The Medicinal Garden
We spend a lot of time discussing how to accumulate medical supplies for times of trouble. Despite your best efforts, however, you may find yourself running out of commercially manufactured medicines. In this case, you might feel like you’re out of luck, but there are options that might be growing in your own backyard. Many plants have medicinal uses and it only makes sense to take advantage of their benefits.
Planting your own medicinal garden is a prudent way to provide alternatives to modern medicine. Until pharmaceuticals were produced in factories, communities and homesteads had to grow their own “medicine”. This common practice was a natural part of the landscape and provided needed remedies for many medical issues. Oftentimes, a community would have a person that served as an herbalist and supervised the cultivation and processing for proper administration.
Growing your own medicinal garden is both rewarding and beneficial; in times of trouble, you will likely have limited access to pharmaceuticals. The learning curve when gardening can be steep, so don’t delay planting those medicinal seeds until the situation is critical.
Select a well-drained, sunny area with healthy soil. Although some herbs grow well in shade, most plants need at least 6-8 hours of full sun for proper growth and development. Potting is appropriate for medicinal plants that will need to be transported inside during a cold winter. Water should be provided on a regular basis to allow the soil to stay moist, but not muddy or waterlogged. A small amount of natural mulch is perfect for maintaining an even moisture level in very dry conditions.
Learn about permaculture if you are planting in the ground. This method has many benefits and will reduce your maintenance schedule. Use only organic pest and disease control. A soapy spray of 1 tablespoon of neem oil, 1 teaspoon of Dr. Bronner’s lavender, tea tree or peppermint castile soap and, optional, a few drops of tea tree essential oil to 4-8 cups of water makes a great disease and natural pest control. Spray foliage in the late afternoon every 5-7 days or after a heavy rain.
The medicinal plants you select should match your climate as best as possible. However, with certain plants, you may be able to grow warmer climate plants by protecting them from the cold with greenhouses or using row covers. This will expand the range of medicinal plants you may choose to grow either in pots or around your homestead.
Here is a short list of medicinal plants you may consider growing, with the most common part of the plant used and some of the conditions it might help:
Aloe Vera (Aloe Vera)- the slimy gel from the leaf is used to heal and soothe rashes, burns, and cuts.
Angelica (Angelica archangelica)- rhizomes (similar to a root but actually an underground stem) are used to make a tinctures and infusions to treat menstrual cramps.
Arnica (Arnica montana)- flowers and rhizomes are utilized to produce very dilute concentrations of an ointment or salve. Used only externally on unbroken skin for bruises or joint/muscle pain.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)- the flowers are used fresh or dried and made into teas, tinctures, creams and salves. Drinking a calendula tea or tincture may relieve menstrual cramps, intestinal cramps and decrease the severity of a viral infection. Rich in antioxidants, it can be applied externally as a cream, salve, infused oil or as a compress. Calendula reduces pain and heals minor burns, cuts, rashes, ringworm and athlete’s foot. Cool, weak tea compresses may heal an eye infection; apply to the affected eye three times daily.
Cayenne (Capsicum frutescens)- the pepper (fruit) is used dried and powdered, infused in oil, as a tincture or mixed in a salve or cream. Good externally for arthritic pain as a salve, cream or infused oil, and may be useful to stop mild to moderate bleeding in a wound if direct pressure is not working. Cayenne can be taken internally as a tincture or as a pinch of powder in a tea for to treat intestinal infections, sore throat pain or gas. Some consider it a broad spectrum antibacterial.
Chamomile, German (Matricaria recutita)- the flowers are used in teas, salves and creams. Internally taken, the tea is known to be relaxing and is used as an antispasmodic (relaxes muscle tension and cramps). It also helps with insomnia, calms an upset stomach, and may also reduce the inflammation of joints. Externally used, cooled tea compresses or eyewash may treat eye infections. Applied to painful rashes, itchy skin, or sore nipples, a poultice (a mass of warmed crushed flowers), cream or salve may relieve and heal skin conditions.
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)- the leaves, aerial parts, and root are used in creams, salves, infused oils, ointments, poultices and tinctures. Use is limited to external use on unbroken skin only. Common uses for comfrey externally are to help heal broken bones, sprains, strains and bruises. Comfrey may help with acne and reduce scarring.
Echinachea (Echinacea purpurea, augustifolia or pallida)- the flowers and roots are used to produce tinctures, teas, capsules, and pills. It is known to be a strong antibacterial and antiviral due to its immune stimulating effects. Some use it to help reduce allergies, such as hay fever.
Elder (Sambucus nigra)- this tree produces two parts used medicinally: the fresh or dried flowering tops and the berries. A tea, tincture or syrup made of the flowering tops are good for coughs, colds, flu and reducing allergies. Cooking is needed to prevent poisoning from elderberries, which can be used for the same ailments as the flowering tops but are not considered as effective. Wine is commonly made from elderberries.
Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)- tincture of the bark is used as an astringent to reduce hemorrhoids, stop itching from insect stings.
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)- the fresh or dried aerial parts (stems, leaves and flowers) are used to produce a tea, tincture, capsules or pills. Use the leaves to produce a tea or tincture for the treatment or prevention of migraine headaches and also to reduce fevers. This herb may also help with arthritic conditions. Do not use in combination with blood-thinning medications.
Garlic (Allium sativum)- the fresh cloves are used (crushed) to make a tea, tincture, syrup, or capsules. Garlic may help lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, thin the blood to help protect against blood clots, and lower blood sugar levels. It has antibacterial and antiviral properties, which makes it effective for treating both digestive and respiratory infections. It can be applied externally to dress wounds for reduced infection rates. Use with caution if taking blood thinners or antihypertensive medications.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)- the rhizomes are used to make a tea, essential oil, capsule or tincture. Ginger is excellent for use in digestive disorders. It can help relieve both morning sickness and motion sickness. Some types of food poisoning may be treated effectively with ginger. Ginger may lower blood pressure. It increases sweating, which is beneficial to reduce a fever.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)- the leaves are the most commonly used part in Western medicine; the dehusked seed, however, is occasionally used in Chinese medicine. The fresh or dried leaves are used to make a tea, tincture or fluid extract. It is typically utilized to help improve memory and circulation. Gingko also has anti-allergenic properties, which makes it helpful to relieve wheezing in asthmatics.
Ginseng, Siberian (Eleutherococcus seticosus)- the roots are used to make a tea, tincture or incorporated into capsules. It is used to reduce the effects of physical stress and mental stress. It stimulates the immune system to help the body fight viruses and bacterial infections.
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)- the rhizomes are used to produce a tincture, tea, powder or infusion. It is said to be a mild laxative; it also reduces heavy menstrual bleeding. A dilute infusion can be used as eyewash for infections, as a mouthwash for swollen or infected gums, or as an external treatment for psoriasis. Goldenseal is not appropriate for use in pregnancy.
Field of Lavender
Lavender (Lavendula officinalis)- the fresh or dried flowers are used to produce a tea, tincture, infusion or essential oil. It enhances relaxation and calms nervous conditions, including muscle or intestinal cramps, and loosens tight airways in asthmatics. Applied externally, it is an antiseptic for open wounds and mild burns. It relieves itching and inflammation, and can be used to relieve bug bites and rashes.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)- the fresh or dried aerial parts are used to produce a juice, tea, tincture, infusion, lotion and salve/cream. It can reduce nervous conditions and cramping, and is useful for anxiety, intestinal cramps, and muscle aches. Lemon balm can relieve cold sores and reduce future outbreaks.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)-the dried or fresh root is used to create a tea, fluid extract, tincture, dried juice stick or powder. It is a gentle laxative. It is considered to have anti-inflammatory effects. It helps with canker sores, upset stomach, and acid reflux. This same action also helps it reduce arthritic pain and inflamed joints. Do not take if anemic, have high blood pressure or during a pregnancy.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita)-the fresh or dried aerial parts are used to make a tea, tincture, lotion, capsules and essential oil. The tea or tincture is helpful for digestive problems and may reduce gas, cramps, and diarrhea. As a lotion or diluted essential oil, it helps relieve headaches and migraines when a small amount is applied to the temples in a gentle massage.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)-the fresh or dried leaves are used to produce a tea, tincture or essential oil. The tea or tincture can help reduce stress and relieve headaches. Applied as a diluted essential oil or lotion it may relieve sore muscles or joint pain. Do not take the essential oil internally.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)-the fresh or dried leaves are used to make a tea, tincture or fresh leaves are crushed and applied directly to the skin. The fresh crushed leaves are helpful to relieve stings and bug bite irritation. The tea is good to relieve a sore throat, canker sores or sore gums when used as a gargle. Drinking the tea can help reduce menopausal symptoms.
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)-the fresh or dried aerial parts are used to create an infusion, tincture or capsules. It is said to calm and relax nervous conditions, including insomnia and menstrual pain. The tincture may help relieve headaches.
Senna (Cassia senna or Senna alexandrina)-the fresh or dried pods are used commonly to make a tea. It is a laxative and over-the-counter preparations are available to treat constipation. Senna should be used only in dilute, small dosages. Do not take for more than 10 days.
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)- the fresh or dried flowering tops are used to make a tea, tincture, cream or infused oil.. Most commonly said to be a relaxant and helpful to treat depression, PMS and menopausal symptoms. The infused oil is useful when applied externally to help with stimulating tissue repair on wounds and burns; it may also may reduce joint and muscle pains. This herb may cause sensitivity to sunlight.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)- the fresh or dried aerial parts including leaves are used to produce a tea, tincture, syrup and essential oil. A tea may be helpful for use in treating colds and flu. Syrup made from thyme is a traditional cough remedy. A tincture applied externally may help with vaginal fungal infections. Thyme has been used as a treatment for intestinal worms. Do not use the essential oil during pregnancy
Turmeric (Curcuma longa)-the fresh or dried rhizome is used in a tea, tincture, poultice or powder. It is said to have a strong anti-inflammatory action, and may help with asthma, arthritis and eczema. A beneficial effect on stomach and intestinal cramps is also attributed to this herb. Turmeric has blood thinning properties and should be avoided if taking anti-coagulants. Externally it is useful in treating fungal infections, psoriasis and other itchy rashes and could be utilized as a replacement for hydrocortisone if modern medicines are unavailable. Turmeric may cause stomach upset or heartburn if taken regularly. It may cause sensitivity to sunlight if taken regularly.
Valerian (Valerian officinalis)- the roots and rhizome are used to produce a tea, tincture or powder.. Commonly used to reduce stress, induce relaxation and treat insomnia. It can help relax muscle tension, intestinal cramps and menstrual pain. Do not take with alcohol or if using sleep-inducing medications.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)-fresh or dried aerial parts are used to make a tea, tincture, essential oil or a poultice. Yarrow is used externally to heal wounds as a poultice. Traditionally mixed with other herbs in a tea, it may help with colds and flus. Some claim that it reduces menstrual bleeding. There are reports of allergic reactions to Yarrow by some, and it should not be used during pregnancy.
The above is, by no means, a complete list of all the possibilities for your herbal garden. The same issues regarding proof of effectiveness and uncertainty of dosage that we relate above every natural remedy are relevant for the herbs on this list. Perform your own research into these alternatives and come to your own conclusions.