Herbal Medicine is a vast and fascinating subject. However most of us don’t have vast amounts of space in which to plant all the herbs that can heal whatever might be ailing us. Not to mention the fact that most of us don’t live the kind of jet setting lifestyle that would allow us to have home gardens in tropical, temperate, mountainous, and sea level climates.
Therefore, this article will concentrate on just select medicinal plants that address a wide variety of ailments, can be grown in a wide variety of climates in the Northern Hemisphere, and are easily grown as long as you are ready to spare a small plot in your home backyard garden. Many types of herbs are not very fussy, and will still grow in less than ideal conditions.
Herbal Remedy Terms
- Infusion: Making a tea with the flowers and/or leafy parts of the plant
- Tincture: Steeping the dried or fresh herb in a 25% solution of alcohol and water
- Syrup: Adding 500 grams of honey or sugar to a 500 ml infusion or decoction
NB: Exact measurements and techniques are beyond the scope of this article. You will really want to pick up a handy book like “The Complete Medicinal Herbal” by Penelope Ody. Additional Note: Since most home gardeners have neither the knowledge nor the equipment to make their own essential oils, any uses for the essential oils of these plants have been omitted.
Thyme (Thymus Vulgaris) is an antiseptic, expectorant, antispasmodic, astringent, antimicrobial, diuretic, antibiotic, and soothes coughs. Infusions, tinctures, and syrups are helpful for conditions like bronchitis and asthma. In the garden, Thyme is a perennial that needs full sun, and prefers sandy, very well drained soil that is warm.
It’s best to germinate thyme indoors and plant them outside a few weeks before the spring frost sets in. It thrives in full sun or partial shade. When planting them in the ground, space them about 6-12 inches apart.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia or Lavandula spica) is sedative, analgesic (relieves pain), and antispasmodic (relieves muscle spasms). An infusion or tincture is good for relaxation and easing depression. It’s a perennial shrub that needs alkaline soil of moderate fertility, and conscientious pruning of deadwood when new growth appears in the spring.
This is a hardy but aromatic herb and can thrive in rather poor soil as well. The most important thing is that the soil must be well drained. If you grow lavender in divisions, space them roughly 1-3 feet apart.
Garlic (Allium sativum) has antibacterial, antifungal, and antiseptic qualities that make it an excellent remedy for acne or any skin infection, colds and flu, and for excess gut yeast. This cure-all also lowers cholesterol. For skin conditions, rub a cut clove directly on the affected area; for other conditions, consume anywhere from 1 to 6 cloves per day, depending on the ailment (this is where a good book comes in handy). In the garden, plant garlic cloves in the fall, in a sunny spot, in healthy, non-weedy soil that isn’t below a pH of 6.0, and drains reasonably well. Read more details about growing garlic here.
Roman or German Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile & Matricaria recutita) acts as an anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, antiallergenic (for asthma), sedative, and prevents vomiting. At the first sign of an asthma attack, add 1 tbsp flowers to boiling water & inhale the steam. For excitement, nervous stomach, morning sickness, IBS, and colitis, drink an infusion. In the garden, both Roman and German chamomile are technically annuals, but they self-sow so easily that they function as perennials. Like most plants, they like healthy, balanced soil that doesn’t get boggy and moderate watering.
You can start them up as seeds using conventional seed starting kits and then plant them outside in spring. If you plant them as divisions, plant them about 1 feet apart, either in light shade or in full sun.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) acts as a sedative, antidepressant, and digestive stimulant, promotes sweating, is relaxing and restorative for the nervous system, antiviral, antibacterial, carminative (helps with stomach gas), and antispasmodic. Take an infusion for indigestion, up to 5 ml of tincture per day for depression. Apply the fresh leaves directly onto insect bites; rub them on exposed skin as a mosquito repellant, or as an infusion for depression.
In the garden, plant Lemon balm in a container or with some sort of edging or barrier, because Lemon balm likes to spread. Its seeds also will jump out of the bed and plant themselves elsewhere, so keep snipping the leaves and stems to prevent the plant from flowering. Lemon balm is a hardy perennial, and will die-back during winter, but regrow back in spring.
Propagate them either from seed or root divisions. You can prune them occasionally to keep them compact. They grow best in slightly acidic, moist soil, and in cool weather. They can thrive in part shade, or full sun.
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