One of my favorite ways to use hibiscus (oh, count the ways!) is in fire cider. Fire cider is basically a spicy herbal vinegar, often sweetened with a little honey. It’s taken by the dropperful or spoonful, depending on the cider’s strength and imbiber’s palette. Fire cider helps to clear out the sinuses and wake up the immune and circulatory systems. It can be taken to ward off a cold or other respiratory infection.
Back in the day, when I ran an in-person herbal school, my students would pick one herb and give a presentation on its medicinal qualities along with a sample: a spot of tea, a taste of tincture, or sometimes a nibble of the plant. When a student told me she’d be preparing lemon balm pesto, I gave an encouraging smile, belying my apprehension. I am a decidedly adventurous eater, but this pesto felt wrong. Never have I been so happy to eat crow.
With its citrusy aroma and quilted lime-green leaves, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) brightens our gardens and kitchens alike. This mint family medicinal is known as the “gladdening herb” for the uplifting qualities it brings to the spirit. Children have a particular fondness for its sunny aroma and sour flavor. Bees are equally fond of the herb—so much so that the Greek word for bee, melissa, is another name for the plant.
The emerald nettles queen reigns over the herbal realms with vim and vigor. The leaves of this legendary herb are packed with vitamins, minerals, and chlorophyll, and this vitality infuses into nutritive herbal teas, vinegars, and medicinal foods. It’s true that nettles (Urtica dioica, Urticaceae) wears a crown of nearly invisible silver prickles, primed to sting any who might dare to trespass, but the sting is disarmed when the leaves are dried or cooked.