3 Herb Mamas


It’s that time of year again, Folks! Time to plan and soon, to plant your herb gardens. I am usually asked at this time of the year what to plant for a medicinal herb garden. It is really a difficult question to answer. Every herb garden is unique to the person tending and harvesting from it. There is no one size fits all. If you or your loved ones have frequent respiratory challenges then your healing garden would emphasize plants that support that system, like Comfrey, Elecampane, and Rosemary. If, on the other hand, digestive upsets are a frequent occurrence for you then you would want plants like Mallow, Mint, and Plantain. So you might have to put in a little research time before you make your plant and seed selections and begin designing your herb garden for health. Think first about what your top one or two health concerns are, google or search your herbals for appropriate plants, look up the cultivation requirements for those and make choices that suit your needs.

Below I’ve included a half dozen medicinal plants that are likely to be useful in every home. I’ve chosen them for ease of cultivation as well as their broad usefulness. I will describe my experiences growing them as well as how we use them in our home apothecary. I limited myself to half a dozen because that is both a sufficient ┬áplace to start…actually, starting with ONE plant you love or want to learn about in depth is perfectly fine…and less likely to overwhelm than planting dozens of must-have herbs that would be better grown gradually over a lifetime. So, here are a half-dozen medicinal plants that I always hope to have in my garden.



Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea or E. angustafolia) is also known as Purple Coneflower and is as lovely and welcome in the flower garden as the medicinal garden. Hummingbirds, bees and butterflies love it so it will attract pollinators to your garden. This is our go-to plant for boosting the immune system to fight off colds and flu. It is also reliable to improve lymphatic circulation and drainage. E. purpurea is the easiest variety to grow from seed. Other varieties might be more easily obtained by most home gardeners by purchasing plants either locally or by mail order. Once established in a nice dry, sunny place Echinacea is care free. Plants should be allowed to grow a minimum of 2-3 years before digging roots for medicine making. I prefer fresh root tincture over dried plant preparations. In my experience they have proven far more effective. We have lots of shale in the ground on our little mountain top ridge and Echinacea is happy with our maniacally good drainage. I never fertilize and yet the plants reseed freely and thrive. The enemy of Echinacea is “wet feet”, or their roots being in heavy wet soil. I have known people to lose Echinacea plants who planted a border against their house where the rain water running off their roof collected and soaked the plants regularly. Echinacea can be made into whole plant preparations or root only ones. Tinctures and syrups are my preferred preparations but many people dry, powder and encapsulate it as well. I have found dried Echinacea root to be far less effective than fresh tinctured and the dried and powdered preparations degrade very quickly. If I use dried root I like to dry it myself, powder it and then promptly store it in the freezer for use as needed.



Calendula officinalis is so sunny and bright and easy to grow that I want to encourage everyone to use it. When you discover its powerful healing properties you will welcome it to your garden year after year. The flowers have a sticky resin that makes for excellent skin preparations of all kinds from daily-use lotions and creams to healing salves. It is one of the essential triad of herbs I use in my Triple Healing Salve. The blossoms are the part used and they can be gathered and dried all summer for use as needed. I also like to steep fresh flowers in extra virgin olive oil for use in salves as needed. The dried blossoms are a beautiful addition to tea blends and offer a soothing, healing component for ulcers and digestive upsets. I have used Calendula as an eyewash as well as a gargle and mouth rinse thanks to its antiseptic qualities. It also makes an excellent hair rinse, especially for blonds. You can grow this plant easily from seeds, which are widely available at nurseries and garden centers. Left in place it will readily reseed year after year. Keep clipping off blossoms and drying them to encourage more to form all summer.



The Mint Family is comprised many and varied members and you are bound to find one especially suited to your needs. Spearmint and Peppermint are perhaps the best known but there are many others. Lemon Balm is a particular favorite of mine. This is a huge family of plants and I can’t possibly cover them all. All can be soothing and healing for the digestive and nervous systems and make an excellent addition to tea blends to improve flavor. Many mints prefer damp, shady soil. I gather wild Spearmint from along a nearby stream and I grow Lemon Balm in ordinary garden soil. Lemon Balm is fabulous fresh but loses its unique lemony flavor quickly upon drying. I generally preserve it by chopping and freezing in ice cube trays or by steeping in white wine instead. Spearmint and Peppermint dry well while retaining their distinctive flavors. Both of these are good for promoting good digestion and thus make an excellent after-dinner tea. Or simply place a sprig on dinner plates as a garnish to chew after your meal. All three of these make wonderfully refreshing, energizing iced teas in the summer. Peppermint combined with Elder blossoms and Yarrow from the wild makes a very effective tea or tincture for bringing down high fevers. All the mints are useful additions to baths, facial preparations and body lotions or creams.



Comfrey (Symphytum officinalis) is a plant I have loved and loved to grow for 25 years now. I started a patch from a tiny pinkie-sized root cutting when our first child was a newborn and have continued to divide and use the plant for more than two decades, including a transplant to our new home 18 years ago. Comfrey is a cell regenerator and thus is useful for sprains, torn ligaments, bruises and other joint injuries. Many times we’ve made a fresh leaf poultice for someone in the family who has “turned” an ankle or wrist and every time we are all amazed and grateful for the rapid healing and soothing effects. This is another essential herbal ingredient in my Triple Healing Salve. I use both root and leaf preparations and have found them to be effective both fresh and dried. It grows easily but prefers shady, damp spots best of all. Goats love Comfrey and it is full of healthy minerals for both them and us. It is a bioactivator and speeds up composting so it is an essential in the biodynamic garden. In fact, you can make a most excellent garden and house plant fertilizer by brewing a strong “tea” from fresh leaves in a 5 gallon bucket and allowing it to ferment for a week or so before watering with it.



Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum or O. sanctum) grows readily from seed and makes the most delicious tea. I like to use it alone as a tea or as the base for many blends. Its uses are broad and varied. It is an excellent tonic for nervous, respiratory and digestive systems. It really has far too many uses to list. I love that it is so easy to grow from seed and yet is tasty and serves so many uses. There is hardly a bodily system or organ that will not benefit from Tulsi and it has no known side-effects. It can be grown in pots for those living in tight quarters without access to a garden. Use it both internally and externally in teas, tinctures, vinegars, herbal wines, hair and dental rinses, eaten fresh, facial masks, toners and creams, and just about any other way you can imagine. Studies are showing positive effects on blood sugar regulation for diabetics and cholesterol levels for heart patients. Tulsi is truly amazing and you can grow it in your own home garden!



Although you may not think of berries as herbs in the strict botanical sense of the word, they are powerful allies for health and healing that are generally easy to grow and productive. Since these are often available only at a premium price, people often neglect to include them in their daily fare. Once established they are easy to harvest and preserve. Raspberries and blueberries, for example, can simply be gathered and frozen. Eating a cup a day is an excellent habit and will provide flavonoids and anti-oxidants in abundance. Raspberries and blackberries are happy in borders and edging places that other plants would struggle to survive in. Some varieties of blueberries can be grown in pots if space limitations are an issue. Berries are rich in vitamin C and fiber, assisting with weight management (They’re 85% water!) and managing type 2 diabetes. In studies they have provided beneficial improvement for those suffering from arthritis. They improve age-related memory loss, cataracts and eye health, as well as skin and hair health. The leaves of both raspberries and blueberries are mineral rich and make beneficial teas. Raspberry leaves are particularly useful for uterine tone and reproductive health for women and blueberry leaves help regulate healthy blood sugar levels.

Check back soon for my Wild Herbal Half-Dozen!

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