Create A Medicinal
Now is the perfect time to start planning your garden and growing spaces, whether you have a garden of your own, a window box or a collection of pots, creating a beautiful and thriving garden is possible in every size and shape. This guide aims to offer you some tips and ideas for preparing a new area with a focus on growing useful and medicinal plants for you to have on hand throughout the seasons. Planting a medicinal herb garden not only provides easy access to plants for your own use but it will also attract and benefit a variety of pollinators such as bees and butterflies.
Gardens designed with the intention to grow and harvest medicinal plants have been cultivated since at least the Middle Ages, although across the world plants have been gathered and grown for healing purposes long before then, and many of our modern drugs today are still derived from plants. Although many gardeners grow a variety of herbs in their kitchen gardens and raised beds these are primarily used for culinary use, however these same plants have many more properties other than their use in food seasoning and we will be sharing about some of these wonderful plants here....
Herbalism is a vast subject with strands of wisdom living in every corner of the earth and within each generation of human existence. It predates us, since plants and animals were living in a rich symbiosis long before we arrived. We have evolved together, hand in hand, and though we might not share spoken language, there are more ancient forms of communication that effortlessly cross the boundary between species. These languages are non-verbal and are to be found in the oldest parts of our brain, our body and more importantly, our heart.' - Nathaniel Hughes, from the School of Intuitive Herbalism
Before you start planting it's a good idea to consider the amount of space you have available for your chosen herbs and how many people you are planning on growing for. If you don't have enough space for a dedicated medicinal herb garden it is of course possible to add your plants in and around your existing borders and vegetable beds, many herbs have lovely flowers and foliage and they can blend well into other areas of the garden. If you can, locate your herb garden nearby so you can pick them as and when you require them. I love being able to just nip out the door and pick a few springs here and there for a restorative cup of tea or infusion.
Another important factor to look into is how big the plants get and how much space and light levels they each require, so do check the final height and spread of each plant to give you a better idea of how many plants you need and which ones to group together according to their needs. Place taller plants in the middle of a container or at the back of a plant border so as not to shade out the smaller ones. Most mediterranean herbs will require full sun, as a guide for their light level requirements I find it useful to think about each plants native growing environments.
As a suggestion I would consider planting just 3 or 4 different herbs at a time, get to know them and their qualities through each season, and then add more in gradually as space allows.
Annual or Perennial?
When selecting your herbs first check to see if they are annuals or perennials, annuals such as calendula can be woven in and around your perennials which will return year on year and will require a more longer term situation. Some perennial herbs such as lemon balm, peppermint and comfrey will spread quickly and can overrun other plants, so if you are short on space think about growing these in their own containers.
When designing your herb garden you can either divide your space into grids which will provide a more formal look, or add them all in together for a more 'cottage' garden style. When considering wildlife within your planning remember that the more diversity of plant habit (height and spread) you have, and when grouped together, you are also providing more opportunity for shelter for wildlife between plants. If you are using separate containers, terracotta pots, troughs etc then group these together and create a haven for pollinators.
Your local nursery or garden centre should be able to provide you with some basic herbs to get started, you can also grow herbs from seed, check out the organic gardening catalogue for seed and individual growing advice.
For Medicinal Use
Although plants have been used medicinally throughout history it is always important to carry out your own research before making any changes to your diet or health plan. If you are unsure talk to your doctor or healthcare provider and if you are interested to explore further how medicinal plants can help you consider making an appointment with a local herbalist. There are of course many books and courses out there too which can help further your interest, some of which are listed at the bottom of this page.
There are several ways to benefit from medicinal herbs throughout the seasons, whether through their leaves, flowers or roots. I find the best way to enjoy the plants I have growing is through teas and herbal infusions, but you can also use your herbs to make creams, salves and ointments. Some herbs work as the perfect pick-me-up for when energy levels and mood are low, or for the times when you need help to rest and restore a sense of calm. Some plants such as calendula and camomile are harvested for their flowers, lemon verbena and sage for their leaves and comfrey for its root. The best time for harvesting leaves and flowers is during the summer months and if you have an abundance these can be dried and stored in a jar for use throughout the year.
Below are some suggestions to help you get started with planning your medicinal herb garden:
For Teas & Infusions:
Chamomile: Use the small white, daisy-like flowers to help reduce stress and promote a good nights sleep.
Lemon Balm: Use the leaves for a sense of calm and to help reduce stress and anxiety, can also help ease insomnia.
Lemon Verbena: Use the leaves to help with indigestion, can also help ease a busy and agitated mind.
Peppermint: Use the leaves to aid digestion, can also help relieve colds and headaches.
Rosemary: Use the leaves to improve memory and concentration. A strong infusion also makes an excellent hair tonic.
Sage: The leaves help to aid symptoms of menopause and can also aid digestion.
Fennel: The leaves can help reduce inflammation and may also help with chest pain and nausea.
For Balms, Salves and Ointments:
Calendula: Steep dried flowers in oil for their antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.
Comfrey: Use the root to help with bruising and to aid bone healing
Lavender: Use the flowers to promote a calm mind and better nights sleep.
Recommended resources for making herbal infusions and plant remedies and exploring herbalism further:
Bloom & Thrive: Essential Healing Herbs and Flowers, by Brigit Anna Mcniell
The Herbal Apothecary, by JJ Pursell
Neal's Yard Remedies Healing Herbs: Treat Yourself Naturally with Homemade Herbal Remedies
Rhizome Community Herbal Clinic Bristol based clinic offering online consultations.
Hackney Herbal Promoting Wellbeing through herbs with lots of excellent online events and workshops.
Ruskin Apothecary The base of the School of Intuitive Herbalism, offering professional trainings alonside shorter workshops in herbalism.