Most commercially prepared medicinal herbs are not difficult to find in urban areas, but increasing numbers of individuals prefer to grow their own. Here are some that are easy to grow and easy to use.
Garlic gets credit for protecting against cardiovascular disease, lowering blood pressure and acting as a natural antiseptic with antimicrobial properties. Garlic is a member of the onion family and grows as a bulb under the soil. It grows well in any well drained soil in a sunny location. Garlic is a cool season crop, meaning that it grows best when soil temperatures are not over 70̊ or so. It adds spark to many Mediterranean diet dishes, whether raw, sautéed or roasted.
Native to Europe, Asia and North Africa, horehound, Marrubium vulgare, is a hardy plant that is naturalized in North America and Australia. It has been used literally for millennia to sooth sore throats and aid with chest or sinus congestion. Commonly available in candy lozenges, leaves and flowers of the horehound plant can be used to make candy, cough syrup or tea. The plant reaches two to three feet, providing more than enough leaves for a family. Horehound prefers bright sun and dry conditions. It does not tolerate heavy, wet soils well. A biennial, the plant blooms in its second season and then dies. The gardener should keep flowers cut off before they set seed to prevent the plant from taking over its allotted space.
Sambucus nigra is the scientific name of the common elderberry, long valued by native peoples and herbalists for its value in treating symptoms of bronchitis and the common cold. Empirical studies have concluded that flu patients receiving Sambucus syrup recover much more quickly than those who do not. The syrup helps to alleviate symptoms while also helping the virus to run its course more quickly. The elderberry plant is a shrub that grows in almost any conditions in temperate areas. Syrup is made only from the berries, which are mildly poisonous when raw. Leaves and stems are poisonous and are not used at all.
Thyme is a valuable culinary and medicinal herb that grows in nearly any conditions where there is abundant sun. As a culinary herb, thyme is a wonderful addition to soups, stews and meats. Lemon thyme beautifully enhances virtually any fish dish. Medicinally, thyme tea or salve is useful for treating the symptoms of respiratory issues such as bronchitis or the common cold. Thyme also has mild antiseptic properties and is effective against sore throats when gargling water that has had thyme boiled in it and then cooled.
Calendula is a low-growing annual herb that does well in nearly sunny, well drained location. A member of the aster family, the plant is a pretty one that also has medicinal properties. Calendula extracts appear to have antiviral and anti-inflammation properties. Calendula extract or suspension is used topically to soothe skin irritations, including acne and helping to control bleeding.
Lemon balm is a low-growing perennial plant that also is a prolific seed producer. It grows best in Zones 4 to 9 in a sunny location in well drained, sandy soil. It needs mulch to survive the winter in northern zones, but it can spread to become a nuisance plants in warmer climates. The leaves of lemon balm are used to flavor fish, candies and fruit salads. Crushed leaves rubbed on the skin provide an effective mosquito repellant. Tea brewed with lemon balm leaves has been shown to have antiviral and antibacterial properties. Lemon balm tea also improves mood and mental performance, extending even to bringing positive results to Alzheimer’s patients with mild symptoms.
Some gardeners claim that peppermint is best grown in large pots, where it can be contained and not take over the entire garden. It is an annual plant but is a heavy seed producer, and the seed germinate easily wherever they drop. Peppermint has been used medicinally for centuries for stomach upset, menstrual cramps, nausea and vomiting. A tea made from either fresh or dried leaves is an effective after-dinner drink for those with digestive problems.