When I was growing up we lived in the woods. Which was totally awesome but not so conducive to growing a garden.
My mom was determined to have a garden and figured out a way to have a small plot to grow vegetables. It was in between the kitchen door and the back patio up against the house where it got the most sun. It was small and to add more space she grew cucumbers in one of those plastic kiddie pools out in the middle of the yard where the sun got through the canopy of trees.
Anything she didn’t grow could be easily acquired at any one of the many roadside stands selling fruits and vegetables.
I’ll always remember stopping at a stand one summer and sharing a tomato with my mom on the ride home. We just bit into it like you would an apple and passed it back and forth until it was gone.
There’s nothing like food right out of the ground.
There’s a distinct smell and a distinct taste that’s unlike any store-bought produce.
I’ve had limited success growing food. I try, but I’m not always successful, and I’m so grateful for the grocery store and the farmers market. Otherwise, we would be really hungry.
Thankfully, I have had pretty good success growing herbs. They seem to be more forgiving and tolerant of my neglect.
I had a thriving, well-established herb garden in Boise and since moving I miss it terribly. The climate was more amenable to my stick it in the ground and hope it grows approach. There’s definitely a learning curve to gardening in a harsher, colder environment, with more wildlife on the lookout for a free lunch.
But, it’s doable, no matter where you live, in the city, in an apartment, in the country, wherever. You can grow herbs in pots, on the porch, on a windowsill, in bathtubs, barrels, or in raised beds. There is no limit to what you can achieve with a little creativity.
And man oh man the payoff is so sweet! You’ll have an amazing bounty of herbs, you’ll develop plant friendships, you’ll have greater health, more self-reliance, a smiling face every day, and a well-stocked herbal home apothecary full of potent medicine.
Start small. Keep it simple.
Some of the safest and easiest herbs to grow are in the mint family.
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
This plant attracts pollinators, butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. It tastes like licorice, mint, and anise all rolled into one. In the summer you can just pull off a few petals of the flower and pop them into your mouth for a delightful treat.
Make it into a tea, tincture, infused honey, elixir, or vinegar, or make it into some herbal butter.
It has a history of use as a respiratory herb as a steam or as an infusion. (if you need a cheat sheet on ways to use herbs go here)
Anise Hyssop can be used to promote sleep and help with sinus headaches, mild anxiety, and digestive upset.
Throw the leaves into a salad or fruit salad for a little licorice kick. Add it to cake, icing, cookies, and smoothies.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
The possibilities are endless with Basil, it has the same qualities as its cousin Tulsi (Holy Basil). There are sooooo many varieties, you could have an entire Basil garden if you wanted to.
It helps to repel insects and attract bees. I use it as a tincture as part of the formula for my herbal insect repellent. You can too.
Basil can be used as a tea, tincture, in pesto, oil, vinegar, herbal butter, salad, and on sandwiches and…
It’s probably best known as a culinary herb but it has plenty of medicinal uses as well.
Basil can lighten your mood, help your anxiousness, and get rid of mental dullness. It helps with fatigue and improves memory and concentration. If you feel your mind is overworked, and who doesn’t, make it into an infused oil and massage it into your body to help with mental tension, tightness, and headache. You might smell like a pizza but hey you could smell like worse things.
And, like most plants in the mint family, it helps with digestion.
Bee Balm (Monarda spp.)
I have to admit this is one of my favorite plants. I’m not sure how it came to be but from the moment I planted it I loved it. I planted 3 last year and bought 2 more (wild bergamot, Monarda fistulosa) this year. I know!
It’s not necessarily a well-known herb and you won’t easily find the tincture or dried herb for sale (unless you shop at Weed Woman Herbals). It is, however, probably available at your local nursery waiting for you to notice it and plant it in your garden. There are over 20 species, with as many common names, so be sure to get the right plant by identifying it by its botanical name.
The flowers are spectacular, edible, and spicy. It’s in the mint family, but it spreads slowly, at least that’s my experience.
The leaves and flowers are what you use and you can prepare them as tea, tincture, honey, syrup, oxymel, (go here to learn what an oxymel is) pesto, vinegar…
It has properties that are similar to Oregano. It tastes pungent and peppery hot. It helps with heat in the body, drawing fire out of the stomach, intestines, kidneys, and lungs. Think of it for bladder infections, constipation, diarrhea, and yeast infections.
Bee Balm has kick-ass essential oils that are antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory, which makes it helpful for colds, flu, fever, and mucus.
And, like most mints, it works on the digestive system, for gas, bloating, and improving overall digestion. And digestion, if you remember, is one of the 4 pillars of your Herbal Home Apothecary.
Planting a garden of any kind can be cathartic and healing.
There’s plenty of research that backs the idea that growing stuff helps your mental health. It gives you a sense of responsibility, it lets you nurture something, and it keeps you connected to nature.
I think some of the best therapeutic powers of gardening lie in cutting, chopping, hacking, and pulling. It’s a place to unload some of the aggression and anger we all feel, in a safe space. Yank those ‘weeds’ out!
Yes, you need to sow, feed, and water but you also need to prune so that you and your garden aren’t overrun. It’s really part of the cycle of life…and death…and rebirth.
Mostly, I think growing an herb garden will grow YOU, in some way,
especially if you plant and tend to everything with love. 💚