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If your mind has been thinking of spring and its promise of growing plants, you aren’t alone. Over half of the average American households do gardening activities while another 20% are planning on doing so soon. It’s also estimated that COVID created 18.3 million more American gardeners. The majority of these gardeners are growing edible foods, but how many have thought about growing medicinal plants? Here are a few things to consider for starting an herb garden before diving in.
Whether you are a new or experienced gardener, it’s important to start by knowing your plant hardiness zone. The United States Department of Agriculture has a website where you can quickly look this up by clicking here. Once you know, then it’s time to research which plants will grow well in your area. Next, it’s important to consider how much light your garden site gets. Is your garden sunny all day or just part of the day?
Many herbs need at least four hours of sunlight with some needing closer to six-eight hours per day. Additionally, you have to take into consideration how you are growing them. For some herbs, raised garden beds or containers work best because they will quickly spread throughout your yard. One example is mint which will spread like wildfire if you don’t keep it contained in a pot.
Gardening Herbs to Consider
Below is a short list of herbs to consider. Keep in mind, there are hundreds of different herbs around the world. Don’t feel that you have to use any of these plants if they don’t fit your growing space or health goals.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita): Chamomile is a fragrant, easy to grow herb that adapts to a wide variety of growing environments. It is helpful with stress, trouble sleeping, digestive complaints, and it is antimicrobial. The flower is the medicinal part, and it should be harvested when the flowers are fully open. It can be dried for tea, potpourri, or to make a medicinal oil or tincture.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia): Lavender is an aromatic plant that requires adequate sun and drainage to grow well. It is a relaxing herb which can assist with poor sleeping, anxiety, and depression. The flowers of this plant are used, and can be made into a hydrosol, tea, or even sewn into sachets and placed in your bedroom.
Garlic (Allium sativum): Garlic has many health benefits and has been used by humans for thousands of years. It is a potent antimicrobial herb which can help support the body with many common diseases including the common cold and flu. Garlic is also antifungal, can help prevent heart disease, and can help with stomach disorders. It is easy to grow in pots or in a garden bed, but garlic has to be planted in the fall for harvest during the following summer.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum): Basil is a common kitchen herb for flavoring dishes, but it has health-supportive actions too. For instance, it can help calm the nerves, especially with anxious and depressed moods. Basil can also be applied topically to help soothe insect bites, resolve diarrhea or gas, and it is great to use with respiratory infections. This peppery herb can be used in food or in tea, alone or mixed with other herbs.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis): Lemon balm is also great for beginners to try growing. This plant is a nervine, meaning it is helpful in times of stress or anxiety. It’s also antimicrobial, including against most herpes viruses, and is supportive in many inflammatory conditions. Raised beds or pots are recommended as lemon balm also spreads rapidly.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita): Peppermint has a cooling, sweet taste that can be a great addition to your pantry. This herb is supportive of the gastrointestinal tract and has potent antibacterial properties. This herb can easily be dried for use in baking recipes or teas. If you experience heartburn, it’s best to avoid drinking this for a night time tea as it may increase acid reflux. Again, mint is easy to grow and rapidly spreads so a raised bed or pot is best.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis): With its bright orange flowers, this bitter herb is unmistakable. This herb can be used topically to help with bruises, bumps, and surface skin wounds like scrapes. It is also antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and it’s a good herb to support the lymphatic system. A traditional use for calendula was to add color to foods such as butter or cheese. It can be used in foods like salad, as a component of a tea, or in a bath or herbal compress for skin support.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): For a lot of herbalists, this herb is one they choose over all others due to its wide variety of health-supporting effects. It’s been used since ancient times, and it’s great to have on hand for any sort of wound. It can also help with intestinal spasms and pain because it supports the gastrointestinal tract. This herb has a bitter taste, and can be added to a tea, used in a compress, or added to a bath.
Time to Harvest Those Gardening Herbs
In general, herbs should be harvested in the morning after the dew has dried. Herbs can be preserved by air drying, oven or dehydrator drying, or by freezing them. For more about harvesting your herbs, you can check out your local plant nursery, master gardener, or a trusted online resource. Grow a Good Life has a simple but comprehensive article you can use to get started. Click here to view the article. Once your herbs are prepared, the sky’s the limit on how they can be used. Often herbs are found in cooking recipes such as mint chocolate chip cookies or lavender shortbread.
Please note many of these herbs are well-tolerated, but it’s important to watch out for adverse reactions. This is especially true if you have any plant-related allergies. Before using any of these herbs with children, elders, or immune-compromised individuals, it is best to get expert advice from a holistic doctor.
Finally, the most important thing to keep in mind is your time constraints and health goals. Gardening herbs is great, but only if you have the time and energy to care for and harvest them. If you only have space to put a small pot or two on the window sill of your kitchen, that’s a great way to start. If you’d like more comprehensive information, here are a few books to consider:
- Grow Your Own Herbs: The 40 Best Culinary Varieties for Home Gardens, by Susan Belsinger and Arthur Tucker
- Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide: 33 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use, by Rosemary Gladstar
- Engels, Gayle. (N.D). “Calendula.c American Botanical Council.” (77); 1-2. https://www.herbalgram.org/resources/herbalgram/issues/77/table-of-contents/article3229/
- El-Saber Batiha, Gaber et al. (2020). “Chemical Constituents and Pharmacological Activities of Garlic (Allium sativum L.): A Review.” Nutrients, 12(3); 872. doi:10.3390/nu12030872
- Knight, Rebecca. (N.D.) “How to grow garlic – A Step by Step Guide to Growing from Cloves.” Retrieved March 28, 2023. https://www.homesandgardens.com/advice/how-to-grow-garlic
- Koulivand, Peir Hossein et al. (2013). “Lavender and the Nervous System.” Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, eCAM (2013): 681304. doi:10.1155/2013/681304
- Mayers, Katie. (N.D.). “Gardening Statistics in 2023 (incl. Covid & Millennials)” Revised March 23, 2023. https://gardenpals.com/gardening-statistics/
- Miraj, Sepide et al. (2017). “Melissa officinalis L: A Review Study With an Antioxidant Prospective.” Journal of Evidence-based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, 22(3): 385-394. doi:10.1177/2156587216663433
- Rajinder Singh, Muftah A.M. Shushni, Asma Belkheir. (2015). “Antibacterial and Antioxidant Activities of Mentha piperita L.” Arabian Journal of Chemistry, 8(3); 322-328. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.arabjc.2011.01.019
- Thangavelu, Lakshmi & Geetha, R V & Roy, Anitha & Kumar Subramanian, Aravind. (2011). “Yarrow (Achillea millefolium Linn.) A Herbal Medicinal Plant With Broad Therapeutic Use – A Review.” International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences Review and Research; 9; 136-141
- Tilgner, Sharol Marie. (2020). Herbal Medicine: From the Heart of the Earth. 3rd ed., Wise Acres
- Tobyn, Graeme & Denham, Alison & Whitelegg, Margaret. (2011). “Ocimum basilicum, Basil.” 10.1016/B978-0-443-10344-5.00027-6
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