Essentials for Every Medicinal Herb Garden

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!



        18 thoughts on “Essentials for Every Medicinal Herb Garden

        1. NM

          Goodness, let’s see, we have: Comfrey, lovage (I assume it’s coming up again this year), rosemary, sage, roses, winter savory, spearmint, parsley, maybe some peppermint somewhere, a lavender, honeysuckle, a couple of Oregon grapes (not that I could harvest their roots; the husband would harvest me. But they are there). The thyme and oregano went in the great garden reorganizing, and I think the tarragon may have, too. It is slated for replacement. And I have seeds for calendula, thyme, oregano, marjoram, savory, stevia, chervil, fennel, basil, chamomile, so am hoping that an herb garden will be re-established this year. We also have a quince, which is on my own list of essential medicinals, and raspberries, which, if ever I got my act together, could provide raspberry leaves for tea.

        2. Angie

          In spring dandelion is everywhere. The plant is a wonderful way to detox from the long winter. We eat the leaves in salad, cook them like a wilted salad or any other green, yellow flowers cooked down for syrup and the roots as well. Now is the time to indulge and enjoy dandelions. Borage, mullein, feverfew grows wild around these parts so I don’t have those in the garden. As for what’s in the garden – I don’t know if I can remember it all – yarrow, fennel, rosemary, lavender, sage (3 kinds), mint (spearmint, peppermint, applemint, pineapplemint, chocolate mint), catnip, horehound, parsley (2 kinds), thyme (2 kinds), oregano, basil (3 kinds), cilantro/coriander, tarragon, dill, lemon balm, stevia, roses, honeysuckle, raspberry (red and black), chive, onion, shallot, garlic, bee balm, echinacea, nasturtiums, calendula, sedum, purple salvia, chamomile, verbena, phlox, aloe vera, etc. I also have tons of seeds for this year but it isn’t quite yet warm enough for those to be out but they will go out in a week or so.

        3. angelina Post author

          You have both reminded me of a number of things I meant to put on my list for this year: catnip, stevia (my mom uses this, I dislike it myself but it grows well and she used up everything I dried for her), and chamomile. I have quince but wasn’t even thinking of it as medicinal. I have yet to get garlic bulbs in here on time, in CA I planted garlic and it did quite well. I usually plant shallots too but haven’t gotten them in yet. I have houseleek which has similar properties as aloe vera and is more hearty here.

          Nicole- Oregon grape is supposedly one of our great native medicinals and I have eyed the great bank of them planted by the city near Walgreens… I think they’d notice if I dug them up. However, could we locate some to wild harvest? There must be lots out there allowing us to harvest a little without devastating the landscape. We should look into it.

          Dandelions! I’ve been adding the leaves to soup and last night we had them in our salad. I also have roots I harvested and dried which I keep meaning to make a decoction with for a little detox. But Angie- please tell me about the dandelion flower syrup! Do you use the whole flower head or do you painstakingly remove and use only the petals? Have you got a post on this? If so please give me a link! Your tutorials are excellent. What do you use the dandelion syrup for? I meant to make dandelion wine last year but my recipe called for the petals only and it took forever to get enough- so I froze what I got and mean to make up the rest this year.

        4. NM

          Angelina, I have access to Oregon Grape at my folks’ property (though they had to run off trespassing “wild crafters” bent on yanking shrubs out of the ground, with chains). They are, however, happy to let me take some for home use, and I’d be happy to share if you tell me the best time to harvest it.
          I also have lemon balm, by the way. Pain in the ass; it spreads like crazy, and leaves annoying tough wooden stalks to trip people. They’re damn difficult to dig out, too. However, I like to dry it for adding to mint tea in winter, when we get sick. The stuff you buy has no flavor or fragrance, but home dried can retain its lovely lemon fragrance (makes it kind of fun to weed …). Also, it’s supposed to repel mosquitoes if you rub the fresh leaves on your skin. Though the last couple years, we have not had any mosquitoes to speak of. I’m torn between thinking “yippee!” and “Oh, this can’t be a good sign.” Wretched things are very important to the food chain …
          I want to hear more about houseleek!

        5. angelina Post author

          Nicole- I can’t believe I didn’t see your new comment there! I will freshen up on my Oregon Grape knowledge, I know that the last time I was reading about it I was really wishing I could get my hands on some. So I’ll get back to you. Are you serious that people were “wild crafting” on your parents’ property? Geeze!! Oh-have you been to the state park on Grand Island? If you need nettles I found the motherlode there!! I’m going to go back for more but there’s plenty for others to harvest too.

          Lemon balm- I had it go rampant in my CA garden and noticed that it has really obnoxious roots, exactly as you say! Very hard to dig out. Mine is already spreading itself but I’m taking the view that I will dry a lot of it and drink in teas, everything I read about it says it’s great for anxiety. Everyone in my house has loads of anxiety so we need to make it a habit to drink it. Home dried is the only way to go for every herb- specifically I find the best quality drying is done in my dehydrator which I love. I’m jealous of yours (Angie also has one) but mine does a great job (just isn’t super big) and when I ran out of home dried thyme recently I couldn’t even bring myself to buy any to use while waiting for the next harvest because the last time I did htat I was seriously disappointed. Right now I’m drying lots of nettles.

          Houseleek- Sempervivum tectorum. Hens and Chicks! But one of my books says that only the ones that are classified as “sempervivum tectorum” are medicinal. Records of its use go back 2,000 years! The leaves are fleshy (but not nearly as juicy and fleshy as aloe which may explain why aloe is much more in use) and astringent and good for burns and insect bits. I don’t know about bites but when I read about it and saw that I already had some in my garden I had opportunity to use it on a burn and it was definitely soothing.

          I really need to start writing my medicinal plant profiles. It’s not as though all this information can’t be found in other places, but I want stitch to have a nice informative catalog of ones I personally grow and use. I have the pictures ready for one on arnica, nettles, and thyme. Yet the only two I’ve done so far are dandelions and elderberry.

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        7. pasuhi

          I am a master herbalist and there are two herbs I make certain are growing on my land, I planted Mullein many years ago simply for how wonderful it is for upper respiratory problems and I also make certain to facilitate shepherds purse, for its value in stopping bleeding.

        8. angelina Post author

          Mullein I have but haven’t used yet. My mom has always told me it’s a great one to have around. But shepherd’s purse I hadn’t considered- I’ll do some reading on it and see if I can find some seeds for it. Thanks for chiming in! I love to hear from others about their medicinal herbs- and especially from master herbalists!

        9. angelina Post author

          We buy from local nurseries and from seed companies that have taken the safe seed pledge.

        10. Pingback: 5 Medicinal Herbs For Your Herb Garden |

        11. Rosina maisiri

          Thanx for the great information,have a vision 2 grow organic herbs 4 commercial use as they in short supply and didnt know the various herbs we have.would trully appreciate if you send any pictures of herb gardens and on information on how to plant them.

        12. angelina Post author

          If you are planning to grow herbs commercially you’re going to need to do your own research on what to plant and how to plant them. If you are inexperienced with growing herbs I don’t know that planning a business around them is a good idea. But if that’s what you really want to do I suggest going to your local library and checking out books on herb growing – it’s how I do most of my own plant growing research. That, and actually growing them. Good luck to you!

        13. Sam

          If you have the room, Neem is an absolutely fantastic tree!
          You can use the leaves, bark, roots, flowers, fruit and seeds.

          It is mainly a bug repellent, although bees LOVE the tree. I use it a lot with my chickens to keep parasites away, and treat any infestations.

          It has antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, dermatological, insecticidal, and mitecidal properties. Great for head lice in kids, though the smell is pungent.

          It leaves no residue in the soil and is nontoxic to humans, animals, birds, bees, earthworms, but will kill leaf-eating bugs.

        14. angelina Post author

          In my old garden I had room but not in my current one. I’ve used neem occasionally in my garden.

        15. Darcy Brant

          Great article Angelina, about time someone mentions growing Comfrey! I actually wrote an article about Comfrey, it’s good to see you promoting growing your own!

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