Gardening is one of the best kinds of preventative medicine, good for all manner of ills. If you love gardening, as I do, you’ve probably experienced that sense of joy derived from hours spent nurturing plants and seeing them develop in shape, form and color. For many people, the garden is their sanctuary, a place of peace and refreshment away from the stress of everyday life. Even if you don’t have space for a garden, you can still create form and beauty — not forgetting wonderful scents — from herbs grown in pots and containers, whether inside or out. When you grow herbs, you will have the reward of harvesting those herbs and using them to enhance your health and well-being.
Growing herbs is an excellent way to get to know plants that are not only beautiful and evocatively scented but are also remarkable medicines. Herbs are a very real part of everyday life: They enliven diet and cuisine, provide valuable ingredients for beauty products, cosmetics, toothpastes, body creams and lotions, and also play an important part in health care.
Many common herbs used by herbalists to help and cure everyday ailments can be found in your kitchen, on your patio or in the garden, in nearby parks, fields and hedgerows, and you can prepare them at home, simply and quickly. A sage gargle, for example, makes an effective cure for sore throats, hot mint and honey drinks ease colds, vinegar soothes wasp stings, and dock leaves rubbed onto nettle stings provide ready relief.
How Do Herbs Work?
Herbs are made up of natural constituents that have an inherent compatibility with our bodies. We cannot directly assimilate many of the substances our bodies need to grow to maintain our health and to heal us when we are ill. Plants process these substances for us, making them accessible to the body. Through photosynthesis, plants manufacture carbohydrates and give off oxygen while taking up minerals and trace elements through their roots. This creates metabolic pathways that provide building blocks for the production of compounds that can easily be used in the body. In medicinal plants, these include minerals, vitamins and trace elements, the raw materials we need for recovery, as well as a vast assortment of other medicinal substances such as volatile oils, bitters, tannins and alkaloids, which have affinities for particular organs and systems and have specific therapeutic actions in the body.
Herbs are very much like foods, and the dividing line between them is very thin. An herbal remedy is, by definition, any plant that has a therapeutic action, and this includes most of the fruit and vegetable kingdom. Celery seeds and celery have a cleansing, antiseptic effect through the whole of the urinary tract and are widely used for arthritis. Oats are a wonderful tonic to the nervous system, while raspberries have long been used for throat and chest problems.
We have always eaten plants, and so the human body has adapted over millennia to respond to plant medicines in a way that it cannot possibly respond to powerful synthetic drugs. This means that there is less risk of side effects when using herbs as medicines. The substances that plants contain are very similar in chemical makeup to those that form the human body.
Herbs for Headaches and Migraines
Rosemary helps soften and relax tense muscles that bring on stress headaches, while meadowsweet is ideal for relieving pain. Feverfew is famed for helping intractable headaches, bringing blood to the head. Refreshing peppermint makes a great analgesic.
Pain relief compress
(For your convenience, we’ve converted some ingredients in the following recipes from British to American measurements. — MOTHER)
- 1 oz each fresh or 1/2 oz dried rosemary, peppermint, feverfew, meadowsweet
- 1 cup plus 2 tbsp white vinegar
Instructions: Fill a jar with the herbs. Cover with the vinegar and leave on a sunny windowsill for 2 to 3 weeks. Strain into a clean, dark bottle and seal.
How to Use: When you have a headache, pour some of the vinegar into a bowl and soak a clean flannel in it, wring out and apply to the forehead. Repeat as necessary. You can also chill the vinegar in the fridge, which will help if your headaches are relieved by cold temperatures.
Hints and Tips: Rosemary relieves headaches of all kinds, whether from stress, poor circulation, muscle tension or the excesses of the night before.
Herbs for Anxiety and Tension
On a stressful day, you may feel the need to sip a calming tea or soak in a bath to release tense muscles and calm anxious thoughts. This combination of relaxing herbs not only looks, tastes and smells inviting, but it also relaxes tense muscles, calms nerves and soothes troubles away.
- 3 1/2 oz each fresh or 2 oz dried skullcap, chamomile, vervain, lemon balm, holy basil
Instructions: Place 1 or 2 handfuls of the herbs in a piece of muslin or cotton and tie a string around the top to close the opening. Make sure that the string is long enough so that the bag soaks in the water once the bath is filled. Makes enough for 1 bath.
How to Use: Tie the bag to the hot bath tap and soak for 15 to 30 minutes.
Did You Know?
Lemon balm used to be known as “scholar’s herb,” as it calms anxiety and promotes memory and concentration at the same time.
Herbs for the Blues
When you’re feeling low, there’s herbal help at hand from pots right outside your door. St. John’s wort can dispel the blues, and borage supports the adrenal glands, lifting the spirits. The lemony scent of lemon balm with rosemary and clary sage can make you feel better straight away.
- 2 tsp each fresh or 1 tsp dried lemon balm, clary sage, rosemary, St. John’s wort, borage, lavender
- 5 cups boiling water
Note: Do not drink alcohol when taking clary sage. St. John’s wort can cause photosensitivity. Avoid during pregnancy and with antidepressants. Consult your practitioner before taking it if you are on any other medication.
Instructions: Place the herbs in a teapot and pour over boiling water. Leave to infuse for 10 to 15 minutes.
How to Use: Drink a cupful 3 to 6 times daily. For best effects, you may need to take these herbs over several weeks.
Reprinted with permission from Homegrown Remedies, published by Gaia/Octopus, 2011.