Medicinal plants to grow

Growing a Medicinal Herb Garden

Today in Germany, extracts, tinctures, ointments, salves and other preparations of E. purpurea and E. angustifolia are used to strengthen the immune system against some viral and bacterial invaders, uses backed by extensive research performed during the past 30 years.

Plants and seeds of E. purpurea are widely available from nurseries and seed houses. The seeds germinate readily, or plants can be easily propagated by dividing the roots. This species does well in any well-drained garden soil, will tolerate up to half shade, and is remarkably drought-resistant. On the other hand, plants and seeds of E. angustifolia are harder to find, and the seeds germinate much less readily.

While most references suggest using echinacea root for medicinal use, I make a tea of the fresh or dried flowers of E. purpurea: the chemical constituents of the flowers are similar to those of the root. In summer or fall, I simply pour a cup of boiling water over a chopped flower head and steep it, covered, for 10 minutes. For winter use, I make a tincture. I chop an entire plant, place it in a wide-mouthed gallon jar, and pour in about a fifth of 190-proof grain alcohol (never wood or rubbing alcohol) and a quart of water—just enough to cover the plant material. I put on the lid and set the jar aside for two weeks. At the end of this period, the tincture is ready to use. It will retain its effectiveness for at least a year. I swallow about 30 to 60 drops (1 to 2 teaspoons) of the tincture four or five times a day when I feel a cold coming on.

Chamomile: Gentle Yet Powerful

Many Europeans and Americans enjoy chamomile tea, which is made from the dried or fresh flowers of the annual German or Hungarian chamomile (Matricaria recutita, formerly M. chamomilla or Chamomilla recutita). Roman or English chamomile, the flower of the perennial Chamaemelum nobile, is seldom sold in the United States for medicinal use, although it is commonly grown in herb gardens. German and Roman chamomile flowers may be used interchangeably.

(See an image of chamomile growing.)

People have used chamomile tea for centuries as a gentle sleep aid (particularly for children), as well as to ease digestion, promote urination and relieve colic. They also used chamomile tea to wash wounds and sores. Today, the pharmacopoeias (official authorities) of 26 countries approve it to treat inflammation, infection, colic, muscle spasms and tension. All uses except for sedative claims have been confirmed by recent research.

German chamomile is easily grown from seed. The daisylike flowers usually appear within six weeks of planting, so you can often make two plantings in a single growing season. It does best in cooler climates; in the South, it quickly bolts and shrivels under the intense summer sun. German chamomile likes a neutral to slightly acidic, well-drained sandy loam and full sun. Plants self-sow freely, so you’ll probably not need to plant it again after the first season. During the several weeks in which chamomile blooms, you can make several pickings. Spread the flowers in a basket in a warm, dark place to dry.

Making tea with flowers picked from the garden couldn’t be easier. Just pour 1 cup boiling water over 1 heaping teaspoon dried flowers, steep, covered, for 10 minutes, then strain into a cup. Sip a cup of tea three to four times a day to relieve an upset stomach or drink a cup to relax before going to bed.

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NOTE: Those allergic to the pollen of other aster family members such as ragweed may also be allergic to chamomile.

Yarrow: First Aid in the Garden

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), another member of the aster family, is known to many as a perennial weed that grows wild along roadsides, meadows and dry wastelands throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The generic name Achillea comes from the legend that Achilles used a poultice of the plant to stop the bleeding of his soldiers’ wounds during the Trojan War. Scientists have since discovered that an alkaloid called achilleine is responsible for stanching blood flow. Yarrow contains more than 120 other chemical components, some of which have been shown to reduce inflammation and muscle spasms and relieve pain. Others are believed to ease digestion, calm anxiety and reduce inflammation.

(See an image of yarrow growing.)

Nearly all yarrows require no care, remain pest-free and are winter-hardy in Zones 3 through 9. As a garden subject, it’s an attractive, 3-foot-tall herb whose stems and ferny leaves are covered with woolly hairs. Flat or round-topped clusters of tiny, white or pale, lilac-pink flowers bloom from June through September. Plants are easily grown from seed or propagated by dividing the roots in the spring or fall. Yarrow adapts well to many soil types but thrives in moderately rich soil in full sun. Harvest the stalks when in full bloom and hang to dry.

I use yarrow as a garden first-aid station. Whenever I cut myself while working outdoors, I wash the cut thoroughly (yarrow doesn’t inhibit the growth of bacteria), then crush some yarrow leaves or flowers in the palm of my hand, and apply them to the cut. Yarrow can also be used in a salve or poultice for minor cuts and wounds. The bleeding usually stops immediately.

To make a yarrow tea, pour a cup of boiling water over 1 to 2 teaspoons of the dried herb and steep, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes, then sip. Drink three cups per day to treat colds and early fevers. Yarrow is not considered toxic, but some people may have an allergic reaction to it.

Lemon Balm: A Tasty Healer

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a favorite of bees, as its generic name attests: Melissa is Greek for “bee.” Popular among herbalists for 2,000 years, this lemon-scented perennial member of the mint family is also high in essential oil content. (“Balm,” which is derived from “balsam,” refers to aromatic, healing plant resins or oils.) It is native to the Mediterranean region, western Asia, southwestern Siberia and northern Africa, but it is widely naturalized in North America.

(See an image of lemon balm growing.)

Traditionally, lemon balm has been used to reduce fevers and treat colds by inducing sweating; calm the digestive tract; relieve spasms related to cramps and headaches; and overcome insomnia. Recent research has confirmed lemon balm’s ability to calm anxiety, relieve spasms, and inhibit the growth of fungi and bacteria. The German government allows preparations of lemon balm to be labeled as treatments for insomnia related to nervous conditions and gastrointestinal spasms.

A slightly sprawling herb growing to 2 feet high, lemon balm is easy to grow from seeds sown in the spring or early fall. It is hardy in Zones 4 through 9. A fertile, moist soil is ideal. Lemon balm tolerates a wide range of acidity, from pH 5 to 7.8, and likes a cool habitat; it thrives in moist, open spots of California’s redwood forests. If grown in full sun, lemon balm may wilt during hot, dry spells. Plants grown under shade tend to be larger and more succulent than those grown in direct sun. It can be invasive, so prune off the flowering tops before they go to seed.

Lemon balm is a great medicinal herb to grow yourself because it is more effective when used fresh or freshly dried. Harvest it just as the plant comes into bloom. Lemon balm is easy to dry but loses much of its scent upon drying. The fresh leaves make a refreshing tea. Pour a cup of boiling water over a small handful of fresh leaves (or 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried leaves) and steep, covered, for 10 minutes. It is delicious either hot or iced.

Peppermint: Spicy-Sweet Digestive Aid

Mint was mentioned as a stomach aid in the Ebers Papyrus, the world’s oldest surviving medical text, believed to date from the 16th century B.C. Once thought to be a distinct species, peppermint (Mentha ×piperita) is actually a hybrid between spearmint (M. spicata) and water mint (M. aquatica).

(See an image of peppermint growing.)

Peppermint leaf tea was traditionally used to allay insomnia, upset stomach, indigestion, nervous tension, colds (by inducing sweating, it was thought to purge the infection), cramps, diarrhea and nausea. Recent research has shown that the essential oil contains substances that relieve muscle spasms and inhibit the growth of bacteria and viruses. Its primary constituent—menthol—gives this hardy perennial herb its spicy-sweet scent and flavor.

Grow mints in containers, as they can be quite invasive. Peppermint’s stalks grow upward to 3 feet tall nearly as fast as its shallow runners spread horizontally. Its flowers are sterile, so you can’t grow plants from seed, but you can easily increase your stock by dividing the roots. In moist but well-drained soil and full sun, peppermint thrives on neglect; in fact, you may need to dig plants up every year to limit their spread. Harvest leaves as they mature and dry them in a warm, dark place.

Peppermint tea is delicious and refreshing. Pour a cup of boiling water over 2 teaspoons of fresh leaves or 1 teaspoon of crushed, dried leaves. Steep, covered, for 10 minutes. Use more or less herb according to your preference. Drink a cup of this tea up to three times a day to aid digestion.

Steven Foster is an author and photographer specializing in medicinal plants.

Learn how to simply and easily plan a medicinal herb garden for all your plant-based wellness needs. Aren’t sure what herbs are traditionally considered medicinal? We can help with that, too! You CAN grow wellness, or medicinal, herbs wherever you live, in whatever space you have.

Just a quick note – this post is looooong, so grab a pencil and some paper to take notes just in case your kiddo gets a scraped knee, a package gets delivered or the pig escapes and you have to read it in installments.

Why and How to Plan and Plant a Medicinal Herb Garden

Why would you want to know how to plan and plant a medicinal herb garden? With more and more of us opting out of the conventional this or that, there’s been a rise in interest in gardening in general, and growing herbs specifically, over the last few years. Herbs are amazingly useful plants in the landscape, even if you’re not ready to use them to boost health and wellness.

Most herbs are really not very difficult to grow, many have lovely flowers and/or interesting foliage and they can easily be integrated into your perennial beds or any traditionally landscaped area. A lot of herbs grow well in pots, either indoors or outdoors and many are very adaptable to climates and types of soil. Many, many herbs are basically pest resistant plants, ta-boot!

If you’re new to herbs, get started with our short e-book, Herbs in the Bathtub. This book will get you growing herbs in pots this year regardless of where you live or how much space you have. It outlines a collection of well known herbs for culinary and wellness uses. We’ll teach you how to grow and use these wonderful plants – anyone can grow an herb garden this year!

Which Wellness Herbs to Begin With?

Even people who aren’t into herbs know the basics like basil, mint and garlic. Interestingly enough, all three of these are classified as culinary and medicinal herbs being both highly nutritive and flavorful as well as powerfully potent in treating various health issues. My goal here is to cover a few basic principles on how to plan and plant a medicinal herb garden. A medicinal herb garden is defined as a garden planted with the goal of serving the needs of your general health maintenance, as well as acute issue that might arise.

There’s no way I can cover everything on how to plan and especially how to plant your wellness herb garden but we’ll cover some of the basics. If you have specific questions, feel free to ask and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Here is a list of my Must Have, Must Grow Medicinal Herbs that are also very manageable for most gardeners.

The list includes some cultural requirements for each plant and a few of their uses but most herbs are multi-taskers. Always double check everything you read about herbs so that you can be sure of your information; don’t take my word for anything, do your own homework. See our full disclaimer at the bottom of this post. Please bear in mind that these herbs are traditionally referred to as “medicinal herbs”, though “wellness herbs” is also an appropriate term. Please always consult your physician, homeopath, herbalist or medical professional before making any changes to your health and wellness regimen.

How Do I Plan Which Medicinal Herb to Grow?

Most herbs are not terribly tricky to grow, but they are plants and will require you to have a certain amount of gardening knowledge. Fortunately for all of us gardeners, nature is adaptable and resilient, and whenever I have a garden failure I just say right out loud, “Well, that’s why God invented next year”! My first piece of advice for effectively planning your medicinal herb garden is to evaluate how much gardening experience and knowledge you realistically have. The best rule to follow for new gardeners is:

Aim Small, Miss Small

If you’ve never really grown much, try basil or calendula this year as both are easy to grow (easy to grow from seed even, if you’re feeling ambitious). They’re very pleasing plants when they leaf and bloom – not to mention what great medicinal herbs they are!

Wellness Herb Challenge

Here’s a little herbal homework:

  1. Most quality, local nurseries will carry a selection of herbs. Walk through one and see which plant speaks to you.
  2. If you’re new to growing plants, I’m limiting you to two purchases this year.
  3. If you’ve grown a garden before, I challenge you to pick up an herb you’ve never heard of or, at least, one you’ve never tried growing.
  4. Before you take home you herb, check out the label and make sure it’s one that will survive the conditions of your climate and yard. If you have questions, ask your nurseryman or continue reading.

Remember to only take on two new-to-you plants this year. I don’t want you to get overwhelmed and frustrated, suffer a loss, and then figure you have a black thumb. You’re going to be busy living your life, AND tending your few new plants, AND reading herb/plant books from the library, AND looking for community gardening classes to join so that you can improve your garden Ninja skills.

Two plants will be all you can handle.

Questions About Planting Wellness or Medicinal Herbs:

Which wellness herbs do I already use?

There are literally thousands of useful wellness herbs you COULD grow. But your climate, soil and other growing conditions will only successfully support so many of those varieties. Sit down and go through your herb closet or shelf to see which herbs you use all the time.

  • Is it Echinacea?
  • Ginger?
  • Garlic?
  • What about Fennel?
  • Mint?
  • Licorice Root?
  • More exotic?
  • Are you always out of Ginseng?
  • Myrrh?
  • Black Walnut Hull?

What are the Herbs’ Cultural Requirements?

Now, grab one of those herb books you’ve checked out from the library, and start looking for information on each of your herbs’ “Cultural Requirements.” These are the conditions that each herb will need in order to grow and thrive.

You’ll be lucky, too, is the plant will propagate itself in some way. Propagate is when a plant reproduces itself which it can do by:

  • reseeding
  • producing seed for you to harvest
  • layering
  • cutting
  • and more!

Pay special attention to how many hours of sun your medicinal herb needs a day, because if your book says the herb needs 6-8 hours of sunlight is required, it probably means it. Here are some medicinal plants for the shade, in case you need them.

Also pay attention to what water requirements the plant has, what kind of soil it needs and, VERY important, what kind of winter and summer temperatures it can take.

Which medicinal herb should I plant in my climate?

Sometimes you can fudge a little with each individual plants requirements. For example, a little less water, only 5 1/2 hours of sun, a soil that is only borderline quality. However, winter temps, especially, are not forgiving. Make sure you are zoned for the plant you want to grow. If you’re not sure, go to this and type in your city. (Be sure to ask your nurseryman what the temperature range is for the plant you’re interested in, if the tag or the website doesn’t specify.)

Realistically determining what herbs you can actually grow will knock out a big chunk of your wish-list. Some of the common medicinal herbs we’ve become accustomed to ordering from our favorite herb suppliers are among those that will only grow in specific, delicate conditions.

For instance, in my climate without a greenhouse, using the examples above I can only grow:

  • Echinacea
  • Garlic
  • Fennel
  • Mint
  • Licorice
  • Walnut

Did I say only?!! That’s a pretty good list, all things considered.

As I tend my medicinal herb garden, I’ll find herbs that can serve as substitutes for those ones I can’t grow in my zone. God wants us to be healthy and has provided all we need to be so no matter where we live. I truly believe that and I’ve bet my life on it, literally.

Should I grow medicinal herbs from seed?

Once you have a working list of medicinal herb plants you know you’ll use AND be able to plant, order an herb catalog from a quality seed house. In fact, order from two or three. Read the descriptions of the plants, and see how much you’ve learned. Keep your herb book close by as a reference, and to answer any questions you have about the plants that the catalog isn’t answering.

What you’re doing here is finding an herbal seed vendor with whom you want to work.

  • Which companies has the criteria you’re seeking?
  • Will they be a good educational resource for you?
  • Is their website helpful?
  • Is their ordering process easy, and what does their customer service look like?
  • What about ethics – are you trying to stay away from Seminis, GMO or even hybrid seed?

The fact is, you may not be ready to start growing your herbs from seed this year (this is a step above keeping a plant alive in a pot on your deck), but you will eventually get there. And its good to begin with the end in mind.

(The picture above is of my daughter holding rose hips from medicinal and edible plant rugosa rose. The large seeds are inside the sweet hips and the plant uses both its hips and underground runners to propagate itself. To learn more about rugosa roses, .)

Here’s a list of 20 Medicinal Herbs You Can Grow From Seed from Learning and Yearning.

Where do I find medicinal herb plants?

If you’re wanting to create a MEDICINAL herb garden, then the chances are you’ll exhaust the resources of your local nursery within a few years. You’ll just be so herb savvy! You’ll discover you’ve moved beyond the simple basil and sage options at the nursery, and are looking for a wider variety from which to choose. I have several favorite, high-quality seed houses that I do business with.

However, if I’m looking specifically for medicinal or culinary herbs seeds, there’s only one choice for me and that’s Strictly Medicinal Seeds. They answer all my important seed house questions:

  • the seeds are always viable
  • the packets have great information
  • the catalog is a wealth of knowledge
  • the people behind the seeds are some of the nicest you’ll ever do business with
  • they also sell some potted plants and root cuttings, which is helpful for those times I just really don’t want to take the time to grow some of the harder plants from seed

Easiest to Grow Your Own Wellness Herbs

There are some online vendors who sell medicinal herb plants but unless you have a very small yard and a very big budget, stocking an entire herb garden with mature plants will be cost prohibitive. So:

  1. Go back to the library and get a book on seed starting.
  2. Take a local seed-starting class (try your university extension and/or your local seed exchange group).
  3. Ask your gardening nerd friend if you can come see their set up and pick their brains about what they do.
  4. Be sure to get a good gardening notebook like the one below to keep track of all you’re learning. The Gardening Notebook also comes with information on how to grow your favorite veggies. Hey, basil goes really well with tomatoes. Just sayin’.

Can I Only Grow Medicinal Herbs from Seed?

I will say that some herbs can be buggers to grow from seed, but all is not lost! If you are lucky enough to have a neighbor or friend who is growing an herb you need, research the best method of cutting or rooting for that plant and see if you can do that. For example, thyme can easily be propagated by a method called layering. Here’s how to layer with thyme:

  1. Take a supple but mature stem of thyme, laying it in the dirt and covering up a section with more dirt.
  2. Weighting that down with a rock or garden pin, you keep it watered and wait for the point of contact with the soil to sprout roots.
  3. Voila! Cut it off, and you have a new plant – no seed needed.

Again, have a good book on hand. Also, where it’s legal and the plants are available, consider learning how to wildcraft (harvest from native plants) the herbs that you need from your local environment. Please be sure to do this responsibly. Additionally, I encourage you to read this post on Get Free Plants for Your Garden by Healthy Green Savvy – there are probably some ideas here you have yet to try!

How Much Space do I Need?

Be realistic about the space available to you when planning and planting your medicinal herb garden.

Are you in an apartment? Well, then look at what you can grow in a sunny window or a southern facing deck. What about a community or farm garden plot, or a friend who has extra space in their yard? You’re into medicinal herbs, right? So, you’re used to thinking outside the box – bottom line, find a decent amount of space to grow some herbs.

What’s a good size? Ahhhh…ummmm…that depends. Argh – it’s impossible to get a straight answer from a gardener! Sorry, but it really does depend on certain factors.

Things to Consider About How Many Medicinal Herbs to Grow:

  • How many people are you growing medicine for this year?
  • How many different plants will be taking up space? (For example, fennel takes up a lot more space than thyme, both vertically and horizontally.)
  • How much of the area in your yard or plot is a good match for the plants you want to grow? (Are you able to use your entire growing space, or is there a lot of shade or unusable ground?)

Let me give you an example: I grow medicine for seven people. I have a spearmint patch that I inherited it with the house that is about two feet wide and eight feet long. I harvest at least twice, sometimes three times a year, by shearing the plant about six inches from the ground, and then letting it regrow. We hang-dry all of that, and then we use it fresh from the plant throughout the growing season, both in the house and in the barnyard. With those two or three harvests (which equals several, large fresh bundles), I have enough to last all winter for both the humans and the animals. I even have some left over most of the time.

Want to know what to do with mint? Please visit this post.

Another Wellness Herb Example:

Here’s another example using seed fennel. I put fennel seed directly into the ground, and grew up three patches of sweet fennel (not to be confused with bulb or Florence fennel). Those three patches left me with a #10 can size harvest of fennel seed – plenty for this year and then some! Remember, some herbs are culinary, too, and you’ll need to plan amounts to use in the kitchen. From each herb, harvest during the growing season to use fresh, and then harvest some for storage through the winter. I have no sense of proportion, and plant way more basil every year than I technically need, but is that really a bad thing?!

The key is to practice with these plants so that you get familiar with how they perform, and how much you typically need each year.

Planning the Medicinal Herb Garden on Paper

Are you still with me?

Ok, so you’ve done a good deal of thinking and studying, now:

  • get a nice sized piece of paper and a pencil with a good eraser
  • draw a sketch of your growing space
  • start plugging plant ideas into your sketch – this will serve as a rough design for your new herb garden.

Consider this Circle Garden Design from Tenth Acre Farm, adapted for your herbs. It’s a great use of space!

Your design can be something as simple as a Square Foot Garden bed devoted to herbs, or as complicated as an entire yard full of these great plants. Remember to utilize our book Herbs in the Bathtub, if you need a little help.

Need A Little More Help With Planning Your Medicinal Herb Garden?

There’s no shame in hiring a designer if this isn’t your thing.

I ended up consulting with a designer for our medicinal herb garden because it was in the front yard in a neighborhood with manicured growing spaces. I took her great plans and tweaked them the way I wanted. We also included a lot of edible plantings, and even some ornamentals since the space was large. I wanted the garden to be full and rich all year round, especially for my bees. It will take me years to get all the herbs I want in, and to grow up the edibles and ornamentals to a mature size. Tasha Tudor says it takes over a decade for a garden to look like it’s been there a lifetime. Sounds about right to me and I’m on track.

Incorporating all those other plantings also opened my eyes to how so many plants I’d never even thought of before have herbal actions. For example, we’re growing rugosa roses to form a living fence at the front of the garden, and because they’re lovely and will survive our winters. It turns out that their hips are so incredibly nutritious and powerfully healing that they are a medicinal plant. We took our first harvest of those hips this season and, wow, did everyone from the children to the goats appreciate those plants!

Need More Wellness Herb Information?

If you’re needing online herbal courses, including those covering medicinal herbs, please visit The Herbal Academy. There are several different courses to pick from, at varying levels of experience from novice to master.

Herbal Blog Posts:

If you’d like just a few great herbal posts to read, how about these?

  1. Here are 10 Ways to Use Oregano by Homespun Seasonal Living.
  2. How to Use Lavender in the home, on the body and for food is provided by Scratch Mommy.
  3. Reclaiming Vitality explains the Benefits and Uses of Chammomile.
  4. And Harvesting and Using Dandelion Roots from Common Sense Home.
  5. From Grow, Forage, Cook, Ferment here are 10 Reasons to Grow Lavender.
  6. And from Joybilee Farm here are 10 Herbal Remedies that are also Culinary Herbs.
  7. Need to know how to protect some of the more sensitive herbs in winter – we’re all about being sensitive to the needs of herbs, baby.
  8. Would like to know about herbs that make natural dyes for crafts and textiles? The garden in a wonderful place, whatever you’re planting!

Get to know the medicinal herbs and work with your plan…

I don’t mind the time it will take to mature my medicinal herb garden as I continue to plant it. I’m using the time to learn more and more about herbal preparations, properties and uses. I’m also getting to know the plants themselves, as they grow and occasionally fail. (We had a horribly hot summer and a terribly cold winter – I shudder to think what I’ll find this spring…)

So, I guess my last piece of advice is, take your time and pace yourself BUT start this year and do something to plan and plant your medicinal herb garden. No matter how small the effort may seem. Just like growing a vegetable garden, the key is to:

Grow what you’ll use and grow what will grow!

The unspoken truth of successful gardening…

Lavender is a dependable money maker for any herb business

Medicinal herbs are steadily gaining popularity. As people adopt a more natural and healthy lifestyle, medicinal herbs are used more and more, and the demand for them is growing. Here are seven of the more popular medicinal herbs that could profitable plants for a herbal business.

1.Calendula

Calendula’s popularity dates back to King Henry VII of England who loved colored food. Calendula was used to season his meals. It also has many other benefits. In particular it is good for digestive health as well as for skin preparations. It can be made into a foot soak or bath herb. To get the most medicinal potency out of it, grow a variety with a high resin content, such as “Resina” found at Johnny’s Seeds, a popular online source for medicinal herbs. Calendula is one of the easiest medicinal herbs to grow.

2. Lavender

Lavender has so many uses it’s been called the “Swiss army knife” of herbs. In addition to the powerful fragrance (the essential oil in lavender is one of the top-ten most used in the fragrance industry), it has many medicinal values as well. These include women and children’s health, skin care, nervous system conditions, and pain relief.

3. Marsh mallow

This versatile herb is useful for coughs or bronchitis. It can also help the digestive tract and various skin conditions. Turn it into a marsh mallow tea and you have something tasty and healthy for cold and flu season.

4. Catnip

You’ve probably heard of this one. It’s primarily used as a stimulant on cats, but it can also be a soothing sedative for humans. It can also bring about pain and stress relief as well as helping with cold and flu symptoms. Something you might want to consider is making “cat-er-pillows.” It’s just like it sounds: a pillow filled with catnip. These popular items are very easy to put together. It’s simply a mini-pillow made from fabric scraps. You throw in dried catnip, sew it shut, and you’re done. These can be sold at street fairs, stores, church fundraisers, and more, and are proven sellers. If you’re growing for profit, be sure to include catnip in your plans.

5. Lemon Verbena

Lemon verbena makes a delicious tea. It is used for digestive benefits as well as a calming and sleep aid. To get the most benefit, harvest the leaves right before you use them. In fact, lemon verbena is best propagated from softwood stem cuttings rather than from the seeds. Also, be sure to provide protection during the cold weather, as it is a tender plant.

6. St John’s wort

You’ve probably heard of this one and might even know someone who swears by it. In addition to its popular usage as a mood-altering herb, it can serve as skin treatment, provide immune support, and provide prevention during cold and flu season. Be sure to wait until it’s fully matured before harvest so you can get the maximum benefits of this popular herb.

7. Chamomile

Mmm, chamomile can make for a soothing tea. Like many other medicinal herbs, it has great digestive benefits. It can also be a calming and sleep aid. You’ll want to grow the German variety as this will produce harvestable flowers in just over two months. The best time to grow them is early in the season as it tends to bolt in the hot summer.

These are just some of the profitable medicinal herbs available. Grow and sell these favorites and you’ll be on your way to growing profits in the herbs business. To learn more about the business of medicinal herb growing. read Growing Herbs for Profit.

Healing Plants You Should Surround Yourself With

skynesher / Getty Images

Imagine a location with a built-in natural apothecary that has healing potions, healthy CO2 balanced air, and energy that is blooming with so much positivity you can actually feel it. Welcome to your home with healing plants. Adding plants can transform your abode from just a place to lay your head to a certified zen den for all things self-care. Especially when growing and surrounding yourself with certain medicinal plants in your indoor or outdoor garden.

Dr. Michael J Balick, vice president for Botanical Science at The New York Botanical Garden explains, “Mother Nature is a brilliant chemist. From earliest times, our ancestors have learned to use plants to heal and promote good health.” And while modern science is identifying those that have real value for improving our lives, Balick says, “I always suggest that anything taken as a medicine-be it a pharmaceutical product or an herbal supplement or tea-be used under the supervision of a knowledgeable professional to ensure optimum results.”

So now that we know plants can be therapeutic, where do we begin with what types to surround ourselves with? We turned to Balick and Brie Arthur, Vice President of Horticulture at Gardenuity to get the lowdown on the best plants healing benefits.

1. ALOE VERA

Aloe is no stranger to main stream health and beauty wellness, you have seen this popular succulent as an ingredient in your favorite soothing, after-sun skin care products or in a trendy waters in your health food store. Aloe is one of the best house plants as it requires little maintenance, and only needs to be watered about every three weeks. “Aloe is an easy to grow house plant that has been noted by experts for decades to reduce skin inflammation,” says Arthur. “The clear gel from the plant has been used to treat home burns, cuts and small skin infections.” Not only is Aloe Vera healing on the skin, when taken internally it’s a powerful potion that helps with digestion. Arthur explains, “Aloe Vera juice is actually considered a super food! It offers anti-inflammatory properties, relieves constipation and encourages good gut bacteria.”

2. ENGLISH MARIGOLD

This happy orange flower is not only a bold vision in nature, but the English Marigold can also help rid the body of pain when applied topically. “The bright orange color is certainly healing to the eyes for its simple beauty, but many herbal experts claim that a dried marigold flower can be rubbed onto an insect bite to help reduce the pain and swelling,” says Arthur.

GROW: Your Own Healing Herb Garden Image zoom Johnny Miller

3. GINGER

Ginger is a flowering knobby plant that aids with digestion. When consuming ginger, Arthur says we use “the root or underground stem, also called a rhizome. You can consume ginger in many different forms, including fresh, powdered, or as an oil or juice.” Enter your health food store or juice bar and you’ll see ginger root pop up on the menu more than a few times. One reason is that, “ginger helps with digestion and reduces nausea (especially morning sickness),” says Arthur. Balick’s tip: to help symptoms of nausea-from seasickness or from eating food that does not agree with you-make a tea from ginger roots. Another benefit is ginger’s ability to fight a cold. “Ginger also has anti-inflammatory properties known as gingerols and shaogals,” explains Arthur. “These help relieve a sore throat quickly and kill rhinoviruses, which is the cause of the common cold. Bottom line-adding ginger to your diet is a great way to stay healthy.”

4. ASHWAGANDHA

This shrub is getting a lot of buzz lately for its help with anxiety and fatigue. “Ashwagandha is used as an adaptogen to help the body be resilient in the face of stress. The root can be used to make a tea, extract or powder and consumed,” says Balick. Ashwagandra grows as a woody evergreen shrub. However, in our gardens we can grow it as an annual.

5. GOTU-KOLA

Meet the perennial plant that may make you more intelligent. Gotu-Kola is native to Asia and is very popular in Ayurvedic medicine for its benefits on the mind. “At some stage in our lives, we are all worried about memory and cognition, explains Balick. “Fresh leaves of Gotu-Kola can be eaten in salads and is thought to help sharpen thinking and memory.”

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6. SPIDER PLANT, SNAKE PLANT, FIDDLE LEAF FIG, PONYTAIL PALM AND BOSTON FERN

Looking to build an indoor plant sanctuary rather than an outdoor garden? Say hello to your air-purifying house plant starter kit with spider plant, snake plant, fiddle leaf fig, and ponytail palm. “Consider house plants as a means of “growing fresh air says Arthur.” These easy-to-grow houseplants will also boost workplace performance. “Environmental psychologists point out that plants on your desk and in your office will present an improved emotional state, reduced negative mood, reduced distraction and increased creativity,” she says. The expert especially loves the benefits of the Boston Fern for those living in urban environments, “This great green house plant is versatile in any city home,” she says. “It’s known for bringing balance to your homes moisture level. Perfect if you have dry skin.”

7. PASSIONFLOWER

Unrelated to passion fruit, but just as passionate, Balick loves passionflower tea for its calming effects and notes that it is used in herbal medicine for its mild sedative and tranquilizing properties, especially good for those who suffer from stress and anxiety, making it perhaps the perfect pre-sleep plant to ingest. “A recent clinical trial showed that a cup of passionflower tea helped improve patients’ sleep quality as compared to a placebo,” says Balick. As for growing it in your home? Passionflowers can thrive indoors, simply grow them in a soil planter with direct sunlight and move outdoors in the warmer months.

8. KAVA

Experiencing stress and anxiety? Chill out with the relaxing kava plant (which can be purchased in plant stores that specialize in tropical plants). Balick explains that kava is “a culturally important species native to the tropical Pacific Islands and used traditionally by people to resolve conflicts and promote relationships in the community.” That’s thanks to the strong anti-anxiety effect from compounds known as kavalactones found in the roots of this plant. “In herbal medicine, it is consumed as a tea or tincture and can be effective in lessening the “edgy” feeling after a long or difficult day.” For those of us not in Hawaii, the kava is a perfect indoor window plant as it likes equal parts shade and sunlight.

Want to learn more about healing plants? Watch Martha talk about some of her favorites here.

Health is closer than one might think. In fact, you may find it in your very, perhaps in that lush rosemary that grows on your backyard, or in the basil you keep in your kitchen. Here are 10 common plants that have healing properties you may not have known about:

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Dandelion

It is an overly proven diuretic and your livers best friend; it helps detox your entire body. It also contains potassium, and some have used it to treat eczema, intestinal problems and arthritis. Its leaves also help to regulate blood sugar.

.

Rosemary

This is one of the oldest plants in our diet. According to recent studies, rosemary can help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s decease. Also, its oils naturally fight bacteria and fungi in your body and home. Ofelia’s famous words in Hamlet “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance,” refer to the plant’s ability to strengthen memory by improving blood circulation in the brain.

.

Lavender

Since classical antiquity, people have used lavender for its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. But its very fragrance can help with anxiety, migraine, insomnia and depression.

.

Aloe Vera

For years, people have used the secretions of this plant to treat burns, cuts or superficial infections. It’s great for digestion, also, if you take it with juice.

.

Thyme

The citric variation of this herb (Thymus citriodorus) is known for its positive effects on children’s digestion and its antibiotic and antifungal properties, particularly used for healing superficial wounds.

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Celery

Better known for its sweet zest, celery is also a great diuretic. The seed extract of this vegetable reduces blood pressure in animals and yields sedative and anti-convulsive effects for humans. However, excessive consumption may cause photodermatitis.

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Sunflowers

According to the Medical Horticultural Society of Massachusetts, “a tea made from the leaves of sunflowers is an astringent, a diuretic and an expectorant, and it also works to reduce fevers.” Consuming sunflowers helps alleviate cold symptoms, and its ability to remove toxic substances lead the Russian Government to use it for cleaning the floors at the Chernobyl Power Plant after the nuclear disaster.

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Mint

Headaches, skin irritations, nausea, pain, diarrhea and bloating are some of the many symptoms that mint alleviates. It also helps with digestion and chest congestion. Some studies suggest that it has antibacterial and antiviral properties.

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Nepeta cataria

This plant, whose common name changes depending on where you are (cat mint, catnip, cat’s basil) is famous for inducing hallucinatory states of mind in cats. But people can chew its leaves to alleviate toothaches, fevers (because it causes sweating) and as a sedative. It is also known to repel mosquitoes much more effectively than store bought repellent.

.

Basil

This is another medicinal tradition inherited from the Mediterranean; basil was first used in the Greco-Roman world to repel insects and as an antidote to scorpion’s poison. People in India commonly use it to treat stress, diabetes, and asthma. New studies also suggest that basil has antiviral and antioxidant properties.

.

Health is closer than one might think. In fact, you may find it in your very, perhaps in that lush rosemary that grows on your backyard, or in the basil you keep in your kitchen. Here are 10 common plants that have healing properties you may not have known about:

.

Dandelion

It is an overly proven diuretic and your livers best friend; it helps detox your entire body. It also contains potassium, and some have used it to treat eczema, intestinal problems and arthritis. Its leaves also help to regulate blood sugar.

.

Rosemary

This is one of the oldest plants in our diet. According to recent studies, rosemary can help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s decease. Also, its oils naturally fight bacteria and fungi in your body and home. Ofelia’s famous words in Hamlet “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance,” refer to the plant’s ability to strengthen memory by improving blood circulation in the brain.

.

Lavender

Since classical antiquity, people have used lavender for its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. But its very fragrance can help with anxiety, migraine, insomnia and depression.

.

Aloe Vera

For years, people have used the secretions of this plant to treat burns, cuts or superficial infections. It’s great for digestion, also, if you take it with juice.

.

Thyme

The citric variation of this herb (Thymus citriodorus) is known for its positive effects on children’s digestion and its antibiotic and antifungal properties, particularly used for healing superficial wounds.

.

Celery

Better known for its sweet zest, celery is also a great diuretic. The seed extract of this vegetable reduces blood pressure in animals and yields sedative and anti-convulsive effects for humans. However, excessive consumption may cause photodermatitis.

.

Sunflowers

According to the Medical Horticultural Society of Massachusetts, “a tea made from the leaves of sunflowers is an astringent, a diuretic and an expectorant, and it also works to reduce fevers.” Consuming sunflowers helps alleviate cold symptoms, and its ability to remove toxic substances lead the Russian Government to use it for cleaning the floors at the Chernobyl Power Plant after the nuclear disaster.

.

Mint

Headaches, skin irritations, nausea, pain, diarrhea and bloating are some of the many symptoms that mint alleviates. It also helps with digestion and chest congestion. Some studies suggest that it has antibacterial and antiviral properties.

.

Nepeta cataria

This plant, whose common name changes depending on where you are (cat mint, catnip, cat’s basil) is famous for inducing hallucinatory states of mind in cats. But people can chew its leaves to alleviate toothaches, fevers (because it causes sweating) and as a sedative. It is also known to repel mosquitoes much more effectively than store bought repellent.

.

Basil

This is another medicinal tradition inherited from the Mediterranean; basil was first used in the Greco-Roman world to repel insects and as an antidote to scorpion’s poison. People in India commonly use it to treat stress, diabetes, and asthma. New studies also suggest that basil has antiviral and antioxidant properties.

.

Tagged: common medicinal plants, healing plants, health, health benefits of plants, health improvement, medicinal plants

The Healing Powers of Plants

The practice of using plants for healing purposes is as old as medicine itself. Ancient cultures respected nature’s capability to improve health and mood, and did not hesitate to use herbal remedies to heal sicknesses from headaches to heartache. Despite modern culture losing that day-to-day connection to the outdoors, western medicine continues to rely on centuries-old knowledge of natural cures and the healing power of plants. In fact, many of the medications currently prescribed were originally made from plants. You might pop an aspirin from a jar, but early incarnations of the pain reliever made from willow bark were used in ancient Greek and Egyptian cultures, by Lewis and Clark during their famed expedition, and by thousands of people in between.

Though you likely get medicine in pill form, you are probably still utilizing plants to help heal your aches and pains, and that is only the tip of the aloe leaf, so to speak. There are many ways plants can support you in feeling and working better physically, emotionally, and spiritually. If you incorporate plant therapies into your arsenal of natural remedies, you can access Mother Earth’s amazing and nearly limitless medicine cabinet and all its healing magic.

The quickest and easiest way to accelerate any type of healing is to get a houseplant. Or better yet, several houseplants. Taking care of a living thing boosts our sense of self-worth and increases contentment, and as you watch your foliage grow and blossom—quite literally if you buy a flowering plant—you develop a deeper connection to nature which begins to heal your mind, body, and spirit almost instantly. As an added bonus, plants’ rich colors and textures will beautify any room, especially if potted in a pretty container.

Houseplants can have tremendous effects on your productivity, concentration, and mood, too. Not only does looking at something beautiful make you happier, studies have shown that people with houseplants feel more relaxed and have lower stress levels. Nature’s calming effect helps increase concentration, and workers in office spaces that contain plants and flowers demonstrate more focus and creativity, superior accuracy, and higher quality output, and so can you!

Plants also clean pollutants from the air, acting as natural, noise-free air filters, neutralize harmful EMFs, and generate oxygen in the process. Since our breath is so important to our quality of life—when we breathe better, we feel better—reducing the toxins in your home, and especially where you sleep, is vital to your health. A plant in your bedroom will enhance your slumber, especially if it is sweet-smelling lavender, a scent that aids relaxation and promotes deeper sleep. Peace lilies, ivy, and spider plants have all been shown to be especially effective in filtering the air, but really, any greenery will improve your space and your health.

Many healing properties in plants are easy to ingest in herbal teas. Maybe you already drink chamomile tea before bed as a relaxing nightcap, but this herbal remedy also aids digestion. Chamomile is an anti-microbial agent, too, meaning it can help eliminate bacteria and infections, and it eases inflammation and loosens tense muscles. Talk about a powerful plant! Ginseng can raise energy levels, naturally and without the side effects of caffeine, and ginkgo has been shown to improve circulation and brain function, and may even assist in maintaining optimal mental health as you age.

In my healing courses and workshops I often get asked for cures to the common cold. Echinacea is a great herb to take during cold and flu season because it’s an immune booster. It won’t cure your cold, but it will strengthen your body’s defenses so it can better fight off the illness. Taking elderberry syrup as a tonic can help shorten the length of your cold, as can fresh lemon and orange juice, all of which taste delicious. Try one of my favorite plant-based therapies for colds or sinus congestion caused by allergies: put three or four drops of eucalyptus oil in hot water and inhale until your nasal passages start to clear.

If you suffer from depression or anxiety, you might want to check out St. John’s Wort. It is a commonly used herbal alternative to prescription antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs. Many people have found it quite effective in lifting their mood naturally. Of course, as a spiritual teacher and energy healer, I also highly recommend meditation and journaling to deal with feelings of sadness or fear. Daily meditation brings calm and peace to the mind and body, reduces stress, and helps you access Source, and journaling allows your truth to flow freely onto the page, getting it out of your body and mind, and releasing any pent-up negative energy in your personal energy field.

Plants do so much more than I can cover here, but the most overlooked healing plants are those you eat! Don’t forget that what you consume contributes to your well-being. Be sure to eat lots of dark leafy greens and a variety of fruits and veggies to keep your body in good shape so you can heal yourself from the inside out.

Whether you get a decorative houseplant or start drinking herbal tea, once you experience the potent healing energy of plants, you’ll be rummaging through Mother Nature’s medicine cabinet for your next cure.

Medicinal Botany

Evidence exists that plants were used for medicinal purposes some 60,000 years ago. A burial site of a Neanderthal man was uncovered in 1960. Eight species of plants had been buried with him, some of which are still used for medicinal purposes today.

By 3500 BC, Ancient Egyptians began to associate less magic with the treatment of disease, and by 2700 BC the Chinese had started to use herbs in a more scientific sense. Egyptians recorded their knowledge of illnesses and cures on temple walls and in the Ebers papyrus (1550 BC), which contains over 700 medicinal formulas.

Hippocrates, 460-380 BC, known as the “Father of Medicine,” classified herbs into their essential qualities of hot and cold, moist and dry, and developed a system of diagnosis and prognosis using herbs. The number of effective medicinal plants he discussed was between 300 and 400 species.

Aristotle, the philosopher, also compiled a list of medicinal plants. His best student, Theophrastus discussed herbs as medicines, the kinds and parts of plants used, collection methods, and effects on humans and animals. He started the science of botany with detailed descriptions of medicinal plants growing in the botanical gardens in Athens.

The most significant contribution to the medicinal plant descriptions was made by Dioscorides. While serving as a Roman army physician, he wrote De Materia Medica in about AD 60. This five-volume work is a compilation concerning approximately 500 plants and describes the preparation of about 1000 simple drugs. Written in Greek, it contains good descriptions of plants giving their origins and medical virtues and remained the standard text for 1,500 years.

The earliest Ayurvedic texts on medicine from India date from about 2,500 BC. In Ayurvedic theory, illness is seen in terms of imbalance, with herbs and dietary controls used to restore equilibrium. Abdullah Ben Ahmad Al Bitar (1021–1080 AD) an Arabic botanist and pharmaceutical scientist, wrote the Explanation of Dioscorides Book on Herbs. Later, his book, The Glossary of Drugs and Food Vocabulary, contained the names of 1,400 drugs. The drugs were listed by name in alphabetical order in Arabic, Greek, Persian or Spanish.

Galen, a physician considered the “medical pope” of the Middle Ages, wrote extensitvely about the body’s four “humors” — the four fluids that were thought to permeate the body and influence its health. Drugs developed by Galen were made from herbs that he collected from all over the world.

The studies of botany and medicine became very closely linked during the Middle Ages. Virtually all reading and writing were carried out in monasteries. Monks laboriously copied and compiled the manuscripts. Following the format of Greek botanical compilations, the monks prepared herbals that described identification and preparation of plants with reported medicinal characteristics. At this time though, healing was as much a matter of prayer as medicine. Early herbalists frequently combined religious incantations with herbal remedies believing that with “God’s help” the patient would be cured.

With time, pracitioners began to focus on healing skills and medicines. By the 1530s, Paracelsus (born Philippus Theophrasts Bombastus von Hohenheim, near Zurich in 1493), was changing Europes attitudes toward health care. Many physicians and apothecaries were dishonest and took advantage from those they should be helping. Paracelsus was a physician and alchemist who believed that medicine should be simple and straight forward. He was greatly inspired by the Doctrine of Signatures, which maintained that the outward appearance of a plant gave an indication of the problems it would cure. This theory is sometimes surprisingly acurate.

In 1775, Dr. William Withering was treating a patient with severe dropsy caused by heart failure. He was unable to bring about any improvement with traditional medicines. The patient’s family administered an herbal brew based on an old family recipe and the patient started to recover. Dr. Withering experimented with the herbs contained in the recipe and identified foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) as the most significant. In 1785, he published his Account of the Foxglove and Some of Its Medical Uses. He detailed 200 cases where foxglove had successfully been used to treat dropsy and heart failure along with his research on the parts of the plant and harvest dates that produced the strongest effect. Withering also realized that theraputic dose of foxglove is very close to the toxic level where side effects develop. After further analysis, the cardiac glycosides digoxin and digitoxin were eventually extracted. These are still used in treating heart conditions today.

In 1803, morphine became one of the first drugs to be isolated from a plant. It was identified by Frederich Serturner in Germany. He was able to extract white crystal from crude opium poppy. Scientists soon used similar techniques to produce aconitine from monkshood, emetine from ipecacuanha, atropine from deadly nightshade, and quinine from Peruvian bark.

In 1852, scientists were able to synthesize salicin, an active ingredient in willow bark, for the first time. By 1899, the drug company Bayer, modified salicin into a milder form of aectylsalicylic acid and lauched asprin into our modern world.

The synthetic age was born and in the following 100 years, plant extracts have filled pharmacy shelves. Although many medicines have been produced from plant extracts, chemists sometimes find that the synthetic versions do not carry the same therapeutic effects or may have negative side effects not found when using the whole plant source.

A full 40 percent of the drugs behind the pharmacist’s counter in the Western world are derived from plants that people have used for centuries, including the top 20 best selling prescription drugs in the United States today. For example, quinine extracted from the bark of the South American cinchona tree (Cinchona calisaya) relieves malaria, and licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has been an ingredient in cough drops for more than 3,500 years. The species native to the United States, Glycyrrhiza lepidota, has a broad range from western Ontario to Washington, south to Texas, Mexico and Missouri. Eastward, there are scattered populations. The leaves and roots have been used for treating sores on the backs of horses, toothaches, and fever in children, sore throats and cough.

Medicinal interest in mints dates from at least the first century A.D., when it was recorded by the Roman naturalist Pliny. In Elizabethan times more than 40 ailments were reported to be remedied by mints. The foremost use of mints today in both home remedies and in pharmaceutical preparations is to relieve the stomach and intestinal gas that is often caused by certain foods.

Consumers routinely assume that the medications they take and the food they ingest have been scrupulously studied by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They assume that many of these products are safe because they are natural. However, many herbals have never been seriously tested for efficacy or toxicity. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 eliminated the authority of the FDA to regulate vitamins, herbs and other food-based products, and therefore the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the use of any herbal supplement.

How Plants Protect Us

Strawberries and other familiar fruits—and some vegetables—contain natural phytochemicals that can destroy leukemia cells.

Susan J. Zunino, an Agricultural Research Service molecular biologist, leads the nutrition-focused research investigating the health-imparting effects of plant chemicals, or phytochemicals, using laboratory cultures of both healthy human blood cells and cancerous ones as her models. Zunino’s pioneering studies reveal the previously unknown ability of about a half-dozen phytochemicals to stop growth of this type of leukemia. The findings are of interest to cancer researchers and to nutrition researchers exploring the health benefits of compounds in the world’s edible fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices.

Read more about How Plants Protect Us (PDF, 0.4 MB)…

A Living Collection of Medicinal Plants

Walk down the aisles and you will come across some familiar names: Echinacea. St. John’s Wort. Camphor. Sound like a health food store? It’s the University’s Medicinal Herb Garden, nestled along Stevens Way, across from the Botany Greenhouse.

Doug Ewing (left) and Keith Possee, working in the Medicinal Herb Garden. Media credit: Mary Levin

The garden, maintained by the Department of Botany, was established 87 years ago by the UW School of Pharmacy. “At that time, most drugs used in medicine were plant derived, so a pharmacist needed to know not just the name of compounds but also had to do the extractions,” says Doug Ewing, manager of the UW Greenhouse and the Medicinal Herb Garden. “Students learned how to harvest and dry, distill, or otherwise prepare the medications.”

Through the years the garden continued to expand, housing a wide variety of annuals, perennials, trees, and shrubs. At one point it served as a commercial source of several medicinal plants, when trade barriers with European suppliers caused a shortage in the U.S. At its peak, it was considered one of the finest collections of medicinal plants in the world.

But modern medicine changed that. After World War II, synthetic compounds rather than plant extracts were used in most medications. The garden’s value as a pharmacy teaching tool diminished. Faced with budget cuts in the late 1970s, the School of Pharmacy decided to withdraw its support of the garden.

Fortunately for plant lovers, the Department of Botany recognized the garden’s value and adopted it in 1979. But with no additional funds to support the facility, the department had to dismiss the garden’s staff–two full-time and one part-time-and assign the then–greenhouse manager the task of maintaining the collection. That included sowing and transplanting seeds for annuals, weeding, watering, pruning, labeling plants, and other time-consuming tasks.

The monkeys resting on pedestals in the garden are replicas of carved monkeys from Europe’s first botanical garden in Padua, Italy, established in 1545. Media credit: Mary Levin

“There’s no way one person could take care of the greenhouse and maintain a two-and-a-half acre garden with more than 600 species,” says Ewing. “The Medicinal Herb Garden slipped dramatically. It could have died–dried up and blown away–if not for a group of volunteers who wanted to save it.”

The group, known as Friends of the Medicinal Herb Garden, became involved in 1984 and has provided a core of support ever since, volunteering both time and money to maintain the garden.

Today the Medicinal Herb Garden is more than just surviving. It is, in fact, the largest such garden in the western hemisphere. And interest in the collection is growing, both from the public and the campus community. Keith Possee, a volunteer who also works in the garden on a part-time hourly basis, is one of the people most responsible for this turnaround. But the project is still somewhat daunting.

“It’s a difficult thing to maintain a living collection,” says Ewing. “You must have year-round provision. Sometimes I’m envious of people who maintain collections of books or fossils. You can take a long weekend and not worry about the collection.”

No Foraging, Please

Because the garden is for display purposes and some of the plants are toxic, visitors are prohibited from foraging. “These plants are drugs,” Ewing explains. “People who wouldn’t root around in their neighbor’s medicine cabinet swallowing pills will think it’s okay to make a salad with plants they are not familiar with. That’s scary.”

Consider the castor bean, grown for its oil. It looks perfectly innocent, but ingesting the seeds can be fatal. There is no known antidote.

When school groups tour the garden with Ewing, he shares tales of the castor bean and other toxic plants. It is one lesson that even the youngest students tend to remember. “I tell them they shouldn’t taste or eat any plant unless someone they trust tells them it’s okay,” says Ewing. “I also talk about plant diversity and how plants have adapted to their environment.”

Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) is the source of vincristine sulphate, a chemotherapy drug. Media credit: Mary Levin

For adults interested in touring the site, docents from Friends of the Medicinal Herb Garden offer monthly tours from spring through autumn. The collection continues to evolve, so there is always something new to see.

“We’ve purged some stuff that’s less interesting to make room for new plants,” says Ewing. One example is the Pacific Yew tree–the source of the cancer drug, Taxol–which was added to the garden after its medicinal properties were discovered. Possee has added many traditional Chinese Medicine Plants as well.

As Ewing scans the colorful garden, a veritable museum of medicinal plants, he shudders to think what might have been. “This is a mature garden,” he says. “A lot of the plants are mature trees and shrubs. If it had dried up and blown away out of neglect, it would be so hard to build it again from scratch. …That would have been such a loss.”

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