Have you ever wondered how you could get more out of your already hard-working garden? Do you feel called back to a simpler time when many remedies were right outside your door? Do you just want a more natural path to wellness? Perhaps you should start a medicinal garden.
There are so many types of plants and herbs that will go a long way to achieving good health. If you are already growing your own fruits and vegetables, perhaps this is part of why you grow them yourself. This could be the season when you try expanding your horizons with plants that can be used in tinctures, teas, and poultices to help prevent or cure certain ailments.
There are countless medicinal plants that have been used for thousands of years. You should tailor-make your garden to reflect exactly what you need and what you would like to try. I will list several ideal beginner plants here that will give you a place to start. These are listed based on my personal experience of hardiness and usefulness, but feel free to research your own naturopathic plant wish list. Long before there were pharmaceutical companies, there were backyard gardens and foraging techniques that people used for their medicine cabinets. As always, check with your doctor before taking any alternative treatment internally as they may interfere with some medications.
1. Mint - I list this herb because of its general all-around usefulness and almost bulletproof hardiness. Indeed, it is so hardy, you may want to plant it outside of your bed (I often tuck extra plants outside of my raised beds) or in a separate area so it doesn't overtake your other plants. Mint has been known to aid in digestion, nausea, and other gastrointestinal symptoms. It is also used as part of a respiratory symptom relief toolbox. It can be used in edibles, teas, and crushed up in poultices. As a bonus, it smells delightful to the grower and pollinator alike.
2. Lamb's Ear - Lamb's ear is one of my favorite medicinal plants, because I find the texture and color of the plant very pleasing. It spreads slowly over time, making an excellent groundcover, but can easily be dug up, transplanted, or pruned away. Lamb's Ear is known to have excellent antiseptic, antifungal, and astringent properties. The leaves are absorbent and have been used for hundreds of years as bandages. It can be crushed and used to treat cuts and bug bites.
3. Feverfew - Feverfew is also known as wild chamomile and is known for helping to treat fevers, headaches, toothaches, arthritis, and stomachaches just to name a few of its credits. It is in the daisy family and has been in use for centuries. Just as with the other plants in this list, you can buy this "good-for-what-ails-you" flower in the pharmacy, but why not grow a few pretty blooms that can give you on-hand symptom relief when you need it?
4. Lavender - Who doesn't love the smell of lavender? This herb is used for its calming aroma to treat anxiety, sleeplessness, and migraines. It is also antifungal and is used to treat wounds. Lavender is also used to help with acne. Whether you use lavender as an inhalant or topical treatment, there are sources that cite hybrid lavenders may be more stimulating than calming. I personally have hybrid lavender and have not noticed this, but it is worth mentioning.
5. Yarrow - Yarrow, sometimes called bloodwort, has been used for hundreds of years as both a diuretic and antispasmodic. It has also been used for menstrual cramps and irregular menses. It is probably best known as a poultice treatment for wounds or burns due to its astringent and antimicrobial properties. When used as a mouthwash, it can help treat mouth sores. Yarrow has also been used for lowering blood pressure when taken internally. As a bonus, yarrow is incredibly hardy and can be prolific or easily pruned away if it gets too large.
6. Evening Primrose - Lauded as a wonder drug for hormonal balancing, evening primrose is used to help irregular menstrual cycles and cramps. It is used for menopause symptoms such as hot flashes and osteoporosis and also for the treatment of eczema and rheumatoid arthritis. It is rich in the omega-6 fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid, which is known to stimulate skin and hair growth as well maintain metabolic homeostasis. Evening primrose can grow to be up to five feet tall and does freely self-seed, so either pull up seedlings early or plant in a space that can be separated from other, more delicate flowers. Closed during the day, evening primrose shines at night. The luminous yellow flowers give off a lemon-like scent. The oil from this plant is taken internally or used topically.
7. Echinacea - Echinacea, or purple coneflower as it is commonly known, is widely held to be the #1 staple in immunity-boosting flowers. It is used often to fight symptoms of cold and flu, ground either for use in tea or tinctures. It can also help with migraines and lowering blood sugar. Butterflies and bees love them, and they bloom all through the summer. They are hardy and can self-sow if allowed. Although they can reach a height of around 5-6 feet, they typically can stay upright on their own and are perfect for the back of a garden bed.
All these plants are lovely to see, touch, smell, or taste and would go beautifully beside either vegetables or flowers. Indeed, I grow all of these, and they are beautiful companion plants. They bring pollinators galore and are a treat for the gardener as well. Try your hand at one of these this season, and enjoy your foray into the world of medicinal plants!
----Photos from Cary Moore