Nothing creates connection to Nature quicker than growing your own food and medicines. It’s spring! If you’re considering planting your medicinal herb garden as a way to develop that connection, read on! You will find that it also cultivates sovereignty because you will become more self sufficient, too. As an added bonus, getting your hands in the soil will help to keep your natural, healthy microbes up. So let’s get stared!
Planning Your Garden
Before you get started, you have to consider some things and make a few decisions.
- will your garden be indoors or out?
- is your soil suitable for what you want to grow or do you need alternative arrangements?
- how is the sunlight?
- what grows naturally in your area?
- which herbs are most versatile and useful?
- how much care do your plants need? Can you provide this?
- will your chosen herbs grow well together?
- how will you deal with pests?
Indoors or Out?
If you have poor soil, want herbs year round, don’t have a yard, have a window with strong sunlight for 6-8 hours, and don’t want to fuss with weeding, indoor herbs may be the way to go. Indoor herbs grow best when each herb has its own pot. You can also choose herbs that may not grow well with others because each pot will have its own soil. You can move them around so that shade loving plants aren’t near sun loving plants. Those that need lots of water are separated from those that only need a little. You can have lots of versatility with indoor herbs.
If you choose to put it outdoors, you can still use pots, create a small or huge garden, or incorporate the herbs into the landscape. Plants that spread out, like mints and echinacea, do better in pots to keep them contained, or in spaces all to themselves so they don’t take over other plants.
Dealing With Poor Soil
In the old days, gardeners would till the soil, add peat, vermiculite, compost, and other additives to make poor soil more productive. Many natural gardeners now opt for the no till method for its ecological benefits. Tilling destroys fungal networks and the sticky exudates of soil organisms that hold soil together. Tilling also destroys humus, the organic component of soil that is necessary for plant life. All you need to do is put down a layer of cardboard where you want to place your plants. Cover with 2 inches of compost. Put your seeds or starter plants in the hole, and cover with mulch.
There is no tilling required. Although weeds will grow here, they will be easier to pull out because the soil always stays loose. So don’t walk in your garden so it stays that way.
Situating the Garden
Be sure to situate your beds in a place where your plants are most likely to grow. Many herbs like full sun. Some are better in shady areas. Some will stay where they are put, and some spread out. Consider this when designing your beds. It’s also useful to put plants that inhibit insects or fungi near plants you intend to eat or use as medicines. For example, lavender, garlic, sunflowers, petunias, and marigolds are commonly used as natural plant protectors.
Which Medicinal Herbs to Plant?
When choosing medicinal herbs, you will want to consider what grows naturally in your area. While some herbs are well known for their medicinal properties, you might consider whether or not to import non-native species into your environment. Sometimes these can become invasive and disrupt the natural ecology. If you haven’t moved, your internal environment (microbes) evolved with your external environment, so chances are, what works best for you is something that grows locally.
A Beginner Herb Garden
For beginners who want a good variety of herbs that are easy to grow and use, I suggest planting: chamomile, echinacea, yarrow, lemon balm, and peppermint. You will recognize many of these as teas.
People all over the world have used chamomile tea for centuries to promote sleep, ease digestion, promote urination and relieve colic. It’s also used for washing wounds and sores. Other uses are : soothes inflammation, infection, colic, muscle spasms and tension. The pretty white flowers are also visually appealing.
Everyone knows about the immune boosting properties of echinacea. Echinacea grows easily once it’s started. It produces tons of seeds so it’s easy to keep going. It’s not picky about sunlight and can tolerate long periods of drought. You can use it fresh or dried in tea or tincture it for use throughout the year.
Yarrow is one of my favorites! It’s considered a weed so it grows just about anywhere, is very hardy, and I think it’s also really pretty. Use it to reduce inflammation and muscle spasms and relieve pain. Some say it helps with digestion and anxiety too. You can use it as a tea to help with colds and fever. It’s also very handy for stopping bleeding.
Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds love lemon balm. Lemon balm reduce fevers and treat colds by inducing sweating; calms the digestive tract; relieves spasms related to cramps and headaches; and helps with insomnia. It also inhibits the growth of fungi and bacteria. Since it’s best used fresh or recently dried, and because it can take over and spread, you may want to grow this one indoors in a container. Or maybe put a little outside for the creatures to enjoy, too.
Peppermint is another one that can take over. Some people avoid it for that reason. It’s got such great healing properties that you might consider it though. Peppermint is widely used in tea for stomach complaints. People also use it for insomnia, nervous tension, colds (by inducing sweating, it was thought to purge the infection), cramps, diarrhea and nausea. Recent research has shown that the essential oil contains substances that relieve muscle spasms and inhibit the growth of bacteria and viruses.
Some Other Suggestions
The suggestions above cover a wide variety of ailments. However, if you want an herb garden that tackles specific complaints, here are some suggestions.
Herbs for immunity– Echinacea, elderberry, andrographis, astragalus, and garlic
Herbs for anxiety/sleep – ashwaganda, bacopa, chamomile, kava kava, St. John’s wort, lavender, lemon balm, passionflower, valerian
Fertility herbs– red raspberry leaf, alfalfa, stinging nettle
Women’s reproductive health herbs – black cohost, crampbark, motherwort, mugwort, calendula, chamomile, fennel, basil, wormwood, rosemary, rose petals, fenugreek, lavender, partridge berry
Herbs for pain– willow bark, turmeric, feverfew, ginger, thyme, ginseng, St. John’s wort, devil’s claw, oregano, botswelia. The best herb for pain will depend on the cause of the pain.
Herbs for infections- garlic, ginger, echinacea, goldenseal, clove, oregano, anise, myrrh, pau d’arco
Gardening is healthy. It gets you outside. You have a relationship to the plants that help your body thrive. You start to see how all of Nature is connected. Making your own medicines empowers you to take charge of your own health, too. It’s a beautiful thing to do for yourself and your family.