I don’t consider myself the best gardener. I want to just stick something in the ground and have it grow without much assistance from me. I always say if a plant is needy, it isn’t going to make it in my yard! Luckily growing medicinal herbs is easy! When I first fell in love with herbs I knew that I wanted to have as man of them as possible in my own back yard. I purchased some herbs, brought them home and thought, now where do I put them. I am often the cart before the horse kind of person. Most, well let’s just say many people (I’m sure I can’t be the only one who works backwards!) like to have a plan before they start a project. So, with regard to planting an herb garden, that would mean deciding what herbs to plant and where to plant them before going and getting plants. It all works out in the end though no matter how you do it!
There are many ways to create a beautiful herb garden. The herbs you plant and where you put them will of course depend on your yard. In my years of growing herbs, it seems to me that many of them like lots of sun and are perennials or self-seeding annuals. Simple. Choosing which herbs to plant is the hard part because there are tons of them to choose from.
I think the most common herbs people grow are culinary and for good reason. There is something special about fresh herbs coming straight from your garden and into your kitchen.
We use basil in pasta for flavor but it also calms the nervous system and relieves any digestive complaints. Sage is used at Thanksgiving probably because it helps us digest meat and eases that full congested feeling from eating too much. Oregano is easy to grow and adds a distinctive flavor to food but it also provides antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Peppermint is a great herb to grow (but be careful of anything it the mint family as it will spread everywhere) and makes a nice tea for the afternoon slumps, increases mental clarity, opens the sinuses and clears the head.
There are many herbs for the kitchen garden that can be used and enjoyed not just in meals but as herbal tea, honey, vinegar, butter, salts, baths, poultices, tinctures and so much more. They are all easy to grow so just pick your favorites stick them in the ground or put them in pots or a sunny windowsill if you are short on space and let the magic happen!
When I was considering what to plant I definitely wanted herbs with powerful medicinal properties but plants that were also lovely to look at. The other consideration was how to organize them.
Years ago I was taking a weekend class at Dreamtime Center for Herbal Studies in Virginia. The classes were held out in the country in a big beautiful house surrounded by herb gardens. While I was wandering around outside admiring the herbs I discovered that the gardens had been planted by body system. I loved that idea and that is how I initially started my own herb garden. I planted the herbs that were medicinally good for the respiratory system together and herbs for the nervous system together and immune herbs together and herbs for women’s health together. You get the idea.
It can get a little tricky though because most herbs are medicinally good for more than one thing and some like mixed sun and shade and some like lots of sun. The herbs I planted for the nervous system like Hops, Lemon Balm, St. John’s Wort, Valerian and Wood Betony grew very well where I planted them together. For women’s health I have Vitex, Motherwort, Mugwort, and Lady’s Mantle planted near each other and thriving.
It doesn’t always work out to plant by system and I have definitely had to move some things but it was a fun way to start and it helped me remember what certain herbs were used for medicinally. If that kind of garden doesn’t resonate with you try planting a medicine wheel garden, an herbal tea garden or a woodland garden. The ways to be creative with your planting are endless.
I am no design expert to be sure. I was however, interested in cultivating a relationship with the plants. I placed each plant in a spot I chose and left it there for a few days to see if it wanted to live there. Research shows that plants have feelings and intelligence and sense our intentions and respond to our actions. I wanted to be respectful of the plants desire or not to put down roots. Sometimes I had to move them because I would get the distinct feeling that I had not chosen the best place. I definitely learned that if you listen they will teach you!
I suggest you plant some of the more common herbs like Echinacea, Thyme, Rose, Basil, Lavender, Rosemary and Lemon Balm.
You might also consider planting these two exceptional herbs as well.
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
The bees always know the best plants and if you follow them long enough they will certainly make a stop at an Anise Hyssop plant. The flowers and leaves are edible and have a mild black licorice flavor. I like to pick the flowers right off the plant and pop them in my mouth. You will probably want to save them for later use in the kitchen though, to add to salad, sweeten tea, flavor sugar, add to cookies and bread or make an herbal honey.
Medicinally Anise Hyssop is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. As with most plants in the mint family it is a warming digestive aid. It has soothing expectorant and cough suppressant properties. Use it for colds, sore throats, flu, respiratory tract infections and bronchitis. The leaves can be made into a poultice for burns or used as a wash for poison ivy.
Comfrey (Symphytum officinalis)
Its very name, symphytum, means ‘to heal’. Most often used externally, Comfrey is one of the best herbs for mending bones and for promoting the healing of damaged tissue. These properties make it a specific for broken bones, torn cartilage, swellings, burns, cuts, wounds, preventing scars and bruises. I even have a friend who uses it on her dogs’ nose!
I suppose I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the question of using Comfrey internally, especially the root. It is important to be open to the possible dangers of Comfrey because of the pyrrolizidine alkaloids, substances regarded as potentially hepatotoxic and carcinogenic. But it is just as important to sift through the headlines and form an opinion based of fact. I will leave it to you, to do your due diligence and decide for yourself if Comfrey is right for you to use internally.
Comfrey has very deep roots that take in all available nutrients and then stores the nutrients in the leaves. This actually makes it a very nourishing food herb containing high amounts of digestible plant calcium, iron, B vitamins, vitamin C, folic acid, minerals, trace minerals and protein (up to seven times more protein than soybeans). Herbalist Susan Weed drinks Comfrey infusions to keep bones strong and flexible, strengthen digestion and elimination and keep lungs and respiratory tract healthy. But remember, we are talking about using the leaf not the root.
One other note about Comfrey is that makes great compost. Add it to the compost heap where its nutrients will both enrich the whole heap and encourage decomposition. You can also use the leaves as mulch slowing down evaporation of moisture and suppressing weeds. The leaves rot quickly so it also enriches the soil. Not too shabby for a plant with a bad rap!
There is something so deeply satisfying about growing your own herbs. You start to develop a relationship with the plants and the earth. When you breathe in their scents you start to remember things you never knew you forgot. The plants give us food and medicine and life. And I am forever grateful for their gifts!