Natural Remedies: Grow Your Own Medicine

Fill your garden with flowers and herbs that treat common health conditions. Grow high mallow, mullein, horehound, purslane, chickweed, amaranth, bee balm and more.

| June/July 1995

I'm sure the neighbors had many questions the day I went out, dug up the lawn, and started planting weeds instead. The fact is, it was not a sudden notion. For years I'd been seeking out and studying native plants for healing, food, and other uses. When I speak of "natives," I refer to any herb, indigenous or naturalized, which has been in our country for decades and has made its home here. Some plants were already in my flower beds; but, as I brought more in from the fields, the space shrank.

My pioneer grandmother was Celtic, a healer versed in the use of herbs; and my mother, whose Cherokee blood was given her by her mother, also practiced healing. I remember going out through the woods and into the "holler" to gather plants for food and medicine. This stuck with me even when I pushed the old ways aside to become a nurse.

Later, as I mellowed, the old and new began to merge. Working with elderly patients as a home health nurse, I found that most of these people were on numerous medications they were unable to afford. When I left my job, I was still bothered. What if I were in that situation? At the same time, my doctor was expressing concern that I had been taking certain prescription medicines for too long. However, since the symptoms persisted, I made the suggestion that I substitute herbs. I was braced for the laughter; but, surprisingly, he readily agreed. My medicinal garden was born.

High mallow

Malva sylvestris was one of the first plants which just seemed to show up without being invited, and it is one I use frequently. It grows one to three feet tall, and has straight, hairy stems and underleaves. The leaves are shiny green on top, roughly heart-shaped and lobed. The flowers are fight purple with darker veins on their five petals. Other types of mallow maybe used as well, including hollyhocks. The plants are grown easily from seeds and will bloom in about six weeks. They are also easy to transplant and the young plants can be bought from nurseries, where I've seen them called French hollyhocks. In moderate climates, the plants may bloom well into the winter.

Mallow is soothing when used for indigestion, heartburn, stomach problems such as ulcers and gastritis, and sore throats. It may also be used for skin inflammations. Its properties are attributed to a high content of mucilage. Mallow root can be made into an ointment or used as a poultice. Crushed, boiled, and folded into a cloth, it may be placed on boils, sores, or ulcers. A simple medicinal rub can be made by adding dried, powdered root to any vegetable oil, shortening, or petroleum jelly.

The tea is prepared with one tablespoon of fresh leaves, stem, root, flower, or all parts. If you use dried herb, decrease amount to a rounded teaspoon. Place it in a cup of cool water and let sit several hours. All herbal teas are made in the same proportions: one rounded teaspoon of dried, or one tablespoon of fresh herb to one cup of water, usually boiling. This is a pleasant drink, reminiscent of hibiscus, when the flowers are used. The young leaves are good cooked and they also make thickening for soups.

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