7 Healing Herbs to Grow in Your Garden

If you’re cultivating edible plants this summer, you might also like to add some medicinal herbs in amongst your vegetables. Having the ingredients at hand to treat minor health issues is of the utmost importance when it comes to self sufficiency, and these plants tend to pull double duty as pollinator attractors to your garden as well.

Calendula

Calendula

The bright, sunny heads of calendula flowers are well known to most people, but few realise just how healing Calendula officinalis really is. Most people just grow these marigolds as decorative plants, but they’re actually invaluable as a medicinal herb. Calendula-infused oil or salve is ideal for burns and various skin irritations like rashes, cuts, scrapes, and insect bites/stings.

Echinacea

Echinacea

I prefer Echinacea purpurea to angustifolia because the former can be taken once illness has set it, whereas the latter is better as a preventative. Wild patches of echinacea have been over-harvested by people, so planting your own is preferable to wildcrafting it. As an added bonus, it attracts pollinators like bees and butterflies like you wouldn’t believe.

Milk-thistle

Milk Thistle

Milk thistle seed powder is excellent for cleansing the liver, kidneys, and gallbladder, and is exceptionally effective at treating gallstones and kidney stones. The powder can be taken in tincture or decoction form, or can even be added to smoothies, but it takes a lot of seeds to make even a small amount of powder: although you can gather the seed heads in autumn after they’ve dried out and stopped flowering, it might be better to purchase the powder or extract from a retailer instead.

Mullein

Mullein

Although this grows wild around my area, I’ve also sown patches of it in the sandy areas on the edge of my property. It’s a biennial plant, so it only flowers every other year, but both its leaves and flowers have very healing properties. Steep the flowers in honey to make a potent
A tea made from the leaves is excellent as an expectorant, and brings great relief from wheezing, hacking coughs. Smoking dried mullein leaf can also alleviate asthma, and oil in which the flowers have been steeped is ideal for treating ear infections. The entire plant is anti-inflammatory, and a tincture of the leaves and flowers can bring great relief from joint pain, arthritis, and even lymphatic congestion.

Stinging-nettle

Stinging Nettle

Although it’s difficult to harvest because its hairlike stingy bits hurt like the nine hells if they touch you, this plant’s medicinal properties are well worth the effort. It’s an anti-inflammatory and diuretic, does wonders for urinary issues, can alleviate rheumatoid arthritis and other joint pain, and can ease allergy symptoms. It’s also quite delicious when cooked and used like spinach,

Just suit up, wear heavy gloves when harvesting it, and blanch the plant with boiling water to neutralize the stingers before using it.

Thyme

Thyme

Not just a delicious aromatic herb, Thymus vulgaris is a wonderful herb that has countless medicinal uses. Its antispasmodic properties help to alleviate stomach cramping and colic, while its antiseptic properties are incredibly helpful for topical applications. The crushed leaves can also be used as an impromptu insect repellent to keep mosquitoes and black flies away, especially behind the ears and along the hairline.

Yarrow

Yarrow

Also known as “soldier’s woundwort”, Achillea millefolium has been used medicinally for thousands of years and is invaluable for any healer’s garden. Yarrow flowers and frilly leaves have many medicinal properties, and are worth delving into if you’re interested in building up an apothecary’s cabinet of your own. Additionally, this lovely plant attracts all manner of pollinators, and is an ideal landing pad for migrating butterflies.

 

NOTE: Please remember that herbs are medicines, and their effects can vary from person to person. A remedy that works well for you might not work for your child, partner, or neighbour, and some people may have allergies to certain plants. For example, people with ragweed allergies may react badly to chamomile, and those who are allergic to latex should stay away from birch. No herbal remedy is guaranteed to cure a complaint, and it’s important to do your research properly before brewing up and drinking an infusion. It’s usually a good idea to speak to your healthcare provider to make sure that the herbs you’re interested in taking don’t have contraindications with any medicines you’re on, especially if you’re pregnant or nursing.

In addition, if you’re gathering herbs from the wild, it’s extremely important that you learn to recognise them properly. A lot of plant allies have toxic lookalikes, so if there’s any doubt about what you may be harvesting, don’t do it. Just buy a tea, tincture, or dried herb in bulk from an apothecary company like Mountain Rose Herbs instead.

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DIY: Passionflower Tincture for Anxiety and Stress Relief

By Angelina Williamson

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is useful in treating anxiety, insomnia, upset stomach (especially related to stress), and high blood pressure. This plant is considered generally safe for most people for short-term use (no more than a couple of months according to some sources), but if you take any sedatives or other medications, be sure to check with your doctor before taking this tincture to make sure there aren’t any contraindications.

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How to Make Passionflower Tincture:

Fill a pint jar about half full of dried passionflower and then cover it with 80 proof vodka.

The solvent range for optimal extraction of medicinal constituants is between 40-65 percent. Be sure not to use a proof higher than 100 or you may damage the plant’s efficacy.

Label your jar with the date you started this batch and put it somewhere where you won’t forget about it.

Shake it vigorously every day for two to four weeks.

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Shaking it every day is important because it helps break down the cell walls of the plant material.

Next, get a fresh clean jar fitted either with a strainer or (as I’ve done here) with a wide-mouthed funnel fitted with an unbleached coffee filter, and pour the liquid through it. Alternatively, you can use cheese cloth or muslin. Shake the plant material into the filter or cheese cloth and squeeze as much of the liquid out of it as you can.

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Decant your tincture into a dark bottle and label it. Store in a cool dark cupboard to maintain the best quality.

Your tincture is ready to be used in whatever recipe you like! For precise dosing information consult a reliable herbalist for advice, either with a personal consultation or from a trusted book or online source.

Tincture-dropper

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5 Ways to Use Aloe for Health and Wellbeing

Just about everyone I know has an aloe plant in their house. Most keep it in the kitchen, as it’s incredibly handy to have close in case of burns or scrapes, but mine is three feet tall and weighs about 60 pounds, so I have it in a massive pot in my living room. Truth be told, this wonderful plant ally is perfect to have in any room in the house, as it helps to purify the air and won’t poison pets or small children who might gnaw on its stalks.

Aloe has been used medicinally for thousands of years, and with good cause! It has many benefits when used both internally and externally, and it’s rare for anyone to be allergic to it. It’s also incredibly easy to cultivate, as it almost thrives on neglect, and will grow and reproduce merrily on its own as long as it gets a fair amount of light and water.

AloeGel

Burns 

I can’t count the number of times I’ve burned myself in the kitchen, whether it was by brushing up against a wire rack while taking something out of the oven, being spattered by cooking oil, or just  being careless and touching a pan without realising it was still hot. Aloe has been a massive plant ally each and every time, and I make sure to thank it whenever I turn to it for help.

Cut aloe stalks into half-inch slices, freeze them on a wax paper-lined baking sheet, and then pop the hardened slices into a bag or plastic container to keep in the freezer. If you burn yourself, just take out one of the slices and rub it on the affected area. The cold will help to alleviate any pain, while aloe’s properties will soothe the burn and speed healing. (The combination of cold + aloe gel can also prevent blisters from forming, depending on the burn’s severity.)

Note: These slices also work well for sunburns, windburns, and chapped lips.

AloeSlice

Overall Oral Health

From reducing gum inflammation and swelling to treating gingivitis, aloe has countless benefits when used as a toothpaste and/or mouthwash. Since aloe has natural antibacterial properties, it can help fend off tooth decay and various types of gum disease, and its soothing properties can alleviate pain and sensitivity from cold sores, cankers, and soreness from denture use.

IBS and Other Intestinal Upset

For many people, a bit of fresh aloe vera juice may calm the gut inflammation caused by IBS, Crohn’s, and Celiac Disease. I have the latter, and I can speak from firsthand experience that when accidentally “glutened”, small amounts of aloe juice have helped with the cramping and overall discomfort that ensued.

Just be careful taking this, as it has laxative effects. When in doubt, talk to your healthcare provider about contraindications and such.

Aloe

Sore, Tired Eyes

If you find that your eyes are tired and achy after long days spent staring at a computer screen, keep a snipped-off aloe branch in the fridge. You can squeeze out a little of the gel and dab it on your eyelids before bed.

You can also use the gel as a very safe, gentle eye makeup remover. It won’t work very well on waterproof mascara, but for regular eyeshadow and eyeliner, it helps to wipe everything away and leaves your skin moisturised and refreshed.

Vaginal Yeast Infections

Gel fresh from the aloe plant soothes the burning, awful itchiness associated with yeast infections. Apparently its antifungal properties also work wonders for inhibiting the growth of Candida, so it might be able to eliminate a yeast infection without needing to resort to store-bought creams or tablets.

The fresh gel can be spread around externally to alleviate inflammation, and suppositories can be created to treat the infection internally. You can mix 1 oz of fresh aloe vera gel with about 8 oz of organic coconut oil. Blend well to make sure it’s a homogenous mixture, then spoon that mixture into an ice cube tray. (Aim for a tray that has small ice cubes, as those are a lot easier/more comfortable to insert.) Once frozen, pop one suppository inside just before bed, and wear a pad. Symptoms should improve significantly within a couple of days.

 

Herbal Chest Salve for Flu Season

By Catherine Winter

I can’t believe it’s the end of November already. So much has happened over the last few weeks that I was shocked to wake up this morning and discover that there’s only a week left before December rolls on in. Winter will arrive in full swing shortly thereafter, and with it will undoubtedly come the colds and flus that inevitably show up as soon as temperatures plummet.

Since I tend to eschew store-bought medicines in favour of those I make myself, I put together a few pots of this chest salve every year. Normally half a dozen people I care about will come down with bronchitis or a nasty head cold, and this rub does wonders to help people breathe. It also does wonders for asthma attacks, and I’ve even been known to massage it into my temples and forehead to ease migraines.

When it comes to making homemade salves, it’s important to use the highest quality ingredients you can afford. Much like how food nourishes your body, medicines that are meant to heal you on a cellular level should be as nurturing as possible.

eucalyptusoil

Chest Salve for Coughs, Colds, and Flus

I base my salve on a recipe in one of Rosemary Gladstar’s books, but have tweaked it as I’ve determined what works best for me. You may wish to make a few versions of it with different essential oil (EO) proportions, and see which you like best. These oils in particular have wonderful decongestant and antiviral properties, and also help you smell pretty fabulous when you’re feeling sickly and gross.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 heaping tablespoon beeswax pellets (you can use carnauba wax if you’d like to make yours vegan)
  • 12-15 drops eucalyptus EO
  • 10-12 drops pine EO
  • 8-10 drops camphor EO (use fewer drops if making this for children)
  • 5-7 drops peppermint EO
  • 5 drops rosemary EO
  • 2 drops wintergreen EO*(if this is for kids, eliminate wintergreenand increase peppermint – see the note at the end of this article)
  • A small, clean jar to pour it into (I use the 50ml amber glass jars from Mountain Rose Herbs for my salves, but mini jam jars can also be used in a pinch

salves

Preparation:

Heat your olive oil on very low heat in a small glass, ceramic, or enameled saucepan. You can also use a double-boiler method for this, as long as you’re careful not to let any water get into the oil mixture.

Once the oil has warmed, add in the beeswax pellets and use a small whisk or spoon to stir them around thoroughly. When they’re just about melted completely, remove the saucepan from the heat and keep stirring to ensure a homogeneous mixture.

Let this cool for just a minute or two before adding in the essential oils. Stir constantly as you mix them so they’re distributed evenly, then pour the mixture into your jar. You may need a spatula to scrape down the inside of the pot if it has cooled enough that the salve has started to congeal around the edges.

Close the jar’s lid and either set aside in a cool place to set, or place it right in the fridge. It’ll firm up a fair bit once cooled, but still be fluid enough that it will spread easily if you dip a finger into it. Take note of the texture: if you find it too squidgy, add more wax to your next batch, or add less wax if you find it a bit too firm.

Keeping it refrigerated doesn’t just extend its shelf life: it’s incredibly soothing to slather on a cool balm when you have a sore throat or if you’re sore and feverish. This salve works wonders to ease coughs and breathing difficulties when rubbed into one’s chest and upper back, and it’s great on the outer nostrils and across the forehead for sinus colds.

making_salve

*Note:  wintergreen oil is very powerful, and can be toxic in even moderate doses: if you choose to use this oil in your salve, be very sparing with it, and use it with care. Don’t add this oil to the salve if you’re planning to use it on childreneither omit it entirely, or use a couple of extra drops of peppermint or even a bit of lavender instead.

 

Photos by the author, and Flickr creative commons.