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. In fact, having some herbal medicine knowledge goes a long way for homesteaders and gardeners alike.
As an added bonus, these plants tend to pull double duty as pollinator attractors to your garden. Grow them in amongst your vegetables and fruit bushes to encourage butterflies and bees to come on over. Just make sure to double check that they’re good companions before planting.
1. Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Calendula flowers’ bright, sunny heads 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.
For example, Calendula-infused oil or salve is ideal for healing burns and various skin irritations like rashes, cuts, scrapes, and insect bites/stings. Its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects also make it effective in facial oils, or steeped in alcohol as a mouthwash.
The petals are edible as well, and are delicious raw in salads.
2. Coneflower (Echinacea spp.)
Both Echinacea purpurea and angustifolia are amazingly effective immune support allies. Taken as a tea or tincture, it’s invaluable for upper respiratory issues. Used in a salve or poultice, its anti-bacterial and analgesic properties can alleviate pain and heal issues like eczema and psoriasis.
Wild patches of echinacea have been over-harvested by people, so planting your own is preferable to wildcrafting it. As an added bonus, these plants attract beneficial pollinators like bees and butterflies like you wouldn’t believe.
3. Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum)
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.
Just be aware that 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.
4. Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
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 cough syrup!
A tea made from the leaves is excellent as an expectorant, and brings great relief from wheezing, hacking coughs. Just make sure to strain it through muslin or cheesecloth so you don’t get the little hairs stuck in your throat.
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.
5. Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
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, and does wonders for urinary issues. It 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.
Related post: 10 Multi-Purpose Plants for Your Edible Garden
6. Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
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.
7. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Also known as “soldier’s woundwort”, Achillea millefolium has been used medicinally for thousands of years and is invaluable for any healer’s garden. Its leaves can staunch bleeding when applied topically, and that same property can ease heavy menstrual periods when taken as tea or tincture.
This herb is also a febrifuge, which means that it can help to bring down a fever. Its anti-inflammatory properties help to eliminate the fever’s cause, and it promotes perspiration, thus helping the body to cool.
Yarrow is absolutely one of the best plants for 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.
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*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.
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