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Growing Your Own Backyard Pharmacy

Used to increase health and treat ailments for thousands of years, medicinal herbs are a valuable asset to every garden. Not only do they provide you with unique and bold flavors and aromas, they also act as personal pharmacies, helping with ailments ranging from inflammation to infections. Medicinal plants are also beautiful and hardy additions to the garden, offering unique colors and fragrances with little need for pampering.

Benefits

The benefits to growing and using medicinal herbs are as varied as their uses. Many families, for example, use medicinal herbs as an alternative to pharmaceutical drugs. Although medicinal herb compounds are used to make drugs, the resulting medicine often has serious side effects and can be both costly and potentially difficult to find. Homegrown herbs can help many of the same ailments, but with very few side effects and at only a fraction of the cost.

Another benefit to growing a personal backyard pharmacy is having control over your medicines’ growing conditions. Many companies that distribute medicinal herb products often source most of their raw herbs from places like India and China, which don’t always meet high quality standards. Medicinal herbs grown in the back garden are sourced from much closer to home and can be grown organically and safely.

Common Medicinal Herbs

Aloe Vera: Aloe vera is best known as a treatment for scrapes and burns, but this medicinal herb has a wide range of uses. Its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties make it ideal for treating digestive problems, swelling, and for cardiovascular health. Aloe vera can be used topically and mixed into a drink.

Chamomile: With its attractive dainty white blooms, chamomile is a valuable medicinal plant that can treat dozens of conditions, including aches and pain, upset stomach, the common cold, wounds, and burns. This herb also promotes relaxation and is widely popular brewed into tea as a sleep aid.

Echinacea: Perhaps one of the most popular and valuable medicinal herbs, Echinacea is an important addition to the garden, both for its beauty and its medicinal value.  There are actually several different species of echinacea (also known as coneflower), and all have attractive purple or pink blooms that show off in late summer. What makes this herb so special as a medicinal plant is its ability to treat such a wide array of ailments. Echinacea is most commonly known as an immune system booster, but it’s also an effective anti-inflammatory and antiviral treatment for wounds, burns, stings, and snakebites.

Peppermint: Peppermint is a fragrant and hardy herb that has been grown for its medicinal properties for thousands of years. Its soothing properties make it an excellent choice for upset stomach, irritable bowel syndrome, heartburn and fevers. Peppermint is high in vitamins A and C, as well as manganese. It is both healthful and delicious when brewed into a tea, and it blends well with chamomile and lavender to promote relaxation.

Sage: Sage is popular for both cooking and medicinal use. With soft, aromatic leaves, sage is useful for soothing wounds, burns, and mouth infections, as well as for upset stomach, respiratory problems, and even anxiety. This popular medicinal herb was widely used during the Middle Ages and in Greco-Roman cultures, where it was noted for its healing properties. Useful for more than as a poultry seasoning, sage makes a fantastic soothing salve or can be taken as internally as a tea.

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Garlic: Garlic is another popular herb that has both medicinal and culinary uses. Very beneficial to the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, it is used to fight colds, infections, and even cancer. Garlic can also be used to detox the body, lower blood fat content, and promote overall well-being. This pungent herb is an excellent source of manganese, vitamins C and B6, and selenium.

Lavender: The calming fragrance of fresh and dried lavender makes it a widely popular ornamental for the herb garden. Lavender has a wide variety of uses, especially for skin and mental health. This herb is an antiseptic and can treat burns, depression, insomnia, and stress. It is also helpful for skin and beauty care. Lavender makes a great tea and can be used in a number of baked goods.

There are countless more medicinal herbs available, and it would be impossible to list them all. Other plants with medicinal value include yarrow, spearmint, marjoram, oregano, ginseng, gingko, cayenne, lemon balm, and marshmallow. Although most of these plants are relatively safe, some are not for everyone. People suffering from certain plant allergies, pregnant or nursing women, and those taking medications can experience complications from taking certain herbal medicines. For more information, the American Academy of Family Physicians has an article on herbal plant side-effects.

Using Medicinal Herbs

Medicinal herbs have a different effect on the body when prepared as tinctures or teas than then refined into capsules or synthesized as medicine. Some preparations are better than others, depending on the exact herbal blend or ailment, but most are long-lasting and easy to make at home.

Tinctures: Tinctures, also called herbal extracts, are essentially liquid herbal concentrates. They are usually made with grain alcohol, water, and one or more herbs to create a powerful and long-lasting herbal medicine.

Ointments/Salves: Herbal ointments and salves can be made with several different materials, including lard, olive oil, and petroleum jelly. They are only for topical use, and they protect and heal the skin. Many herbal salves and ointments have anti-fungal, antiseptic, or anti-inflammatory properties.

Teas: Teas are infusions that steep dried herbs in hot water to extract their healing properties. They are an effective way to take herbal medicine internally and are easy to prepare. This may not be the best method for herbs like garlic and cayenne, but lavender, chamomile, basil and mint make tasty and soothing teas.

Essential oils: Herbal oils are an ideal way to make an herbal concentrate and work best when made with aromatic medicinal herbs such as lavender, ginger, and peppermint. Although long lasting, herbal oils must be stored in brown glass containers to retain their therapeutic value.

Medicinal herbs are an important part of the garden, whether planted in a window box or added to an established garden bed. They add fragrance, beauty and color to the environment, while also serving to heal and treat a wide range of ailments, from the common cold, to upset stomach, to depression. Some of these medicinal herbs can be rare or difficult to find, but many of them are commonly grown for culinary purposes.

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