Growing Herbs for Medicinal Purposes
If your mind has been thinking of spring and its promise of growing plants, you aren’t alone. Over half of the average American households do gardening activities while another 20% are planning on doing so soon. It’s also estimated that COVID created 18.3 more American gardeners. The majority of these gardeners are growing edible foods, but how many have thought about growing medicinal herbs? Here are a few things to consider for starting an herb garden before diving in.
Let’s Get Started Growing Your Medicinal Herbs
Whether you are a new or experienced gardener, it’s important to start by knowing your plant hardiness zone. The United States Department of Agriculture has a website where you can quickly look this up (https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/). Once you know, then it’s time to research which plants will grow well in your area. Next, it’s important to consider how much light your garden site gets. Is your garden sunny all day or just part of the day?
Many herbs need at least four hours of sunlight with some needing closer to six-eight hours per day. Additionally, you have to take into consideration how you are growing your medicinal herbs. For some herbs, raised garden beds or containers work best because they will quickly spread throughout your yard. One example is mint which will spread like wildfire if you don’t keep it contained in a pot.
Medicinal Gardening Herbs to Consider
Below is a short list of medicinal herbs to consider. Keep in mind, there are hundreds of different herbs around the world. Don’t feel that you have to use any of these plants if they don’t fit your growing space or health goals.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita): Chamomile is a fragrant, easy to grow herb that adapts to a wide variety of growing environments. It is helpful with stress, trouble sleeping, digestive complaints, and it is antimicrobial. The flower is the medicinal part, and it should be harvested when the flowers are fully open. It can be dried for tea, potpourri, or to make a medicinal oil or tincture.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia): Lavender is an aromatic plant that requires adequate sun and drainage to grow well. It is a relaxing herb which can assist with poor sleeping, anxiety, and depression. The flowers of this plant are used, and can be made into a hydrosol, tea, or even sewn into sachets and placed in your bedroom.
Garlic (Allium sativum): Garlic has many health benefits and has been used by humans for thousands of years. It is a potent antimicrobial herb which can help support the body with many common diseases including the common cold and flu. Garlic is also antifungal, can help prevent heart disease, and can help with stomach disorders. It is easy to grow in pots or in a garden bed, but garlic has to be planted in the fall for harvest during the following summer.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum): Basil is a common kitchen herb for flavoring dishes, but it has health-supportive actions too. For instance, it can help calm the nerves, especially with anxious and depressed moods. Basil can also be applied topically to help soothe insect bites, resolve diarrhea or gas, and it is great to use with respiratory infections. This peppery herb can be used in food or in tea, alone or mixed with other herbs.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis): Lemon balm is also great for beginners to try growing. This plant is a nervine, meaning it is helpful in times of stress or anxiety. It’s also antimicrobial, including against most herpes viruses, and is supportive in many inflammatory conditions. Raised beds or pots are recommended as lemon balm also spreads rapidly.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita): Peppermint has a cooling, sweet taste that can be a great addition to your pantry. This herb is supportive of the gastrointestinal tract and has potent antibacterial properties. This herb can easily be dried for use in baking recipes or teas. If you experience heartburn, it’s best to avoid drinking this for a night time tea as it may increase acid reflux. Again, mint is easy to grow and rapidly spreads so a raised bed or pot is best.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis): With its bright orange flowers, this bitter herb is unmistakable. This herb can be used topically to help with bruises, bumps, and surface skin wounds like scrapes. It is also antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and it’s a good herb to support the lymphatic system. A traditional use for calendula was to add color to foods such as butter or cheese. It can be used in foods like salad, as a component of a tea, or in a bath or herbal compress for skin support.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): For a lot of herbalists, this herb is one they choose over all others due to its wide variety of health-supporting effects. It’s been used since ancient times, and it’s great to have on hand for any sort of wound. It can also help with intestinal spasms and pain because it supports the gastrointestinal tract. This herb has a bitter taste, and can be added to a tea, used in a compress, or added to a bath.
Time to Harvest Those Medicinal Herbs
In general, herbs should be harvested in the morning after the dew has dried. Herbs can be preserved by air drying, oven or dehydrator drying, or by freezing them. For more about harvesting your herbs, you can check out your local plant nursery, master gardener, or a trusted online resource. Grow a Good Life has a simple but comprehensive article you can use to get started: https://growagoodlife.com/harvest-dry-herbs//. Once your herbs are prepared, the sky’s the limit on how they can be used. Often herbs are found in cooking recipes such as mint chocolate chip cookies or lavender shortbread.
Finally, the most important thing to keep in mind is your time constraints and health goals. Growing Medicinal herbs is great, but only if you have the time and energy to care for and harvest them. If you only have space to put a small pot or two on the window sill of your kitchen, that’s a great way to start. If you’d like more comprehensive information, here are a few books to consider:
Grow Your Own Herbs: The 40 Best Culinary Varieties for Home Gardens by Susan Belsinger and Arthur Tucker
Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide: 33 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use by Rosemary Gladstar
Dandelion: More Than Just a Weed
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is believed to be native to Europe, but it has now spread to the entire northern hemisphere. It is known as a common weed and the bane of anyone looking to grow the perfect yard. It is tenacious and can easily spread through the landscape with its puffy white seeds. But, did you know, this plant has health-supporting properties as well?
Medicinal Uses of Dandelion
Traditionally, it has been used for kidney, liver, and gallbladder disorders. Dandelion has been found to help prevent cholesterol build-up in the arteries; it is also anti-inflammatory. It supports the immune system, is antibacterial, and can help support a healthy blood sugar as well. The leaf has more of a diuretic action to support the kidneys while the roots are more detoxifying to support the liver and gallbladder. The entire dandelion plant is edible, though different parts of the plant have different properties.
It is a good source of vitamins A, B, C, E, and K, and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and iron. It is also high in potassium, providing almost 400 mg per 100 grams of dandelion leaf. This herb can be eaten raw or cooked with young raw leaves commonly added to springtime salads in Europe. Roasted dandelion root can even be used as a replacement for coffee.
Dandelion also comes in supplements which may be more palatable for some folks as it has a more bitter flavor. It is recognized as safe, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t recommend consuming over twelve grams of aerial parts or three grams of the root in one day. If you tend to have allergies, use dandelion with caution. A doctor’s supervision is recommended as you may suffer adverse reactions from its use.
Other Benefits of Herbs
Dr. Myra Reed‘s office offers a variety of herb based supplements. Call (850) 249-5000 for more information.