• 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

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!

 

By Tina Glaessner, Herbalist and Proprietor of Crimson Sage Nursery, Orleans, CA

 

Plants Mentioned in the article are listed here and have links to their Crimson Sage Nursery Pages for more information and ordering.

Agastache | Angelicas of all Types | Anise Hyssop | Ashitaba | Bergamont | Bitter Melon | Black Cottonwood | Blue Vervain | Burdock | Calendula | Catnip | Chamomile | Chinese Forsythia | Chinese Leopard Flower | Chinese Pink | Chinese Red Sage | Codonopsis | Comfrey | Crampbark | Dandelion | Echinaceas of all Kinds | Egyptian Walking Onion | Elderberry | Elecampagne | European Centaury | Fo Ti | Gingko | Good King Henry | Greek Mountain Tea | Hawthorn | Himalayan Valerian | Hops | Horehound | Hyssop | Jiao Gu Lan | Joe Pye Weed | Korean Mint | Lavender | Lemon Balm | Lemon Verbena | Lemongrass | Little Leaf Linden | Lobelia | Marshmallow | Meadowsweet | Mints | Motherwort | Nepitella | Oca | Oregano | Oregon Grape | Paper Birch | Partridge Berry | Passion Flower | Pineapple Sage | Pleurisy Root | Red Clover | Rosemary | Rue | Rugosa Rose | Sages of all Kinds | Sassafras | Scarlet Sage | Schisandra | Self-Heal | Showy Milkweed | Skullcap | Spilanthes | Sweet Cicely | Sweet Gum | Tansy | Thyme | Tulsii Basil | Turmeric | Valerian | Vervain | Violets | Vitex | Wild Cherry | Wild Ginger | Wild Yam | Willow | Wintergreen | Witch Hazel | Wood Betony | Yarrow | Plus Many More!

 


Chinese Balloon Flower

 

The big question each spring for many would be Herb growers is often do they have space for the traditional concept of an herb garden. Should it be formal beds of plants organized by the uses of each herb or maybe each garden bed is planted for a certain body system. Maybe an herb spiral will be built or circular beds are filled with herbs organized and labeled. All of these are great ways to plant Medicinals but these projects can be quite overwhelming to a new gardener or someone with very limited space. I like to encourage people to think outside the box as well. Our culture tends to compartmentalize things and Herb gardening is no exception. What if we look at the whole landscape of your yard or garden or farm as a whole herbscape where we incorporate herbs in many different areas where they serve many different purposes. Even within the Permaculture Design World plantings of perennial Medicinal Plants are often very under-represented in the designs. I would like to share a few of the more popular and reasonably simple Herbscaping ideas here but I want to remind you that this barely scratches the surface of the many ways both medicinal and culinary herbs can be incorporated into your landscape!!

 

1) Planting for the olefactory effect: This works very well along an entrance , walkway, or entryway! Planting wonderful smelling herbs so that you brush by them going here and there in your busy day can do wonders for the mood … these plants will uplift you and make people feel good as they approach your door. Rose Geraniums are great for this as well as lavender, Lemon Verbena, Rosemary, Tulsii Basil and lemon Balm. The Tradition of planting select herbs near the front door of the home for protection and purification is an ancient one. Good choices for this may include Rue, Wood Betony, Motherwort, Angelica, European Centaury, Red Clover, Horehound, Oregano, Tansy and many types of Sage!!

 


Calendula

 

2) Creating privacy using herbs: Medicinals are not usually thought of in this way but there are a handful of herbs which are famous for their extreme vigor and can reach astronomical heights each year especially in fertile soil. These vigorous Herbs can create a fantastic annual green border or living wall when planted in a row or block. Planted between you and your annoying neighbor and you can bask in your private “Herbal cave “back yard. Several plants come to mind for this purpose such as Joe Pye Weed, Elecampagne, Burdock, Marshmallow, Blue Vervain Angelica of all types, Valerian, Catnip, Motherwort, Valerian or even Stinging Nettle!! If there is a wall or trellis to climb these herbs will make quick work of it, including Passion flower, Hops, Codonopsis, Schisandra, Fo Ti, Jiaogulan and Wild Yam. Extremely tall Herbs can also act as an over-story planting and create a shadow when needed for more shade-loving herbs such as violets, Self-Heal, Himalayan Valerian, wintergreen and partridge berry or wild Ginger to grow below them. When harvested the extra-large herbs provide a lot of Medicine plus a lot of biomass for your compost pile and the bees, birds and other pollinators and beneficial insects will be attracted to them as well.

 

3) Planting the Herbal Hedge : Planting a hedge differs from the privacy herbs because the herbal hedge is truly a living fence made up of perennial shrubs and small trees that are planted very close together to eventually create an impenetrable barrier. The Herbal Hedge was commonly seen as way of dividing pastures throughout Europe for thousands of years. Some of my favorite selections for the hedge row are Hawthorn, Chinese Forsythia, Elderberry, Crampbark, Wild Rose or Rugosa Rose, Vitex, Witch Hazel, Willow, Oregon Grape, and Wild Cherry. The living hedge can separate two properties or divide one garden area from another or even as a livestock fence eventually especially if the thorny hawthorn is included. The hedge will produce abundant medicine over many years along with great beneficial insect and wild life habitat.

 


Blue Vervain

 

4) Medicinal Trees: From the small yard of a peasant to the lines of trees approaching a castle Medicinal trees were commonly found throughout Europe and eventually many made their way to North America. Of course placement of these larger trees in the landscape requires serious consideration as they are a long term addition but these trees will give back for many many years in terms of shade, Fall color, medicine, wildlife and pollinator habitat! Some top choices for planting would include the Little Leaf Linden, Sweet Gum, Gingko, Black Cottonwood, Paper Birch, Willow, and Sassafras.

 

5) Butterfly and pollinator gardens are very popular these days and for good reason. The Honey bee and many other native pollinators are seriously threatened and need as much forage planted for them as possible! The more pollinator plants in your herbscape the better and the good news is these plants create a gorgeous garden full of colorful blooms and your yard will be a buzz with honey bees, Native pollinators, and hummingbirds. So many herbs both Medicinal and Culinary are excellent for pollinators that the plants I have listed here are simply some of my favorites there are many more not listed here that attract pollinators as well ! Try planting all types of Bergamont, Tulsii Basil, Pleurisy Root, showy Milkweed, Scarlet Sage, Pineapple Sage, Chinese Red Sage, Agastache any type including Anise Hyssop, Korean Mint, regular Hyssop, Rosemary, Lavender, Sages of all kinds, Echinaceas of all kinds, Nepitella, Yarrow, Valerian, Sweet Cicely, Angelicas of all types, Calendula, Meadowsweet, Horehound, Oregano and Thyme plus many more!

 


Pleurisy Root

 

6) Tight spaces … It can be tough in a small yard to make space for the traditional herb garden but if there is already room for a small vegie garden and you have a few established raised beds why not plant 1 Herb that is not too tall or overly invasive at each end of the beds. Good choices for this would be Spilanthes, Lobelia, Vervain, Thyme, Yarrow, Echinacea any species, Basil especially Tulsii, Hyssop, Calendula, Chamomille and many others. Some herbs are better grown in the vegie garden and treated more as a vegetable such as Bitter Melon, Burdock, Dandelion, Egyptian Walking Onion, Good King Henry, Ashitaba and Oca tubers. Having Herbs mixed into a vegie garden does wonders for pest control attracting all sorts of beneficial bugs to the area.

 

7) When someone tells me they have no room in their city apartment or tiny front yard to grow any herbs I always have to remind them that most herbs respond very well to container gardening outdoors whether it be on a small balcony or a tiny area of cement outside your back door. Herbs are generally very tough and adaptable plants for and will make themselves at home in a planter very quickly. Good choices for container planting would be Mints, Bergamonts, Skullcaps. Comfrey, Tulsi, Thyme, Oregano, Greek Mountain Tea, Sages, Lavenders, Rosemary, Horehound, Hyssop, Turmeric, lemongrass, Passion flower, Jiao Gu Lan, Wild Yam, Chinese Pink, Chinese Leopard Flower…The options are huge and mixing multiple herbs in a planter with complimentary colors and textures can keep a gardener creatively inspired not to mention all the fresh tea and medicinal products that can be crafted from your planters!!

 


Chinese Red Sage

 

My question for all of you this Spring is will 2017 be the year to begin or add to your Herbscape?? Will you drift to sleep on summer evenings sipping your fresh Chamomille Tea as the sweet scent of Rose Geraniums is carried by the breeze into your window? Will you have all your neighbors wanting to know what those cool plants are all over your yard especially the one that is 7 feet tall?? Will your nosy next door neighbor stop charging into your yard unannounced because your 6 foot tall nettle patch slowed them down! Will the headlights of your country lane begin to be more tolerable through your herbal hedge planting? Will that one spilanthes plant at the end of your garden bed fill jars with potent medicine to keep in your medicine chest?? The act of gardening, getting your hands dirty and growing plants is healing in and of itself and the relationship of growing your own medicine is profound, empowering and a positive act for everyone in these tumultuous times.

 


Chinese Safflower

 

 
 
 
 
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