An herb garden is easy to grow and maintain and should be a part of every homestead. Herbs don’t require a lot of space, but if you have significant property you can plant them in the wild in large beds.
We’re going to explore some basic herbs that provide multiple benefits. All of them can be used for cooking to add flavor and beneficial nutrients to a variety of recipes. We’ll explore some additional benefits, including the ability of many herbs to repel insects. Most importantly, we’ll look at the medicinal value of these herbs for treating conditions ranging from colds and flu to high-blood pressure and diabetes.
Herbs, like all other plants, are either perennial or annual. Perennials are the best to grow because they will return and spread year after year. Some spread significantly, but regular harvesting makes their growth easy to manage. The same is true of some annuals. An herb like chamomile spreads quite a bit from season to season, so robust harvesting is a good idea if you want to keep them contained. That’s one of the reasons why you might want to consider some wild patches of herbs on some acreage removed from the house. Some homesteads boast acres of perennials like spearmint and oregano due to their prodigious spreading.
However, you may want to take the time to harvest the seeds of some annuals. This is particularly true of herbs like basil and rosemary. They don’t reseed that well and without some harvested seeds for the next season, you’ll have to depend on seeds which you buy.
Herbs grow together very well and you can easily companion plant numerous varieties in the same, shared space. You could also plant herbs in pots and simply bring them indoors during the winter and harvest them year-round.
We’re going to cover a short list of herbs in alphabetical order and identify some of their characteristics, uses and beneficial properties. We’ll also cover a couple of plants that don’t strictly fall into the “herb” category but their value makes them worth growing. All of these herbs and plants should grow in any zone in North America.
What you should plant:
Aloe is not an herb. It’s a member of the cactus family. The liquid in its succulent leaves has been used for centuries as an ointment to treat burns, rashes, insect bites and other skin conditions. It is used as an ingredient in many creams, lotions and ointments, and the pure extract can be easily squeezed from the end of a cut leaf. It contains vitamins C and E and also Zinc. It’s also anti-inflammatory and antibacterial. It’s a perennial plant and will continue to grow larger year after year.
Basil is known mostly for its culinary uses, but some people are surprised to learn that it’s also a potent insect repellent. The crushed leaves when rubbed on the skin will not only leave you smelling fresh and fragrant, but they keep the mosquitoes away as well. Curiously, it is also a good treatment for insect bites and stings. Crushed leaves when applied to the bite draw the poison out and offer some relief. A paste of crushed basil leaves and aloe make a potent topical treatment for stings from bees, wasps and hornets. It’s an annual plant and its delicate leaves will quickly brown at the slightest hint of frost so you may want to plant a few in pots so you can take them indoors in fall.
Chamomile is an herb with highly fragrant flowers that resemble miniature daisies. The flowers make an excellent garnish for salads and soups and the flowers and leaves also make a soothing and relaxing tea. Chamomile has a calming effect on the nervous system. It’s often used as a sleep-aid and is known to help with digestion. In addition, it has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Chamomile is an annual but is notorious for reseeding itself and will spread rapidly year after year, so harvest aggressively.
4. Celery Seed
Okay, so here’s another one that’s not technically an herb, but the seeds from the celery plant when infused in a tea are a natural diuretic with significant anti-inflammatory benefits for the treatment of edema and gout. This celery seed tea is also used to treat high-blood pressure and arthritis due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
The celery stalks can also be used to flavor certain recipes as a substitute for salt. Celery is an annual, and because you are harvesting the seeds for infusions it’s easy to put some aside for planting next year.
Dill has multiple culinary uses and medicinal properties. The leaves are a traditional addition to dill pickles and it’s often used to accompany seafood, particularly salmon and trout. Both the leaves and seeds have been proven to aid digestion and bloating when made into a tea.
6. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is a member of the mint family and it has a distinctive, lemony flavor. It makes an excellent tea either hot or cold and is often added to deli salads and served as a sauce accompaniment to fish. It is an anti-depressant and is sometimes used as a sleep-aid. In addition, it will calm an upset stomach or cramping. It also has benefits for the treatment of colds and flu and can help soothe a sore throat. It’s a perennial plant but even though it’s a member of the mint family, it does not spread as widely as mint so it’s easy to control in a small herb garden. By the way, it also is an effective insect repellent when the crushed leaves are applied to the skin.
Oregano is another ubiquitous culinary herb. Popular in Italian dishes, it’s also a dominant herb in Greek cuisine and other Mediterranean cultures. As an anti-oxidant it actually ranks first among the culinary herbs and also has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. In clinical studies oregano has shown to be beneficial in the prevention of cancer, heart-disease and stroke. It’s also been shown to help manage diabetes. Oregano is a perennial and also spreads prodigiously from year to year, so don’t be shy about harvesting.
Unlike many calming herbs such as chamomile and lemon balm, rosemary is actually a stimulant. It stimulates the central nervous system and blood circulation and can raise blood pressure. In some ways you could think of an infusion of rosemary as the first energy drink. A popular culinary herb often associated with poultry, pork and beef, it has been shown to relieve pains from sprains, arthritis, sciatica and neuralgia. As a hot tea it offer asthma relief and allergy relief because of its essential oils which block histamines. There is some indication that rosemary helps to manage diabetes, and the ancient Greeks believed that it helps with focus and concentration. It, too, is a natural insect repellent. It’s an annual plant and does not reseed itself well, so be sure to harvest some seeds or bring the plant indoors before the first frost.
Thyme is another popular culinary herb often used in soups, stews, stuffing and as a seasoning for chicken and fish. It has proven itself to be one of the best herbs for a cough and cold when taken as an herbal infusion in hot water. It’s a natural expectorant to relieve congestion and clear the lungs. A thyme tea with honey is the most popular way to treat these symptoms. Thyme is a perennial plant and does not spread aggressively, but will expand in size over the years. It also joins the list of natural insect repellents when crushed and rubbed onto the skin.
This list is by no means exhaustive. There are numerous other herbs that provide multiple benefits from culinary to medicinal.
If you have an herb garden, you might consider adding some of these varieties. If you’re planning an herb garden for the first time, this list would get you off to a good start.
What are your favorite healing herbs? What would you add to this list? Share your suggestions in the section below: