One of the questions I get asked frequently is what herbs would I recommend for a small medicinal herb garden or for someone just starting out so they don’t get overwhelmed. This is part three of that series. Read Part 1 here; Read Part 2 here
Nettles (Urtica dioica)
I love nettles, the leaves are filled with a plethora of vitamins (high levels of Vitamin A, C, E & K), protein, chlorophyll, and minerals (calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium) making it quite useful as a vitamin drink. Juicing fresh nettle, preparing a nourishing herbal infusion, creating a “pesto”, or even using it as the spinach in a vegetable lasagna are all great ways to enjoy this herb while benefitting from its nutritive power.
I am fully aware that nettle is available to anyone who wildcrafts, so why do I recommend growing it in your herb garden? Because you know how it’s been grown and where it’s been grown. You have worked to create healthy soil and you aren’t spraying it with harmful chemicals. Furthermore, it’s growing right outside your door making it quick and easy to harvest, whether you are harvesting enough to make herbal preparations or even if you just want a little for your dinner preparations. To me, keeping things simple is key.
But what about the sting? Well, it’s a small price to pay, and honestly, if you harvest them correctly (wear gloves here) and either dry or saute/steam them, the sting is no longer a threat. Interestingly, nettle actually contains juices in its leaves that can stop the pain of a nettle “sting”. I was out yesterday looking at some nettle, I wasn’t wearing gloves and just decided to grab a leaf, roll it up, and eat it. I didn’t get stung, I decided to do an experiment and just brushed my hand against the nettles, sure enough, I was stung. I immedicately grabbed another leaf, worked it between my fingers until the juices were released and rubbed it on the sting. The intensity of the pain greatly decreased, I wasn’t that bothered by it so I didn’t keep the leaf on for long. A few minutes later, the sting seemed to begin intensifying again so I grabbed a plantain leaf, crushed it and applied it with total relief in a short time. The moral of the story here is grab it like you own it – nettles sense fear J
Nettle prefers rich, moist soil and full sun but will grow in shadier areas, the difference being that the plant in shade will produce less seed which can be harvested and used as well. Seeds are great for overwrought adrenals. The seed can be a little stimulating, if you dry it first this will decrease the effect.
As a nourishing herbal infusion it can help with fatigue, building and purifying the blood, and detoxifying (it has a diuretic property). This is also a wonderful herb to include in your diet and herb regimen if you are prone to allergies.
Preparations: Infusion, Nourishing Herbal Infusion, Poultice, Tincture, Juiced, Food
SOIL: Moist, rich
SUN: Prefers full sun will grow in shade
WATER: water well until established
Propagation: Cuttings, root transplant, seed
Lavender is a beautiful, highly aromatic plant that is not too difficult to grow in the right conditions. It is one of those herbs that almost everyone recognizes by sight and smell. Who hasn’t enjoyed the scent of lavender in soap, lotion, or even in a room or body spray? Lavender is an antimicrobial which makes it a great choice for a room deodorizer with germ-killing capabilities. It is a calming herb that can easily be added to infusions and baths to help reduce stress and irritability and induce sleep. It also has wonderful anti-inflammatory properties making it a perfect herb when treating burns and bug bites. The essential oil has been used for many years to treat burns, eczema, reduce scar tissue and aid in healing infections (including fungal).
I don’t think you can have enough lavender growing so I choose a sunny spot that has soil that is well-drained. It doesn’t like to have “wet feet” so it really doesn’t require that much input. Watering once a week is generally sufficient during the driest months. Don’t put it in with something that prefers moist soil, it will not thrive and may not even survive.
Harvest the flowers when they are dry and make sure to dry them immediately to reduce the loss of the essential oils. The leaves can also be used but are not nearly as high in medicinal properties as the flowers.
Preparations: Get creative when deciding how to use this herb: floral bath, steam inhalation, infusion, oil, pillow, sachet for drawers, tincture, poultice, salves, lotions, & hydrosol (maybe you have a friend or know someone who makes essential oils like I do which gives me a great supply for hydrosols)!
Soil: Rich, drier
Sun: Full Sun
Water: Water well once a week or so, let soil dry between waterings
Propagation: Seed, Cuttings, Layering
Comfrey (Symphytum spp.)
Many people cringe when I recommend growing comfrey. They see it as an invasive plant that will eventually choke out the rest of the herbs in their garden. Though this can be true, with a little management you can keep this from happening while benefiting from the diverse offerings of this plant!
First, I want to mention the few obvious things that are not medicine related: comfrey leaves are wonderful mulch makers and, because of their large leaf growth, will shade out competitors like any unwanted weeds that may pop up in your garden. Because they are deep-rooted they pull up the minerals found in the soil and bring it up to the leaf. Chopping and dropping these mineral-rich leaves puts those minerals back into the soil and adds organic matter (thus aeration) to your soil profile. Additionally, bees and other pollinators love the flower and if you grow a bocking variety you won’t deal with it reseeding itself.
As far as medicinal use, there is virtually no competing herb that can heal skin the way comfrey can. As a matter of fact, it can heal so well and quickly that you need to make sure the wound is fully cleansed and there is no sign of infection, it could get closed up inside. Comfrey is also well-known for its ability to treat sprains, swelling, bruises and historically even mend broken bones! It can also help alleviate osteoarthritis and other arthritic type pain. Comfrey contains allantoin which stimulates tissue repair and cell proliferation. Which means it is also great in salves to use on areas that are troubled by irritation or rash.
Comfrey is a pretty flexible plant and can grow almost anywhere. However, it does prefer moist, rich, loamy soil and dappled sunlight. We have found that once it is established it grows really well, even in imperfect conditions. If you are wanting to control the spread I would suggest two things: do not disturb the roots. Every small root piece will grow into another plant. Make sure you are going to keep it where you plant it and don’t till the soil. Second, reduce its growth by chopping the leaves at least twice in a growing season, and dead head any flowers that appear. If it is growing in an area that you don’t want it, the best way to get rid of it is to keep its leaves so low that it loses all ability to continue growing. Do not go pulling the roots because you will likely not be able to get the entire root system out.
Preparations: Poultice, salve, infused oil, infusion
Soil: Moist, Rich, loamy
Sun: dappled sunlight
Water: occasionally, once it’s established it can tolerate drought much better because if its deep roots.
This is for educational purposes only, it is NOT medical advice. One of my favorite medicnal herb books here!!
Check out our online community for ways to help in your local food movement, learn about more medicinal herbs and much more. Sean and Monica are available for consulting work regarding property analysis & design, and speaking engagements.
Sean and Monica Mitzel are the proprieters of Huckleberry Mountain Homestead & Breakfast a Bed & Breakfast with a homestead twist! They live with their family on 40 acres and are using permaculture techniques and methods for the property. The homestead is a demonstration and education site where they teach workshops and raise goats, sheep, pigs, rabbits, turkeys, chickens, and ducks. The Mitzels have planted food forests, guilds and enjoy wildcrafting and propagating plants. To learn more about the Mitzels, visit The Prepared Homestead. Read all of their MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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