Plan Your Potted Herb Garden

Mild medicines to plant in pots.

| May/June 1998

For most of my adult life, I’ve lived in small spaces—a third-floor studio apartment with a mountain view and two rooms in the basement of a nineteenth-century house were a couple of my favorites. Despite three flights of stairs up, one narrow climb down, and other obstacles, I’ve always hauled potting mix, terra-cotta pots, and trays of herb seedlings to my tiny havens. Watching the herbs grow and using them to make simple herbal remedies has provided me with hours of pleasure, peace, and self-satisfaction.

Now I have a house and a yard—as well as an energetic, dirt-digging puppy and a lack of time. So, come spring, I still purchase potting mix and pots and revel in weekends spent wandering through the local nursery selecting herbs and, as the season passes, admiring my potted garden.

For me, the appeal of growing herbs is the idea that they provide me with medicines straight from Mother Nature, as she intended. And I know from experience that growing and making mild medicines is as easy as choosing a few of my favorite herbs and finding pretty pots for planting. Add a little water and sunlight, and soon I have a supply of herbs to make a salve, compress, or tea.

Why Not Pots?

For the busy or novice gardeners among us, container gardening offers convenience and satisfaction. Pots can be moved to meet the sun, find the shade, or decorate a windowsill. And herbs that are vigorous growers in the garden will stay smaller and more manageable in containers, which confine their roots.

In their book, Herbal Remedies in Pots (Dorling Kindersley, 1996), Effie Romain and Sue Hawkey encourage the idea of combining, in one pot, different herbs that can be used to treat the same malady. These authors also remind us of the advantages of container gardening: “Some of the most therapeutic herbs, such as docks and nettles that bring health-promoting minerals from deep down in the soil, are thought of today only as rampant weeds . . . . Growing such plants in containers helps restrain their invasive properties, while at the same time allowing herbs that treat a particular ailment to be grouped for ease of gathering and to be grown by those with limited space.”

Late April to early May is a good time to plan your medicinal potted garden. The tiny seedlings that you select and plant now will soon fill out their containers, and many will flower. Even if you don’t care to use your herbs to make remedies, you can benefit from the joy of watching the plants grow and from learning about the medicinal value found within their leaves, stems, roots, and flowers. The chart on page 49 presents some possibilities, including such common herbs as chamomile, feverfew, and yarrow that can be found at almost any nursery. You’ll also find recipes for some simple medicines to make from your herbal harvests.

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