When the Catalogs begin to arrive. . .
They start showing up in the mailbox right after Thanksgiving, sometimes even earlier. Those tempting little paper beasts that draw you in and bewitch you into spending your designated Christmas dollars with them. Dreary winter dreaming, you sit down at the kitchen table with your favorite cup of warmth and plan your artful garden for sunny springtime.
Blessed are those that have the will to resist the colorful pictures full of sunshine fields with pink, red and yellow flowers and the enticing, crisp, fresh, moist, mouth-watering vegetables expertly laid out for the camera. They evoke memories and the smell of freshly turned soil, moist, rich, soft between your toes, comes flooding into your brain. This my dear friends is a gardeners high. Promises of a clean canvas in which to begin a new spring time painting. This is my art!
Oh, I’m sorry, back to reality. I kind of lost myself in this dreamy state. It happens this time of year. The holidays are over now and there is a lull between the beginning of the new year and the first shoots of green in spring. This is the perfect time to plan, arrange and perfect your new medicinal herbal garden.
The first question you should ask yourself; What are my familys’ health needs? What culinary herbs would I like to have in my backyard grocery store/pharmacy? What does my location have to offer my chosen herbs?
What is in my garden from last year and why? (zone 4, 100+ miles north of the 45th parallel)
The soil base at our place is mostly acidic, dry, and gravely. There are pockets of loamy acidic, moist, piney places and if you really get lucky, you might stumble across a loamy neutral Ph soil patch but they are rare.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) TP The medicinal parts are the oil extracted by distillation. The whole plant can be used. Harvested before flowering, the taste and smell is lemon-like, later becoming astringent to balm-like and warming.
Using lemon balm at home; gather early in the day when the sun has dried the dew from the leaves, wash and dry quickly in a just barely warm oven. Lemon balm is one of my favorites for tea, it imparts a wonderful lemon flavor and aroma in any preparation. As an herbal medicine it has mild sedative and carminative properties. Can be used in antibacterial and antiviral herbal medicinal preparations, most often however, it is used for nervous complaints, womans’ issues and headaches. Lemon balm imparts a cheerful therapy.
Be sure to plant this one close to walk ways. When you brush up against lemon balm a lemony aroma waifs to gladden the senses.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) P The root is used from this herb. It’s flowers are fragrant, the plant usually reaches 5 feet tall. The root/ rhizome smells bad when dried, sort of like dirty socks. Hydrolysis of the components in the root from isovaleric acid is what is responsible for the offensive oder.
Valerian likes low-lying, sandy, humus soil that is well supplied with lime in a damp area. (The valerian I planted several years ago made a daring escape from the patch I had carefully designated for it and it now growing wild in dry places that it shouldn’t be growing. It truly has a mind of its own and has proven very adaptable.) The root is harvested in September and are carefully dug, washed, chopped and dried.
The biochemical components of valerian root reduces the time it takes to drift off to sleep. Improvements in sleep quality were demonstrated in a well constructed, randomized, placebo-controlled, multi-centered study involving 121 patients.
Valerian is used for restlessness, sleeping disorders based on nervous conditions, mental strain, lack of concentration, and states of anxiety. Caution; Valerian has an additive effect when used in combination with barbiturates and benzodiazepines. Otherwise, there are no known hazards using valerian.
Your choice of administration; works well as a tea with other herbs, tincture, extracts, external use in baths, powdered and used in capsules for a sleep aid 30 minutes before bedtime.
Hops (Humulus lupulus) TP Hops are green viney crawling plants that can reach 30 feet long. Usually they are grown on a string straight up a pole or trellis. Hops are the ingredient that gives beer that slightly bitter after taste and calm, sleeping feeling.
AT harvest time, the entire plant is cut at about ground level. The flowers are plucked off and quickly dried, packaged and popped into the freezer to preserve their potency.
Hops work best with other herbs in preparations of extract, tincture or tea to promote a restful sleep. Also, used in folk medicine to treat nervous tension headache, nerve pain and inflammation.
Rose (Rosaceae supp.) P Rose by any other name is still a rose. Only we are looking for the variety that produces rosehips. Some hybrids have been bred out to not produce the hips. Know which one you are growing. Roses and their hips are a wonderful addition to any herb garden. Roses in the wild, those growing at the forests edge, also produce beautiful orange to red hips loaded with vitamin C.
Roses are the work horse of the garden attracting bees, butterflies and other bugs to help with pollination. They are wonderful and are simply delightful for the senses, producing a healthful potent fruit. Petals are gathered in full bloom and dried at a low temperature or in the shade. You definitely will be dodging bees and other bugs for your petals.
Rose hips appear when the petals begin to fall off later in the season. They are gathered after they turn red, however, I like to gather them after the first light frost. Rose hips seem easier to work with and a touch sweeter after the frost, in my humble opinion.
Rose petals generally, are used in skin preparations, but will make a wonderfully fragrant tea too. My favorite use for them is in wild rose and red clover jelly. I sell this at craft fairs with rave reviews and many return customers.
Here’s a great article on rose hips– https://www.thespruce.com/what-are-rose-hips-and-what-do-they-do-1403046
Elderberry (Sambucus Nigra) P These tiny gems are one of my favorite plants. Domestic grown plants are readily available from seed catalogs and the berries are slightly larger than wild grown plants. I find elderberries occasionally growing wild along roadsides in damp areas. The domestic variety seems to like regular garden soil and will spread and take over the area in just a few short years if left unchecked.
The berries can give you a tummy ache if you eat too many, so they should be cooked before ingestion. The flowers are great in tea for colds and flu due to the fact that they promote sweating. The flowers are great in preparations for coughs and bronchitis too.
Elderberries make a delicious syrup for use during or just before the onset of colds and flu. They can be used in jams, jellies and pies, also. http://foodfacts.mercola.com/elderberries.html
Echinacea (Echinacea species) P Some people call these beautiful immune enhancers, coneflowers. They take two years to produce a flower head and it is best to wait that long to harvest the roots. Echinacea activity is directed towards the nonspecific cellular immune system. The herb exerts anti-inflammatory immunostimulating, antibacterial, and wound healing actions. Most often this herb is used for colds, flu and upper respiratory infections.
Other uses; Fevers, urinary infections, inflammation of the mouth and pharynx, wounds and burns. Native Americans used this herb for headaches, measles, coughs, stomach aches, gonorrhea and snake bits.
Dried roots can be ground and put into capsules or used with other herbs as a tea.
Hyssop (hyssopus officinalis) P This is one of those plants equal to your kittys’ catnip only for humans. You just feel like rolling around in it. Bees and butterflies love it too. They will swarm your garden where hyssop is growing, which is great for other plant dependent on pollinators.
The fresh and dried leaves and flower tips are used to make herbal medicines. Extracts of the leaves are antimicrobial, antiviral (herpes simplex) and the herb is mildly spasmolytic (relieves spasms of smooth muscles). Preparations of hyssop herb are used for gentle circulation, for diseases of the respiratory tract, colds, chest and lung ailments.
Tincture extract preparations are used most often as well a tea, however, hyssop has been found effective when ground and put into capsules also.
Caution; Hyssop is another one of those plants that will take over your garden if left unchecked.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) Aggressive Perennial Peppermint is so versatile and delightful. It is hard to kill out once established so be careful where you plant this guy. He loves cool moist garden soil and will take over an area in a matter of a few years with over and underground runners. (Spearmint, too. If it has a square stem, it most likely is related to the Lamiaceae, belonging to the mint and balm family.) https://www.britannica.com/topic/list-of-plants-in-the-family-Lamiaceae-2035853
Peppermint leaves for our purposes, are gathered just before flowering, washed and hung in a warm, shaded room to dry. It can be harvested a couple of times during the growing season.
Peppermint is generally used in a tea for upset stomach and digestion issues, however, it has been used for thousands of years as an anti spasm for the smooth muscles of the gastrointestinal tract. Other benefits from peppermint include a carminative, antibacterial, insecticidal and a secretolytic agent (breaks up secretions); it also has a cooling effect on the skin and works well in ointments.
In folk medicine, peppermint is utilized for nausea, vomiting, morning sickness, respiratory infections, dysmenorrhea (pain caused during menstruation) and colds.
Other uses for peppermint; cough and bronchitis, fevers and cold symptoms, inflammation of the mouth and pharynx, liver and gallbladder complaints and a general tendency toward infections.
White Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) TP The medicinal parts of this plant are the above ground leaves and flowers. Gathered and dried quickly in June to August, it has a slightly bitter, hot taste.
The bitter effects act as a gastric juice stimulant which can help to reverse loss of appetite in cases of chronic illness. In folk medicine horehound is used internally for acute and chronic bronchitis, whooping-cough, asthma, tuberculosis, respiratory infections and jaundice. Also, it has been used for painful menstruation and as a laxative in higher doses. You may find horehound candy around town, it is useful for throat problems and upper respiratory infections.
Other herbs that have earned their place in my herbal medicine garden are;
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) TP Mostly known for its culinary uses, thyme earns a reward for being a bronchial antispasmodic, an expectorant and an antibacterial agent. Thyme is one of the ingredients in products such as Listerine.
Garden Sage and Ceremonial White Sage (Salvia supp.) TP You will find garden sage in your poultry seasonings but it also makes a wonderful tea. Used for internal gastric disorders such as loss of appetite, bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, and often used as a gargle for bleeding gums and laryngitis. White Sage is normally found in the southwestern U.S. and does not grow naturally up here in Michigans Upper Peninsula so it is grown in pots and brought into the house in the fall.
Basil (Ocimum basillicum) A People are often surprised to learn this culinary has antimicrobial properties, particularly found in oil of basil. This guy deserves a special place in the home herbal medical garden, especially if you get a bee sting. Simply crush a few basil leaves and place on the sting for pain relief. In Chinese medicine basil herb is used for disturbances of renal function, gum ulcers and as a hemostyptic both before and after birth.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis) A Pot marigold- Delightfully bright yellow, orange and orange-red flowers harvested in about July. Calendula flowers are antimicrobial and shown to have potent anti-HIV activity. Surprisingly, these beauties have been also shown in studies to be anti-inflammatory and have significant wound healing powers when used as an ointment. Best used for frost-bite, burns to the skin and poorly healing wounds.
Around our homestead we find a pharmacopeia of wild healing wonders. Red clover, red and black raspberry leaves, ginseng, goldenseal, golden rod, Astragalus, mullein, plantain and many more.
Having listed last years garden herbs and herbs found nearby, we can now decide what we would like to grow in the new season. This will become your home herbal medicine cupboard to help keep your family and neighbors healthy and treat their injuries.
On a walk-about you will find other herbs growing wild, such as;
Red Clover– coughs, whooping-cough, upper respiratory and skin healing, wounds.
Raspberry leaves– help facilitate child-birth, gastrointestinal tract and blood purifying.
Common plantain– for wounds, to draw tissue together, help stop bleeding.
Coltsfoot- best used in smoking preparations to help cure smoking addiction.
Horsetail– Urinary tract infections, kidney and bladder stones, silicic acid.
Stinging Nettle– diuretic, anti-inflammatory, nutritive, prostate complaints
St. John’s wort– wounds, depression, tuberculosis, anti inflammatory
Marshmallow, Mullein, Willow, Birch, Burdock, and many, many more. . .
To find your special plants and seeds, https://strictlymedicinalseeds.com/
I love these guys.
Stay tuned for this coming years additions. I am so excited about trying these new herbs! Here’s a hint; Meadowsweet- Heather- Uva Ursi- Skullcap and a several more.