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saffron

Saffron: What You Need To Know About This Golden Spice

Saffron (Crocus sativus) is an Asian herb, and the world’s most expensive spice, commonly used for culinary purposes.

Saffron spice is made from dried stigmas of the crocus’ flower. This spice has a rich history, having been used by ancient Egyptians and Greeks both as a spice and a medicine.

Traditionally, saffron was used to relieve symptoms of fever, menstrual disorders, epilepsy and problems associated with the digestive system. However, this spice has slowly dominated the kitchen, with countless recipes using it as an essential ingredient.

How to Identify Saffron

Saffron
Saffron (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Saffron has a rich red-orange color when used in liquids, and it gives dishes and baked items a rich yellow color. This is one of the main reasons why this spice is used for culinary purposes, in addition to its aromatic properties. When buying saffron, here are a few insights into buying the real stuff:

  • If you are on the go and want to buy saffron, you may probably find it powdered. To ascertain that the powder is indeed saffron, take a pinch and stir it in warm water. If the water is instantly colored, the powder is not genuine saffron. The authentic spice should take at least ten minutes to color the water since it takes some time to infuse.
  • Red stigmas mixed with yellow styles.
    Red stigmas and yellow styles. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    If you prefer the strands, it is good to learn how to identify high quality saffron. The quality of this golden spice is evident in the color of the stigmas. A high intensity of the color red means that the spice is of high quality, which also translates to a high price. However, to avoid buying dyed counterfeits at exorbitant prices, ascertain that the tips are a lighter red compared to the rest of the strand.

A saffron crocus flower.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To identify fresh saffron, one should know the basic characteristics of the plant. Crocus sativus is in the family of the Iridaceous plants. It grows to about 20 or 30 cm, and bears a maximum of 4 purple flowers per plant. Each flower bears only three bright crimson stigmas, which are connected to the carpel, along with the stalks. The flower emits a characteristic hay-like fragrance, which is hard to miss.

How Can You Get the Best Out of Saffron?

From simple preparation, crush a few strands of saffron and soak them in hot liquid for a minimum of 15 minutes. This allows enough time to infuse and give out maximum color and fragrance. The resulting mixture can be used in small quantities in teas, soups, pastries, confectionary and meals.

It is important to remember that saffron should be taken in minimal amounts. When using saffron as a spice, use only a few strands or a few drops of infused saffron. Too much of the spice makes meals and drinks bitter, and leave a medicine-like after taste.

What Are the Benefits of Using Saffron?

Since this is the most expensive spice, anyone would think twice before making a purchase. However, before you decide not to use it, here is a list of the benefits you will miss out on.

Saffron was, and still is, used relieve symptoms of troubled digestive system. It is a natural remedy for low appetite, nausea and vomiting, as well as diarrhea. It also offers relief from a bloated stomach and acidity. A few drops of the infused saffron in tea, soup or juice are enough.

The bright red-orange color characteristic of the spice is proof of the presence of carotenoids. This is a chemical that is vital for strong bones and healthy eyes. According to recent studies, this herb has enough of the carotenoids to cure arthritis and prevent blindness in old age. It also offers improved vision to people suffering from cataracts.

This golden spice is a mild antidepressant. This makes it the perfect remedy for mild and moderate depression. This property also helps to relieve sleep disorders such as insomnia. A small pinch of saffron powder taken in milk should suffice.

Traditionally, this spice was used to relieve menstrual conditions and regulate the periods. It can also be used to relieve muscle pains and spasms. This herb also clears any clotting in the uterine system, which can lead to excessive bleeding. Pregnant women are, therefore, advised to take this spice in extremely minimal quantities.

Saffron is an antioxidant. Therefore it is very useful in the prevention of cancer. It also relieves fever and acne, and boosts memory and blood circulation. It is a natural aphrodisiac, effective in both men and women.

Keep in mind that saffron is the most expensive spice, which makes it a perfect target for counterfeiters. When using this herb, ensure that you use the genuine one, not an adulterated version.

Salix_Alba_Weeping_Willow

The Original Aspirin: White Willow

What is white willow?

White Willow (Salix alba), Location: Riparian ...
White Willow (Salix alba), Location: Riparian forest near Bingen, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Salix alba is the botanical name of white willow. The other common names for white willow are willow, common willow and European willow. The genus name of the willows, Salix, derives from the Celtic sal, which means “near,” and lis, “water.” The specific name, alba, is a Latin word which means “white”, and it refers to the color of the leaves’ undersides.

It comprises of about 300 species. Some species grow very tall up to 25m or more. Some of them grow up to 1.5-2m only.

It is a deciduous tree. Its native is Europe and Western and Central Asia. They are found from Arctic area to South Africa.

How to identify white willow?

As seen earlier, the tree may be medium sized or very tall. They have rounded crown of branches. They have a weak stem that get easily broken during storms.

If you are looking for the tree in the wild, you should first look in places that are far from ponds, stream, river and other sources of water.

de: Blatt der Silber-Weide (Salix alba), Ort: ...

The upper surface of the shiny leaves is grayish green in color. The color changes to yellow when they are ready to whither.The leaves are paler than other species of willow because of the silky white hairy appearance under them.

The bark of white willow is slightly yellow in color. The limbs of the branches extend up to the ground. There is sure to be a lot of litter beneath the tree that includes broken twigs, branches and withered leaves.

Does white willow have medical benefits?

White willow has a lot of medicinal benefits. It has been used thousands of years before to cure many health conditions. It was in the early eighteenth century that it was first found that the bark of white willow contained salicin that treated pain and fever effectively. The extracts were used to make the first aspirin in the later part of eighteenth century.

What are the health properties of white willow?

The bark and leaves of white willow are useful in treating the following.

1. It is used for getting relief from pains. It is effective in treating lower back pain, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
2. Its anti-inflammatory properties are useful in reducing the inflammation.
3. It reduces the symptoms of flu and other types of fever.
4. It is helpful in lowering the symptoms of menopause like night sweats and hot flashes.
5. They have been successfully used to remove warts, corns and unnecessary flesh from the body.
6. Although it is not very effective for weight loss when it is used alone, it boosts the metabolism of the body and helps in weight loss when combined with other herbs.
7. It gives relief from headaches and toothaches.
8. It is useful to people who are at the risk of getting strokes because of its blood thinning properties.
9. It is also used to treat bursitis and tendonitis.

Why is it preferred over aspirin?

It starts to act later than aspirin, but the effects remains for a longer duration of time. Moreover, it does not cause stomach bleeding.

Medicine Uses

Digestion

  • helps to protect the gut lining from inflammation and irritation
  • reduces dysentery and diarrhea
  • great for weak digestion, dyspepsia, heartburn acidity and worms

Respiratory system

  • decongestant for head colds, flu and fevers
  • reestablishes strength after disease

Musculoskeletal system

  • alleviates pain
  • acts as an anti-inflammatory for rheumatism, arthritis, gout, muscular aches, backache, tendonitis, bursitis and sprains

Immune system

  • useful for fevers and headaches
  • cures malaria

Urinary system

  • decreases fluid retention
  • aids to remove toxins via urine

Externally

  • make use lotion for cuts and wounds
  • make gargles for irritated throats
  • mouthwash for mouth ulcers and bleeding gum
  • put poultices on inflamed joints

How to use white willow?

It can be used as tea, tincture and tablets or liquid form. The dosage depends upon the form in which you are taking it.

  • You can drink four or more cups of white willow tea a day.
  • If you are going for the tincture form, you can take 3-5 ml three times a day.
  • If you are going for tablets or liquid form you can take 60-240 mg a day.

How to prepare white willow decoction and tea?

Decoction for white willow herbal tea can be prepared by boiling root, bark, leaves and seeds. They should be boiled in water and simmered to make sure that all medicinal properties are fully extracted. It can be either drunk or used topically for sores or gargled to heal toothaches and throat aches.

If you cannot get the parts of white willow, it is not a matter of concern. It is available in powder form in almost all stores that sell herbal supplements. Take 2 tablespoons of the powder and boil it in 8 ounces of water. When it starts to boil, simmer it for 10-15 minutes. Then let it steep for half an hour. Filter the tea and add lemon, honey or sugar to suit your taste.

How to prepare white willow tincture?

The ratio of white willow powder and the solvent is 1:5. The solvent used here is grain alcohol. Dissolve it thoroughly and store it in a airtight container for 2 weeks. Then strain it. You can mix it with water, milk, juice or tea.

What are the side effects of white willow?

  • The side effects include renal damage, tinnitus and gastrointestinal problems.
  • It may cause other side effects like vomiting, nausea and stomach ulcers etc.
  • It is not advisable for pregnant and lactating women.
  • don’t use if allergic to salicylates and in bleeding problems
  • children and teenagers with chickenpox, flu or any undiagnosed illness should avoid it due to chance of Reye’s syndrome

What are the interactions of white willow?

  • It should not be taken while taking medications like beta blockers, diuretics, anticoagulants and NSAID etc.
  • employ with caution with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen

White willow is a wonderful herb with many medicinal properties, but it is better to take it after consulting your doctor.

mentha_piperita_paint

Mentha piperita

Name

The  “Mentha” comes from the nymph Minthe, seduced by Hades and metamorphosed by Persephone in a plant.  The specific name “piperita” means ‘peppery’.

Also Known as

  • Mentha balsamea
  • peppermint
  • hortela
  • mint
  • menta
  • mentha montana

 

Identification Keys

  • perennial herb
  • stems erect
  • 60-110 cm high – it mostly reclines and often sticks up less than 30 cm
  • square, smooth, branching stem
  • purple-blotched stalk
  • dark green, purplish-tinged leaves
  • opposite leaves, each pair alternating along the stem
  • elliptical and lanceolate leaves
  • leave blades to 9 cm long, 4 cm broad
  • leave broadest near base
  • sharply toothed along leave margins
  • pink to violet flowers
  • four-lobed, weakly lipped flowers (shaped like open mouth)
  • flowers carried in thick, blunt, many-flowered,  oblong, upright spike
  • fruits with 4 tiny nutlets enclosed by persistent calyx
  • pungent scent

Bloom Time

  • summer-fall

Habitat

  • sunny and partially shaded wet places
  • wet meadows, marshes, spring branches, rivers and lakes, pond margins, sloughs, ditches, roadsides, railroads
  • doesn’t need many nutrients
  • can sustain bitter-cold winters

Look-alikes

There are no poisonous smell-alikes. You can confuse Mentha piperita with other aromatic mints (Mentha spp.) which also have square stems and opposite leaves, and smell minty. Don’t use any odorless plant with square stems and opposite leaves until you’ve positively identified it to be an edible or safe medicinal specie.

  • Mentha acquatica (watermint)
  • Mentha spicata (spearmint)
  • Nepeta cataria (catnip)

 


 

Medicine Uses

Parts Used

Aerial parts

Actions

aromatic, diaphoretic, carminative, nervine, antispasmodic, antiemetic, antiseptic, digestive, cholagogue, circulatory stimulant, analgesic, antimicrobial, rubefacient

Systems

Digestion

  • relieves spasm and pain in colic, constipation, diarrhea, flatulence, heartburn, hiccups, indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and stomach-aches
  • enhance appetite
  • helps digestion
  • relieves nausea and travel sickness
  • protects guts from irritation and infection
  • helps in Chron’s disease and ulcerative colitis

Circulation

  • taken in hot tea, it promotes sweating
  • improves circulation moving blood to the periphery

Mental and emotional

  • improves concentration
  • clears the mind
  • calms anxiety and tension
  • relieves tension headaches
  • relieves joint and muscle pain

Respiratory system

  • taken in hot infusion, it’s a decongestant
  • clears airways
  • reduces asthma’s spasms
  • relieves colds, flu and fevers
  • enhance resistance to infections

Immune system

Reproductive system

  • relaxes smooth muscles in the uterus
  • reduces menstrual pain

Externally

  • oil is useful for herpes simplex and ringworm
  • use as an inhalant for colds, catarrh and sinusitis
  • relieves muscular pain and aching feet
  • use as gargle for sore throats
  • mouthwash for gum infections and mouth ulcers

Caution

  • avoid in pregnancy
  • don’t use oil on babies or small children
  • an overdose of the concentrated essential oil is toxic.

 


 

Food Uses

Parts Used

Aerial parts

Main Uses

seasoning, tea

Nutrition

  • provides carotinoids that the body uses to make vitamin A
  • provides the minerals: calcium, iron, phosphorus, silicon, and chromium

Cooking

  • use any or all of the aerial parts for making tea
  • chop  finely the leaves and use with any dessert or sweet recipe.
  • it is also one of the best flavorings to use with chocolate.

Harvesting

Harvesting Season

  • Mid-spring to mid-fall

Harvesting Methods

  • cut or break off all above-ground parts for tea
  • strip the leaves and tops with your fingers for food use,
  • leave as much of the hard stems as possible behind
  • gather leaves at any stage
  • pick leaves on dry day
  • dry on paper in warm area
  • store in a tight container