How to Grow Your Own Medicinal Herb Garden

Whether you live on a farm or in an apartment, you can enjoy the benefits of nature's medicine

How to Grow Your Own Medicinal Herb Garden
Growing your own herbs is easy, therapeutic, and provides useful home remedies that can make you feel better physically and mentally. (Aerial Mike/Shutterstock)
Dave Paone
10/24/2022
Updated:
10/24/2022

Many Americans feel that our country is overmedicated and that the endless concoctions we subject our bodies to cannot be good for us in the long run.

The alternative to over-the-counter drugs is what was once called "home remedies." Most of these cures for common ailments come from herbs.

If you have space to do it, you can grow your own medicinal herb garden and essentially have a homeopathic pharmacy in your backyard.

Why Grow Your Own Medicinal Herbs?

You can easily purchase medicinal herbs at a health food store or order them online and have them delivered. So, why grow your own?

Jocelyn Wolffe, who’s certified in herbology, finds the entire undertaking therapeutic.

"Learning the cycles of the plants, you also learn a lot of essential lessons," she told The Epoch Times. "I like witnessing the whole process myself, as opposed to just buying it on the shelf.

"I feel like having medicinal plants, or just growing your own food, you feel a lot better mentally and physically." And, sometimes, a homeopathic remedy you may have on hand works better than something purchased at a pharmacy.

Medicinal herb gardens are nothing new. According to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens website, "Garden layouts that date back to medieval and Renaissance Europe continue to strongly influence modern herb gardeners."

Getting Started

If you’re in the suburbs and have a backyard, Wolffe’s suggestion is to first assess the plot of land, noting which areas receive the most sunlight.
Annie Sunshine is an executive volunteer on the Farm Advisory Committee at Crossroads Farm, a five-acre organic farm in Malverne on New York's Long Island.

She suggests finding out what herbs are native to your area—particularly ones that may already be growing on your property—and using them as a starting point.

There are plant identification apps, such as Pl@ntNet, which will tell you what plant is what just by taking a picture of it.

"You’ll also want to know which things grow next to which," Sunshine told The Epoch Times. "Not everything wants to be next to each other."

Sunshine recommends doing your research through Mother Earth News, and Wolffe recommends Facebook gardening groups for support.

Liz Will has further advice. She is a master gardener—certified through the Michigan State University Extension—as well as a gardening coach. "It’s best to start by making a list of herbal plants you’d like to have in the garden," Will told The Epoch Times. "What herbs do you regularly use? Which herbs would grow in your local climate? Then, group those plants by their growing requirements.

Master gardener and gardening coach, Liz Will, in her flower garden in Troy, Mich. (Courtesy of Alexis Wehrman)
Master gardener and gardening coach, Liz Will, in her flower garden in Troy, Mich. (Courtesy of Alexis Wehrman)

"Most herbs are annuals and should be planted in the garden once the threat of frost has passed. The medicinal parts, such as the leaves, can be collected once the plant reaches full maturity.

"For most, this is mid-summer through fall. Seeds can also be collected at the end of the season, for replanting the following year."

If you’re considering starting a garden next spring, Sunshine recommends leaving the fallen leaves that accumulate at this time of year in the area that will be your garden next year, to keep the soil healthy.

Come pring, you’ll "turn everything over," add a little compost, and be good to go.

Urban Herb Gardens

Even if you’re living in an apartment building in Brooklyn instead of in the suburbs with a backyard, you can still grow your own herbs.

An urban trend these days is the community garden, often found on a plot of land between two apartment buildings, where residents can grow their own plants.

If your building doesn’t have one, you can still grow plants on a windowsill or balcony. You’ll need containers to hold the soil and seeds, and almost anything can be used, from milk cartons cut in half to storage containers to actual seedling trays purchased from a nursery.

A clear storage container (to let the sun in), with some holes cut in the top, will work as a miniature greenhouse.

Regardless of where you grow your plants, Sunshine and Wolffe both say some herbs are better off initially grown indoors and then, once sprouted, replanted in the garden.

Since you won’t have a sprinkler set up in your apartment, Wolffe recommends a mister, which is a container that holds water and a pump that sprays it as a mist.

Seedlings in the greenhouse at Crossroads Farm in Malverne, Long Island. (Courtesy of Jocelyn Wolffe)
Seedlings in the greenhouse at Crossroads Farm in Malverne, Long Island. (Courtesy of Jocelyn Wolffe)

Flower Water

Just as Will likes to make teas from her herbs, Wolffe likes to make flower water from hers.

She breaks up the oil, scent, and medicinal content of the herbs and mixes them with an alcohol base to make a liquid for "energetic purposes."

These waters are not imbibed, but can be used either as a cleanser for "energetically cleaning spaces" or as an additive to your bathwater to rejuvenate your skin.

"There’s basically medicine in almost everything," Wolffe said.

Certified herbologist, Jocelyn Wolffe, at the herb garden at Crossroads Farm in Malverne, Long Island. (Courtesy of Dave Paone/The Epoch Times)
Certified herbologist, Jocelyn Wolffe, at the herb garden at Crossroads Farm in Malverne, Long Island. (Courtesy of Dave Paone/The Epoch Times)

What You’ll Need

To get started, there are a few things you’ll need to buy if you don’t have them already.

Organic topsoil, compost, seeds, and growing containers are enough to get you started.

For tools, you'll need a basic spade and, Wolffe’s favorite tool, a Japanese hori hori—also known as a "soil knife."

Naturally, you’ll need a water source—a sprinkler for your garden or a mister for your apartment.

Apartment complexes might have a community garden, or you can grow your own garden on a window or fire escape. (Kristi Blokhin/Shutterstock)
Apartment complexes might have a community garden, or you can grow your own garden on a window or fire escape. (Kristi Blokhin/Shutterstock)

Liz Will’s Medicinal Herb Garden Favorites

(Egor Rodynchenko/Shutterstock)
(Egor Rodynchenko/Shutterstock)
Peppermint: This fast-growing herb is best grown in pots, due to its ability to spread all over the garden. Grow in full sun, keep the soil evenly moist, and water when the top inch feels dry. Peppermint has a long history of use in calming an upset stomach and alleviating indigestion. It’s also used to relieve headaches and migraines and improve sleep. The leaves are typically steeped in tea.
(AmyLv/Shutterstock)
(AmyLv/Shutterstock)
Thyme: These plants love full sun and tolerate hot, dry conditions due to their Mediterranean origins. With its anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antiseptic properties, thyme can be used to help heal cuts and bruises. It can be applied directly to the body in the form of a poultice or consumed to help reduce inflammation in the body. It can also be brewed into a tea and used to soothe sore throats and coughs.
(Volosina/Shutterstock)
(Volosina/Shutterstock)
Echinacea: Also known as coneflower, echinacea grows best in full-to-part sun. It's tolerant of dry soil but doesn't like damp or wet soil. Echinacea is commonly used to shorten the length of a cold, as it may help boost your immune system. It also has the ability to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. To use echinacea, pieces of dried root, stem, and petals can be steeped in hot (not quite boiling) water for 10 minutes. Strain before serving.
(SINSKIH AGENCY/Shutterstock)
(SINSKIH AGENCY/Shutterstock)
Lavender: This herb has more uses than just for fragrance, although its scent alone is used to treat anxiety, promote relaxation, and soothe headaches. Lavender grows best in full sun and well-drained soil. It can be steeped into a tea that may help to lower inflammation, boost immune health, and reduce menstrual cramping.
(MarcoFood/Shutterstock)
(MarcoFood/Shutterstock)
Calendula: These flowers are a hardy and beautiful addition to the medicinal herb garden. It grows best in sunny locations with well-draining soil. The more you harvest the petals from it, the more it blooms. Harvest the flowers when they feel sticky to the touch and use them both topically and internally. The flowers can be used in creams and salves to treat bruises, sores, burns, and skin rashes. It’s also helpful in treating diaper rash and cradle cap. Calendula tea can be used to moderate a fever or combined with other herbs to treat a variety of intestinal ailments.
(Tanya Sid/Shutterstock)
(Tanya Sid/Shutterstock)
Chamomile: Commonly used in teas to support the nervous and digestive systems, chamomile can promote more restful sleep and help to calm anxiety. It can also aid digestion and soothe diarrhea symptoms. Chamomile loves cooler weather and is best grown in late spring or early fall. Start chamomile seeds indoors six weeks before your last frost date and plant the young plants eight inches apart in a sunny location once the threat of frost has passed. Water regularly until they're established.
(osoznanie.jizni/Shutterstock)
(osoznanie.jizni/Shutterstock)
Dandelion: Far more than a pesky weed, dandelion is a much-needed addition to your medicinal herb garden. Dandelion roots may stimulate and decongest the liver and encourage healthy digestion. They also help break down cholesterol and fat by stimulating the production of bile. The leaves are high in fiber and vitamins. Even the flowers of this plant are edible and can brighten up any salad plate! Dandelions grow best in full sun and moist, but not wet, soil.
(Nik Merkulov/Shutterstock)
(Nik Merkulov/Shutterstock)
Aloe Vera: This is a must-have plant for the medicinal herb collection. Grown as a perennial in warmer climates, aloe plants are typically grown as houseplants. Aloe plants are one of the easiest plants to grow and are excellent for treating both superficial and serious burns, including sunburn. The gel inside the leaf can be applied thickly to the skin to provide cooling and soothing relief. Aloe can also be used to treat rashes from poison ivy and poison oak. Aloe loves a sunny window, well-drained soil, and occasional watering.