My mother has a certificate in herbology and a lot of experience growing, using, and foraging medicinal herbs. She’s shown me how to make salves and at one time made me and my siblings all herbal first aid kits which included tinctures and salves she made herself. My favorite item from that kit was her comfrey salve which I found very useful for many applications.
I believe everyone should grow medicinal herbs in their gardens. You don’t need to be an herbologist to make use of medicinal herbs safely. A couple of good herb books is all you need. I am no enemy to modern medicine and depend on it for a number of things I could never find relief for with herbal medicines. I believe in an integrated approach to medicines: take the best from the East and the West, take the best from the present and the past.
I always grow medicinals because they are generally gentle, cheap, and can be incorporated into your everyday health regimen. There’s another reason I think everyone should grow some medicinals: what if commercially produced medicines were to become unavailable to you?
You should have on hand some herbs that you can use in emergencies to do things like reduce fevers, bring swelling down in sprains, heal cuts and bruises, treat burns, calm nerves, detoxify your liver, disinfect wounds, and reduce the symptoms of influenza. Growing herbs to meet all these basic needs is neither difficult nor need it take up too much space in your garden.
How do you choose the essentials? My mom and I love this game. There is a dizzying number of medicinal herbs and plants that you can choose from to grow in your own yard, so how do you narrow it down?
- Make a list of common issues you and your family experience: skin issues, headaches, colds, anxiety, persistent coughs… think of all the things you routinely find yourself needing to treat and include all first aid things you keep on hand.
- Consult a reliable herbal book. Look through the lists of herbs, read what each of them do, and discover which herbs are the most recommended for the needs of your family. Most libraries will have several you can check out if you don’t have any of your own. I will list some titles you can rely on for good information (these are all books I personally own and trust):
“Herbal Remedies for Vibrant Health” by Rosemary Gladstar
“Desk Reference to Nature’s Medicine” by Steven Foster and Rebecca L. Johnson (published by National Geographic)
“The Essential Natural Health Bible” by Nerys Purchon
“The Complete Herb Book” by Jekka McVicar
- When you have a list of all the herbs most likely to fulfill your family’s particular needs and those of general first aid, cull the list down to the ones that will grow well in your climate and ones you have room for. Don’t exclude culinary herbs from this list, many of them have great medicinal qualities that improve your health simply by being used frequently in your cooking. Thyme, for example, is a powerful antiseptic properties in addition to adding great flavor to soups and other savory dishes.
While I believe choosing the herbs you grow should be based on your personal needs, there are herbs I believe everyone should be growing in their gardens regardless of who they are. I’m going to give you two lists to start with. The first will be a list of the herbs I think every single garden should be growing, this will be the bare essentials. The second list is the one my mother and I have come up with for our own garden.
Essentials for Every Medicinal Herb Garden:
Comfrey – absolutely essential for healing cuts, bruises, burns, and sprains; the roots are great made into tea for your bath as it will soften and heal skin.
Calendula – great for all skin issues (softens, cleans, heals), anti- inflammatory, antifungal.
Thyme – strong antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal, and antispasmodic properties.
Sage – sore throats, antiseptic, immune booster, colds, and treats nervous exhaustion (I should be drinking this every day!).
Peppermint – stimulating, refreshing; good for relieving indigestion, tension headaches, and spastic complaints of the gastrointestinal tract.
Aloe Vera – soothes cuts and burns, nourishes and moisturizes skin.
Elderberry – reduces severity of influenza symptoms, immune system stimulant, reduces fevers, colds, and ear and throat infections.
Rosemary – good for digestive ailments, increases circulation, colds and flus, mouthwash, dandruff, and may ease depression and fatigue.
The only one from that list that not everyone may be able to grow in their own garden due to its size is the elderberry. Elderberry can be kept pruned to a reasonable size but left to its own devices it will become a big tree. If you have room: plant it!
Here is a complete list of what I will have in my own medicinal garden with the items I already have planted asterisked:
Echinacea, lovage, rosemary*, comfrey*, beebalm, arnica*, calendula, balm of Gilead, borage, sage*, tarragon*, winter savory, feverfew, peppermint*, nasturtiums, parsley*, thyme*, vervain*, elderberry*, mullein*, oregano*, marjoram*, plantain*, roses*(for rosehips), and lavendar*.
There are so many amazing and useful herbs you can plant in your garden. Aside from the benefits these herbs offer to you personally they are also great for attracting beneficial insects that will increase pollination in your other plants and help keep in balance the pests that hurt your soil and plant health.
What herbs do you grow and what are you planning to add to your garden this year? I want to know!