Long before penicillin and other antibiotics, herbal remedies were a standard prescription for a variety of ailments. Here, I’m going to discuss some of the most well-known herbal medicines and highlight the ones you can grow in your own backyard or as potted plants in your home. I’ll also cover basic preparations, administrations and conditions.
The availability of herbs in your garden can vary depending on the seasons, but most can be grown as potted plants on a kitchen windowsill or anywhere in the house where you have regular sunshine. You also can dry herbs or preserve them, but make sure you refrigerate or process any herb that you store as a paste or solution for any period of time.
The herbs we have listed here are in no particular order related to effectiveness. (It’s not like there’s one “super herb” that works for everything.) Their effectiveness varies. Some offer immediate relief, while others need to be taken regularly over a period of time to present results.
You should always check with your doctor before using herbal remedies, especially if you are taking prescription medications. Some herbs diminish or contradict the effectiveness of some pharmaceuticals.
Here’s what you should have in your herbal medicine chest:
Garlic is a natural blood thinner and stimulates circulation. It has been shown to reduce blood pressure when used regularly, and has both antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. It can be eaten as an ingredient in a meal, chewed raw if you can stand it, or roasted and spread on bread like butter. It’s a perennial plant, and the bulbs can be easily divided and replanted to deliver a steady supply. It also grows easily as a houseplant and the flowers are actually quite sweet smelling.
Peppermint is used as a remedy for sore throat and congestion when taken as a tea (you can steep both fresh and dried leaves in hot water). It also can relieve canker sores as a tea or a gargle. When pulverized and spread on the skin, it can soothe muscle aches. It also relieves indigestion and cramping. It’s a perennial but be careful; it truly spreads like a weed. If you don’t have a large and distant patch of property for a peppermint patch, it’s best raised as a potted plant, even outdoors. If it flowers, trim the blooms or the leaves will become bitter.
Calendula is sometimes referred to as a pot marigold. Historically, it has been used as an antiseptic and anti-fungal treatment both internally and especially externally as a wound-healing and skin-soothing agent. When made into a paste, it was often used as a diaper cream and remedy for other skin irritations. It’s a self-seeding annual that grows well as a potted plant indoors. The yellow/orange petals are the primary source of healing agents.
4. Lemon Balm
A member of the mint family, lemon balm is known for its antispasmodic effects on the stomach, as a remedy for irritable bowel syndrome, and for its relaxing effects on the nervous system. It’s also a topical skin reliever and in one study done by the NYU Medical Center, it was found to relieve and diminish the effects of herpes simplex. It makes an excellent tea – served hot or cold – when steeped in hot water. It’s a perennial but does not spread like its mint cousins and can easily be grown as a potted plant.
A member of the pine family, rosemary has long been used as both a culinary and medicinal herb. Its primary benefit, according to the Georgetown University Medical Center, is its stimulant properties related to circulation and oxygenation to the brain. Some people see this as an alternative to the stimulant properties of coffee. It’s a perennial in southern climates but must be potted and taken indoors in northern latitudes in North America. Keep it well-watered and replant outdoors in late spring.
Mullein is an ancient herb used by the Romans for coughs and colds. It is usually taken as an infusion or tea from the steeped flowers. Some pharmaceutical companies also add a mullein extract to their cough formulas. It is a perennial plant and often grows wild. It’s easy to spot in a meadow or field because its stalk stands six feet tall above the grass and weeds. The tall stalk and flowers are the parts of the plant you harvest.
There are a lot of opinions about natural sedatives and natural anti-depressants like St. John’s Wort. One that is often underappreciated is chamomile. The National Institute of Health reports that chamomile is one of the best herbs for treating colic, nervous stress, infections and stomach disorders in children. It’s an annual plant but reseeds prolifically. The small flowers are the prime ingredient often infused in a tea.
There are many other herbal remedies, from gingko to ginseng. All can be grown in your yard and garden. The key is to know you have options.
What would you add to this list? Share your advice in the section below: