I hope this note finds you well and enjoying this most vibrant time of year. Interested in growing medicinal herbs? Plants, and especially herbs, are a bit of an obsession for me all year round, but in the springtime it’s all about planting and growing (or attempting to grow) everything I can get my hands on, especially vegetables for eating and juicing, herbs for medicine-making, and flowers to beautify my world.
One of the things I love most about the growing season are the many opportunities to study plants – in the garden, in the yard, and in the wild. You don’t need much to connect to nature and the plant world in this way – a wild edible or medicinal plant field guide for your region, a line-free notebook, pen, pencil, and some water.
Step out to your backyard or garden, or go to a local rail trail or state park. Let yourself wander for a bit. Choose a plant that sparks your interest, then engage all of your senses as you get to know it.•Smell the flower (if it’s in bloom), crush a leaf and take a sniff.
•Take a bit of that crushed leaf at set it on your tongue – is it bitter? spicy? (Deadly green plants are very rare, but if you want to be a wild-plant-taster then learn if there are any highly poisonous plants in your area – consult your field guide for this info! – such as Poison Hemlock and Water Hemlock in the Northeastern US.)
•Notice the plant’s colors and patterns – of branching, leafing, and petal arrangement.
•Make some notes about what you observe in your journal and sketch it – don’t worry about your drawing being beautiful or botanically correct! Connect with the plant’s form and spirit as you see it.
•Lastly, spend a few moments receiving the plant through sight, sound (that’s right, just listen!), and intuition. Allow for an exchange of energy and subtle communication back and forth between its body and yours. In your mind, or with a song (plants love music) appreciate your new plant friend.
•Oh and by the way, see if you can ID it in your plant guide – or name it for yourself and you’ll remember what it means to you.
Happy Memorial Day!
Easy-To-Grow Medicinal Plants & How To Use Them
Below are a few easy, beautiful, useful medicinal herbs, all of which are available now at the medicinal plant sale at AAHS.
Aster (Chinese Purple), Aster tartaricis
Culture: Perennial; full or part sun, drought tolerant once established and mulched; spreads via underground runners; beautiful flowers (purple rays with yellow discs) in late September when not much else is in bloom. 4-6’ tall.
Benefits & Uses: root is excellent cough herb in Chinese Medicine. Late season food for the bees.
Bee Balm (Red), Monarda didyma
Culture: Perennial; full or part sun, drought tolerant once established and mulched; spreads via underground runners; bright red flowers in June.
Benefits & Uses: Attracts hummingbirds, aromatic leaves make a tasty tea; Native American medicinal uses include treatment for mouth, throat and gum inflammation; anti-fungal; and (like most mints) gently benefits the digestion.
Calendula, Calendula off.
Culture: Self-seeding annual; full or part sun; bright yellow or orange flowers mid-summer until hard frost.
Benefits & Uses: Probably THE favorite herb for skin among herbalists – use as tea, tincture or in oil or salves topically to soothe, heal and nourish the skin. Taken internally, also treats lymph congestion.
Comfrey, Symphyticum off.
Culture: Perennial; full sun to part shade; blue-purple flowers in mid-late spring. 3’ tall.
Benefits & Uses: A favorite herb among permaculturists, its leaves are very beneficial to the soil when used as mulch. Benefits apple trees when planted beneath them. Also called knitbone, it has powerful ability to generate flesh and speed the healing of bone breaks and fractures, cuts and bruises. It is also an excellent anti-itch skin remedy when applied topically.
Echinacea, Echinacea purpurea
Culture: Perennial; drought tolerant once established and mulched; flowers in July – purple petals with orange center; spreads via root growth and seed.
Benefits & Uses: Major herb for short-term stimulation of the immune system to fight bacterial or viral infections. Take as tea or tincture.
Feverfew, Chrysanthemum parthenium
Culture: Perennial; full sun to part shade; aromatic leaves that can be used to repel and confuse harmful insects in the vegetable garden, and daisy-like flowers all summer.
Benefits & Uses: Well-established migraine and headache remedy; taken as tea (though not the most pleasant to drink) or tincture.
Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis
Culture: Perennial; full sun to part shade; flowers mid-summer – cut back once or more to harvest leaves and postpone flowering.
Benefits & Uses: Aromatic lemony leaves can be added to salads, marinades, bean or vegetable dishes; it is the main ingredient in the famous herbal skin recipe called Queen of Hungary’s Water. The tea made with fresh or dried herb is uplifting and refreshing.
Leopard Flower, Belamcanda
Culture: Perennial; full to part sun; orange-red flowers come in late summer. Leaves to 2’, flower 4-5’; spreads via rhizome and seed.
Benefits & Uses: In Chinese Medicine, the bright yellow root is a strong anti-bacterial and is used especially for infection and inflammation of the lungs and throat.
Sweet Annie, Artemisia annuae
Culture: self-seeding annual; full sun, poor soil is OK; grows to 6’
tall. Flowers late summer.
Benefits & Uses: Primary herb for treatment of Lyme disease; also used to treat malaria and heat exhaustion. Harvest as plant begins to bloom. Take as tea or tincture.
Yarrow, Alchillea millefolium
Culture: Perennial; spreads via underground rhizomes; flowers throughout the summer, white; up to 4’ tall.
Benefits & Uses: Important nectar plant; medicinal uses include treatment for hypertension, fever, hot flashes. Take as tea or tincture. Dried stems are used for I Ching readings.