This is a follow up to our last article about planning and planting a medicinal herb garden. This article is mostly just a list of some of my favorite commonly grown medicinal herbs. That is, I consider them must have, must grow medicinal herbs. You will notice that quite a few make themselves useful in the kitchen, too; I concur with Hippocrates and feel that our food should be our medicine and our medicine should be our food. Is this list comprehensive? No!! For comprehensive, check out at least five ten books from the library. I originally started this list with the intent of giving you only five basic, grow-able herbs; as you can see, I can’t count. The list includes the cultural requirements for each herb and what it’s typically used for. There’s also a resource section at the end that includes books, sites and vendors. So, without further ado, here are Homestead Lady’s must have, must grow medicinal herbs.
Medicinal Herbal Terms
You’ll need to know some basic herbal vocabulary as you learn more about medicinal herbs; remember that all herbal actions/uses are only suggestions. Please see a qualified medical professional when necessary.
- Vulnerary – Externally helps the body to heal wounds
- Anti-microbial – helps immune system overcome pathogenic micro-organisms
- Demulcent – Mucilaginous herbs which relax, soothe and protect tissue.
- Diaphoretic – Increases perspiration, dilates capillaries
- Carminative – sweet, spicy aroma, promotes expulsion of gas and soothes the stomach
- Calendula officinalis – Site – full sun to part shade – zone 3-10.
- Soil- tolerant of poor soils.
- Propagation – Direct sow in early spring through summer.
- Sometimes called “pot marigold” because it does well in pots.
- The seeds are large and easy to handle, so they’re great for kids.
- Even black thumbs can grow Calendula!
- Externally, anti-inflammatory, vulnerary, lymphatic, anti-microbial. Taken internally it is great for digestion, normalizing menstruation, and is anti-spasmodic. Used in salves for every topical problem imaginable:
#2 – Cayenne
- Capsicum Annuum – Site – Full Sun – zone 9 perennial grown as an annual in Utah.
- Propagation – start indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost – protect from reappearing frost.
- Soil – same as for peppers, around 6.5 ph
- One of Dr. Christopher’s favorites!
- Externally it will warm hands and feet, rheumatic pains and lumbago and hoarseness as a gargle.
- Anti-microbial and, although stinging, a very effective styptic!
- Taken as a general tonic specifically for circulatory and digestive systems.
- Stimulant, good for the heart, arteries, blood flow, and nerves.
- Matricaria Recutita – Site – Full sun to part shade, reseeding annual.
- Soil – Light and well drained, but will tolerate poorer soils – surprisingly tough little buggers.
- Propagation – One of the few seeds that need light to germinate.
- Sprinkle on soil and LIGHTLY mix with dirt in the late spring
- Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) is a perennial but typically the German is used medicinally
- Harvest flowers as they mature and more will be produced
- The flowers are used as a nervine tonic.
- Also anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving for a wide range of conditions along the digestive tract.
- It is also a blood thinner so never use it during pregnancy or if you take similar medications.
- Mentha Spicata (Spearmint) & Mentha Piperita (peppermint) Site – Partial shade or sun – zones 5-11 but will survive lower.
- Soil – Moist, well drained, alkaline
- Propagation – Take root or stem cuttings, or divide it in spring and autumn
- In summer, root stem cuttings in water
- It is very invasive in the garden, so make sure you keep it contained or grow in pots
- Carminative, anti-spasmodic, combats gas and aids digestion, nervine, anti-emetic (vomiting), anti-microbial.
- Spearmint is better for kids as it’s more mild
- Peppermint is stronger and therefore better suited to adults.
- Mint is used in everything from toothpaste to candy – it’s one of mankind’s favorite flavors.
- Mint, combined with Elder and Yarrow make a traditional treatment for Cold/Flu/Fever.
- Allium Sativum – Site – Sunny, but tolerates partial shade
- Will grow in most zones.
- Perrenial grown as an annual
- Soil – Rich, moist and well drained
- tolerates poorer soil
- Propagation – plant individual cloves
- 1 ½ inches deep in the fall for larger bulbs
- Spring planting will also produce
- Dig garlic bulbs in late summer handle gently to avoid bruising
- Soft-neck varieties will store for several months in cool, dry place – braid and hang
- Use fresh, dried, roasted or infused in oil or vinegar
- Anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-biotic, great for the heart and nervous system – traditionally used to kill everything from a sinus infection to ring worm!
- Echinacea Angustifolia (one vareity but there are several) – Site – Full sun –any zone – wide range of soils and sites.
- Very drought tolerant – do not overwater.
- Propogation – seeds may require some chill – spotty germination.
- Wont usually flower until second year but you’re after the mature root system.
- At risk plant due to popularity so give it a go – plant some next spring!
- Angustifolia typically used, but Purpurea also can be used, as immune stimulant.
- Anti-microbial, anti-catarrhal (prevents inflammation of nose and throat).
- As with most dosages, plan for 10-14 days on, 7 days off – or as prescribed by your holistic practitioner.
- Achillea Millefolium – Site – full sun – zones 3-10-ish – Soil – any, but prefers well drained.
- Propagation – from seed or divide roots in spring. It can self sow – be careful.
- One of the best diaphoretic herbs. Also vaso-dilator and has diuretic properties.
- For the tummy, it is astringent, anti-inflammatory.
- Externally – styptic and vulnerary.
- Taraxacum officinale – Site and Soil – will grow pretty much anywhere.
- Propagation – Try and get it NOT to grow, I dare you.
- The root is a general tonic and very effective as a liver tonic, hepatic (cleanse liver), increases bile flow, anti-rheumatic, helps dump metabolic waste.
- Root also helps relieve skin and degenerative joint disorders, lowers blood cholesterol and is a mild laxative.
- The leaf is a safe, highly effective diuretic, best natural source of potassium which avoids potassium depletion.
- Leaves are commonly used raw in salads but are a bitter.
- Sambucus Nigra (There are several varieties) – Site full sun to part shade – zones 4-9 – Soil with good organic content and drainage.
- They are prolific, heavy bearing, easy to grow sprawling bushes that can grow to 15’ but can be pruned to 8’.
- Need a pollinator to set fruit so plan to plant at least two.
- Berries are high vitamin C, good for jams, tea, natural dye.
- Whole plant a nearly complete pharmacy!
- Leaves used externally are vulnerary and emollient. Internally, leaves are purgative, expectorant, diuretic, diaphoretic.
- Flowers prepared cold are diuretic and cooling; prepared warm diaphoretic and gently stimulating.
- Berries are diaphoretic, diuretic, aperient (mild laxative).
- Remedy for colds, flus, fever, bruises, wounds, sinusitis, hayfever, etc, etc.
*Photo credit for Calendula – Kelly Biscotti and her great article on Growing Calendula in your Garden;
*Photo credit for elder berry and chamomile Kathie at Homespun Seasonal Living -an absolute treasure of a website and I encourage you to visit.
Uses for Medicinal Herbs:
- Calendula I use in almost every salve I make. It’s great in lip balm, too. Fresh petals are beautiful in salads.
- Cayenne is so easy to incorporate into Mexican dishes. I encapsulate it in my “multi-herbal-vitamin” and take a bit every day.
- Chamomile I put in many of my infusions or teas – especially for my kids. It is also wonderful in potpourri and salad.
- Peppermint is one I use in a lot of my kid’s tinctures to improve flavor and for tummy upset. I also throw it into green and fruit salads, into smoothies and ice cream. When an herb grows so abundantly, I feel like that’s God’s way of saying I should eat a lot of it!
- Garlic is one I may even over use! Infused in olive oil it’s our ear infection remedy and roasted and added to flatbread with fresh rosemary it’s a household favorite. In Russia, I used to eat it
- Echinacea is so great to grow and a dehydrator makes drying the roots so much easier.
- Yarrow is a wonderful bedding plant with its lovely flowers and slightly apple-scented leaves. I grow it for both the humans and the livestock at my house.
- Garlic is one I may even over use! Infused in olive oil it’s our ear infection remedy and roasted and added to flatbread with fresh rosemary it’s a household favorite. In Russia, I used to eat it raw!
- Echinacea is so great to grow and a dehydrator makes drying the roots so much easier.
- Yarrow is a wonderful bedding plant with it’s lovely flowers and slightly apple-scented leaves. I grow it for both the humans and the livestock at my house.
- Dandelion is great because it grows. The roots do best in a dehydrator, as well. Greens, though, should be eaten fresh and with a nice vinaigrette. Try Dandelion flower jello or cookie.
- Elder berries are divine as a cough syrup. Make a strong infusion and add some raw honey – you’re kids will be pretending they have a sore throat just to get some.
Other Medicinal Herbs to Consider:
If you ask five herbalists their opinion on the best herb, you’ll get fifteen answers so the more research the merrier!
- Comfrey also known as “Knitbone”
- Oregon Grape Root
- Not necessarily to grow but to have – Goldenseal, Ginger (have to be grown indoors in Utah if you want to try it), Nettle (can grow it, just have to learn to handle it), Reishi and/or Shitaake mushroom (can be grown indoors but must learn the process), Usnea lichen, Kelp and/or Bladderwrack.
Resources for more Information on Medicinal Herbs:
- The ABC Herbal, by Steven Horne – a short, sweet family herbal
- Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, by Rosemary Gladstar – this one lives in my kitchen
- Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide, by Rosemary Gladstar – a little simpler than the above and more growing info but I honestly recommend both.
- The Herbal Medicine Makers Handbook, by James Green – This is a great one in general but it also has growth tables in the back for planning your own garden. Here’s our review of this book.
- Making Plant Medicine, by Richo Cech – owner of Horizon Herbs – kind of a cosmic guy but very knowledgeable and down to earth.
- The Complete Book of Herbs, by Lesley Bremness – my first herb book and one of which I’m still very fond – Great recipes for food, crafts, lotions, oils, etc.
- Growing and Using Herbs Successfully, by Betty Jacobs
- Herbal Antibiotics, by Stephen Harrod Buhner – short and to the point
- Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child, by Janet Zand – Great family resource book that breaks down ailments, conventional treatments, dietary helps, nutritional supplements, herbal treatments, homeopathics, acupressure, general recommendations, prevention.
Medicinal Herb Links:
- Untrained Housewife – a whole index of herbal info from Untrained Housewife
- Herbal Academy of New England – Another affiliate – has an amazing introductory herbal course. When you’re done with that, you can take their intermediate course. They also have a wonderful blog that is extremely helpful.
- Learning Herbs – hire an herb mentor and buy beginners kit, plus children’s game, one of our affiliates
- LDS Holistic Living Conference – If you’re in Utah, this conference held in South Jordan annually – covers all areas of holistic education, including herbs and nutrition
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