- Herb Gardening 101
- Uses for herbs
- Where to plant
- Types of herbs
- Perennial Herbs*
- Herb garden design
- Soil requirements
- Caring for herb plants
- Harvesting herbs
- The health benefits of herbs
- 9 Most Powerful Medicinal Plants and Herbs, Backed by Science
- Plan & Create A Medicinal Herb Garden
- Grow Medicinal, Culinary and Cosmetic Herbs in a Small Space
- Medicinal Herbs
- English Lavender
- Melissa or Lemon B alm
- St John’s Wort
- Pot Marigolds
- Further Information on Medicinal Herbs
- Herb Seed and Plant Suppliers
- Further Reading
Herb Gardening 101
More than 14 million households in the United States grow herbs—in vegetable and perennial gardens, in containers, or on windowsills. And with good reason! In addition to their obvious role in cooking, herbs are also attractive and add color, interesting textures and forms, and rich or subtle fragrances to the home and garden.
Uses for herbs
The most popular use for herbs is in cooking, and nearly every recipe can be enhanced with the addition of appropriate herbs. Can you imagine tomato sauce without oregano? Thanksgiving stuffing without sage?
Herbs have many other uses as well. Many types make wonderful teas, either individually or combined in blends. Chamomile makes a soothing tea for unwinding after a hard day. Bee balm (Monarda) makes a tangy tea with citrus overtones. And in addition to being tasty, mint teas aid in digestion.
Many herbs are also believed to have medicinal properties. The echinacea that has become popular as a cold remedy is extracted from the purple coneflower, a common garden perennial.
Of course, many gardeners grow herbs simply because they are attractive and durable plants. Bee balm not only makes a tasty tea, but is also a reliable perennial with lovely red, pink, or white flowers. And chamomile's daisy- blooms brighten up any sunny border.
Where to plant
Plant herbs where you can get to them easily for frequent harvesting, especially if you plan to use them in cooking. Consider planting a special kitchen garden near the house so you can readily harvest herbs, greens, and other frequently used crops. You can also grow herbs in containers or even window boxes.
Most herbs prefer full sun—at least 6 hours per day. Herbs that will tolerate some light shade include chives, cilantro, dill, and mint. Remember that if you plant perennial herbs in the vegetable garden, you should keep them in a separate section so you'll be sure to avoid them during spring and fall tilling.
Types of herbs
all garden plants, herbs can be categorized as annual, perennial, or biennial. Annual plants grow for only one season and must be planted each spring. Perennials live for several years.
Their foliage dies back in the fall, but the roots overwinter and resume growth the following spring.
And biennials grow for two years, growing foliage the first season, overwintering, then forming seeds and dying back at the end of the second season.
- Lemon balm
*These may not be hardy in all regions of the country. Check your planting zone.
Parsley is one of the few common herbs that is a biennial. However, unless you want to harvest the seed, you can treat it an annual and plant new plants each season.
Herb garden design
Even though a formal herb garden is attractive, most gardeners would rather mix herbs in with other flower or vegetable plantings or grow them in containers. When growing herbs with other plantings, be sure they have enough room to expand and won't get shaded by tall plants.
Herbs make great container plants. To grow herbs successfully in containers or window boxes, you'll need a pot that has adequate drainage holes. Use fresh potting soil each year, and keep the container well-watered and fertilized.
Try different combinations, such as purple-leaved basils mixed with creeping thyme, or silver-leafed sage planted with curled-leafed parsley. Large perennial herbs such as rosemary and lavender can have their own pot and be over-wintered indoors in cold climates.
You'll be amazed at how attractive and useful these potted herbs can be.
In general, herbs prefer a moderately rich soil. An overly rich soil (or excessive fertilizing) can lead to vigorous growth. However, many people find that the flavor of over-fertilized herbs is bland, probably due to reduced essential oil content.
Many culinary herbs, such as thyme and oregano, are of Mediterranean heritage and are accustomed to growing in gravelly soils. The soil in your herb garden should have excellent drainage. If yours doesn't, consider growing your herbs in raised beds or containers.
Caring for herb plants
Most herbs will thrive with about 1 inch of water a week, similar to other vegetable plants. Herbs in raised beds and containers will dry out more quickly than those planted directly in the garden and may need more frequent watering.
Keep garden beds weeded, especially early in the season, as plants are getting established. If you have fertile soil, you won't need to add much fertilizer to herbs grown in the garden.
For those in containers, you'll need to add a dilute, complete fertilizer such as 10-10-10 to keep the leaves green and plants growing strong.
Once established, most herb plants are remarkably resistant to insect and disease attack. The oils that give them their aroma and flavor ly evolve to repel pests. However, keep an eye out for insects such as aphids and diseases such as powdery mildew.
Harvest herbs by cutting back a shoot to just above a leaf. This will both provide you with a harvest and encourage nice, bushy growth on the remaining plant. In general, an herb's flavor is most pronounced when it is harvested just before the plant begins to flower and in the morning, when the essential oils are most concentrated.
- Heavily harvested herb plants can look untidy. Consider interplanting herb beds with annual flowers to camouflage the trimmed plants.
- Herbs can provide important habitat for beneficial insects. Dill and fennel are two herbs beneficial insects particularly .
- Perennial mints, including spearmint, applemint, and peppermint, are very vigorous and can become invasive. Rather than planting them directly in the garden, grow the plants in containers, then sink the containers into the garden. This will contain the roots and limit spreading.
- Perennial herbs that are not hardy in your region can be overwintered indoors, then brought back outdoors in the spring. For example, in USDA Zones 7 and colder, bring rosemary and lavender plants indoors in late fall. Maintain them in a cool, bright spot over the winter, and move them outdoors again in the spring. In USDA Zones 8 and warmer, rosemary and lavender can be left outdoors year-round.
Information courtesy of the National Gardening Association, www.garden.org.
The health benefits of herbs
Basil. (Susan Biddle/For The Washington Post)
As a passionate food lover as well as a nutritionist, I’m always searching for that sweet spot where delicious and healthful meet. Herbs hit it perfectly.
These luscious leaves — parsley, basil, cilantro, mint, thyme, oregano, rosemary and the — not only add enticing aroma, fresh flavor and vivid green color to food, but also have remarkable health benefits.
When you move beyond thinking of herbs as mere garnishes and start to see them as major culinary players, a whole world of healthy taste opens up to you.
Herbs have been used since ancient times for their medicinal properties, mostly concentrated into teas and tinctures. More recently, their healthful value as a food ingredient has been realized.
For one, herbs add a burst of flavor to food, allowing you to cut back on salt without sacrificing taste.
And several herbs, including parsley, have significant amounts of the essential vitamins A, C and K.
But the true power of herbs lies in their wealth of protective polyphenols — plant compounds with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Piles of studies show that polyphenols in herbs help combat such diseases as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and more.
Polyphenols are anti-microbial, so they can help protect us from harmful bacteria as well.
Although many of the studies on herbs’ effects have involved concentrated solutions of the leaves’ active components, there is evidence that their benefits still apply when they are cooked and eaten as part of a regular meal, too.
The best way to have fresh herbs at your fingertips is to grow them yourself, in your garden or in pots on your windowsill. This way, all you need to do is snip as desired, and the beauty and scent of the plants will be a natural reminder to use them.
When buying cut herbs, make sure the leaves are not wilted or yellowing — they should be bright or deep green, depending on the variety, and perky looking. To store them, wash and pat or spin dry in a salad spinner, then wrap them in a damp paper towel and place in a plastic bag or an airtight container.
Regardless of how carefully you select or refrigerate them, fresh cut herbs are highly perishable. The tenderest leaves, such as basil and cilantro, will usually not last more than a week in the refrigerator.
Firmer types such as parsley and oregano will keep a bit longer, and hearty rosemary and thyme will last a couple of weeks. To preserve them longer, chop them and place in ice cube trays with stock or water.
Freeze; then transfer the herb cubes into a plastic bag and keep frozen to add to soups, stews and sauces.
Although fresh herbs offer a clean, bright flavor and spring appeal, don’t write off dried, which have upsides of their own.
Dried herbs are easy to keep on hand, and they are at least as beneficial as fresh, if not more so, because the drying process actually concentrates the polyphenols and flavors.
When buying dried herbs, get them in small quantities that you can use up in less than a year, because their flavor fades with time. And keep in mind that, as a rule, if a recipe calls for one tablespoon of a fresh chopped herb, you can generally substitute one teaspoon dried.
While there are plenty of inspiring herb-centric recipes from all over the world to explore — think of pesto, tabbouleh salad, chimichurri sauce — you don’t need any special instructions or culinary skills to get more herbs into your life. You can simply add them to foods you are already making. Here are 10 ways to get you started:
●Add chopped fresh or dried parsley or dill to your scrambled eggs.
●Tuck a few leaves of mint and/or basil into your ham or turkey sandwich.
●Pile fresh cilantro leaves onto your turkey or veggie burger.
●Toss handfuls of fresh tender herbs — parsley, basil, cilantro, mint — into your basic green salad, treating them more a lettuce than a seasoning.
●Add a generous pinch of dried oregano or thyme to your vinaigrette-type salad dressing.
●Mix a handful of fresh Italian parsley or dill into your boiled or mashed potatoes.
●Rub a mix of dried rosemary and thyme onto your chicken breast before grilling.
●Muddle fresh mint or basil leaves in a glass then fill with iced tea or sparkling water and a twist of citrus.
●Spruce up jarred pasta sauce with a handful of fresh chopped basil leaves.
●Stir fresh basil, parsley or mint leaves with grilled zucchini or sauteed green beans.
Krieger is a registered dietitian, nutritionist and author. She blogs and offers a biweekly newsletter at www.elliekrieger.com. She also writes weekly Nourish recipes in The Washington Post’s Food section.
Chat April 23 at 1 p.m. Join Krieger for a live Q&A about healthful eating.
“,”author”:”Ellie Krieger”,”date_published”:”2015-04-14T13:00:00.000Z”,”lead_image_url”:”https://www.washingtonpost.com/rf/image_1484w/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/2015/04/13/Production/LocalLiving/Images/hp1_10_0_163557763.JPG?t=20170517″,”dek”:null,”next_page_url”:null,”url”:”https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/the-health-benefits-of-herbs/2015/04/13/4668c73a-dd59-11e4-acfe-cd057abefa9a_story.html”,”domain”:”www.washingtonpost.com”,”excerpt”:”They add taste, vitamins and powerful disease-fighting polyphenols. Plus, theyâre pretty.”,”word_count”:819,”direction”:”ltr”,”total_pages”:1,”rendered_pages”:1}
9 Most Powerful Medicinal Plants and Herbs, Backed by Science
Today, we live in a time when manufactured medicines and prescriptions prevail, but do they have to be the only approach to healing?
Even with all of these engineered options at our fingertips, many people find themselves turning back to the medicinal plants that started it all: Herbal remedies that have the ability to heal and boost physical and mental well-being.
In fact, at the beginning of the 21st century, 11 percent of the 252 drugs considered “basic and essential” by the World Health Organization were “exclusively of flowering plant origin.” Drugs codeine, quinine, and morphine all contain plant-derived ingredients.
While these manufactured drugs have certainly become paramount in our lives, it can be comforting to know that the power of nature is on our side, and these herbal choices are available to complement our health practices.
But the extent of the power they hold is also still being explored. These alternatives aren’t cure-alls, and they aren’t perfect. Many carry the same risks and side effects as manufactured medicines. Many of them are sold with unfounded promises.
However, many herbs and teas offer harmless subtle ways to improve your health. Pay attention to what the evidence says about each herb’s effectiveness as well as potential interactions or safety issues.
Avoid using herbs for infants and children and for those who are pregnant and breastfeeding. Most herbs haven’t been tested for safety for those who are vulnerable, and trying herbs isn’t worth the risk.
With this cautionary tale in mind, choosing the right plant can seem difficult to someone who simply wants to feel better without taking medication. That’s why, with the help of specialist Debra Rose Wilson, we’re looking at the most effective and therapeutic plants — which have strong scientific evidence to support their safe use.
Making decisions about herbs along with more traditional medicinal approaches is something you and your healthcare practitioner can address together.
At times, Wilson notes, ingesting the plants can have even less risk than taking concentrated, manufactured supplements, as there’s more risk of contamination of the product with the manufacture processes.
It’s a wonderful way to experience their effects and the satisfaction of growing them yourself. Herbs can also be a way to add a needed nutrient.
However, both plants and supplements, which aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration for safety or quality, can have questionable dosage and might have a risk of contamination. Keep this in mind before choosing supplements from the shelf.
If you’d to add some medicinal plants to your wellness regimen, Wilson sifted through the latest studies and provides her own ratings system for our list.
These plants have the most numerous high-quality studies and are the safer choices among herbal remedies. She’s marked “0” as unsafe with no research, and “5” as completely safe with ample research. Many of these plants are somewhere between 3 and 4, according to Wilson.
We hope this guide will act as a starting point to those who wish to integrate herbal remedies into their lives and arrive armed with knowledge. As always, speak with your doctor before starting any new health treatment.
As one of the oldest tree species, gingko is also one of the oldest homeopathic plants and a key herb in Chinese medicine. The leaves are used to create capsules, tablets, and extracts, and when dried, can be consumed as a tea.
It’s perhaps best-known for its ability to boost brain health. Studies say that gingko can treat patients with mild to moderate dementia, and can slow cognition decline in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Recent research is looking into a component that can help diabetes, and there continue to be more studies, including an animal study that says it might influence bone healing.
The gingko tree is considered a living fossil, with fossils dating from 270 million years ago. These trees can live up to 3,000 years.
Safety: used as an herb: 5/5; used as a supplement: 4/5
With its brilliant orange hue, it’s impossible to miss a bottle of turmeric sitting on a spice shelf. Originating in India, turmeric is believed to have anticancer properties and can prevent DNA mutations.
As an anti-inflammatory, it can be taken as a supplement and it’s been used topically for people with arthritis who wish to relieve discomfort. It’s used worldwide as a cooking ingredient, which makes it a delicious, antioxidant-rich addition to many dishes.
According to recent research, turmeric is also showing promise as a treatment for a variety of dermatologic diseases and joint arthritis.
Turmeric has been used as a medicinal herb for 4,000 years. It’s a tentpole of an Indian alternative medicine practice called Ayurveda.
Safety: topically: 4.5/5; orally: 3/5
The vibrant yellow evening primrose flower produces an oil that’s thought to alleviate the symptoms of PMS and skin conditions eczema.
Studies that are available on this oil tend to be all over the map, but there are studies that are stronger than others. For example, some studies have found that evening primrose oil has anti-inflammatory properties. It’s been known to help with conditions such as atopic dermatitis and diabetic neuropathy. It can also help with other health concerns, such as breast pain.
Recent research points to improving the quality of life for patients with multiple sclerosis, changing hormones and insulin sensitivity in those dealing with polycystic ovary syndrome, and using it topically to improve mild dermatitis.
According to these studies, evening primrose oil might just be the Swiss Army knife of the medicinal plant world. The caveat is that it can interact with several medications. More research is coming, and the applications are promising.
Evening primrose flowers are also called moonflowers because they bloom as the sun begins to set. People often say they smell lemons.
Flax seed, also available as an oil, is one of the safer choices among plant-based dietary supplements. Harvested for thousands of years, today flax seed is praised for its antioxidant activity and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Although more research needs to be done with human subjects, one study says that flax seed can help prevent colon cancer.
Another study cites that flax seed has the ability to reduce blood pressure. When consumed, it can even aid in reducing obesity. Many people add flax seed and flaxseed meal to oatmeal and smoothies, and it’s also available in the form of tablets, oil (which can be put into capsules), and flour.
The best way to add flax seed is through your diet. Sprinkle ground seeds on cereal or salad, cook in hot cereal, stew, homemade breads, or smoothies. Add flaxseed oil to salad dressing.
Flax seeds are one of a handful of plant-based sources for omega-3 fatty acids. Other sources include chia seeds, walnuts, and soybeans.
The tea tree, which is native to Australia, produces an oil that’s long been thought to be beneficial for skin conditions, including mild acne, athlete’s foot, small wounds, dandruff, insect bites, and other inflammatory skin conditions.
There needs to be further study into acne and scalp use, but for now, there’s a degree of research into the antimicrobial superpowers of tea tree oil on wounds and topical infections.
One recent study said that tea tree oil slowed the growth of acne-causing microbes. It’s commonly used as a highly concentrated essential oil.
Wilson recommends that tea tree oil, as with all essential oils, should be diluted in a carrier oil. She adds that it often already comes diluted in a variety of skin care products and creams.
Tea tree oil is derived from the leaves of a tree that’s native to Queensland and New South Wales, Australia.
Echinacea is a lot more than those pretty, purple coneflowers you see dotting gardens. These blooms have been used for centuries as medicine in the form of teas, juice, and extracts. Today, they can be taken as powders or supplements.
The best-known use of echinacea is to shorten symptoms of the common cold, but more studies are needed to verify this benefit and to understand how echinacea boosts immunity when a virus is present.
Generally, save a few potential side effects, echinacea is relatively safe. Even though it needs more testing, you can always choose to use it if you’re hoping to see your cold symptoms end more quickly.
Some of the earliest people to use echinacea as a medicinal herb were Native Americans. The first archaeological evidence dates back to the 18th century.
For years, grapeseed extract, which is available via liquid, tablets, or capsules, has been well-established and applauded for its antioxidant activity. It has potent health benefits, including lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and reducing symptoms of poor circulation in the leg veins.
Studies are confirming that regular consumption of grapeseed extract has anticancer effects and seems to halt cancer cell growth.
Grapeseed extract contains the same antioxidants found in wine.
If you experience anxiety, chances are that someone along the way has recommended that you use lavender essential oil, and for good reason. This aromatic, purple flower has a fairly strong standing among studies, which have mainly focused on its anti-anxiety capacities.
It’s proven to be soothing in a study conducted among dental patients, while another study confirmed that lavender can directly impact mood and cognitive performance. It’s also been commended for its sedative properties to help people get much-needed sleep.
Recently, it’s been discovered that lavender carries anti-inflammatory benefits as well. It’s most effective diluted and applied to the skin or used in aromatherapy, and it has few side effects.
Lavender was first brought to Provence, France, by the Romans 2,000 years ago.
With flowers that resemble small daisies, chamomile is another medicinal plant that’s thought to have anti-anxiety properties. Most people know it because it’s a popular tea flavor (one review says that over 1 million cups per day are consumed around the world), but it can also be ingested through liquids, capsules, or tablets.
The calming powers of chamomile have been frequently studied, including a 2009 study that states chamomile is superior to taking a placebo when treating generalized anxiety disorder. One recent study confirmed it’s safe for long-term use, and another recent study looked beyond its use for anxiety and confirmed that it also shows potential in anticancer treatments.
There are two types of chamomile: German chamomile, an annual that thrives in the Midwest, and Roman chamomile, a perennial that attracts pollinators and smells apples.
Shelby Deering is a lifestyle writer based in Madison, Wisconsin, with a master’s degree in journalism.
She specializes in writing about wellness and for the past 14 years has contributed to national outlets including Prevention, Runner’s World, Well+Good, and more.
When she’s not writing, you’ll find her meditating, searching for new organic beauty products, or exploring local trails with her husband and corgi, Ginger.
Plan & Create A Medicinal Herb Garden
By Dafydd Monks, BSc (Hons). Medical Herbalist
Many of us have a few culinary herbs growing in our gardens, but would you to grow 14 really useful herbs in a small space and learn how to use them for your own health, beauty and well-being?
Man has used medicines made from herbs and other plants for millennia. Traditionally in England the lady of the house would have kept the family medicine chest, and it would have been her responsibility to keep it stocked with medicinal plants she would have grown.
Then as a wave of exploration exploded from Western Europe in the 1600s interesting and rare plants were collected and cultivated in ‘Physic Gardens’ – large gardens used by apothecaries and botanists.
Latterly, some of our most widely used pharmaceutical drugs have been derived from such collected medicinal plants; quinine from Chinchona, a plant from South America is an example of a rare plant introduced in the time of the Physic gardens and later developed into a drug.
As gardeners and growers, the link we have with medicinal plants and preparing medicines was always strong, and should rightly be strong again.
Many herbalists were appreciable gardeners and botanists, and many gardeners and botanists would have been involved in the cultivation of medicines right up to the early 20th Century.
So how can we start to re-root that connection? Planting your own herb bed or herb garden is a great way of getting involved, and broadening your horticultural horizons.
Grow Medicinal, Culinary and Cosmetic Herbs in a Small Space
When it comes to cultivating your own herbs, A 3 x 3 yard herb bed will be enough to give you a comprehensive herb bed for family use. With this space, you will be able to grow 15 – 20 different medicinal, culinary and cosmetic herbs; most of which also look nice and will brighten up your garden no end.
They will also add interest to your garden (herbs are always a good conversation starter!), give a steady supply of cut flowers for the home, attract bees and other beneficial pollinators, and preserve the medicinal (or ‘officinal’) strains of some more widely hybridised plants such as roses.
Of course, you may not have 3 x 3 yards of space spare if you have a smaller garden or small allotment. That’s fine – read this article and get a feel for what you’d to plant, and select what you have space for and plant it anyway.
If you have an allotment, why not share this article with other allotment holders and have a communal herb bed, or share some of your herbs with others?
I’ve created a simple plan of a garden that fits within a 3 x 3 yard square and gives a balanced selection of herbs and medicinal plants for family use. I suggest making it in 3D, by either making a mound of soil giving you gently sloping sides, or having a large pot in the middle, with smaller pots around that, then down to soil at the edges of the bed. This maximises space and light.
- Purple Sage
- Damask Rose
- Englisher Lavender
- St, John’s Wort
- Pot Marigolds
The centrepiece of this bed is a Damask Rose. This is one of the three commonly used medicinal roses, and has lovely pink-red petals and most importantly a lovely aromatic scent.
There are many damask roses, and the original hybrid is probably lost to us, however most medicines and perfumes are made with the Kazanlak variety, which is grown extensively in Bulgaria in ‘the rose capital of Europe’. This particular variety is very vigorous and sturdy while being lovely in the garden and when used in flower arrangements, crafts, etc. It also has many medicinal uses.
Next come four larger plants, positioned around the central rose. You can plant them in pots if you , or plant them on the level: they’re taller than the outer edge of plants, so they will still give a pleasing pyramidal shape to your herb bed.
We’ll start with Rosemary. This culinary herb will be familiar to many but did you know that as well as hugely improving the taste of meat and stews, Rosemary also calms the digestion and improves the flow of blood to the brain? When I was at university, I remember the exam room stinking of rosemary tea from all the herbal students taking in litre bottles of the stuff.
Fennel is the ultimate digestif herb. It dispels flatulence, calms gripes, soothes those with an overproduction of stomach acid, and also helps those who experience stomach upsets as a result of stress. Chewing Fennel seeds also freshens breath!
Feverfew (Tanacetum Parthenium)
Feverfew is a familiar sight to many gardeners as it often grows as a weed. It really should be encouraged though as it is an excellent treatment for migraines. Long term use is effective in preventing migraines.
A herb that is very good for inducing sleep or relaxation is lavender. The flowers are highly scented and used in such diverse ways as lavender sugar, where it adds a slightly scented aroma, through to a tea made from the dried flowers, which is quite bitter and stimulating to the digestion.
Lavender is most known for its relaxing qualities though. A small bunch of flowers hung in the shower or under the hot tap of the bath is particularly calming and soothing before bed.
Next, we’ll plant herbs around the outside of the bed. Starting with Peppermint, another familiar culinary herb. This herb is lovely with lamb dishes. It is also a key ingredient in ‘winter ills’ tea, along with Yarrow and Elderflower.
Thyme is a small plant and can be ‘popped in’ to corners of your herb bed or where you have space between bigger plants, although it does good exposure to sunlight, so avoid shading it too much.
Thyme aids digestion, many culinary herbs, hence it’s use in food. It is however so much more, being highly antifungal and antibacterial. You can use an infusion of Thyme as a mouthwash, a disinfectant for wounds, and as a wash for mild fungal skin infections.
The natural companion to Thyme, both gastronomically and medicinally is Sage. Sage has similar properties to Thyme, but complements and extends them. It is antispasmodic, relaxing muscle tissue. Herbalists use Sage in cases of asthma or panic attacks for this purpose. It is also a liver tonic due to its bitterness. Sage dries up catarrh and reduces night sweating.
Melissa or Lemon B alm
Melissa or Lemon Balm is best taken as a tea brewed from the fresh leaves. It is calming to the mood and emotions and is relaxing while not being overly sedative. It has a lovely aroma and can be incorporated into ‘herb pillows’ to aid sleep.
St John’s Wort
St John’s Wort has received a lot of attention as an antidepressant, but it is also really very useful as an antiviral herb and as a wound healer. The fresh flowers are infused in olive oil on a sunlit windowsill which makes a lovely deep red oil suitable for applying to cuts and burns.
Pot marigolds are very useful for clearing the skin. A face wash can be made by brewing the flower heads into a tea and washing your face in the resulting liquid. They also soothe and tone mucus membranes. An example of this is using the brewed liquid as a rinse for ulcers, etc.
Yarrow is a grassland loving ‘weed’. It will grow happily in a bed, and if you don’t the white flowers of the native strain, the American strain of yarrow (they’re both Achillea millefolium) has pinkish red flowers and behaves in the same was as its European cousin medicinally.
Yarrow is a great winter herb alongside peppermint and elderflower, equal parts of which make an excellent ‘winter ills’ tea.
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)
Echinacea is a well-known herbal medicine; it has become very popular as an immune tonic. It has a rather lovely pink-purple daisy flower which would be suited to any herb bed or cottage garden. All parts of the plant are medicinally active.
Lastly we come to Heartsease. This is another ‘skin herb’ that is often used alongside marigolds to treat eczema, as it clears the skin and is mildly anti-allergenic. It is also used in rheumatic conditions.
If this article aims to do one thing, it’s to whet your appetite to have a go at growing a few herbs and to learn a bit about what they do. If you can only grow one or two herbs in your allotment or garden, that’s still better than none.
Also, be sure to look out for medicinal plants in your lawn, in the hedgerow, in verges or gutters. In fact everywhere! You’d be amazed at how many medicinal plants are already around you, many you may think of as weeds. Once the interest in herbs in medicinal plants takes hold, it is hard to stop peering at weeds excitedly.
Of course this is just the barest of starts, the rest is up to you. So plant your herb garden, read up on the many uses herbs will have in your life, and inspire yourself to start using your herbs, creating your own ‘family medicine chest’ using your new found knowledge and interest!
Further Information on Medicinal Herbs
Snowdonia Botanical Medicine My website, with other articles, news and events I organise across North Wales. I welcome relevant and constructive comments or questions and can be contacted via my web site.
Brief Herb Growing Guides
Herb Seed and Plant Suppliers
- Herbs in the Allotment Shop
- Poyntzfield Herb Nurseries
- National Herb Centre
Grow Your Own Drugs: Fantastically Easy Recipes for Natural Remedies and Beauty TreatsJames Wong. Collins, 2009Herbcraft Naturally, Christina Stapley. Heartsease Books, 1994Herbwise Naturally, Christina Stapley. Heartsease Books, 2000
The Herb Garden (New ed.), Sarah Garland. Frances Lincoln, 2003