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For many, the time has come to plan our summer gardens. Given the overwhelming interest in recent articles about essential oils, I decided to revisit the topic of an herbal healing garden. My interest is a bit self-serving in that I am in the process of rethinking my own garden and while I grow an abundance of rosemary,lavender and peppermint, this year will be an ideal time to replace some tired shrubs with plants that will work for me. Healing herbs will fit the bill quote nicely.
Lavender Growing in My Own Garden
Herbs have been used for centuries to sooth and to heal. According to Wikipedia:
Herbs have long been used as the basis of traditional Chinese herbal medicine, with usage dating as far back as the first century CE and before. Medicinal use of herbs in Western cultures has its roots in the Hippocratic (Greek) elemental healing system, based on a quaternary elemental healing metaphor.
With such a long history of use it makes perfect sense that you would want to include a selection of herbs in the survival garden.
Healing Herbs for the Healing Garden
Basil: People don’t usually think of basil as a healing herb and yet traditionally, it is called the “king of herbs”. It is used medicinally as a natural anti-inflammatory and is thought to have mild antiseptic functions. Some healing uses are for flatulence, lack off appetite, nausea and cuts and scrapes.
It is also superb on spaghetti and in pesto but then you already knew that. Basil is an annual plant so you will have to start anew each year.
German Chamomile: Chamomile is one of the most popular herbs in the Western world. Its flower heads are commonly used for infusions, teas and slaves. These in turn can be used to treat indigestion, anxiety and skin inflammations. As a tea, it serves as a mild sedative to help with sleep.
Feverfew: This perennial is a member of the sunflower family and has been used for centuries in European folk medicine as a remedy for headaches, arthritis, and fevers. The name feverfew comes from a Latin word meaning “fever reducer.”
It’s many uses include easing headache pains – especially migraines. This is done by chewing on the leaves. A tea made from the leaves and flowers is said to relieve the symptoms of arthritis.
Lemon Balm: Lemon balm is a member of the mint family. Considered a calming herb, it has been used as far back as the Middle Ages to reduce stress and anxiety, promote sleep, improve appetite, and ease pain and discomfort from indigestion. Even before the Middle Ages, lemon balm was steeped in wine to lift the spirits, help heal wounds, and treat venomous insect bites and stings.
As with many other herbs in your healing garden, lemon balm promotes relaxation and a sense of calm.
Parsley: While not one of my favorites, there is nothing like a sprig of parsley to take away bad breath. It is no wonder that this biennial (meaning it lives for two years) is used to decorate and garnish plates in the fanciest of restaurants.
When brewed as a tea, parsley can help supplement iron in a person’s diet, particularly for those who are anemic. Drinking parsley tea also boosts energy and overall circulation of the body, and helps battle fatigue from lack of iron. Other uses? Parsley tea fights gas and flatulence in the belly, kidney infections, and bladder infections. It can also be an effective diuretic.
Sage: Did you know that the genus name for sage is “salvia” which means “to heal”? In the first century C.E. Greek physician Dioscorides reported that sage stopped bleeding of wounds and cleaned ulcers and sores. He also recommended sage juice in warm water for hoarseness and cough.
In modern times, a sage tea is used to sooth mouth, throat and gum inflammations. This is because sage has excellent antibacterial and astringent properties.
Thyme: Back during medieval times, thyme was given to knights before going in to battle. The purpose was to infuse this manly man with vigor and courage.
These days, thyme used to relieve coughs, congestion, indigestion and gas. This perennial is rich in thymol, a strong antiseptic, making thyme highly desirable in the treatment of wounds and even fungus infections. Thyme is a perennial that does well, even in cooler, Pacific Northwest climates.
Rosemary: Long ago, rosemary was known as ‘the herb of remembrance.’ Even today, in places like Australia and New Zealand, it is used as a symbol of remembrance since it is known to help sharpen mental clarity and stimulate brain function. You might recall that many statues of the ancient Greeks and Romans show men wearing sprigs of rosemary on their heads – signifying mental acuity.
The needles of the delightfully fragrant rosemary plant can be used in a tea to treat digestive problems. The same tea can also be used as an expectorant and as a relaxing beverage that is helpful for headaches. Other healing uses include improving memory, relieving muscle pain and spasms, stimulating hair growth, and supporting the circulatory and nervous systems.
Peppermint: Peppermint has a long tradition of medicinal use. Archaeological evidence places its use far back as ten thousand years ago. It is commonly used to soothe or treat symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, indigestion, irritable bowel, and bloating and more.
The leaves and stems contain menthol which in addition to use medicinally, is used as a flavoring in food, and a fragrance in cosmetics. The plant is prolific, growing well in moist, shaded areas as well as in sunnier locations. The roots emit runners that can quickly overtake the garden so most gardeners prefer to plant peppermint in pots.
The easiest way to acquire a peppermint plant? Find a friend or neighbor that is growing peppermint to break off a stem. Place it is a glass of water and in a very short period of times, roots will form an you will have your own peppermint start.
Lavender: I saved my personal favorite for last. Of course it helps that I have an abundant amount of fragrant lavender in my yard.
A tea made from lavender has many uses with one of the foremost being it’s ability to have a calming effect on a person’s mind and body. To that end, lavender can promote a sense of well-being and alleviate stress. It is also useful for dealing with various gastrointestinal issues such as upset stomachs and and flatulence.
Because it is a strong antiseptic, lavender tea, when applied topically, can help heal cuts, wounds and sores. It can also be used to mitigate bad breath.
How Do I Get Started?
With so many to herbs to choose from, where do you start? A lot will depend on the amount of space you have, the climate, and the availability of seeds, starts, or cuttings. My recommendation is that you start with three or four herbs that appeal to you from a healing perspective. Many can be grown in pots on a porch or deck so if space is a problem, you can start modestly.
How to Make an Herbal Tea
The process of making a pot of herbal tea is in itself healing. Perhaps that has something to do with the proactive effort involved in doing something positive for one’s own self and well-being. And luckily, brewing an herbal tea is easy.
To make an herbal tea, first bring some cool water to a boil. While waiting for the water to boil, fetch a non-mental container that will be used to brew the tea. A quart mason jar works nicely for this purpose. You do not want to use a metal container since the metal may interfere with the purity and taste of the tea.
Add 2 tablespoons of fresh (or 1 tablespoon of dried herb or crushed seed) to the empty pot or jar for each cup of water. Then, and this is the important part, add an extra 2 tablespoons of fresh (or 1 tablespoon of dried) herbs “for the pot.” So, for example, if you are making 2 cups of hot tea, you would use 6 tablespoons of fresh herbs or 3 tablespoons of dried herbs.
Pour the boiling water over the herbs and let them steep, covered, for about 5 minutes give or take. There is no exact time since everyone’s strength preference is difference. When ready, strain the herbs and pour the tea into a cup. At this point you may want to garnish your heavenly – and healing – cup of tea with honey, citrus fruits or addition herb springs.
For iced tea, increase the quantity of herbs in the basic recipe by 1 1/2 to allow for dilution from the melting ice.
The Final Word
In reading about these herbs, you may have noticed that many are reputed to have the same or similar healing qualities. Do they work? I can personally vouch for Rosemary and Lavender which I have used as both a tea and as an essential oil.
One thing that is true is that with a little time and for a nominal cost, you can grow the makings for healing teas, infusions and balms in your own garden. Add a dose of sun and some rich potting soil and you will be set to go. Just keep in mind that while perennial plants will flourish over the winter and will be there for you the following spring, annual plants must be reseeded or restarted every year.
If you would like to learn more about the healing properties of various herbs, the University of Maryland Medical Center has an excellent web site with a lot of useful information about herbs and other alternative medicine topics. Click on “herbs” then scroll down to the particular herb you would like to learn about.
Also note this disclaimer: I am not a health care practitioner and anything I write should not be construed as medical advice. If you have a serious condition, consult a physician or nurse practitioner if one is available. And if not, consult a reliable reference such as my favorite, The Survival Medicine Handbook: A Guide for When Help is Not on the Way.
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
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Bargain Bin: The article I wrote on DIY cleaning turned out to be hugely popular all around the web. In cased you missed it, here is a link to the article Prepper Checklist: DIY Cleaning Supplies and to some of the products that I use to make my own cleaners.
Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds Liquid Cleanser: I know that Dr. Bronner’s Magic Castile soaps have a cult-like following but I prefer the Sal Suds. I call my DIY cleaner “Sudsy Sal”.
Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps Pure-Castile Soap: Of all of the Dr. Bronner’s castile soaps, peppermint is my favorite. I use it to make “Peppermint Magic”, an all purposed cleaner.
Soft ‘n Style 8 oz. Spray Bottles: I happen to like these smaller bottles and you can not beat the price for a set of 3. Likewise for these Pump Dispensers.
NOW Solutions Glycerin Vegetable, 16-Fluid Ounces: You will need this for your Dirt Cheap Soft Soap. I paid almost as much for only 4 ounces locally. This is a great price and 16 ounces will last forever.
NOW Foods Peppermint Oil: I favor peppermint essential oil (okay, I like lavender too) so this is what I get. But there are many types of essential oils to choose from. Take your pick. One thing you will find is that a little goes a long way.
NOW Foods Lavender Oil: Lavender oil is my personal favorite. It can be used in salves and skin lotions or directly on the skin, right out of the bottle. It has a sweet, balsamic, floral aroma which combines well with many oils including citrus, clove, patchouli, rosemary, clary sage and pine. Its benefits include balancing, soothing, normalizing, calming, relaxing, and healing.
Microfiber “Magic” Rags: No list of cleaning supplies would be complete without these wonderful microfiber cloths. They will last you for years and will allow you to replace paper towels forever. Truly. I color code using green for glass and windows and the other colors for everything else. I love these.
My recommendation is the Health and Wellness kit which includes all of my favorites or, if you are just getting started, the Essential 4 Pack which includes Lavender, Lemon, Melaleuca (Tea Tree) and Peppermint. Be sure to use the discount code “BACKDOORSURVIVAL” to receive a 10% discount.
7 Responses to “The Healing Garden: 10 Herbs To Grow in the Survival Garden”
Thank you for this interesting article. I am growing many herbs in my garden as well and I love them.
I would add oregano and calendula to this list. Oregano is a very versatile not only for flavoring food, but also has many healing properties. Calendula is particularly good for the skin. Rosemary is a great herb, but will freeze in colder climate, so in colder zones it is best to grow it in containers and bring home during colder months (that’s what I am doing with my rosemary plants).
And of course you can use some of them in the form of essential oils, as you have already mentioned in your other articles. I think such concentrated form is really good to have on hand, especially during winter months or in emergency situation when we don’t always have access to fresh herbs or when we need stronger concentration of some healing ingredients.
Make sure you grow your herbs organically so they don’t contain any toxic ingredients from pesticides.
I like using some Worm Gold Plus natural fertilizer made from worm castings and rock dust.
Don’t forget wild plants like Jewel weed, it grows near poison ivy. Jewel weed can be boiled down to make soap to counteract the effects of poison ivy.
Cilantro is another fantastic herb, it detoxifies the body of heavy metal and inorganics found in water and food.
Not sure if it’s an “herb” but don’t forget Aloe Vera.
Easy to grow, and has medicinal properties mostly related to skin.
Great article! I believe every household should have at least some sort of basic herb garden that could be grown in the kitchen let alone outdoors. All of the herbs that you mentioned are some of the easiest yet more vital herbs to utilize. A couple not mentioned here that I would highly suggest as well would be echinacea and st. john’s wort. Echinacea is one of the best when it comes to aiding the immune system when dealing with colds or any illness, and st. john’s is perfect for any case of the blues or any other kind of depressive states when you just need a bit of a pick me up. Can’t go wrong with any of these.
Kevin – How are using the Echinacea and St. John’s Wort? In a tea or in some other manner? Both grow well in the PNW and are in my garden.
Gaye, thanks for this article! I just wanted to share that in addition to the usual tincture of SJW, it makes a wonderful oil for the skin! You can look up how to use olive oil and SJW to make a nervine skin tonic that helps to heal shingles and sunburn. Kathleen Wildwood, an herbalist in Madison, WI, swears by SJW oil for clearing sunburn and even as a helpful protection from sunburn.
Echinacea normally uses four year or older roots, but you can make teas from the petals of any age. I am not an herbalist or treatment provider, but it makes a nice tea!
I love my lavender and also grow anise hyssop, lemon balm, pineapple sage (gorgeous!), garden sage, feverfew, yarrow (great for wound healing and beneficial insects), chamomile, and many others. Herbs are such wonderful allies!