Many of us are spending more time in our gardens than usual, and I’ve certainly been loving making ours a bit more exciting for our family. There’s lots of research showing that gardening, and being around plants in general is very good for our mental health, but why not take it a step further? There’s something rather wonderful about making your own medicine from plants, which you have to experience to fully appreciate. Herbs are easy to grow and use, so here are ten medicinal herbs to grow right now.
Marigold (Calendula officianalis)
This pretty little plant will brighten your garden up all year round (the name ‘Calendula’ is thought to come from ‘calendar’ for that reason. It’s one of the daisy family, and is very generous with its flowers, which can be used to make a natural antiseptic cream for your herbal first aid kit. Tea made from the flowers can be used to bathe cuts and rashes, helping them to calm, heal and stay free from infection.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officianalis)
All of my garden herbs are my favourites, but this is my favourite favourite! Whether you’re feeling stressed or depressed, Lemon Balm always knows how to put you right. The smell of the fresh plant leaves you feeling calm and uplifted at the same time, and it makes a beautiful tea for bedtime. It’s really good at calming the gut brain connection, and I use it when stress is aggravating the digestion. Lemon Balm is very rampant so if you don’t want a garden full, maybe grow it in a pot, and always harvest it before it goes to seed.
Sage (Salvia officianalis)
Legend has it that in gardens where Sage grows well, the woman of the household is well and truly in charge! It has lots of medicinal uses, but you might know it best for it’s action on menopausal hot flushes. Sage tea is specifically used to treat these, and most of the time it’s very effective at treating this and other menopausal symptoms (1). Sage also works as a mild adaptogen, helping the body out of its stress response even when the stress is ongoing, and I often use it in patients where physical illness is starting to impact upon mental health. For sore throats and tonsilitis, cold Sage tea can be used as a gargle or throat spray to help reduce inflammation and kill any infection at the same time.
St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
This usually grows wild but I love having some in the garden. It’s a herb of the sun, so needs full sun or a little bit of shade, and will flower happily around St John’s day at the end of June. You probably know St John’s Wort for its action on lifting depression, but there’s much more to it than that! It’s slightly bitter taste makes it an excellent herb for the liver, which always needs a little extra TLC. A recent study found it effective in treating hot flushes, depression and other menopausal symptoms in post menopausal women (2) The flowers steeped in oil and left on a sunny windowsill will turn the oil blood red, and that can be used to treat nerve pain in particular.
Common Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Thyme is a wonderful antiseptic herb, especially for the lower lungs and the digestive system. It helps to stop the spasms we sometimes see in coughs, which stop us from being able to bring up mucous properly, so it’s ideal for chest infections. Thyme tea in bath water can help little ones with bronchiolitis or croup, and externally can be used to clean infected wounds. In medieval times, Thyme was associated with bravery.
Yarrow (Achillea milfolium)
Again, this is often found growing wild but it’s so useful I don’t think any garden should be without it. There are a number of ornamental versions available now but the one you want is the one that grows wild (Achillea milfolium). Yarrow tea applied to a cut will quickly stop it bleeding, and on cotton wool plugs inserted into the nostrils will stop nosebleeds. It can also bring down a fever with lightning speed, so it’s an excellent first aid herb for infections when the temperature has got out of hand. Harvest the flowers and dry them ready for use over the winter.
Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana)
As well as having some spicy sauce for your Sunday roast, growing Horseradish root will give you a great medicine for colds, flu, and sinusitis. It’s a powerful warming stimulant used to clear mucous, and improve circulation and will encourage a fever to ‘break’ during an infection. Externally, Horseradish poultices were used to clean festering wounds and in footbaths to warm cold feet.
Elecampane (Inula helenium)
This is a big, protective plant with long, shield shaped leaves and a candelabra of yellow flowers in July. It grows up to around 2m so needs quite a bit of space, but it’s a beautiful plant, and a very useful one. Also known as ‘Elfwort’, Elecampane was traditionally used to help those who felt ‘Elfshot’ (shot by the Elves!). The term was used to describe a sudden sinking feeling we can get for no apparent reason, and Elecampane was used in small doses as a protective remedy. Nowadays we use it more to protect the lungs, and clear stubborn chest infections. Wait until the plant is 3-4 years old and harvest the root in Autumn to make a bitter, sweet, soothing cough syrup.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officianalis)
Rosemary is evergreen and will keep your garden looking green throughout winter. It’s native habitat is on cliff tops, so it likes a sunny position and not too much water. Not only can you cook with it, a good cup of Rosemary tea instantly lifts mood and clears the head, aiding memory and concentration. It’s traditionally associated with memory and remembrance, and in parts of Scotland a spring of Rosemary is still put onto coffins at funerals. Rosemary can be used to make smudge sticks for medical fumigation, and to relax and open the lungs when breathing is shallow.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
Fondly known as ‘Nature’s Calpol’, this herb does everything that Calpol does! It’s child-friendly, and will reduce a high temperature during colds or tummy bugs. It’s fairly drying too, so will help to dry mucous in coughs, colds, or flu and soothe an upset tummy. It’s also a mild painkiller, so will help to relieve headaches and muscle aches and pains we often see with infections. Bees love it too, so make sure you get some and put it somewhere sunny, harvesting it and drying it for use over winter.
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