Plants and flowers have been used medicinally for thousands of years and can greatly support our overall health and well-being. If you are already into gardening, focusing a section of your garden on medicinal herbs and flowers is a great way to grow your own natural care pharmacy and support your overall health in the way that nature intended.
While much research on medicinal plants can be done online, investing in an encyclopedia of medicinal plants can be helpful for any gardener or home-grower. Not only will you be able to identify and forage for common weeds that may have healing properties - but you can build up your own natural medicine cabinet from items you grow yourself and learn to process or preserve them in ways that will maximize their benefit and lengthen their shelf life.
For herbs that will be used medicinally, we do recommend buying organic seeds when possible and not using any chemical fertilizers or insecticides but rather resorting to natural pest control if needed. Thankfully, many strong-scented herbs benefit from being natural insect repellants, so if planted in a garden plot together, or in containers grouped close to one another, they will help to protect each other from infestations.
While there are a ton of options to choose from when it comes to medicinal plants, the following selection we are choosing to highlight are common enough to easily find seeds (some can even be grown from scraps, like ginger), and they grow well in most growing zones:
This orange and yellow flowered medicinal plant will add a pleasant pop of color to your garden - calendula is widely used to treat skin ailments like rashes, wounds, and infections. It is anti-inflammatory, and the petals can make a soothing tea to aid digestion.
Flowers should be harvested soon after they open in the morning, after they have dried of any morning dew. Cut them off at the stem and lay them on a tray to dry in a warm area with good air circulation (or use a dehydrator). Once they are completely dry, they can be stored in a jar for future use.
Most commonly used for tea, chamomile helps to soothe nerves and relax the body. It is safe for all ages and can help treat hay fever, insomnia, and bronchitis. Chamomile tea also makes an excellent compress or rinse for eyes that are experiencing irritation or infection.
Remove the flower heads as they open, before the petals droop downward, and dry them well on a drying tray. While the flowers are what is most commonly used, the leaves also contain the same compounds and can be harvested and used in the same way as the flowers or added directly to salads or as a garnish with a light flavour.
A most versatile herb that grows abundantly in the garden - be sure to keep it contained as mint spreads and will take over your garden beds! Grow it in large pots and trim it often at the beginning of the season so it will grow bushier and healthier as the summer wears on.
Peppermint is excellent to soothe headaches, muscle aches and to improve digestion and mental function. The leaves can be used fresh or dried for a potent tea with many healing benefits. Fresh leaves can also be chopped up and added to witch hazel for a refreshing and invigorating facial astringent. Peppermint makes a great insect repellant as well.
Still commonly used as a cold and flu remedy, echinacea is surprisingly easy to grow. It can help to boost your immune system, lower blood sugar levels, and is high in antioxidants which help to support overall health. The entire plant is edible and beneficial, from the flower heads to the leaves and even the roots.
The easiest way to use this plant is by harvesting the leaves and flowers as they bloom. Cut them just above the lowest leaf and hang the flower with its stem to dry before storing it. If making a tea, steep in just barely boiled hot water for no more than 3 minutes, otherwise the tea may have a bitter taste.
While it can be challenging to grow, once well-established, perennial lavender will grow more plentiful every year. The flowers and leaves have many benefits, from being an antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and uplifting for your mood. It can also be a topical treatment for bug bites, eczema, and other skin issues (pair it with calendula petals for an even more potent skin remedy).
Harvest the flowers before they fully open, while they look like a collection of little purple buds ont heir stem. They can be used fresh or dried for later use. Lavender’s powerful scent makes it a great option for aromatherapy and it has a calming effect on mood when inhaled or also consumed as a tea or tincture. Steep the flowers and leaves in hot water and once cooled, strain and add a bit of witch hazel to make a lovely room or pillow spray that will uplift and calm your senses.
An excellent remedy for respiratory issues, thyme grows very well in most soil types and can easily be grown in containers or directly in the garden. Trim it back often at the start of the season to end up with a bushy, abundant plant that can be used throughout the summer and then harvested completely in the fall and dried for use throughout winter.
While thyme is often used as a flavouring for many recipes, its medicinal uses are often overlooked. It can be made into a potent tea to help detoxify and cleanse the lungs. For enhanced lung support, steep thyme in hot water and inhale the steam. The anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties can help support the body during a detox or when suffering with respitory issues caused by a virus or exposure to poor air quality.
A popular and widely used herb in most mediterranean cuisine, rosemary has some surprising health benefits that make it perfect for the medicinal garden. While like many other herbs, it is high in anti-oxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties, rosemary is also unique in that it has significant positive impact on mood and memory.
Rosemary has been known to lift mood, improve concentration and focus, and help to protect the brain from damage caused by ageing. It can be consumed as a tea, like most potent herbs - but is also effective as a potent tincture that can be taken as a daily supplement.
This herb is in the same family as mint and also goes by the name Melissa. It is known for its calming and sedative effects on the body, and can also help to increase appetite and benefit the digestive system by relieving certain gastrointestinal issues.
Steeped as a tea, it makes a great option to consume before bed as a sleep aid. While this herb is perennial, it may have a harder time coming back in colder growing zones that experience harsh winters.
Another surprisingly easy plant to grow, ginger is commonly used to treat nausea and vomiting from indigestion, gastrointestinal disturbances or morning sickness. It is safe to use in pregnancy and can also reduce aches and pains. It has anti-inflammatory properties and makes a great tonic for those who deal with chronic inflammation.
Due to its high levels of magnesium and zinc, ginger is also beneficial to blood flow and can reduce blood pressure and improve circulation. Ginger can be grown a store-bought bulb of ginger (organic recommended) that has several growing points or nodes and by following the steps in this informative video.
The medicinal powerhouse - garlic is a powerful anti-oxidant, anti-fungal, anti-septic, and immune-boosting plant. While it needs a bit more room than just an herb garden, it is well worth dedicating an entire garden plot to growing a crop of garlic every year.
Not only can it be used to flavour a variety of meals but can be infused into a potent oil to soothe sore throats and other viral infections. It has a positive effect on blood health and heart health by regenerating cells, lowering cholesterol and improving circulation.
Mother Nature's Pharmacy
When building your natural care pharmacy, choose options that address your specific needs and preferences. If you tend to consume a specific type of herbal tea, try your hand at growing it yourself! Remember that many pharmaceuticals are actually derived from plants to begin with. As stated by the World Health Organization about “855 traditional medicines include crude plant extracts” and most people that reside in developing countries with limited access to pharmaceuticals actually rely on herbal remedies for their daily needs (1).
Many herbal supplements are costly and are not properly regulated. As a result, they may not always contain the highest quality ingredients or they may be combined with other fillers or less beneficial ingredients. Being able to control the whole growing and preserving process gives you a strong advantage and can greatly contribute to improved health.
Find a sunny spot for your medicinal garden, and invest in quality soil (or use a soil amendment to improve the soil you already have). The better you care for your medicinal plants, the more they will reward you with vitality and overall health benefits. While tea infusions are the easiest and quickest way to reap the benefits of most herbs, it is also worth gaining some knowledge on how to make tinctures, decoctions, and preserve your herbs properly so that you can make the most out of your efforts to grow them.