Medicinal Woodland Shade Plants

Occupy the shadowy patches of your garden—or the forested edges of your land—with shade-loving woodland medicinals, and prepare to receive a bounty of unique, natural remedies.

| May/June 2019


Photo by Stocksy/Paul Schlemmer

Shade-loving medicinal natives are popular plants in the herbal community. We continuously learn about the health benefits of using different foraged forest herbs, but their products are often expensive, and some people question the source of the plants and how they were processed. So why not make our own herbal remedies with woodland medicinal herbs plucked straight from our gardens?

While most gardeners don’t have experience growing forest plants, many wish they knew what to grow in the areas of their yards that receive little to no sun. You could opt to grow moss or mushrooms, but shade-loving botanicals, such as ginseng, goldenseal, black cohosh, boneset, or Solomon’s seal, will pack a lush array of flowers and foliage in your herb garden, and gift you with a pharmacopeia of soothing remedies for the body and soul. Here’s how to propagate them.

Plotting a Shady Site

An ideal site will have areas of different levels of shade, ranging from the forest edge — where the plants will receive direct sunlight for a few hours — to moderate shade. Most forest herbs won’t grow in dense shade. If you don’t have natural shade on your property, create some with arbors, pergolas, lattice fencing, shade cloth, or shade sails.

The plants I recommend require well-drained soil, preferably with a good amount of organic matter. Because most of these plants prefer moist soil reminiscent of the woods, try to select a north-facing slope that will stay cool and damp in the middle of summer. Soil pH should range from 5.0 to 6.8. Depending on your specific region, you might want to install an irrigation system, but most of these plants have good survival strategies; if it gets too dry, they’ll often die back early and hunker down for the rest of the season. They won’t look particularly healthy when this happens, but unless there’s an extended drought, they’ll survive.

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