*Please note: healing herbs are not meant to replace medical treatment and you must always ensure that any plant you ingest is safe to use for you and your family. Pregnant or nursing mothers, children, and individuals with sensitivities should exercise caution.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Other Names: St. Joseph’s Wort, King of Herbs, Sweet Basil, Witches Herb
Growth Habits: An annual herb that peaks in summer. Considered ‘tender’ as it is sensitive to the cold. Grows well outdoors as a companion plant with tomatoes and sweet peppers. Prefers well-drained, moist soil with about 6 hours of sun each day. Grown indoors basil is perfect in a pot on a sunny windowsill, just remember that it doesn’t like soggy soil. Keep your plant somewhat moist but avoid the temptation to overwater!
Culinary Uses: Italian basil is most commonly used as a fresh herb in recipes, such as tomato sauce, pesto, or vinegar. It is also wonderful in salads, but be sure to just tear the leaves (not chop) for maximum flavor.
Healing Attributes: With high levels of antioxidants, magnesium and vitamins basil boast numerous health benefits. Basil’s volatile essential oils are what gives this herb its potent smell and also what provides the benefits of protection from disease and a boost to the immune system. Basil is a natural adaptogen, which allows the body to adapt to stress and normalize its harmful effects on the body.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Other Names: Pot Marigold, Summer’s Bride, Holigolde
Growth Habits: A self-sowing, annual spring flower grown outdoors, often as a companion plant with vegetables (attracts bees and native pollinators). Growing almost two feet tall the flowers bloom in sunny, dry weather and close in cold or moist conditions. Enjoys full-sun, average soil, and moderate watering. A reliable bloomer that is perfect for beginning gardeners.
Culinary Uses: Edible blossoms can be eaten in fresh salads, added to rice or dried and used as a saffron substitute. Flowers can be used to garnish cakes and soups.
Healing Attributes: Antiviral, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. Use freshly dried flower heads in salves and creams to heal skin conditions such as sunburn, chapped lips, diaper rash, minor burns, cuts, and scrapes. Used internally in teas, tinctures, and broths to stimulate the lymphatic system, stimulate menses, and ease digestion.
Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)
Other Names: Ground Apple, Heermannchen (German), Manzanilla (Spanish), Whig Plant
Growth Habits: A perennial groundcover that grows best in cool conditions and part shade but it will tolerate full sun. Keep soil on the dry side as this is a drought-tolerant plant and doesn’t like to be fussed over. A companion plant used to attract pollinators and beneficial insects, once established it needs very little care.
Culinary Uses: Traditionally used as a tea made from fresh flower heads or dry them for later use. Take a handful of flowers in a bowl and pour boiling hot water over them. Allow to steep for 15-20 minutes and drain. Have a cup of this soothing brew when you feel anxious or unsettled, or before bedtime in case you have difficulty falling asleep.
Healing Attributes: With its calming and soothing properties, chamomile is used to relieves anxiety and sleeplessness, colicky pain or stomach upsets, mouth ulcers, eczema relief. Roman chamomile has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and sedative effects.
Other Names: Varieties include Czech, English, French, and Munstead.
Best Grown: Perennial herb can be grown indoors or out. All varieties of lavender prefer full sun and a well-drained soil. They are not particularly cold hardy and should be trimmed back in the fall to prevent large amounts of snow from accumulating on them.
Culinary Uses: Dried flowers are used for herbal teas, vinegar infusions, in baking and as an aromatic accent in gourmet cooking.
Healing Attributes: Lavender possesses antibacterial, antimicrobial, expectorant, stress-relieving, antiseptic and analgesic properties. The scent of lavender produces a calming, soothing, and sedative effect when inhaled. Lavender tea can be used to relieve anxiety and headaches as well as relieve the pain of indigestion. The Latin root lavare means “to wash” and speaks of the cleansing and refreshing qualities of this herb. Laundering clothes in the scent of lavender may also serve as a natural insect repellent!
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Other Names: Balm, Bee Balm, Melissa, Melissa Balm
Growth Habits: An herbaceous perennial closely related to the mint family, it can be grown in the garden or in containers. It is a vigorous and rapidly spreading herb so use caution in the outdoor beds! Best kept in a separate pot with rich, well-drained soil. Bees love this herb!
Culinary Uses: Used in food to give it a lemon flavoring and is great for fish dishes, as well as fruit and fruit juice drinks.
Healing Attributes: Traditionally used to balance mood, promote sleep, and support healthy digestion. It’s strong antispasmodic properties help relieve colic pain and menstrual cramps. The antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties of Lemon Balm help with cold sores and respiratory tract infections.
Other Names: There are various kinds including peppermint, spearmint, apple mint, chocolate mint, or pineapple mint to name a few.
Growth Habits: Easy to grow, hardy perennial best kept in pots or separate containers from other plants or it will quickly overtake all other plants. Prefers rich, moist soil.
Culinary Uses: Mint adds a sweet flavor to desserts and is used often in Mediterranean and Indian cuisine. Throw a couple leaves on the top or side of meals as a pretty garnish.
Healing Attributes: Mint shines as a digestive aid to help relieve stomach and intestinal ailments. Enjoy mint tea after a heavy meal to help improve digestion and reduce gas or heartburn. A cup of warm tea with honey can relieve a cough and ensure a restful sleep.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Other Names: Devil’s Oatmeal, Rock Parsley, Persil, Petersilie
Growth Habits: A biennial herb it prefers medium rich soil and can be grown in pots or sown directly in the ground. The Swallowtail butterfly loves this plant!
Culinary Uses: Traditionally used as a garnish and eaten after a meal to freshen breath, parsley is an excellent source of vitamin C, iron and Vitamin K.
Healing Attributes: Strengthens the immune and circulatory systems, improves skin health, aids digestion, helps detoxify all of the body’s systems and increases nutrient absorption. Regular consumption of parsley actually causes the body to produce a cleaner and more alluring natural scent.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Other Names: Herb of Remembrance, Dew of the Sea, Compass Weed, Elf Leaf
Growth Habits: A tender, woody perennial that prefers life in the garden but it can be tended indoors. Plenty of sunlight and soil should be well draining, not too acid, with excellent drainage. Only water when the top of the soil is dry to the touch as rosemary hates “wet feet”.
Culinary Uses: Use the leaves regularly in cooking and herbal teas to derive maximum benefit.
Healing Attributes: An all-purpose herb used for general health and well-being. It is said to help improve one’s memory and cognition when taken medicinally. Rosemary has been used to help stimulate the scalp and promote hair growth and healthy hair when infused into oil and rubbed on the scalp
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Other Names: Garden Sage, Red Sage
Growth Habits: A perennial herb that is a subset of the mint family and can be grown easily in a garden or pot. Prefers well-drained soil with a low to a regular amount of water and a healthy amount of sun.
Culinary Uses: Commonly used during the holidays as a stuffing for poultry (turkey, chicken, goose) and used in dressing, sage is an essential herb in many Italian, Balkan, and British dishes. It can improve appetite.
Healing Attributes: It has been used as an anti-inflammatory, a diuretic, a tonic, and more popularly as a part of the Four Thieves Vinegar (which was a vinegar and herbal concoction thought to keep away the Plague). Similar to rosemary, sage is neuroprotective and is used to treat Alzheimer’s, dementia, and depression. Use sage tea to treat a sore throat, cough, and rheumatism. It is a liver and kidney tonic. This plant has a hormone regulatory effect on women. Inhaling an infusion of sage gives relief to respiratory problems, including asthma. It reduces excessive sweating and salivation too.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Other Names: Common Thyme, Garden Thyme
Growth Habits: A perennial herb that can be grown in the garden or containers, but it performs best in well-drained, slightly alkaline soil.
Culinary Uses: Used in savory dishes the characteristic scent of thyme comes from the volatile oil containing thymol, which gets released at the slightest touch. These tiny leaves pack a punch!
Healing Attributes: The most important use of thyme is to treat respiratory tract infections, laryngitis, and bronchitis. Thyme tea mixed with raw honey gives quick relief from coughs and colds, including a whooping cough. Use it as a throat gargle to cure strep throat and tonsillitis. Thyme tea is excellent for stomach problems, especially indigestion, intestinal worms, and gas. Thymol has powerful antimicrobial property against a wide variety of pathogens, including antibiotic-resistant superbugs like MRSA. Thymol is a common ingredient in toothpaste and mouthwashes because it suppresses bacterial growth and bad breath.
How To Make Herbal Teas
Herbal teas are easy to make since all you have to do is pour boiling water over the herbs and cover the vessel with the lid. Allow them to steep for 10-15 minutes when you use fresh herbs and up to 20 minutes when dried parts are used. Filter out the clear tea into a cup, inhale deeply and sip slowly.
Make herbal teas with fresh leaves. Just pick them just when you need them. Rinse well before transferring them to a jug or bowl. The container used for brewing herbal teas should have a well-fitting lid. You don’t want the volatile agents in the herbs to escape; they are responsible for most of their healing properties.
Store leftover tea in the refrigerator for a day or two, but it is always better to brew a fresh batch each day, especially when you have the herbs within reach
For an excellent article on growing medicinal herbs in containers check out the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine
For peer reviewed research articles on the healing properties of herbal medicines: Journal of Applied Pharmaceutical Science
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