Even urban dwellers with little more than a balcony, tiny backyard or windowsill can grow their own food. Patti Moreno's Gardening By Cuisine (Sterling 2013) offers a unique plan for creating low-maintenance organic "cuisine gardens" that produce delicious vegetables, fruits and herbs. In the following excerpt, learn how to add six medicinal herbs to your garden for easy access to natural remedies for everything from headaches to sore throats.
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This native perennial, also known as the purple coneflower, is a glorious garden plant that grows 24 to 36 inches tall, and sometimes even taller. It has a long blooming period, starting in the summertime. Echinacea grows large purple flowers that look similar to daisies. This drought-tolerant herb is a must in a summertime bouquet. Echinacea flowers attract wildlife like bees, butterflies, and other essential garden pollinators.
Echinacea boosts the immune system to prevent the common cold or flu. Make it into a tea, as described below.
Making Echinacea Tea
To make echinacea tea, use 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried or 2 to 4 teaspoons of fresh echinacea flowers, leaves, stems, or roots per cup of water. Allow whatever part of the plant you’re using to steep in a teapot in boiling water for 15 to 20 minutes. Then strain the echinacea and pour the tea into a cup. You can sweeten the tea, if you like, with honey, fresh stevia leaves or raw agave nectar.
This perennial medicinal herb is part of the chrysanthemum family. It’s easy to grow, and once it blooms in spring, it doesn’t stop. You can use the versatile leaves and flowers of this prolific plant to make a healing tea or a fragrant summertime bouquet. Feverfew has been used in Chinese medicine for millennia to reduce fevers and help with headaches and digestive ailments. A bushy, popular herb, feverfew was used as a filler plant in cottage-style Victorian flower beds and gardens.
Feverfew can be at your service at any time throughout the growing season. Simply prune off enough flowers and leaves to make tea for immediate consumption, or harvest more to dry and use later in the winter. During the growing season you can chew on a few leaves to relieve a headache, or steep 4 tablespoons of fresh feverfew (leaves, stem, and flower) per cup of boiling water for 10 minutes. Then strain and drink the tea.
You can also dry the entire plant and use it to make tea. Steep 2 tablespoons of dried feverfew per cup of boiling water for 10 minutes. Strain and drink the tea.
Feverfew helps relieve migraines as well as fevers, minor pain and inflammation.
3. Lemon Balm
Of the many herbs in the mint family, one of my favorites is lemon balm because it is fragrant, easy to grow, and makes a delicious hot or iced tea with a lemony twist by itself or mixed with mint and other herbs. You can also add cool lemon balm tea to ice-cold lemonade for a particularly refreshing drink.
Medicinally, lemon balm helps with insomnia or an upset stomach; it promotes longevity and reduces anxiety, and if you crush a few fresh leaves and apply them to your skin, it is effective as a mosquito repellent. It also has antiviral and antibacterial properties and is great for an all-natural lip balm; oil made from lemon balm is popular in aromatherapy. Commercially, lemon balm is used in toothpaste. It’s a great perennial to grow in containers and has many culinary uses, especially as a seasoning for meats and fish. It’s also delicious in ice cream and fruit salads.
Lemon balm is one of my first go-to herbs when it starts growing every spring. You’ll have plenty of lemon balm in no time. Small flowers grow throughout the stem, rather than at the top; trim them often and you’ll still get plenty of flowers and seeds to save for later use.
Lemon balm is great for soothing upset stomachs and as a mosquito repellent. Helps relieve minor cuts, burns, and mosquito bites. Make it into a tea or poultice.
4. Hyssop Blue
This perennial medicinal herb is a big help during flu season. The plants yield beautiful blue, small, edible flower spikes that grow to about 2 feet tall. I love the way they look in the garden. The medicinal properties of hyssop blue, when it’s used as a tea, include relief of indigestion and lung congestion. When it is used externally, hyssop blue is thought to speed up the healing of skin ailments because of its antibacterial properties. A member of the mint family, hyssop blue makes a relaxing tea, combined with lemon balm, to help ease a cough or cold. Even though it is a perennial plant, you’ll need to re-seed every few years for a continuous harvest. Hyssop blue seeds can take up to 30 days to germinate from seed, so it’s a good idea to use transplants from a local nursery or garden center.
Hyssop blue helps with digestion and lung congestion associated with a cold or cough and helps to heal skin. Make it into a tea or poultice.
This medicinal perennial herb is easy to grow and comes in many different varieties. It is a drought-tolerant native of North America, and its flowers come in an amazing array of hues. Yarrow is a fragrant addition to summertime bouquets and dried-flower arrangements. It is easy to start in your own garden, from either seed or transplants, and it will thrive if you frequently cut off clusters of 10 to 20 tiny flowers.
Native Americans used yarrow to help with headaches, reduce fevers, and get to sleep. It is most commonly available with yellow or white flowers; its foliage can vary from lime-green to silvery gray, fernlike leaves.
Yarrow helps reduce fevers, headache, and menstrual symptoms, and can be used as an astringent and sleep aid. Make it into a tea or poultice.
6. Lavender Bergamot
This prolific medicinal herb is a fragrant perennial used for aromatherapy; its citrus scent is said to soothe the soul. A member of the mint family, lavender bergamot can be used in refreshing summertime drinks, sprinkled in salads, and used medicinally in teas to relieve a sore throat.
The lovely lavender leaves can be used fresh or dried in teas to ease a winter cold, and the flowers make a beautiful addition to bouquets and other floral arrangements.
Lavender bergamot is at its strongest and tastiest—and it is best to use it—before the herb flowers. And it will flower, as it should be allowed to do, all summer long.
Lavender bergamot helps to soothe a sore throat. Make it into a tea.
Reprinted with permission from Gardening By Cuisine by Patti Moreno and published by Sterling, 2013. Buy this book from our store: Gardening By Cuisine.