• Echinacea purpurea or Purple Coneflower
  • Passionflower Passiflora incarnata
  • Evening Primrose "Ozark Sundrops"
  • Chinese Leopard Flower or Blackberry Lilly
  • Yellow Dotted Mint Monarda punctuata
  • Dandelion with a pollinator friend

Growing your own herbal medicine chest

My top 10 choices of easy to grow medicinal plants that will make your garden beautiful and stock your cupboards with potent homegrown medicinal remedies!!!

As the owner of Crimson Sage Nursery and a serious herbal plant lover, I am often asked, “If you had to pick your favorite medicinal herb which would it be?” This is truly a torturous question since there are so many plant friends that I have the pleasure of being in close contact with and each of them has some aspect that is endearing to me. I decided I could narrow it down to ten of my favorite plants that are all relatively easy to grow even for a novice gardener yet are also extremely useful herbs to have access to for basic first aid and common ailments. Growing your own medicine does not have to be complicated or something left to the experts. If you are new to gardening, growing herbs can be a great starting point. Medicinal herbs are generally very resilient plants that can take some abuse and neglect and still provide you with an abundant harvest of incredibly high-quality herbal medicine. Check out my top 10 plants described in a bit more detail below.

 

Yarrow, Achillea millefolium

Yarrow is an important and useful addition to any medicinal garden. Yarrow is drought tolerant and a very sturdy perennial. It is a difficult plant to kill once it is established and will even compete with grass and weed competition! The aerial parts are harvested in late Spring/early Summer and the lovely creamy white umbel blooms are a favorite of pollinators of all kinds. Yarrow has been a staple in my herbal medicine chest for many years in healing salve, for scrapes and minor cuts, as a tincture or tea for a bad fever or cold (bringing on a good sweat), and as a poultice for wound care. A big jar of dried Yarrow is a necessary staple in the herbal medicine chest! The blooms are also delightful in the garden.

 

Spilanthes, Spilanthes acmella

Spilanthes is another favorite easy to grow remedy also known as the toothache plant. It is a lovely low growing herb that spreads out to form a large mat, which produces hundreds of lovely cone-shaped yellow or yellow and red petal-free flowers all Summer into the Fall. If kept continually harvested, watered, and fertilized through the season, even one plant can provide a nice jar full of dried flowers for tea or infused oil. Spilanthes also makes a potent fresh tincture and if eaten fresh it should be used sparingly as it can bring on copious drooling and a very numb mouth! Spilanthes is a very effective anti- bacterial, anti -viral, and antifungal herb that tends to create a zinging sensation in the mouth similar to strong Echinacea. A very pretty addition to the garden, it will also thrive in a planter. This lovely herb can be planted as soon as hard frosts are finished, ideally in full sun, and harvested till it freezes hard. You will not regret adding this unique and productive herb to your garden!!

 

Tulsi or Holy Basil, Ocimum sanctum

This popular herb is another annual plant that is really quite easy to grow and thrives in a garden setting or in a planter. Like any culinary basil, the Tulsi Basil needs full sun and a nice warm spot in the garden. If you live in a coastal foggy area or an area that always has cold nights you can have great success growing Tulsi in a simple greenhouse or under a row cover for added heat. The plant can be snipped or pinched back multiple times over the summer providing plenty of aerial foliage and flowers for tea and tincture. Tulsi tea has become enormously popular in our chronically stressed world due to its adaptogenic qualities. Chronic stress takes a great toll on the body and Tulsi can help the body regain balanced cortisol levels, balance blood sugar. and tonify digestion. The plants will die back with a hard freeze but I have a number of customers who successfully grow theirs inside as a houseplant in bright light for the winter! The flowers are extremely attractive to honey bees and other pollinators and these aromatic beauties are such a sweet addition to any garden setting.

 

Echinacea, Echinacea purpurea

For many of you, Echinacea is one of the herbs you hear mentioned often in relation to winter health and stimulating the immune system. Many people do not realize what a beautiful flower Echinacea has and how easy this variety of Echinacea is to grow in all sorts of conditions. Echinacea purpurea can tolerate a wide range of soils and also do well in a deeper planter! They are very hardy perennials making them a good choice for the harsher winter areas but can also tolerate extreme summer heat and are somewhat drought tolerant once established! All aerial parts of the plants are medicinal along with the root dug after 4 years or so in the ground. I am partial to the flowers and seeds as a tea or tincture and chewing on the seeds fresh or dried. The large magenta/pink flowers with their notable iridescent cone centers are striking in the landscape and pollinators of all types will be happily visiting them on a regular basis. You will not regret planting this lovely and hardy perennial!

 

Skullcap, Scutellaria laterifolia

This low growing and delicate looking shade lover is actually a tough and hardy perennial. Skullcap grows very much like a mint sending out significant runners which travel sideways and eventually surface forming a large mat of green leaves with delicate light pink flowers. Skullcap is an herb that can handle severe winters but needs a cooler spot and regular water in the summer. It can do well in a large planter or a shadier corner of the garden. You usually can trim the plant back twice over a season at least for a nice harvest of the leaves stems and flowers. Skullcap is an essential herb for the world we find ourselves in. A renown nervine, Skullcap has a nourishing and relaxing effect on the nervous system yet does not make you tired or groggy at all. A tonic herb suitable for daily use when going through stressful times or just as a general antidote to long term stress and adrenal exhaustion as well as helpful for digestive distress which is stress related. A great choice as a ground cover for any yard with part shade and ample moisture, Skullcap will no doubt enchant you with it’s little fairy flowers and vigorous growth!

 

Thyme, Thymus vulgaris

Thyme is an herb most people consider culinary but it is actually a favorite herb in my medicine chest that is very useful for external and internal use. Thyme is very antimicrobial and antifungal as an infused oil and is a favorite ingredient in my healing salve. As a tea, in a tincture, or as a syrup, Thyme is one of my favorite cough remedies because it really helps loosen a tight cough and calm coughing spasms. Preserved in vinegar is a great way to add it to your daily salads. I absolutely love this plant in the landscape. The tiny leaves and flowers are so beautiful when looked at closely. They form a lovely mound and tend to be covered by bees and other pollinators! Thyme is a Mediterranean herb and enjoys full sun and warm summers. German Winter Thyme is one of the hardier varieties and can usually overwinter even in harsh winter areas while the French Thyme is wonderfully aromatic but is not quite as hardy. Thyme is quite compact and can do very well in planters on a deck or grown as a row creating a mini hedge or lining a walkway. Thyme is a sweet low growing perennial for your landscape and will provide a useful harvest for both your cooking and medicine making endeavors!

 

Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis

This hardy perennial is very easy to grow and the delicious lemon flavor makes a favorite relaxing tea, which is calming for the nervous system as well as a great digestive. Lemon- Balm can also be used externally for stubborn skin issues. A great choice for calming and uplifting young children and they love the taste. Lemon Balm can get quite large in fertile soil sending up 2-foot flowering stalks from a mound of lush green foliage. All aerial parts of the plant make an excellent tea, tastier fresh than dried! A fresh plant tincture using part Glycerin and part alcohol has an amazing flavor I highly recommend. In the Western US, especially in California, Lemon Balm is considered quite a weed in many people’s yards as it spreads rapidly by seed in the more temperate climate areas but generally in much of the country that is not the case. I find having it naturalized around my yard is the least of my problems compared to persistent grasses and such! A great herb garden addition, don’t let others scare you away with the “IT WILL TAKEOVER FEAR” you can always dig up starts for your friends!

 

Sage, Salvia officinalis

There are so many Salvias to choose from and as a plant group they add so much beauty to any landscape that you really cannot go wrong planting salvias of any type. They are well loved by bees and pollinators and the blooms can be used as an edible flower. All salvia species have some medicinal value but for simple ease of growing I am referring to regular garden sage here. It is often considered a culinary herb, particularly around Thanksgiving and certainly is a delicious addition to poultry, soups, vinegars, and infused olive oil. Garden Sage is quite easy to grow and is a very sturdy perennial which grows best in full sun and reasonably well drained soil and are quite drought tolerant once established. Medicinally, sage is a favorite remedy of mine as a tea or infused in honey when you are sick with a cold, flu or cough and it is a great addition to a steam for congested bronchioles or sinuses. Sage has long been used to help in weaning babies as it’s drying qualities will help to slow breast milk production and prevent mastitis during the weaning process. The tea is an excellent digestive aid as well. Garden Sage is truly a stunning plant with velvety pale green leaves and 2 foot flower stalks bearing showy purple flowers. As a single plant or planted as a group, adding sage to your garden will not disappoint! We offer the Extracta Sage which is a selection with high concentrations of the alkaloids favored for medicinal use. We also offer the Bergaarten Sage which is a lovely cultivar with larger leaves, a bit milder, and great for culinary use but still medicinal as well.

 

Blue Vervain, Verbena hastata

This is truly one of my all time favorites! A super beautiful and simple to grow medicinal plant that is a very useful relaxing nervine and bitter herb. Blue Vervain is a very hardy perennial which can tolerate a wide range of soils and locations. This is a plant that can get quite tall, maybe even 5 feet, in a rich soil and water situation. The leaves form a dense rosette with reddish /purplish hue to the leaves and long stems of flowers blooming for much of the summer. The blooms are delicate but very showy with their deep blue color. Insects and pollinators love this plant and the aerial parts can be harvested and dried or tinctured fresh. Vervain was a traditional remedy for all types of anxiety and has a remarkable ability to quiet the mind chatter that keeps us awake at night. It can make you quite relaxed and is best taken at night for the best effect! The intense bitter flavor is also quite stimulating to a sluggish digestion. An excellent addition for your Herbal Apothecary in this stressful world and such a pretty plant in the landscape!

 

Calendula, Calendula officinalis

How can anyone resist growing this beautiful and easy to grow medicinal! Calendula is a biennial plant which over winters and reseeds readily in milder winter climates. The bright orange and yellow blooms are always uplifting and can even make a nice bouquet, while colorful petals are great as an edible flower in salads! Medicinally the resinous blooms of calendula are powerful medicine used both externally and internally. The bright colored blooms are picked and dried for infused oil which can soothe inflamed and damaged skin ranging from serious eczema to diaper rash. It is a main ingredient in my baby ‘s rump salve and my children were slathered with calendula salve on a regular basis as babies and tumbling toddlers who grew up playing hard outdoors! Taken internally as a tea or tincture, Calendula has strong anti-viral properties and makes a great addition in your “stay healthy for the winter” tea blend! Growing Calendula is easy and very satisfying for a gardener. The plants enjoy full sun and reasonably rich soil. They bloom from early spring to late summer /Fall. In colder areas they will die out after a hard freeze but often drop seed which self -sows the following year. It is a common belief that once you plant calendula you will always have a bit of Calendula somewhere in your garden and most likely be very grateful to have it!

 

Now that I have described these 10 herbs, there are at least 6 more that I would have loved to add to the list (so hard to choose) but this is an excellent start to a very useful and beautiful herb garden and all these plants are quite simple to grow and be successful with! Having a connection with the actual plants is a crucial link in Herbal medicine that is unfortunately often overlooked! To use a plant as a medicine knowing it’s whole life cycle gives you a whole other layer of insight into that plant and its actions and when it might be most potent for your use. There is a tremendous satisfaction in building a functional small apothecary and tea stash from your own garden. The confidence of knowing how to grow your own medicine and the time spent in your garden interacting with these plants through the cycles of the seasons and the moon is a deeply healing and rewarding practice for all!

 
 
 
 
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