When we think of herbs several worthy plants spring to mind, but few of them are indigenous. Could it be possible that our indigenous plants also offer culinary delights and potential medicinal benefits? The latter topic is controversial. Most herbal remedies have not been thoroughly studied, and so-called ‘complementary medicines’ should not be considered as a replacement for well-researched, proven cures when one is seriously ill. Nevertheless, our unbelievably rich biodiversity has led to a great deal of interest in our indigenous herbs within the research community. After all, most medicines we use today have at least some relation to the plant-based medicines of yesteryear. Let’s begin by looking at some of the indigenous plants you can add to your culinary repertoire before taking a brief look at common home remedies using indigenous plants for minor ailments.
Cook It Up!
Mentioning all the indigenous plants that can be used to add zing to your cooking would be a tall order. To get started with indigenous cookery, grab these five commonly available indigenous plants and enjoy those aromas!
There are few people who can resist the flavour-enhancing properties of garlic, but growing regular garlic isn’t something everyone succeeds at. However, our common wild garlic (Tulbaghia violacea), with its pretty sprays of lilac blooms, is a great culinary herb that’s ridiculously easy to grow. Simply chop the leaves finely and add them to your cooking as a garlic substitute. Just remember that our garlic is a lot stronger than the conventional sort, so adding too much is all too easy. You can also use the flowers in salads or to top off elegant cocktail snacks. The flavour is sweetish with garlic overtones. If you have wild garlic plant in flower, pick one and taste it for yourself!
Once again, we’re looking at an easy-going genus that just about anybody can grow, and you have so many options! Salvia africana, Salvia caerulea, and Salvia chamelaeagnea are all gorgeous garden plants that grow into vigorous shrubs. Pick a few leaves and use them in any dish that usually requires sage. Chicken dishes are an obvious choice, but you can also try baking finely chopped leaves into savoury biscuits to serve with cream cheese, topped with a wild garlic flower.
If you’ve ever tasted the tart fruits of the num-num (Carissa spp.), you’ll know that they’re pretty moreish. But have you considered making delicious jams and jellies with them? They’re great as a topping for desserts like ice-cream and cheesecake. So, once those jasmine-like flowers have turned into yummy fruits, consider saving some to make jelly! Just spoon or squish out the pips through a sieve, add an equal volume of sugar to the fruit, and cook it up!
The scented pelargoniums, also known as geraniums, are known for their delightful aromas, and there’s such a repertoire of flavours hiding in just this one genus! Rose-scented geraniums are fabulous in muffins, cakes, bakes and desserts, and other flavours include nutmeg, mint and even lemon. If you have time, consider candying a few flowers to use as stunning toppings for cakes baked with a few finely chopped leaves to flavour.
Most of us are familiar with the mountain buchu (Agathosma betulina), but of all the buchus it is the most difficult to grow. Luckily for us there are many other buchu species that provide a feast of appetising aromas to inspire your inner chef. Look for garlic, lemon and aniseed aromas, to name but a few. You need only touch the foliage for those aromas to emerge, so use these herbs quite sparingly.
Just as a reminder: if it’s serious, see a doctor! Pregnant women should also check whether herbal medicines are safe for their baby. For minor ills, try planting these easy-to-grow indigenous pretties in your garden.
African Wormwood or Wildeals: This pretty plant, with its feathery silver foliage, helps with common colds, coughs and fevers. Just use a couple of leaves or a single sprig and add hot water. It tastes bitter, but it works. Many people report that it is also good for upset tummies and even for clearing intestinal parasites.
Aloes: We all know that Aloe ferox has given birth to a thriving aloe gel industry. But just about any species of aloe can help with skin healing. If you have a mild burn, for instance, kill the pain and promote healing by bandaging a peeled leaf to the spot. The cool feeling of relief is instant. Try it on any inflamed area and sigh with relief!
Bulbine Frutescens: Nature offers us a tube of soothing ointment in the form of bulbine leaves. Simply pick a leaf and squeeze it – a clear gel emerges, and it’s the perfect treatment for itchy bites. There are also reports saying that large amounts squeezed onto a cut will help to stop bleeding. As with aloes, it’s very soothing on minor burns.
And Those Culinary Herbs Too: Wild garlic and wild sage are said to have antiseptic properties, and both are believed to help to build the immune system. Num-num is rich in vitamin C, pelargoniums are great as a calming, sleep-promoting tea, and although the other buchu species may not be as powerful as the mountain buchu, they’re still good for coughs and colds.
Look Around, Read Up, and Enjoy!
There’s a lot of information on useful indigenous herbs out there, so you will find food for thought if you look more deeply into this topic. Meanwhile, be sure to have the plants mentioned here in your garden – they’re both beautiful and useful!
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