Houseplants for Herbalists

Get the most enjoyment and utility out of your houseplants by growing those that double as medicinal sources.

| May / June 2018

  • If you're an herbalist, choose houseplants that will play important functions in your medicinal practice.
    Photo by Getty Images/Maica
  • Gotu kola is a creeping plant, so placing it in an area where it can have some free range is helpful.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/ittipol
  • Beyond admiring ashwagandha for its bright red berries, you can harvest its seeds after they ripen to start more plants.
    Photo by Flickr/Vedyou Inc
  • You can use ashwagandha roots and powder for adaptogenic purposes.
    Photo by Getty Images/eskymaks
  • Starting your plants may be tricky, but you will reap both enjoyment and medicinal purposes from these homegrown herbs.
    Photo by Getty Images/KseniaMay
  • If you buy lemongrass from a store or supplier, replant the bulb to let this herb grow for future culinary and medicinal uses.
    Photo by Getty Images/constantinopris
  • Pruning a passionflower vine will help it grow better.
    Photo by Getty Images/kobuspeche

Most of us have the philosophy that it’s better to buy fruit from the farmer down the road — or pick it out of our backyard — than get it from the grocery store, especially if it has spent a week in transit from the other side of the planet. We still struggle, however, with the idea that our medicines should be given the same consideration. Most medicinal plants are at their best just after you harvest them, giving you the highest nutrient levels and medicinal compounds when used fresh. Local medicine is the basis of my book, Heal Local, and it has become my mission to spread the word that your astragalus root should be just as fresh and local as your carrots.

The idea of local medicine is understandable when we apply it to parsley and peppermint, which are readily available during the growing season at most farmers markets. But what about when our medicine of choice is a tropical plant and we live in a temperate zone? This gap is a perfect space for creativity in our choice of houseplants.

For years, I’ve experimented with growing the herbs we need for our family both on our land and in pots. Some of my houseplants live in the ground during the summer months and then “fly south” for the winter to a sunny, indoor windowsill. Keep in mind that if you would like to try growing your medicinals in pots you will need to research their individual needs. If you don’t understand the environment where they grow naturally in the ground, you won’t be able to mimic that in the pot.

Listed here are a few of my favorites, or rather, the ones I haven’t killed! I’m afraid I’m a bit of an indoor plant failure. Take it from me — if I’ve had success with the following oddities, you can as well.

When planning to use any new herb as a food or medicinal source, consult your health practitioner in order to pinpoint any potential contraindications with existing medications, and take precautions when ingesting a new herb for the first time.

Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica)

Gotu kola is native to India. It grows in ditches and wet areas, forming a creeping mat of shiny, green leaves. Gotu kola has a place in both Chinese and Ayurvedic medicinal practices and a long history of use given the benefits it bestows on our cognitive abilities.

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