Growing Medicinal Herbs for Plant-Based Healing

Tend a medicinal herb garden for ready access to a multitude of safe, healing remedies.

| April/May 2016

  • Medicinal Herb Garden
    Growing a medicinal herb garden is a wonderful way to form a deeper relationship with plants that have a long-standing place in the home apothecary.
    Photo by Istock/bbtomas
  • Greek Mullein
    Greek mullein is a biennial with soft, wholly leaves. Yellow, flower-covered spikes shoot up the second year.
    Photo by Richo Cech
  • UTI Tincture
    Combine marshmallow root, juniper berries and goldenrod with strong alcohol to create a UTI-treating tincture.
    Photo by Richo Cech
  • Common Comfrey
    Both the roots and leaves of common comfrey (Symphytum officinale), can be used in a poultice to speed the recovery of topical wounds.
    Photo by Richo Cech
  • Elecampene Root
    Elecampane root is believed to fight infection and suppress cough. It’s traditionally used in tincture form whenever infection settles deep into the lungs and results in a hacking, unproductive cough.
    Photo by Richo Cech

  • Medicinal Herb Garden
  • Greek Mullein
  • UTI Tincture
  • Common Comfrey
  • Elecampene Root

On a freezing winter night many years ago, my wife and I saved our young daughter’s life with an onion poultice. Our struggling daughter woke in the middle of the night so congested she could barely breathe. With some quick thinking and the help of a few common ingredients we had on hand in our wooden yurt and garden, our daughter’s breathing returned to normal within an hour. To be able to immediately help a dangerously ill child by using simple, nearby ingredients is a valuable skill. Having experienced firsthand the self-empowerment that comes from knowing the healing potential of plants, I’ve dedicated my life to finding, disseminating and growing medicinal herb seeds. Here are some of the healing plants — all of which you can grow at home — I’ve found most effective for treating common infections and ailments.

Herbal Remedies for Ear Infections

Our early success with growing medicinal herbs inspired me and my wife to more carefully prepare our home apothecary. Ear infections were a frequent challenge in our home, so we learned to treat symptoms early to avoid deeper infections that could lead to burst eardrums. Our best herbal remedy for ear infections relies on the antibiotic activity of raw garlic and the mucilage found in mullein flowers. Every year, we make fresh mullein-garlic ear oil to administer when symptoms of an ear infection first appear.

Remedy. To make the oil, fill half a glass jar with fresh mullein flowers and then top the jar with cloves of fresh, crushed garlic, skins intact. Cover the herbs with organic olive oil and mix thoroughly. Tie clean muslin or several layers of cheesecloth over the opening of the jar to prevent bugs and debris from falling in, and leave the jar out in the sun to macerate. After a week, strain the contents through a clean cheesecloth and allow the infused oil to settle overnight. The next morning, decant the oil to remove water and any impurities that may have settled to the bottom. To decant, pour the oil through a cheesecloth filter into a clean, dry receptacle. Store the finished oil in labeled glass bottles kept out of direct light. To use, warm the oil slightly by immersing the bottle in warm water, and then administer by squeezing a single drop into each ear. Massage a few more drops into the skin and neck behind the ear. Use this mullein-garlic ear oil until symptoms of an ear infection disappear.

Growing Greek mullein. Verbascum olympicum is a biennial plant that makes a wide rosette of felt-like leaves in its first year. The rosette gives rise to a candelabrum of bright-yellow, flowered racemes the following spring. The seeds are light-dependent germinators that sprout quickly when pressed into the surface of soil. The plant prefers full sun, is drought-tolerant, and is a common “weed” that thrives in Zones 5 to 9.

Home Remedies for Urinary Tract Infections

When my wife and I first began selling medicinal plant seeds, people often asked whether we knew how to treat a urinary tract infection (UTI) with herbs. Over time, we developed a simple formula that gives almost instant relief; it relies on the soothing leaves and flowers of goldenrod. We combine goldenrod with mucilaginous marshmallow roots that we grow in our richest garden beds. Juniper completes the formula with its powerfully antiseptic purple berries.

Remedy. To make a UTI tincture, combine 2 cups fresh goldenrod leaves and flowers; 2 cups chopped, fresh marshmallow roots; and 1/4 cup fresh or dried juniper berries in a blender, and cover with vodka. Thoroughly blend the ingredients and then pour into a half-gallon glass jar. Shake the jar daily for 2 weeks to make sure all the ingredients stay submerged, and then strain the contents through several layers of cheesecloth into a clean receptacle. Squeeze the cheesecloth to release every last drop of medicine. Allow this tincture to settle overnight, and then decant and store in amber glass bottles out of direct sunlight. When you begin experiencing symptoms of a UTI, drink a large glass of water that includes 2 dropperfuls of this tincture, 5 times daily. Also, avoid processed foods and sugar.

5/31/2016 3:43:35 AM

Being in touch with nature around you in a very concrete, practical way is very valuable. Sometimes too much talking about connection with nature without actual interaction can be superficial and even breed some unrealistic ideas (for example, that nature is always this beneficial and caring entity). An example of such attitude is here - – though I definitely understand where she is coming from, I just think that it is not enough. But taking what we need from nature with respect and restraint, and also giving back – that creates a real understanding and relationship. Obviously, growing some of plants that you mention can be challenging in a smaller apartment, especially bushes or trees. But smaller ones, like Calendula, are much more manageable. I've been growing in a container on my balcony. It is obviously good for treating wounds, but I've also read that it may help with sores and inflammations - What is your experience, is it effective ? I haven't had the chance to try it for this purpose yet. And I still want to grow some juniper, just need to find a smaller variety that produces a lot of berries, if such thing exists. Thank you for this article, anyway. Your remedies are quite helpful.

4/9/2016 8:16:07 PM

Can I grow any of these plants inside? I live in an apartment. Thanks.

3/21/2016 2:32:55 PM

I live in a small apartment. How easily could I grow these herbs? Thanks.



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