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Organic Gardening

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Designing a Medicinal Guild

Last weekend I spent an afternoon studying different bushes, trees, and herbaceous plants in order to design the newest guild on our Permafarm. This one will be positioned in the front of our home creating a peaceful and beautiful landscape to enjoy while sipping freshly brewed mint tea on our porch (and keeping the goats and free-range chickens at bay with the surrounding fence)!

Long before we began our study of permaculture we were utilizing herbal medicine. I spent many years studying different herbs and preparations; and we enjoyed the various teas and products we created with them. Now that we live on our Permafarm, it seemed natural to marry our two passions together in what is called a “guild” (for more information on creating guilds, see Gaia's Garden). I am christening this particular guild our “Medicinal Guild”.

Honestly, I took longer than necessary to design it, but I’m a bit of a perfectionist and it was just plain fun. Planning comes naturally to me; the execution of the design is always a little more cumbersome and physically demanding so I rather enjoy the pen and paper portion of the project.

As I began to work on the plan, I commenced by considering my end goals. For me, I was aiming for both beauty, to include many colors, along with utility (both medicinal and improving the soil). Additionally, I was looking to attract a variety of pollinators. The last thing I took into consideration was whether to choose annuals or perennials.

I like to focus on perennials, which eases up the required labor with each subsequent year – another advantage to employing permaculture principles. In our zone some perennials don’t always winter over very well, so a few of the herbs I chose may become annuals; I will allow those to reseed themselves, I’ll know how well this plan works out next year.

Guild Principles

So let’s get going! Building a guild starts with some basic principles 1) Maximize the biodiversity 2) Mimic nature as much as possible 3) Build it to require as few outside inputs by planning in mulch makers, nitrogen fixers, dynamic accumulators, and soil builders 4) Create wildlife and plant habitats. Next we build in “layers”. These start at the top with the tallest plants – the Tall Tree or Canopy Layer and continue down to the Low Tree Layer; from there we travel lower to the herb layer which would include vegetables, culinary herbs, etc., next is the Ground-Cover Layer and finally the Vine and Root Layer.

The beauty of designing these things with an objective in mind is that you can personalize it while still applying the basic principles. So, since I am building this guild right outside our house I decided to keep my Tall Tree (Canopy) Layer a little shorter than what we would normally choose for that layer. I am really excited to get our guild planted and growing!

Plants for a Medicinal Guild

Here is a list of all the plants I chose for our medicinal guild:

Prunus cerasus (Sour Cherry) Tall-Tree Layer
Poncirus trifoliata (Flying Dragon/Hardy Orange) Tall-Tree Layer
Aronia melanocarpa (Black Chokeberry) Low-Tree Layer
Lycium barbarum (Goji Berry) Low-Tree Layer
Hyssopus officinialis (Hyssop) Low-Tree Layer
Lonicera caerulea (Blue-Berried Honeysuckle) Low-Tree Layer
Chamaemelum nobile (Roman Chamomile) Herb Layer
Echinacea purpurea (Echinacea/Purple Coneflower) Herb Layer
Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian Sage) Herb Layer
Calendula officinalis (Pot Marigold) Herb Layer
Achillea millefolium (Yarrow) Herb Layer
Rudbeckia hirta (Black-Eyed Susan) Herb Layer
Mentha (Mint) Herb Layer
Symphytum officinale (Comfrey) Herb Layer, dynamic accumulator, mulch, medicinal
Trifolium pretense (Red Clover) Ground Cover Layer
Trifolium repens (White Clover) Ground Cover Layer, living mulch, nitrogen fixer
Lonicera sempervirens (Major Wheeler Honeysuckle) Vine Layer
Daikon (Mild flavored Radish) Root Layer

Our blank canvas.

Once we get everything planted we will be posting an after picture.

If you would like to talk to us about setting up a medicinal guild for your property contact us at our website

Photo credits: Linde Mitzel, P3 Photography

Sean and Monica Mitzel homestead with their family on 40 acres and are using permaculture techniques and strategies for the property. The property is a demonstration and education site where they teach workshops and raise dairy goats, sheep, pigs, rabbits, chickens, and ducks. The Mitzels have planted more than 200 productive trees and enjoy wildcrafting and propagating plants. Sean and Monica can often be found podcasting or speaking and teaching at different events. Listen to our podcast and to learn more about the Mitzels, visit The Prepared Homestead. Read all of their MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here


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