I have a large herb collection in my garden and there are a few medicinal herbs in it that I think everyone should grow because they are so helpful. There are thousands of herbs that are helpful medicinally but these are just a few that I think every garden should have. I’ve included a few recipes to get you started.
To use some of these herbs medicinally you will need to plant quite a few seeds because you will need the roots. For example, Echinacea. For the other herbs you will only need the leaves and flowers. Most of these herbs can be used in teas that you can flavor with crushed peppermint herb and sweeten with honey.
The best way to use all of these herbs is to dry them and store them in labeled jars, then take out however much you need to make your tea. The recipes I give you in this post are what I use personally at home. Of course the standard disclaimer goes, I am not a Dr and don’t prescribe medicines or herbs, this is just what we have done here for generations with great results.
Echinacea is used to boost the immune system at the first sign of a cold or virus. It won’t prevent a virus from attacking your body but it will help your body deal with the virus once you get it. Both the leaves and roots are used so obviously, if you know you are going to be digging up the roots of a plant to use in teas, you should plant more so that you’ll have some plants left after harvesting. You’ll need both the leaves, flowers and roots of Echinacea but save some plants to make seeds for next year.
When you feel a cold or flu coming on, take a teaspoon of Echinacea root, flowers and leaves, dried and crushed, plus some peppermint and chamomile leaves. Place the herbs in a cup, add boiling water, cover with a saucer and allow to steep for about 5 minutes. Most of the herb will sink to the bottom of the cup but you can strain it if you like. Sweeten with honey and sip til its gone. Do this three times a day but not for more than 2 weeks at a time. Echinacea can cause liver problems if you take it for longer than 2 weeks, that’s one reason why it isn’t used as a preventative herb.
Another very helpful herb is Chamomile. Chamomile has been used medicinally since at least ancient Egypt. There are two types of medicinally used Chamomile; Roman Chamomile and German Chamomile. Chamomile is a perennial, so you don’t have to plant it every year. Just plant it and at the end of the growing season, after you have harvested about 2/3 of the plant, give it some mulch and wait for it to come back in the spring. You will harvest the leaves and flowers. It is purported to be a treatment for asthma, colic, fevers, inflammations, nausea, nervous complaints and skin diseases just to mention a few. Chamomile is generally thought to be safe for infants and adults alike. I have used Chamomile for my children when they had colic or upset stomach and when they were suffering with a cold or fever. Chamomile is a lovely flower with an apple-y floral fragrance. The upright plants get heavy and fall over to form a thick mat that covers the ground. Usually, the flowers are used but I dry the leaves and flowers together and use both.
Chamomile is a calming herb. Its said to be safe for the smallest infant. I always include some chamomile in flu and cold remedies because most of the time folks who suffer with those ailments need to rest and Chamomile will help. It can also help with fever and headache.
When making Chamomile tea or tea that contains Chamomile, always cover the tea to steep or you will lose the delicate oils that give Chamomile its medicinal properties.
Feverfew is an herb you will want to have on hand if anyone in your family suffers from migraines. I pull a leaf off my Feverfew plant each day and bite it, holding it between my back teeth while I work in the garden. This prevents migraines for me. Feverfew inhibits the release of two inflammatory substances, serotonin and prostaglandins, both believed to contribute to the onset of migraines. By inhibiting these substances and by inhibiting the production of histamine, Feverfew helps to control the inflammation that constricts blood vessels and blood vessel spams which cause headaches, especially migraine headaches. Ever since I learned about Feverfew I always have a plant growing in my garden. You will only need the leaves of feverfew.
You can chew a fresh leaf every day like I do for migraines or you can use the dried leaf in a tea with some peppermint and sweetened with homey to do the same thing for your headaches.
Horehound is one of my favorite herbs, even though it doesn’t have as many uses as an herb like Chamomile. I probably like it so much because I make it into candy. Its indispensable in our house for colds, coughs and chest congestion. Horehound cough drops are an old-fashioned remedy that really works. Horehound is a perennial in the mint family, you can tell by the shape of its stem; its square. The leaves look like mint leaves too but they and the stems are covered with a whitish fuzz. Although Horehound has many medicinal uses, the main ones I grow it for is its expectorant and cough suppressant uses. Harvest the fuzzy leaves of horehound for medicinal use.
Here is how to make horehound cough drops:
You’ll need a candy thermometer for this recipe, some butter or coconut oil to grease the cookie sheet, a heavy bottomed pan, a wooden spoon, cheese cloth and a cookie sheet.
Here are the ingredients:
-1 cup dried horehound leaves
-1 cup water
-1 1/2 cup raw honey
First, grease a cookie sheet with coconut oil or butter and set it aside.
Put the dried horehound leaves and water in a heavy bottomed pan. Bring to a boil and cook for 20 minutes. Cool slightly, then strain the leaves out of the liquid using the cheese cloth. Clean out the pan. Put the liquid back in the pan and bring to a boil. Add the honey, stir. Keep stirring and cook til the temperature of the horehound liquid and honey reaches 300*F.
Pour the liquid out onto the greased cookie sheet. Let it cool enough to handle it. Then pinch off small bits and roll in buttered hands. Place each ball on parchment paper to dry and cool. Or you can use buttered scissors to snip off pieces and allow those pieces to cool and dry on parchment paper.
OR you can just let the horehound syrup dry and harden on the parchment paper and then break it into irregular pieces. Store horehound drips in a glass jar with a lid.
Peppermint has that delicious aroma and flavor most everyone loves plus it has some great medicinal qualities all its own. You will need only the leaves of peppermint in medicinal uses. Peppermint improves digestion, helps irritable bowel syndrome and soothes the whole digestive tract. All mints will take over your garden if you turn your head away one second. So if that might be a problem for your garden, leave the peppermint plants in large planters. You can even set the planters into the round and pull them out when needed.
How To Dry Herbs
The best time to harvest herbs is early in the morning. That’s when the plant oils are at their peak amount, the sun hasn’t dried it up and wind and rain hasn’t washed it away. Use a pair of scissors to cut stems of the plant. Use some kitchen twine and tie the stems together with all the cut ends facing the same way. Hang these bundles up in your house where it is cool and shady. If you are worried about leaves falling off and making a miss, put a brown paper bag around the herbs as they dry, and put a few holes in the bag to allow air circulation.
Once the leaves are so dry they crackle when you touch them, hold them over some paper or clean towels and crush them with your hands. Collect the crushed herb and store it in a glass jar with a lid. Be sure to label the herb. Keep them out of the sun and as cool as possible. Herbs will keep like this for many months.
If harvesting Echinacea roots, you’ll need to pull the plants up and gently wipe off the soil, then rinse the roots til they are completely clean (I sometimes soak the roots in water a while) then cut the roots into small pieces, about 1/4″. Allow the root pieces to dry completely. I think using a food dehydrator is the best way to go because you can be sure to get the roots totally dry, but if you leave the roots whole and hang the roots like you do the other herbs they will dry, it will just take much longer.
Once the roots are dry throughout, store them in a glass jar and a lid, labeled. If you see moisture form in the jar later, it means the roots were not completely dry, take them as soon as you see that moisture and dry them some more. If they smell moldy, you should toss them and start over.
When using the roots with the leaves, use them in a 1:1 ratio.