 2014 pharmaceutical study on thyme put forth an explanation of how this herb lowered blood pressure, and reduced the heart rate. Its fragrant perfume can also be beneficial in boosting one’s spirits, as well as refreshing the air – in fact thyme is used in a number of disinfectants, hand sanitizers, and washes. My favorite way of consuming thyme however, is by garnishing a nice plate of pasta with it, or using it when preparing fish or poultry in order to maximize its taste.

 

This article was written by me and published on the online magazine Living In Malta. To access the original article, please go here.

Herbs – Fennel

If you love Maltese food, you’ve surely already sampled the famous ‘patata l-forn’, that is, Maltese baked potatoes. This dish, served as an accompaniment to a number of meat recipes, such as Maltese rabbit or baked poultry, has one particular ingredient without which it wouldn’t really have that wonderful taste we all know and love. That ingredient is fennel (bużbież).

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Fennel is an indigenous herb from the carrot family, which is very common in the Maltese islands. It flowers between the months of May and October and featured so much in the lives of the Mediterranean people, that they even used it in their legends and myths. It was for example, thanks to a stalk of fennel that, according to Greek mythology, the hero Prometheus was victorious in stealing a bit of fire from Mount Olympus and the Greek gods. The ancient Romans used fennel as an eye-wash to treat visual problems, as well as a mouth wash to sweeten the breath, while Russian folk healers used fennel to treat colic.

Fennel, which is most abundant during spring and summer in Malta, sports pretty yellow flowers and is a resplendent plant which can reach up to three meters in height. Both the leaves and the seeds of the plant can be used to garnish or flavor meat, fish or cheese, however the traditional tasty touch which is given to certain particular recipes, such as Maltese roast potatoes or pork, can only be derived from the seeds.

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Fennel is even used in certain cocktails or alcoholic drinks. It is, for example, one of the main ingredients in the fermentation of the notorious 19th century green Absinthe.

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Fennel seeds can act as a laxative and so aid digestion, as well as prevent flatulence and treat constipation. This herb contains iron and histidine, an amino acid which can be helpful in the treatment of anemia. Since fennel also contains high contents of fibre, it can also be helpful in maintaining optimal levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream. Fennel is also rich in potassium, which is vital for a number of important body processes and functions, such as reducing blood pressure, as well as increasing electrical conduction throughout the body, leading to an increase in brain function and cognitive abilities.

Maltese Herbs: Fennel

According to a number of health and medical sources, fennel can also be used to treat hormonal related issues, such as the female menstrual cycle, which can be a sensitive and painful time. Since fennel is anti-spasmodic, it can be a remedy for uterine cramps. It can also regulate out of control menstrual cycles since it contains an essential hormonal substance called ‘emmenagogue’, which stimulates the blood flow in the pelvic area and uterus, and can therefore aid in re-starting irregular period flows.

Preparations made from fennel seeds are also known to be used in cleansing milks to treat oily skin as well as eczema. Leaves can be used fresh, or prepared in an infusion with oil or vinegar. The seeds may also be ground and drunk with boiling water, as well as chewed as a good breath freshener.

This article was written by me and published on LivingInMalta. To access the original version directly, please go here.

New Article BY MOI – Did Hobbits really Exist??

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It was 2003 when a team of researchers found her – a woman whose bones were 18,000 years old and whose skull was less than one-third the size of our own. This was the woman to be nick-named ‘the Hobbit’, after J. R. R. Tolkien’s renowned book of the same name.

Led by anthropologist Peter Brown and archaeologist Michael Morwood of the Australia’s University of New England, the team was excavating a limestone cave on the remote island of Flores in Indonesia when they discovered a nearly complete skeleton estimated to be about 1.06m (3ft 6inches) tall. The partial skeletons of nine other individuals, all of them less than 1.09 metres in height, were also found.

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The hobbits of Flores created a storm among anthropologists, causing them to question previous assumptions about evolution and human origins, since they could not actually determine whether these humanoids represented a species distinct from ‘modern’ humans, that is, Homo Sapiens, since they seemed to have existed in the world in the same space of time, yet were distinctly different physiologically and anatomically. The ‘hobbits’, or as they are actually called scientifically the ‘Homo Floresiensis’ are remarkable in that even though they had a very small body and brain, they not only could craft and use sophisticated stone implements, which were found in the cave with them, but also lived until relatively recent times – as recently as 12,000 years ago, making them the longest lasting non-modern human species, surviving long past the Neanderthals.

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It is thought that during the most recent glacial period, these Hominids were left isolated on Flores due to high sea levels. This led discoverers to believe that the species or its ancestors could only have reached the isolated island in the first place through water transport, perhaps using bamboo rafts, which would further point out their mental abilities, as well as prompt scientists to believe that they could communicate and had a language, since they obviously needed to cooperate with each other to reach their destination. The isolation of the island is a factor which, many believe, led to the evolution of this different species, if such it is. There exist in fact, a huge number of theories which try to explain this so-far unknown strand of the human evolution tree.

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The ongoing dispute concerns the issue of whether Homo Floresiensis is actually a species in and of itself (like Homo Erectus and Homo Sapiens), or whether the skeletons found belonged to a group of people who were merely suffering from some type of condition or mutated syndrome. Critics of the claim for species status have put forth several hypotheses – one of these for example, states that the limited food supply in such a confined environment could have caused the body of a Homo Erectus group to evolve a smaller body, and therefore suffer from dwarfism. Anatomist Gary Richards on the other hand, introduced a new sceptical theory stating that the unearthed skeletons might have belonged to a group of people suffering from Laron syndrome, which is a genetic disorder causing a short stature and a small skull. There were even those who thought that these traits could be attributed to ‘modern humans’ (that is, Homo Sapiens) with Down Syndrome.

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The main argument of those who support the idea that the Indonesian hobbit is a species in and of itself, mainly describe the fact that the bone structure found in the skeletons’ shoulders, arms and wrists are very different from those which stemmed from the Homo Sapiens, being much more similar to the bone structure of chimpanzees or earlier hominids. This supports the theory that the Flores hobbits were a separate species of early human, stemming perhaps, from the Homo Habilis, rather than a group of Homo Sapiens with a physical disorder.

In 2012, an American film studio was going to release a movie entitled ‘Age of the Hobbits’ which depicted a community of Homo Floresiensis, and was scheduled to be released right after Peter Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’. The studio was embroiled in a lawsuit for copyright infringement, and ordered by court not to use the word ‘hobbit’. The film was instead released under the title ‘Clash of the Empires’.
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—— A version of this article appeared on the online magazine EVE – http://www.eve.com.mt/2015/08/01/did-hobbits-really-exist-in-indonesia/

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