May 2014
The Herb Lady

Corn, an Herb? I Think So

Indian corn, maize (Zea mays). This is what we North Americans are referring to when we use the word "corn." Is it an herb? I consider it so. After all, it is a plant which serves a useful purpose. In fact, corn serves many useful purposes. I can think of no other plant which serves so many useful purposes.

One source states that Columbus discovered corn on his first visit to American soil. Native Americans introduced corn to white man and white man soon introduced it to the whole wide world. It is now the largest grain crop produced on Earth - the majority of which is grown in the United States.

Modern man has improved corn production by developing what is called "hybrid" seed. However, there has been very little overall change since white man’s intervention.

Growers plant corn seed (dried kernels) in garden or field rows as soon as the danger of frost has passed. Two or more rows, side by side, are needed in order to insure proper pollination. Seeds sprout and tall, pithy stalks with long, green, blade-like leaves grow. Tassels (the male flower) form at the very top of the plant. "Ears" form along the sides of the stalk. These ears are the silks, shuck, cob and kernels (the female flower). A silk runs from each kernel to the outside of the shuck. Birds, bees and the wind cause pollen to fall from the tassels onto the silks. The pollen feeds the female kernels, fertilizing them and producing plump healthy corn.

Corn is gathered fresh (or green) as it reaches a mature, but not hard, stage for use as food in a good many ways. Boiled or roasted on the cob, or cut off the cob for what we Southerners call creamed or fried corn. We can or freeze this stage for later cooking purposes. Hominy, grits and cornmeal are made from the dried kernels. This of course is just the beginning of the uses of corn – the stalks, shucks, cobs silks as well as the kernels.

Every part of the corn plant makes excellent food for livestock.

I will give a partial list of products derived from corn: adhesives, antifreeze, antiseptics, ceramics, cork substitute, dyes, ether, explosives, paints, paper, paste, photographic film, safety glass, soap, solvents, synthetic fibers, varnishes and fuel. The list goes on – add cornstarch (for cooking and laundry) and glycerine.

Valuable medications are made from corn. Capsules are made from corn. Glucose or dextrose is a simple sugar, a corn product, which is often administered to critically ill patients as intravenous fluids.

Cornsilk is often used as a natural medicine. One source says this to recommend its use: "Cornsilk is nourishing to the urinary system. It is a soothing diuretic that reduces inflammation and helps kidney, bladder and prostate dysfunctions including painful urination."

Dolls are made from shucks. When I was a child my mother had a shuck mop which my father had made.

It seems that the actual origin of corn is a botanical mystery and might forever remain so. It has been classified as a grass with a vague uncertainty of any close relatives.

Nadine Johnson can be reached at PO Box 7425, Spanish Fort, AL 36577, by calling 866-570-7302, or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..