I was starting to read the next chapter in Deborah Madison’s book, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, when I found myself unable to move past the first page of her chapter The Foundations of Flavor. It was not that the rest of the chapter had nothing to offer, it did. However, it was a comment she made about herbs and spices that resonated with my spirit. She wrote “Even more then vegetables themselves, it’s these small intensely flavored ingredients and how they’re combined, that give a culture’s food it’s unique stamp” (p. 27). It is these small intensely flavored ingredients, these herbs and spices, which in combination with other ingredients can transport me to another place and time. I began to think about how lemon and oregano when used to marinate my tempeh, along with some garlic, olive oil, and soy sauce allow me to experience the flavors of Greek in my vegetarian Greek Tempeh Salad or in my Greek Tempeh Pita Wraps. I think about how it is the fresh dill when combined with some Greek yogurt and cucumbers creates an amazing Tzatiki. Or I can think about ancho chili powder, cumin, and coriander and how in combination with just about anything they enable you to experience the flavors of Mexico.
The more I started thinking about these herbs and spices, the more I realized it was not just where they are able to take me in my journey that I think about. I also found myself thinking about how so often they have healing and spiritual qualities. For example, milk thistle is used for cleansing the liver and helping to lower blood sugar levels. On those nights when I need a little help relaxing, I will curl up with a cup of chamomile tea. When I am feeling congested and have the flu, there is nothing better then a cup of peppermint tea.
Herbs have many uses and meanings, from culinary delights in the kitchen, to aromatherapy scents for healing, to medicinal for health to spiritual meanings. Every herb has spiritual meanings, which have been handed down through the ages. I remember staying in a hotel once that sprayed the pillows and sheets with a lavender spray to enable guests to have a more peaceful night’s sleep. The goal was that as you slept, you would inhale the scent and it would take you somewhere within to your spiritual center.
Sometimes, we might find ourselves craving a certain taste. I remember a certain visit to the market where I found myself drawn to the scent of some fresh tarragon. For a few days, I found myself wanting to have that flavor in all of my foods. I was going through a time when I needed to make some major decisions in my life and needed clarity. I was feeling tired, troubled, and confused. What I found was that during these few days, I found myself feeling rejuvenated and finding peace about what the decision was I needed to make. I never thought it had anything to do with my craving for tarragon. A few months later, I had a chance to learn about tarragon's spiritual attributes which include the ability to help one integrate new concepts, overcome obstacles to spiritually understanding, make decisions, stay emotionally balanced, maintain positive self-image, increase stamina, and experience the need to share unselfishly.
Since then, I have started learning about the spiritual qualities of some of my favorite spices. For example, I love the flavor of mint – mint in my tea, mint teas, mint flavored gum, cookies, and candies. I am growing some mint on our front porch right now and periodically will go and pick a leaf to chew as it relaxes the nerves and stimulates the brain. Peppermint, in particular, helps spiritual understanding of visions, dreams, and intuition.
We have chamomile growing in our yard. The funny thing about chamomile is that the more you mow it and walk on it, the more it spread. Chamomile’s spiritual attributes include increasing energy, wisdom, relaxing and promotes peacefulness. I love the idea of energy, peace, and wisdom growing in my yard.
I am always amazed at how I feel myself drawn to or craving an herb at a point and time in my life and then later realize it was the Creator’s way of answering my prayers. The herb I was craving held the spiritual qualities I needed at that point in time in my life.