When people find out that I make our own medicine it strikes a nerve. Sometimes good…”Ooohh, I want to learn that”…. sometimes bad …..”Are you out of your mind? You are NOT a Doctor!”…..but I knew that! Often the naysayers become ardent believers.
The next thing everyone wants to know is …where do I start….what do I plant? Although there are some common plants that everyone will want to grow, your own particular family’s needs will dictate what you grow. What illnesses does your family tend to suffer from the most? Do you have lots of winter colds? Sinusitis? Allergies? Kidney problems? Immune deficiencies? The herbs of choice will be herbs that treat your family’s problems. As you study herbs, make notes of what will help your family overcome their problems and plan on planting those. I happen to grow a wide range of things because I am overseeing the health of young children (7 to 12), teenagers, young adults, middle age adults and an elderly adult (my Mom).
Again, you must be sure that what you are using for medicine is organic or you are just wasting your time and money and might actually do harm instead of good.
Let me tell you about some of the more common herbs that God gave to us for healing. I hope to show you why these are good to start with and will try to talk about several each time I post about medicinal herbs. These are the herbs that almost everyone will want to grow. Please remember that when I talk about annual and perennial that I am talking about my planting zone – zone 6. Check your seed packets for your area. Why don’t you go grab a plant I.D. book (such as a Peterson’s guide or DK guide) so that you will know what to look for and let’s take a walk through my herb garden…..
On the way to the garden, we find lots of Plantain growing wild. The English used to call this Waybread – it grows everywhere – if you don’t use chemicals. Plantain is very healing…if you are ever outside and stung by a bee, wasp etc. grab some leaves and chew them for a minute and slap it on the bite – it will relieve the pain and reduce the swelling and your healing time will be much faster! It is wonderful to put in salves to be used on wounds. It is especially effective on slow-healing wounds. The juice of the leaves is good in cough syrups. By the way, the seeds are called P. Psyllium or flea seeds. They are a wonderful natural laxative. You will find them in many over-the-counter medicines! They also have other healing properties of their own. We pick the Plantain leaves and dry them so we can use them as needed during the harshest part of winter, they are readily available during the rest of the year…spring to late fall. Dry under cheesecloth until crumbly, place in an airtight jar and store in a dark place.
At the corner of my garden is a large patch of Calendula flowers. Calendula is an annual so we need to plant this each year. The flowers are bright and cheery, come in many shades of yellow and orange, single ruffle and double ruffle. It is also called pot marigold. This is different than regular marigold. Make sure the seeds say Calendula officinalis. We use Calendula in some of our healing soaps and salves. Calendula is beneficial for a wide range of skin problems and inflammations. The leaves are also beneficial internally for several things. Be sure to harvest frequently. This job has been turned over to my 7 year old after careful training. He harvests every other day and is always amazed that he can cut off all the flower heads and then 48 hours later find another bountiful harvest. Place the flower heads on a cookie sheet and cover with a piece of cheesecloth to keep the dust out. When dry, gently pull the petals from the head and place in an airtight jar. Store in a dark place. Light is detrimental to your dried herbs.
As we walk along the side of the garden, we find a large patch of Echinacea, also called purple coneflower. Echinacea is a perennial. Start growing this now because the roots really need to be at least 2 years old before you begin to harvest them. You want to grow E. angustifolia instead of E. purpurea. Angustifolia is a much more potent variety and is preferred for herbal remedies. This is one of the most beautiful flowers in the garden!. It is a perennial. It has antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties. It is also easy to save seed from! Just let some of your flowers go completely to seed – they will look like little spiney balls. Clip and save for planting next year. Keep in the freezer until planting time. Use the root in either a decoction or tincture. You can also powder the root and make your own capsules. Echinacea is a wonderful immune supporter. It helps your own immune system function as God designed to fight off infections. Be careful when taking Echinacea, if your dosages get to high you may begin to experience nausea and/or dizziness.
A little further down the path is a patch of Chamomile. Chamomile is also a perennial and has been called ground apple because of its smell. You can grow either Roman or German Chamomile but I happen to prefer the growth habits of German Chamomile. You will be harvesting the flowers – again on an almost daily basis. One home-grown and dried flower can give more flavor than a tea bag of commercial chamomile (Can anyone say Sleepy Time Tea?). A cup of tea at night is good for insomnia, anxiety and stress. On those days that my boys seemed hyped beyond tolerable levels, I make a huge pot of Chamomile tea sweetened with Stevia and serve it over ice at lunch,….we always end up having a calmer afternoon! It is also beneficial for people suffering from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and appetite or indigestion problems. It is healing in a salve for eczema, itching, insect bites or wounds and irritations. It also has many other benefits. The essential oil of Chamomile is good for using in a steam inhalation for asthma and for those suffering from a lot of nasal mucus. If you have sensitive skin, wear gloves when working in your chamomile patch because it can cause contact dermatitis in some people.You do not want to use this essential oil in pregnancy because it can act as a uterine stimulant.
One word about working with essential oils – wear gloves. Some oils are very strong and can hurt you if they get on your skin. One time I was working with Peppermint Essential oil and one small drip landed on my tablecloth – it burned a hole right through it!
I hope this is a beginning of your “To Grow” list for next year and I hope you will all be on the lookout for Plantain….