When it comes to herbs, many of us are comfortable with using them in the kitchen to flavor our food. But how about in the medicine cabinet? In addition to their culinary uses, herbs have amazing healing qualities that most of us are unaware of. If you use essential oils, you already may have experienced that lavender calms, peppermint relieves headaches, and lemon energizes. Maybe you’ve even used the salve from an aloe plant to heal a burn or cut. This is a great introduction to the healing power of plants, but it’s only the beginning.
This summer, venture into the world of herbs and learn how they can support your health and well-being. Grow your own apothecary - a few herbs that will support your personal health needs. First, identify what you struggle with, and learn which herbs can help. Then plant that remedy in the garden, and learn how to use it.
Here are some examples:
For brain fog: Herbs in the mint family can strengthen cognition and help you focus: lemon balm, rosemary, spearmint, and peppermint. Use these brain boosters in herbal tea or sip peppermint-infused water as you go through your day.
For digestive issues: There’s a long list of beneficial herbs for digestion and detox. Among them are calendula, yarrow, chamomile, lemon balm, bee balm, oregano, thyme, and sage. Chamomile tea is mostly known as the sleepy-time herb, but it also is anti-inflammatory, eases gas and bloating, and relaxes muscle tension. Use the flowers of this miniature daisy-like herb to make your own tea.
Improve your immunity: Elderberry, Echinacea (coneflowers), Monarda (Bee Balm), and garlic top the list of boosters for a healthy immune system. Recently, there’s been a huge interest in growing elderberry (Sambucus nigra). Use the flowers (dried) and the berries (cooked) to make tea or syrup.
Insect repellent: rosemary, lavender, yarrow, and catnip
Improve blood circulation: garlic, rosemary
Skin rashes: Calendula, lavender, comfrey
This is a mere glimpse at the list of herbs and their healing qualities. But now let’s talk about how to incorporate these herbal remedy plants into your landscape.
You can learn more about the power of herbs in numerous books and other resources. Grow Your Own Herbal Remedies by Maria Noel Groves is one that I recommend for those just beginning on this venture. The journey into the world of herbs as healer is exciting and full of wonder and could be as close as your backyard.
You can learn more about growing herbs and their healing qualities in an upcoming monthly series which begins Thursday, July 15. Learn more on our Makery page found on our website.
What do you find calming? For me it's always been lavender. I remember taking Lamaze classes when pregnant for the first time. They told me to picture in my mind a scene that calms me, so when the contractions get to be too much, visualizing that place would help. My scene of choice? A field of blooming lavender.
That was 30 years ago, and to this day, that is still my mind's calm place to go - walking through those rows and rows of lavender. A couple years ago, I finally visited one and that was such a treat. We tasted and smelled all the lavender things from hand soaps to ice cream.
I'm not the only one who has this affection for lavender. In 2017, July 9th was declared National Lavender Day as a way to draw attention to all the lavender growers and the lavender industry here in the US. Mid-summer thousands flock to Washington Island to see the fields of lavender. Closer to home, New Life Lavender Farm, in Baraboo, WI is a wonderful place to visit.
How to Grow Lavender
It's not an easy plant to grow here in SE Wisconsin. Of the two hardy varieties, 'Munstead' and 'Hidcote', 'Hidcote' has given me the best luck. Both have that wonderful fragrance, but 'Hidcote's' blooms are a deep purple. 'Hidcote' is also one of the top five varieties with the best flavor. Lavender needs full sun and well-drained soil, so if you have clay soil, it may not be happy there.
If you haven't had luck with hardy lavenders, then treat yourself to Spanish lavender. Enjoy it in it's pot for the summer and fall, then try to winter it over indoors.
Other varieties of note:
'Grosso' has the most concentrated oils so is the most fragrance. It's long stems lend well to lavender wands. Not hardy here, but worth growing in a container all summer.
'Goodwin Creek' is the best variety as a houseplant.
If you are growing lavender for culinary use, look for organically-grown lavender.
When to Harvest Lavender
How you intend to use lavender determines when to harvest it. If used in the kitchen for baking, pick before the flower buds have opened - when the buds are tight. If using it medicinally or aromatically, then pick the flowers as they begin to open. Dry the stems upside down bundled with rubber bands.
How to Use Lavender
Even if you don't grow lavender, you can experience it's calming effects in the form of essential oil. Diffuse it, spritz it on your pillow case before drifting off to sleep, use the oil on bug bites to stop the itching. If you have the flowers, fill sachets with them and tuck them into your drawers.
Below is a fun, easy way to venture into it's culinary uses. Try something new and explore how to make this aromatic herb part of your lifestyle.
4 cups of filtered water
1 cup sugar or honey
2 Tbsp dried lavender buds or 4 Tbsp of fresh buds
1 cup lemon juice, fresh squeezed
lavender sprigs for garnish
1. Combine water, sugar or honey, and lavender in a saucepan and heat for approximately 10 minutes or until the mixture begins to boil. Remove from the heat and allow to steep until cool, about 20 minutes.
2. Pour the mixture through a fine-screened colander or cheesecloth into a pitcher. Add the lemon juice and stir. Serve in glasses filled with ice and garnished with a lavender sprig or lemon wheel.
Recipe from The Lavender Lover's Handbook by Sarah Berringer Bader
Purple Sage, Purple Basil, and Parsley - two uncommon herbs and one very common herb. But all three are full of flavor and well worthy of a spot in the kitchen garden.
PURPLE SAGE: The pretty purple leaves of purple sage can be used ornamentally in container gardens, but they also are edible and can be used in dishes in place of common sage. The pungent flavor is known mostly for Thanksgiving stuffing, but has other uses as well. Add it when roasting potatoes or to fish dishes. The flowers of sage are edible, too, and can be added to salads. In the garden, purple sage should be treated as an annual as it is not hardy in our area.
PURPLE BASIL: Basil is probably the herb most in demand and is used for Bruschetta, soups, sauces, and pesto. Purple basil's flavor is clove-like and has a slightly spicy flavor. It makes a pretty purple basil vinegar and adds color to dishes when used fresh. To keep basil from getting too leggy, pinch it back just above a set of leaves.
PARSLEY: The 2021 Herb of the Year
- Parsley has become so common in the kitchen, that we usually consider it an afterthought - a pretty garnish on the dinner plate. But parsley is so much more! Rich in vitamins A, B, C, calcium and magnesium, it has a fresh taste. Add it raw to salads, chop finely and sprinkle on sandwiches and egg dishes. Italian flat-leaf parsley is often preferred by chefs over curly parsley for it's rich, robust flavor.
- In the garden, parsley is a biennial herb. It will often return in the second year and quickly flower and go to seed which is not necessarily a bad thing. Bees and pollinators will visit the flowers, and the finches will eat the seeds.
Hi, I'm Tracy - horticulturist, beauty-seeker, Word-lover, and blessed to be the owner of Bella Botanica. I also love to write about plants, gardening, and about my faith journey. Thanks for reading!