Not that long ago, people knew the healing properties of plants that grew in the fields and forests where they lived. This knowledge was invaluable when doctors might be hours or even days away. It was also a way of life.
Today, knowing we can treat the most common ailments with plants grown in our gardens makes us more self-sufficient and ensures we can take care of our basic health needs now and in the future.
Here are six medicinal herbs to add to your “healing garden.”
Nervous System Tonic/Anxiety/Depression/Sleep Aid/Headaches/Stress/Pain and Inflammation
Lavender’s beautiful flowers and enticing aroma are a wonderful addition to any garden. Lavender also adds a host of healing properties that are very useful for everyday health problems such as headaches—especially those associated with stress. Lavender is considered a nervous system tonic and is an excellent natural remedy for nervousness, anxiety, and depression. Lavender is also ideal for promoting natural sleep because of its calming effect on the nervous system. You can put lavender flowers in your bedroom, or place a few drops of lavender essential oil in a bath or on your pillow or bedsheets to help you relax and fall into a restful sleep.
For depression, anxiety, or general stress and tension, you can add a few drops of lavender essential oil to a carrier oil such as extra-virgin olive oil or jojoba oil and apply to various parts of the body like the temples, inside of the wrists and elbows, or the bottoms of the feet. Adding a few drops of lavender essential oil to a diffuser also helps with anxiety and depression, and relaxes the body to help you sleep.
Externally, the oil can be used as a stimulating liniment to help aches and pains from inflammation and pain in the joints, muscles, and other tissues.
Part Used: Flowers
Collection: Lavender flowers should be gathered just before opening, usually between early summer and early fall. Flowers should be gently dried at temperatures no higher than 35 degrees C/95 degrees F.
Preparation and Dosage: For tea, pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of the dried flowers and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Drink this tea three times a day.
When using essential oils, always try to use high-quality organic oils and mix them with a carrier oil such as coconut, jojoba, avocado, almond, argan, grapeseed, or rosehip if they are applied to the skin.
Eliminates Toxins/Fevers/Urinary Infections/Wound Healing
Yarrow is a powerful herb with a vast range of medicinal actions, making it an excellent addition to your healing garden. It’s one of the best diaphoretic herbs, which induce sweating, helping the body to eliminate toxins through the skin and urine.
Yarrow is also well known for its ability to treat fevers. It regulates blood flow to all parts of the body and, combined with its sweat-inducing abilities, helps to regulate body temperature and fluids and to release heat and toxins, reducing a fever. For a fever, you can drink yarrow tea (instructions below) or add 8 cups of yarrow tea to a hot bath.
Yarrow has a powerful effect on blood and lowers blood pressure due to its ability to dilate peripheral blood vessels. It also tones and strengthens vessels, is excellent for treating bruises, bleeding, and clotting problems, and can be used externally for wound healing.
Yarrow’s antibacterial properties make it an excellent choice for urinary tract infections. It strengthens and tones the bladder, improving incontinence and helping to decrease the chance of reinfection. Yarrow also reduces pain in these conditions. It helps cystitis, an inflammation of the bladder often associated with a bladder infection. In these cases, you can use a tincture (a preparation using alcohol that is taken internally) or drink yarrow tea.
Yarrow has long been used in European, Native American, and Chinese medicine. In Chinese medicine, yarrow, or ya luo, is an herb that moves both qi (energy) and blood. It reduces inflammation, stops bleeding, and heals wounds. Yarrow treats fevers, colds, flus, headaches, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, bladder infections, urinary stones, frequent urination, and heavy or delayed menstruation. It also has a spiritual component in Chinese medicine and is seen to unite all aspects of a person: physical, emotional, and spiritual. In Eastern medicine, this unity personifies health, happiness, and well-being.
Parts Used: Aerial parts (the parts of a plant that grow above the ground)
Collection: The entire part of the plant that grows above ground can be collected when it’s in flower, which is generally between early summer and early fall.
Preparation and Dosage: For tea, pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 to 2 teaspoonfuls of the dried herb and leave to infuse for 10 to 15 minutes. Drink this tea three times a day. For a fever, drink the tea hot, hourly.
Echinacea angustifolia / Echinacea purpurea
Infections/Colds and Flus/Immune Booster/Mouthwash/Sores and Cuts
Echinacea is a powerful infection fighter and vital addition to any healing garden. The echinacea plant produces pretty daisy-like flowers that range in color from white to pink to light purple.
In recent years, echinacea has come into the mainstream and become a popular remedy for colds and flus. It’s now widely available as a tea, supplements, lozenges, and tinctures to boost the immune system and rid the body of the common cold and influenza. It’s also a prophylactic, fortifying our external defenses and keeping infections from taking hold.
Echinacea is well known for its antiviral and antibacterial properties and its ability to treat all kinds of infections, especially in the upper respiratory tract. A study published in the journal Holistic Nursing Practice in 2016 found that using echinacea for four months reduced the total number of cold episodes, decreased the number of days with colds, and reduced the cold episodes that required additional medication.
Echinacea is also effective for sores and cuts when applied topically as a lotion.
Echinacea can be made into a mouthwash to treat oral conditions such as gingivitis and periodontitis. A tincture or a decoction (tea) works for this purpose. Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums. Periodontitis is a more severe infection affecting the ligaments and bones supporting the teeth.
Parts used: Flowers and roots
Collection: The roots should be harvested in the fall.
Preparation and Dosage: For tea, put 1 to 2 teaspoonfuls of the root in 1 cup of water and slowly bring it to a boil. Let it simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Drink this tea three times a day.
For a tincture, take 1 to 4 milliliters three times a day.
Gentle Sedative/Calms Nervous System/Helps Digestion/Anti-Inflammatory/Analgesic/Antiseptic
Chamomile is an incredibly versatile herb and an excellent choice for a healing garden. It’s a highly effective but gentle sedative that’s safe to use with children. It’s often used in combination with other herbs to add a relaxing effect. Chamomile helps with insomnia, anxiety, and stress because of its calming effects on the nervous system. For these, chamomile tea is ideal.
As a carminative, chamomile affects the digestive system by relaxing stomach muscles, helping the movement of food through the system, and reducing the production of gas, which helps to ease pain and bloating. A study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology in 2018 demonstrated that the flavonoids in Roman chamomile had a direct and prolonged muscle-relaxant effect on the smooth muscle in the small intestinal tissue of guinea pigs and humans.
Roman chamomile has anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antiseptic, and diaphoretic properties. Chamomile is used for inflammatory conditions, is an excellent remedy for pain, combats the growth of microorganisms (which is why it’s a common ingredient in many soaps and cleaning products), and induces sweating, helping the body to cleanse itself of toxins and other debris.
Adding a handful of chamomile flowers to a large bowl, pouring boiling water over them, and inhaling the steam is a natural remedy for nasal congestion and other inflammations of the upper respiratory tract. Once the water has cooled, you can splash it onto the eyes for pain and swelling.
Made into a balm, chamomile speeds the healing of cuts and other wounds.
Parts used: Flowers and leaves
Collection: Flowers should be collected between late spring and late summer when they aren’t wet with dew or rain. Flowers should be dried gently at not too high a temperature.
Preparation and Dosage: For tea, pour 1 cup of boiling water on 2 teaspoonfuls of the dried herb and let steep for 5 to 10 minutes. For digestive problems, drink the tea after meals. A stronger tea should be used for conditions such as gingivitis or periodontitis. Boil 1/2 cup flowers in 2 liters (approximately 8.4 cups) of water to make a steam bath. Cover your head with a towel and inhale the steam.
Skin Inflammation/Gallbladder Issues/Indigestion/Fungal Infections/Gastric and Duodenal Ulcers
Marigold’s sunny yellow-orange flowers add a lovely splash of color to your garden, and their medicinal properties help a variety of common ailments.
Marigold is particularly good for skin inflammation resulting from infection or physical damage, and for any external bleeding, wounds, bruising, strains, minor burns, and scalds. In these cases, marigold can be used as a lotion, balm, poultice, or compress.
Marigold is a cholagogue—causing contraction of the gallbladder and stimulating the secretion of bile—and is used to relieve gallbladder problems and indigestion. It also treats gastric and duodenal ulcers.
Marigold has antifungal properties and can be used internally and externally for fungal infections. It’s also an effective remedy for delayed menstruation and painful periods.
If you raise chickens, marigolds are an excellent supplement to chicken feed to improve chickens’ health and the quality of their eggs. A study published in the International Journal of Poultry Science found that chickens fed marigold or marigold extract laid healthier eggs with considerably less cholesterol.
Parts used: Yellow petals (florets)
Collection: You can collect the entire flower tops or just the petals between early summer and early fall. The flowers must be dried very carefully to make sure there’s no discoloration.
Preparation and Dosage: For tea, pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 to 2 teaspoonfuls of the florets and leave to infuse for 10 to 15 minutes. Drink this tea three times a day.
Simple Marigold Balm Recipe
This marigold ointment is excellent for use on cuts, sores, or minor burns.
Recipe: Take 60 grams/2 ounces (or about a handful) of freshly picked marigold flowers, add them to 200 grams/7 ounces of melted petroleum jelly, and bring the mixture to a boil. Simmer very gently for about 10 minutes, stirring well. Then sift it through fine gauze, squeezing out all the liquid from the flowers. Pour the liquid into a container and seal it after it has cooled.
This recipe is from “Holistic Herbal” by David Hoffmann.
Natural Bandages/Speed Healing of Cuts, Wounds, and Burns/Natural Toilet Paper/Antimicrobial
Lamb’s ear is a very appealing plant and is often grown as an ornamental because of its fuzzy leaves that look like the soft ears of baby lambs. For this reason, it’s also popular in children’s gardens, as the soft leaves make them fun to touch. Lamb’s ear is part of the mint family and native to the Middle East. It’s easy to grow, requiring full sun and soil with good drainage.
Lamb’s ear leaves have antiseptic and astringent properties and are excellent for speeding the healing of wounds, cuts, and scrapes, with the leaves being placed directly on the skin. The plant’s leaves were actually used as bandages during the Civil War, and some stories suggest that they were used this way as far back as the Middle Ages.
Lamb’s ear can also be used as an alternative to toilet paper, and there are accounts that the Boy Scouts used them for this purpose. Always be sure your plant identification skills are excellent if you are going to use lamb’s ear this way.
In a study published in Plants in 2021, lamb’s ear and two other species from the same genus (Stachys) were studied for their antimicrobial activity. Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) showed antimicrobial activity against gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria strains—eight in total.
Parts used: Flowers and leaves
Collection: Harvest the aerial parts in mid-summer, just as it’s beginning to flower.
Preparation and Dosage: You can place leaves directly on cuts and wounds, or crush the leaves and put them on stings and insect bites. Tea made of dried leaves is beneficial for colds and infections of the gums and throat. Tea that’s been cooled can be used as an eye wash for styes.
Plants are our allies in the natural world, and if we learn how to harness their gifts, we can reconnect with the planet and improve our health and well-being in the process.