Create a Healing Garden and Grow Your Own Medicinal Plants

Fill your life with beauty, fragrance and time-tested remedies for common ailments.


| May/June 1984



087-122-01-im1

Borage.


PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

Since the dawn of history, humans and animals have sought healing from plants. Although many of today's most popular curatives are compounded in laboratories, there are still vast numbers of commercial remedies whose major medicinal ingredients are derived from green herbs, trees, and shrubs. But you needn't rely on store-bought products for botanically based medicine: Many of the most common and effective healing plants can be grown in your own healing garden, in a backyard as lovely as it is useful.

Selecting Curatives

There are hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of plants with medicinal value. While some of these are too tender for North American climates and others grow so rampantly that they're undesirable in a garden setting, there are still many good candidates from which to choose. Most public libraries and bookstores offer a number of excellent herbals that can help you select the plants most suitable for your needs and your region (a list of recommended titles accompanies this article). Further assistance can be obtained from local nurseries and from catalogs published by mail-order herb suppliers. When ordering or buying herbs, always be sure to refer to plants by their Latin as well as their common names, because popular labels can vary from one area to another.

Although you may want to cultivate only those herbs that relieve simple ailments and complaints, a good medicinal garden often contains some species that are planted strictly for their beauty or their historical interest. Foxglove and male fern, bloodroot and rue, for example, are all handsome plants that are just too powerful for anyone but a highly trained physician, pharmacologist, or herbalist to use safely as internal remedies.

The Essentials

Most herbal medications are easy to prepare. The majority involve making an infusion, or tea, by pouring boiling water over leaves, stems, and/or flowers and allowing them to steep for a while. (One ounce or one-half ounce of herb to a pint of water is the usual proportion, with a steeping time of ten minutes or so.) Decoctions are made to extract the volatile principles from hard or woody parts such as bark or roots. The process requires boiling the pieces in water for three or four minutes, then allowing them to steep for an additional two to ten minutes (depending on the hardness of the materials and the strength desired).

Cold extracts are like teas, but require double the amount of herb, which is steeped in cold water for some 10 to 12 hours. A tincture is produced by steeping a dried, powdered herb in a one-to-one solution of alcohol and water for about two weeks. The bottle is shaken daily, and at the end of the period the herb is strained away and the liquid poured into a clean container for storage.

Poultices are made by crushing or bruising the medicinal parts of a plant, heating the resulting pulp, and then applying it directly to the affected area. If the plant is an irritant, such as mustard, the pulp is sandwiched between two layers of cloth. Fomentations are similar to poultices but milder in effect. To make these, a cloth is saturated with hot herb tea, wrung out, and then applied (as hot as can be tolerated) to the afflicted spot.





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