Did you know you could have a powerful medicinal chest right in your back yard?
Herbs have been used for centuries to relieve, soothe and heal certain ailments as well as for their culinary properties. Include them in your diet for big health benefits.
In many parts of the world, herbal remedies are the trusted medicine because of their historic use. The many herbal formulas used by herbalists have been passed down for generations, so their efficacy is historically proven.
They are often beneficial for more than one condition. While prescription drugs are designed to alleviate one specific health problem, many herbal medicines act on several parts of the body.
Herbs can be used in a variety of ways — as foods, in teas, or made into creams and salves. Simple herbal remedies are most commonly used to alleviate digestive problems, respiratory problems and skin disorders.
The following herbs have both healing and culinary properties. Many are low maintenance, easy to grow, and are beautiful additions to your garden.
Herbs To Soothe and Relieve Stress
Four easy to grow herbs are often used to relieve stress, calm and relax and help induce sleep. They are chamomile, lavender, rosemary and valerian.
Chamomile is a well-researched herb, and used in many ways. Use the dried blossoms as the main ingredient in a calming and relaxing tea. I often add in some dried lavender blossoms for a scented and sleep-inducing tea. This tea also calms and soothes the digestive tract.
Lavender is a beautiful and easy-to-grow addition to the landscape. The purple blossoms can be added to teas, made into a sachet, and when placed under the pillow, the scent can be relaxing and sleep-inducing. Add the dried blossoms to shortbread recipes for a unique flavour.
“Rosemary is to the spirit as lavender is to the soul” is an old saying. The pine-like scent of rosemary is refreshing and uplifting. Throw a few crushed sprigs in the bath for a soothing and relaxing soak. This easy-to-grow semi-hardy shrub does well in either a sheltered spot or in a container.
Valerian‘s name comes from the Latin ‘valere’, meaning to be well. It has long been used as a calmative and a sleep aid. Make the fresh or dried roots into a tea to aid in relaxing. It has several other healing properties, including cough suppression, reducing flatulence and as a dandruff rinse for the hair.
Herbs for Respiratory Relief
Six herbs that offer relief from respiratory problems are garlic, fennel, horehound, peppermint, sage and thyme.
Garlic has been used worldwide for centuries for its anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties. Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, prescribed garlic for treating respiratory problems. Researchers have found that by consuming garlic regularly, the frequency of colds is reduced. Although most people prefer to use this herb in cooking, it retains its medicinal properties best if consumed raw.
Congestion and mucus are by-products of respiratory infections. Fennel contains natural expectorants, so is useful for upper respiratory tract infections, coughs, and bronchitis. You will often find it as an ingredient in cough remedies. Fennel seed, made into an emulsion, will help in the removal of mucus and phlegm from the lungs.
Horehound, a member of the mint family, has traditionally been used to treat disorders of the respiratory system. Most frequently it is used in teas and cough syrups, and candies to alleviate coughs, bronchitis and colds. A little honey in the tea, made from the leaves, will disguise horehound’s bitter flavour.
Peppermint can help unclog your nose and sinuses. It also acts as an expectorant, helping to clear mucus from the airways and reduce congestion. One way to use peppermint is to make a strong concoction or tea with peppermint leaves and inhale the vapours. As a mouthwash, peppermint tea will freshen the breath.
Sage has an honoured place in historic herbal medicines. Its name, Salvia, is derived from Latin, meaning ‘to heal’. It’s a versatile medicinal herb, often used as an antiseptic mouthwash. Sage tea settles the stomach and can reduce symptoms of flu and colds.
Next time you have a cold or sore throat, make a cup of fresh thyme tea. Its essential oils will release in hot water and make a natural cough remedy. It’s also packed with vitamins C and A, so will boost your natural immunity. Its antiseptic and antifungal properties make it useful in mouthwashes.
Herbs for Digestive Problems
Five herbs — fennel, ginger, mint, parsley and sage are useful for improving digestion.
Fennel, a common kitchen ingredient, is also used for natural digestive health. The seeds relieve bloating, abdominal pain from gas and colic. The essential oils in fennel seeds stimulate secretion of digestive juices, enhancing digestion and encouraging better absorption of nutrients in the food you eat. Use fennel seeds as a tea to treat irritable bowel symptoms.
Ginger has a history of alleviating symptoms of gastrointestinal problems. A simple tea, made by infusing fresh gingerroot in hot water relaxes the intestinal tract and helps to reduce gas pains. Garlic is an effective anti-nausea remedy.
Although you could grow ginger in a container, it is simpler to purchase the roots, which are readily available in grocery stores.
Soothing mint teas are a panacea for calming an upset stomach. Specifically, peppermint teas containing the essential oils may help relieve irritable bowel and relax the digestive tract muscles. Even better than the leaves, capsules of peppermint oil will relieve indigestion and alleviate diarrhoea.
Parsley is often underrated as an efficacious and healthful herb. It’s extremely high in vitamin C, a rich source of iron, calcium, lutein and beta-carotene. It is useful as a soothing stomach tonic, and chewing it will freshen the breath.
As mentioned above, sage is effective for digestive problems. Sage teas sweetened with a little honey will ease gas and bloating. Natural flavonoids and antioxidant properties help control inflammation in the digestive system.
Herbs to Repair and Soothe The Skin
Caring for your skin with natural skin products is another way to maintain good health. Include the following four herbs in your herbal medicine garden for healthier skin.
Aloe is most often grown in a container, and the long tapering leaves contain a medicinal and cosmetic gel. Suffering from sunburn? Cut a leaf and peel away the skin. Apply the gel to soothe and help heal your skin. Aloe should not be used internally.
Arnica, used by herbalists since the Middle Ages, acts as an anti-inflammatory, reducing swelling and bruising. Used topically in a cream or ointment, it will also relieve insect bites. Do not use arnica on open wounds. And it may cause skin irritation in those with sensitive skin.
Calendula is a type of marigold, and oil derived from the flowers has many benefits. It will soothe dry chapped skin, and reduce rashes, diaper rash, eczema and psoriasis irritations. Its antifungal properties help treat athlete’s foot. Make calendula oil by steeping the dried petals in a carrier oil and infusing it for a month.
One of the uses for lavender oil is to relieve and heal minor burns and bug bites. Lavender accelerates wound healing. One of the essential components in lavender that make it soothing and relaxing is linalol. You can make your own lavender oil by infusing dried and crushed lavender flowers in carrier oil for a month, and then straining it.
Lemon balm — even the name makes you think of something soothing! A paste of lemon balm leaves will almost instantly soothe bee and insect stings. An extract of lemon balm has also been shown to possess antiviral properties, and applied as a salve or cream is effective in inhibiting herpes simplex virus from penetrating into the cells.
Herbs to Soothe Sore Muscles and Joints
Arnica is not only effective to soothe the skin, but also is great for soothing sprains, muscle and joint pain. Use the petals to make a soothing salve or ointment for topical use. You can also make a tincture and use it to make a compress to relieve pain of arthritis. Never use arnica products on broken skin or wounds. It can be toxic if used internally.
The dried root of comfrey mixed with water or aloe vera gel and made into a compress can help heal wounds more quickly, heal bedsores and relieve muscle pain. Originally called ‘knitbone’, comfrey has been used for centuries to treat joint and muscle pain. Make creams or salves with extracts of the roots and leaves for topical use on soft tissue pain.
Ginger root contains gingerol, a potent anti-inflammatory, making this tropical herb a great choice if you have painful joints. Two studies showed that when people with osteoarthritis and muscle pain consumed ginger daily, they experienced relief of pain and swelling was reduced.
Don’t destroy that stinging nettle in the garden! Instead, when your joint pain from arthritis flares up, swat yourself with a sprig. This way of topically using nettle is called urtication, and gives almost immediate relief from both the pain and swelling! The tiny stingers deliver a natural dose of an histamine, causing the body to react.
Alternatively, steam the fresh leaves as a vegetable. Nettles contain boron, which is helpful in treating arthritis.
Herbs to Build Immunity and Overall Health
Your own healing garden can help you build immunity and boost your resistance. The following easy-to-grow herbs have a variety of healthful benefits.
Dandelion root has a long history of use by traditional healers. It helps support the digestive system, the liver function and the body’s natural immune responses. It’s also a natural diuretic, so may help regulate blood pressure. Use the fresh leaves, either steamed or in salads, as they are rich in vitamins, fiber and minerals. If you’re allergic to plants in the aster family, avoid using this herb.
Echinacea is not just a pretty flower. All parts of the plant contain a variety of compounds that are beneficial. Its most common use is to boost immunity and prevent colds. Use the newest leaves and flowers for tea. You can also use the roots if you have several plants.
Once harvested, dry the leaves and flowers. Brew the dried echinacea with lemon and spearmint leaves and drink it at the first sign of a cold.
We tend to use oregano as a culinary herb, but oregano is one of the best protectors of the immune system. The leaves contain rosmarinic acid and thymol, both powerful anti-oxidants. Brew either the fresh or dried leaves as a tea. A cup a day will help battle any bacterial infections as well as relieving inflammation.
The hips or seed fruits of roses are chock full of vitamin C, A, B-complex and various minerals. They contain essential organic compounds and antioxidant flavonoids that contribute many health benefits. Make a delicious jelly with rose hips, or use them for making wine. All of these preparations contain the health-enhancing properties of the hips.
Rose tea, made from dried rose petals are another way to use this versatile herb. It is high in vitamin C, one of the most essential vitamins to boost the immune system.
You may not think of stevia as an herb that can help with overall health. However, for people on carbohydrate-restricted diets, it is a substitute for sugar and other empty carbs. Its health benefits include managing diabetes and weight loss.
Your Own Healing Garden
Imagine preparing a delicious and fragrant tea to relieve your next headache, sleepless night or upset digestion with fresh herbs you have grown and harvested.
One way to make medicinal herbs part of your life is to grow your own. By growing your own herbs and medicinal plants, you’ll know exactly how pure they are and where they’ve originated.
Assess the space you have available before deciding which herbs you’ll grow. You may decide to plant a dedicated herb garden that includes medicinal, tea and culinary herbs.
Plant some herbs, such as parsley, oregano and sorrel among your vegetables. Others like lavender, bergamot and valerian can add their beauty to your ornamental borders.
Short on space? Thyme, mints, stevia and rosemary will grow well in containers on a balcony or patio.
Whatever you decide, the herbs you grow will enhance your meals, help what ails you, and supply you with refreshing and vitalizing teas.
Isn’t it time to expand your knowledge of healing herbs? Start using nature’s own pharmacy to nurture, feed and help heal you and your family.