Herbal remedies are possibly the most sought-after natural alternatives to harmful drugs and antibiotics. And guess what? They work. Yes, herbs really do help us heal and maintain our well-being.
If you’re interested in growing a medicinal herb garden, this article is for you. Even if you don’t garden, you can still get the benefits of herbal remedies at MediHerb. They make high-quality herbal formulas that meet strict Australian guidelines for purity and effectiveness. And here in America, they’re sold exclusively at Standard Process. Whether you grow herbs or not, I want to encourage you to make medicinal herbs part of your daily life. Before you do, it’s important to seek the help of a professional herbalist if you’re pregnant, nursing, or administering to babies, or if you have special health issues and/or take any medications.
To appreciate where these remedies come from, there’s no substitute for getting to know the plants as they push their way up through the ground. This is when they open their magical healing properties to the gardener. You’ll discover what their leaves and flowers look like and come to recognize how they smell. You’ll see how the plants respond to your care, and you’ll learn how you feel about them. You may even find that some herbs exert a positive influence on your life just by the simple fact of looking at them. I’ve heard people say that growing a medicinal herb garden bestows a feeling of calmness, contentment, and subtle joy that only Mother Nature at her best can give us.
To get you started, I’m going to focus on nine particular medicinal herbs that are readily available and easy to grow throughout the continental United States, even in a space as small as 4×12 feet. I talk more about their specific qualities below.
For your garden, choose a site that gets full sun for at least 6 hours a day during the growing season. Mark the edge of the bed with stakes and string, then dig out any existing sod or vegetation. Dig or till the soil at least 8-inches deep, removing any roots, stones, or buried debris. Spread a 2-inch layer of aged organic manure over the soil, and add your favorite soil nutrients.
- If you’re looking for more ideas and guidance, I highly recommend Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide.
- For my premium garlic, I use an all-natural fertilizer called Yum Yum Mix.
- The compost I like best is Back to Nature Cotton Burr.
- I always use heirloom seeds. I often get them from Horizon Herbs, but you can find many other heirloom seed vendors and organic soil amendments at your local nursery.
- You can give a nice design touch to a small plot of medicinal herbs by placing bricks around the edge. This creates a line of demarcation so the soil doesn’t spread, and it also adds character.
Nine Medicinal Herbs Perfect for Beginners
- Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is an annual that grows quickly from seeds. The plants grow and flower best in cool weather, so plant them for spring, summer, fall, or winter bloom depending on where you live. Sow seeds about ½-inch deep and 12-inches apart. Home remedies, usually in the form of an ointment or lotion, are made from the flowers. Calendula preparations can reduce inflammation and aid healing of minor skin irritations, scrapes, and burns, including sunburn. Learn more about calendula here.
- Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a carefree, adaptable perennial that can endure cold, heat, drought, neglect—and even impassioned, frolicking cats. Crafters often grow catnip to make organic catnip pillows for feline lovers. It’s a sure money-maker. Though you can plant your own seeds, buying a small plant is easier. One is usually enough, and it should make a clump about 2- to 3-feet tall. For a relaxing bedtime tonic or to relieve indigestion, try some Catnip Tea: 2 teaspoons of dried catnip in a cup of boiling water. Also a traditional remedy for colicky babies. Learn more about catnip here.
- Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) and German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) have similar uses and properties, including small daisy-like blossoms. Roman chamomile is a perennial that makes a dense, flat mat of bright green foliage and is sometimes used instead of grass for lawns. German chamomile is an annual that grows about 2-feet tall, with slender stems, wispy leaves, and a sweet fragrance. Remedies prepared with chamomile have many traditional uses. It can be a digestive aid and a gentle tranquilizer, especially at bedtime. A strong infusion used externally can also relieve inflammation. Chamomile is from the ragweed family, so it may cause sneezing or a rash if you’re allergic. Learn more about chamomile here.
- Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea), or purple coneflower, is a perennial wildflower native to the central Unites States, running from Michigan to Texas. Gardeners coast to coast grow echinacea for its showy daisies, which are 3- to 5-inches wide, with pink or rosy purple rays and a bright orange disk. A rare yellow species is available from Horizon Herbs. The positive effects of echinacea are almost too many to list. However, it’s primarily used as an immune system booster. One particular product I like is Echinacea-C from Standard Process, which supports healthy white blood cells and combines with Echinacea angustifolia and purpurea root. Learn more about echinacea here.
- Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is another plant that gardeners often grow for its flowers, unaware of its herbal value. It forms a fluffy looking mound of green foliage and has clusters of miniature daisies on stalks 18- to 24-inches tall. Feverfew blooms for several months, from early summer until hard frost. Eating feverfew leaves can help prevent migraines, so if you’re prone to migraines chew a couple of fresh or frozen leaves each day (if you can stand to—they’re very bitter). You can also hide them in a sandwich. Learn more about feverfew here.
- Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is a perennial that can grow from 2- to 3-feet tall and spreads to form a patch. Due to its invasive nature, it’s best to either grow it in containers or drive metal edging at least 4 to 6 inches into the ground so it won’t spread everywhere you don’t want it. Because peppermint has a truly loved aroma and taste, it’s used in everything from essential oils to candies, gum, and desserts. Even beverages are imbued with the unique flavor of peppermint. Traditionally, mint preparations are used for coughs, nasal congestion, and indigestion. A cuppa infused with peppermint is a great way to relieve cold symptoms. Learn more about peppermint here.
- St.-John’s-wort (Hypericum perforatum) is a carefree perennial that grows as a roadside or pasture weed in much of the United States, yet it’s not weedy in a garden. It makes a vase-shaped clump 2- to 3-feet tall. The tiny golden yellow flowers bloom for a few weeks in June and July. Pick them as they open and steep for a few weeks in a jar of alcohol, olive oil, or jojoba oil. Strain off the ruby red pigment and you’ll have a homemade St.-John’s-wort rub, which is touted for nerve healing. In capsule form, it’s often taken as an antidepressant, but self-treatment isn’t recommended. You can get a superior St.-John’s-wort supplement from MediHerb at Standard Process. Take internally with some supervision. Learn more about St.-John’s-wort here.
- Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is an old-fashioned perennial that’s carefree, long-lived, and reliable. The slender flower stalks lift above the foliage in summer, reaching 3- to 5-feet tall. Few gardeners process their own valerian roots because they have a foul odor that’s hard to ignore. It’s traditionally used as a sedative and sleep aid. I’ve used valerian for this purpose, and it definitely works by producing a subtle, easy sleepiness with no morning hangover. Learn more about valerian here.
- Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a roadside wildflower that’s very easy to grow. You can find many colors to grace areas where you want vibrant reds and yellows, and even a brilliant white. Yarrow starts flowering in early summer and continues off and on through fall. I often use it as a cut flower combined with other herbs for a nice floral arrangement. Yarrow is also an easy remedy to prepare and use. Just pluck some fresh leaves or flowers, crush them in your hand, and press them against a minor scratch or cut. Tannins in foliage and flowers help stop bleeding immediately, so it’s often used for razor cuts, much like a septic stick. Learn more about yarrow here.
Two Favorite Medicinal Herb Recipes
Herbal Burn Salve
1 cup organic extra virgin olive oil
1 oz. organic comfrey leaf
1 oz. organic calendula flowers
1 oz. organic plantain leaf
1 oz. organic St.-John’s-wort flowers
1 oz. beeswax
50 drops lavender essential oil
- In a double boiler, pour olive oil in top pan. Add dried herbs. Heat over low for 60 minutes.
- Remove from heat. Strain and compost herbs, reserving infused oil.
- Melt beeswax in a clean pan over low heat. Once melted, add herbal-infused oil and lavender essential oil. Mix well.
- Quickly pour salve into tins or glass jars. Allow to cool before placing lids on and labeling.
Soothing Nighttime Tea
A word of caution: As the name indicates, some herbs in this tea have sedative qualities. After drinking it, don’t operate heavy machinery until you know how it affects you. Also, don’t use this tea if you’re taking other sedative medications. Omit the licorice root if you have high blood pressure.
1 part chamomile
1 part rose petals
1 part holy basil
1 part lemon balm
½ part passionflower
½ part spearmint (optional)
¼ part orange peel
Pinch of licorice root (omit if you have high blood pressure)
- Combine all ingredients and store them in a cool, dry place.
- To brew, pour one cup of boiling water over 1 tablespoon of the herbal blend. Cover with a tight lid and allow to steep for 10–20 minutes. Strain and enjoy.
To choose your organically grown and fresh ingredients wisely, use the following criteria:
- chemical- and hormone-free meat
- wild-caught fish
- pasture-raised, organic eggs
- whole, unrefined grains
- virgin, unrefined, first-press organic oils
- whole-food, unrefined sweeteners
- pure, clean, spring water
- sea salt
- raw and/or cultured milk and cream products
Photo from iStock/AtomStudios
Note from Maria: I am a Certified Natural Health Professional, CNHP, not a medical doctor. I do not diagnose, prescribe for, treat, or claim to prevent, mitigate, or cure any human diseases. Please see your medical doctor prior to following any recommendations I make in my blogs or on my website.