If you’re cultivating edible plants this summer, you might also like to add some medicinal herbs in amongst your vegetables. Having the ingredients at hand to treat minor health issues is of the utmost importance when it comes to self sufficiency, and these plants tend to pull double duty as pollinator attractors to your garden as well.
The bright, sunny heads of calendula flowers are well known to most people, but few realise just how healing Calendula officinalis really is. Most people just grow these marigolds as decorative plants, but they’re actually invaluable as a medicinal herb. Calendula-infused oil or salve is ideal for burns and various skin irritations like rashes, cuts, scrapes, and insect bites/stings.
I prefer Echinacea purpurea to angustifolia because the former can be taken once illness has set it, whereas the latter is better as a preventative. Wild patches of echinacea have been over-harvested by people, so planting your own is preferable to wildcrafting it. As an added bonus, it attracts pollinators like bees and butterflies like you wouldn’t believe.
Milk thistle seed powder is excellent for cleansing the liver, kidneys, and gallbladder, and is exceptionally effective at treating gallstones and kidney stones. The powder can be taken in tincture or decoction form, or can even be added to smoothies, but it takes a lot of seeds to make even a small amount of powder: although you can gather the seed heads in autumn after they’ve dried out and stopped flowering, it might be better to purchase the powder or extract from a retailer instead.
Although this grows wild around my area, I’ve also sown patches of it in the sandy areas on the edge of my property. It’s a biennial plant, so it only flowers every other year, but both its leaves and flowers have very healing properties. Steep the flowers in honey to make a potent
A tea made from the leaves is excellent as an expectorant, and brings great relief from wheezing, hacking coughs. Smoking dried mullein leaf can also alleviate asthma, and oil in which the flowers have been steeped is ideal for treating ear infections. The entire plant is anti-inflammatory, and a tincture of the leaves and flowers can bring great relief from joint pain, arthritis, and even lymphatic congestion.
Although it’s difficult to harvest because its hairlike stingy bits hurt like the nine hells if they touch you, this plant’s medicinal properties are well worth the effort. It’s an anti-inflammatory and diuretic, does wonders for urinary issues, can alleviate rheumatoid arthritis and other joint pain, and can ease allergy symptoms. It’s also quite delicious when cooked and used like spinach,
Just suit up, wear heavy gloves when harvesting it, and blanch the plant with boiling water to neutralize the stingers before using it.
Not just a delicious aromatic herb, Thymus vulgaris is a wonderful herb that has countless medicinal uses. Its antispasmodic properties help to alleviate stomach cramping and colic, while its antiseptic properties are incredibly helpful for topical applications. The crushed leaves can also be used as an impromptu insect repellent to keep mosquitoes and black flies away, especially behind the ears and along the hairline.
Also known as “soldier’s woundwort”, Achillea millefolium has been used medicinally for thousands of years and is invaluable for any healer’s garden. Yarrow flowers and frilly leaves have many medicinal properties, and are worth delving into if you’re interested in building up an apothecary’s cabinet of your own. Additionally, this lovely plant attracts all manner of pollinators, and is an ideal landing pad for migrating butterflies.
NOTE: Please remember that herbs are medicines, and their effects can vary from person to person. A remedy that works well for you might not work for your child, partner, or neighbour, and some people may have allergies to certain plants. For example, people with ragweed allergies may react badly to chamomile, and those who are allergic to latex should stay away from birch. No herbal remedy is guaranteed to cure a complaint, and it’s important to do your research properly before brewing up and drinking an infusion. It’s usually a good idea to speak to your healthcare provider to make sure that the herbs you’re interested in taking don’t have contraindications with any medicines you’re on, especially if you’re pregnant or nursing.
In addition, if you’re gathering herbs from the wild, it’s extremely important that you learn to recognise them properly. A lot of plant allies have toxic lookalikes, so if there’s any doubt about what you may be harvesting, don’t do it. Just buy a tea, tincture, or dried herb in bulk from an apothecary company like Mountain Rose Herbs instead.