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Grow Your Own

Guide to Growing, Foraging, and Using St. John's Wort

You know that speechlessness that takes over your brain when someone asks you what your favorite herb is? That, "Umm, how could I possibly ever choose one? I have no idea how to answer that question!" So you scramble to think of one that you like more than the others and about a dozen different plants pop into your head and you're still standing there like, "Hmmmm...uh..." Yeah, I know the feeling.

But there are a couple of plants that are just so incredibly special to me that I could definitely call them my favorites. Lavender is one, as you know. Hawthorn. Calendula. Roses. Tulsi. (Okay, I guess my list is kind of long, but thank goodness you understand because that means you're probably not surprised.)

There is one plant, though, that I don't talk about nearly enough that is definitely in my top 10 favorites list and it's St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum).

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Those of you who live where St. John's Wort grows abundantly might not believe this, but when we lived in California, I never saw living St. John's Wort plants. We lived in such a densely populated, concrete-covered, manicured area that weedy species were actually hard to find and I never came across Hypericum, even when I was out in the wilderness areas!

St. John's Wort is also on the noxious weed list there, so I couldn't really grow it myself and seed companies wouldn't even ship seed to California. I would always order in freshly harvested St. John's Wort when it was in season and have it shipped overnight to me so I could still work with it in my apothecary.

When we moved to the PNW - a place where St. John's Wort grows abundantly alongside the roads - I was ecstatic.

I've spent a lot of time with this plant this year because it's one of my favorites and because it's one of the plants that we work with a lot in my Herbal Aromatherapy™ courses. (They'll be launching online later this year.)

I thought I'd share part of the St. John's Wort lesson from the Herbal Aromatherapy™ Level One course with you today because it's the perfect time for you to find and work with this plant! It's in full bloom here in the PNW and in other places around the country, so if it grows where you live, chances are that you'll be able to find it right now or very soon.

(If you live outside the US, I'm curious to know if it grows where you are and when it blooms. Let me know in the comments section below this post.)


Identifying St. John's Wort

St. John's Wort is an herbaceous perennial that likes to grow in poor soils that have been disturbed. Because of this, you'll often see it growing on the side of the road where the soil is rocky or packed down, on the side of a cliff, especially one that has been cut away to make room for a road, or in a field that's been sitting fallow. While it does grow in these poor conditions, it'll also do nicely in cultivation and it makes a beautiful garden plant. It likes sunny areas but can also grow in partial shade, especially when you see it up in the mountainous regions. I usually see it growing between 12" (younger plants) and 24-30" in the wild, but it can grow taller in better soil, and while I might see a plant on its own here and there, it tends to grow in clumps. It starts flowering in most areas in June, but you may be able to find flowers throughout the summer as well.

The flowers grow in clusters at the end of the upright stems. They have five bright yellow petals with many yellow stamens and the petals have little black dots near their edges. The photo below shows the flower and the "perforated" leaves, but please note that it doesn't well represent the upright stems, since the plant in this photo was leaning over a little bit. Normally when you find this plant, it'll be reaching up toward the sky, tall and cheery.

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St. John's Wort has branching stems with opposite, oblong leaves that feel smooth and have smooth, non-toothy edges. Usually the flowers are found on the top half of the plant and the bottom half has leaves and stems. It can be a little leggy looking, since it grows tall instead of being bushy or wide. When you find it in clumps, it'll look a lot fuller.

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There are different varieties of Hypericum. To tell if you have H. perforatum, hold a leaf up to the sunlight. If it's H. perforatum, you'll be able to see the little holes from which it gets part of its name - perforatum. You can see what they look like in the photo below.

Memory Tip: "Perforated" leaves = H. perforatum.

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You can find further photos and descriptors to use for identifying purposes here.

GROWING St. John's Wort

If you're able to grow St. John's Wort in your garden, it can be easily started from seed in late fall or early spring. Sow the seeds on the surface of the soil, water in, and then keep the soil moist and in a partially sunny area until the seeds sprout. They need light to germinate, so it's best not to keep them on a shelf below another shelf or hidden away in a dark space.

Once the plants are old enough, you can plant them out into the garden in well-draining soil with full sun. They will flower for you in the second year.

Because St. John's Wort does well in poor soils, it can be grown in almost any garden (add a bit of sand and organic matter to heavy clay soils to improve its texture) and doesn't need much fuss. It does seem to like a little bit of liquid seaweed concentrate now and again, but it would probably do just as well if allowed to do its own thing.

HARVESTING St. John's Wort

When harvesting St. John's Wort for medicinal purposes, there is a specific time frame during which the plant is at its prime. To see if your plants are ready to be harvested, roll one of the buds between your thumb and forefinger. If the bud leaves a reddish-purple stain on your finger (see the photo below), then the plant is ready to be harvested.

If the plant has buds, but they do not produce a stain, you're a bit too early to harvest. Check back daily and harvest when you see this stain on your fingers.

If the plant has open flowers or petal-less flowers and does not produce a stain, you're a little bit too late to harvest in that particular area. Check nearby plants to see if there are others that are ready or head to a higher elevation to find plants that are just coming into their prime harvesting stage.

Most people will tell you to harvest the top 4-6" of the plant when harvesting St. John's Wort. I tend to be a little bit more conservative because the bees love this plant so much and I want to make sure that there are plenty of flowers leftover for both the pollinators and for the plant to produce seed.

I'll harvest the top 4-6" from the main stem only, not the branching stems, being sure to leave the flowers on the branching stems behind.

I also like to harvest no more than 1 in 7 plants (it's usually more like 1 in 12+) so that when I leave, it doesn't look like I've harvested anything at all.

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DRYING St. John's Wort

If you're going to dry your freshly harvested St. John's Wort, spread it out in a single layer on a screen or drying rack and allow to dry out of the sunlight until the leaves, flowers and stems are crispy. You can leave the flowers and leaves on the stems or strip them from the stem and store in an airtight jar away from light and heat.

Making St. John's Wort Oil

My full guide to making herb-infused oils can be found here. When making St. John's Wort infused oil, it's traditional to use olive oil as the base, but you can use any fatty carrier oil that you like. I prefer Sunflower seed oil (organic, unrefined) because it has a lighter texture and because I think the energetic pairing of the sunny St. John's Wort with the sunflower is perfectly complementary.

After your freshly harvested St. John's Wort has wilted (out of the sunlight) for a couple of hours and all of the little hitchhiking critters have made their escape, strip the flowers and leaves from the stems. Fill your jar about 2/3 full with the flowers and leaves, then pour your carrier oil of choice over the plant material until it's completely covered. The plants will spread out a bit in the oil and make your jar look even more full.

Secure the jar's lid and leave the jar in a sunny windowsill or a sheltered spot in the garden to infuse for 4-6 weeks. Keep an eye on it and check it often to make sure no mold is forming and, if you do see mold, use a sterile spoon to scoop it out of the jar before recapping. Wilting your plant material beforehand helps prevent mold from forming.

Note: Do not wash your St. John's Wort prior to infusing it in the oil. This is a sure way to spoil the entire batch. Harvest from a clean area away from pollution and such so that rinsing it is unnecessary.

As the oil infuses, the hypericin in the St. John's Wort will be extracted into the oil and will turn the oil a deep red color. It's quite fascinating, really! Have you ever had a cup of St. John's Wort tea made from the fresh flowers? If so, you'll recognize the color.

Strain completely and store in airtight jars away from light and heat. Storage in the fridge will prolong the oil's shelf life.

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St. John's Wort infused oil makes a wonderful base oil for massage oils, aromatherapy oils, salves, balms, ointments, lotions and creams, and other oil-based applications. It has analgesic (pain-relieving) and anti-inflammatory effects, so lends itself well to formulas meant to help relieve pain and reduce swelling. It's also exceptional (and has been traditionally used) for soothing nerve-related pain.

I once sat down to work with a large batch of St. John's Wort and when I began, I was in quite a bit of pain. By the time I was finished, I had no pain to speak of and the pain didn't come back! Just being around St. John's Wort now feels therapeutic for me.

Here's a photo of a finished batch of infused oil from a couple of years ago. I'll update in a few weeks with a fresh pic from my current batch once it's finished.

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DISTILLING ST. JOHN'S WORT

St. John's Wort is one of my favorite plants to distill at home because it's so generous in its yields and the hydrosol and essential oil are both quite lovely. With my stovetop still (click here for a behind-the-scenes look into the process of using it), I can get about a quart of hydrosol and a little bit of essential oil in about 45 minutes - enough to make several batches of lotions and creams, facial toners, etc. that will last me for most of the year!

When distilling St. John's Wort with a smaller, at-home still, I like to distill via a combined hydro-distillation and steam distillation approach. I've found that this helps me to increase my yield a little bit. It's always a joy to be able to get that little bit of essential oil from even the smallest amount of plant material and, of course, the hydrosol is worth the distillation alone.

the hydrosol

The hydrosol smells lovely - a little bit buttery and green with a hint of pungent spice and the essential oil has a sweetness to it that is just wonderful. It contributes its antimicrobial, antispasmodic, and anti-inflammatory effects to products that include it as an ingredient.

St. John's Wort hydrosol contains a constituent called Terpinen-4-ol, which is also one of the main components found in Tea Tree and Marjoram essential oils. Terpinen-4-ol has demonstrated antibacterial and antitumoral effects in scientific research and is also found in smaller amounts in Lavender (angustifolia) essential oil and Juniper berry essential oil.

the essential oil

I find St. John's Wort essential oil to be both emotionally and physically centering. It helps to balance the pain response to both physical and emotional stimuli and bring us back into a state of existing harmoniously with different causes of pain.

It feels sunny and uplifting energetically, like an encouraging friend who says just the right thing in just the right moment to help us feel better about life. While it may not remove every ounce of pain from how we're feeling, physically or emotionally, it helps to soften the way we feel about the pain and thus, to relieve it in an interesting way. It doesn't deaden, but rather lifts the spirit away from it a little bit so we can handle the pain better, relax the tension we feel from holding on to it, and perhaps even let go of it.

That said, St. John's Wort essential oil does have a pronounced anti-inflammatory and analgesic effect on the physical body, so it's commonly employed for painful, swollen issues of the body, skin, and mind. 

I've also found it useful when working with people who are prone to feeling like they're at their wit's end; the type with frazzled nerves from being overworked and under-rested - if you add just one more thing to their plate, they're going to drop everything on the floor. It's also helpful for the kind of person who has so many things going on at once that they're starting to become a little bit numb to it all; one too many distractions; one too many painful experiences; one too many things that feel like little needles constantly jabbing holes into their mental and emotional health.

The herb itself is known for its ability to help repair our physical nerves, so it makes sense that the essential oil would have this kind of emotional effect.

St. John's Wort essential oil contains alpha-pinene which is helpful for both the skin and the respiratory and immune systems. Beta-caryophyllene is another of its main constituents. It's known for its ability to support the skin and our pain response, but especially for its unique ability to bind to our CB2 receptors, which help us to maintain normal immune and nervous system functions.

Balsam Copaiba (Copaifera officinalis) is one of the oft-studied essential oils that is also known for its rich beta-caryophyllene content.

The physical effects of St. John's Wort on our body help us to better understand the effects it has on our emotional being. Physically, it supports the skin, immune, respiratory and nervous systems, and our pain response. Emotionally, it strengthens our response to external stimuli, allowing us to breathe through different circumstances whilst building our resiliency and maintaining our center. It helps strengthen our protective barriers and fill in the cracks where the barrier has been compromised whilst still allowing light to shine through those cracks. It helps us to keep our head up, focused on the good things so we can better deal with the hard things. It's a great ally in the Herbal Aromatherapist's™ toolbox!


An example:

Imagine that you have so many things going on that you're starting to lose your focus and you can feel your energy seeping away from you. You're feeling less inspired and you don't have any time to focus on things that fuel your creativity because everything else is constantly demanding your attention.

You're feeling frazzled at home because you don't have time to take care of everything you need to. You're feeling like you're under-performing at work because you just don't have the mental energy to invest in it.

And then something awful happens. You get sick or you suffer a loss or something else occurs that just completely leaves you feeling like you can't deal with all of the things anymore.

You just want to sit on the couch in last night's pajamas with a warm blanket and some fuzzy socks so you can binge-watch your favorite show on Netflix whilst eating all of the chocolate ice cream you have in the freezer.

And in that moment, one of your best friends calls and talks to you about the situation and, after hearing about everything that's going on, she comes over to help you. She watches a movie with you, then tells you to go take a shower and get dressed. She works alongside you to get the house clean, takes you out for lunch and shopping for a new outfit, and then watches the kids for you so you and your spouse can go have a weekend away from everything to recharge.

You come home feeling like you've had a mental reset - like you know exactly what you can let go of in order to make sure that you don't reach this place again and you also feel better equipped to handle all of the other things you have going on in your life.

Your friend sticks by you, checking in on you and making sure you're staying in the right head-space, keeping a positive outlook on things, and constantly adjusting where you need to so that you don't end up feeling the same way again.

As a result, you're better able to keep a positive attitude yourself; you're able to invest in the things that are important to you again and let go of the things that no longer matter as much, all the while feeling like you've been able to find your center so you can take on the world each day as a strong, energetic, cheerful powerhouse.

This is how St. John's Wort works on the emotional plane. It's the cheery, encouraging best friend that meets you where you are and then helps you to focus on the important things, let go of the things that you don't need to be holding on to, and keep walking forward with a greater amount of fortitude and resilience than before you met up on the trail.

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USING St. John's Wort

St. John's Wort can be used therapeutically either fresh or dried. Some of the ways it is commonly prepared include:

  • teas
  • tincture
  • vinegar tincture
  • infused oil
  • glycerites
  • compresses and poultices
  • salves, balms and ointments
  • lotions and creams
  • massage oils
  • aromatherapy roll-on blends
  • smelling salts
  • bath tea blends
  • soaks
  • skin care recipes
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As far as using the herb goes, St. John's Wort definitely has a reputation for uplifting the spirits! Much of its publicity over the past 20 years or so has focused on its antidepressant effects. Whilst it can have a pronounced impact on people who are feeling like they need a little boost of emotional support, it's always a good idea to speak with your doctor if you suspect a deeper issue or if you already know that you suffer from chronic depression.

St. John's Wort is traditionally used to help repair damaged nerves and can be used externally via compress, soak, or infused oil to massage into areas where you're experiencing nerve pain. Since it has antispasmodic and analgesic effects as well, all of these applications can also be employed for muscle and joint aches and pains too.

Note: We'll go into more detail about the specific uses of this herb inside the course module.

safety considerations

St. John's Wort can interact with several different kinds of medications, so please consult your favorite botanical safety reference guides and speak to your doctor before taking St. John's Wort if you are currently on medication. Using the herb topically is considered safe, however.

have you ever worked with st. john's wort?

I'd love to hear about your experience with this special herb! Tell me what you think about it or how you like to use it in the comments section below.


If you'd like to be notified when our course opens for enrollment so you can learn even more about St. John's Wort (and other herbs) and how to use it effectively, click here.


I hope you've enjoyed this brief excerpt from the St. John's Wort lesson of the course! Whilst the course goes into a lot more detail about the specifics, I think this article gives a good, comprehensive overview of the ways you can expect to work with this amazing plant. It's truly one of my favorites! =)

Much love,
Erin

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How to Make an Herbal Shrub with Roses

Our Roses are happily blooming away in the garden and I've been enjoying being able to use them in all kinds of kitchen and apothecary recipes, including herbal shrubs. A shrub is an herb-infused preparation that is usually made with vinegar, honey and fruit. My husband really inspired me to like shrubs when he fell in love with them before they were even really a popular thing. Since then, I’ve been experimenting with different combinations and this one has become a star in our kitchen. It’s the sort of recipe that you re-make when you’re running low on the last batch because it’s just that good. It’s rich in yummy vitamin C too, so it’s pretty much a win-win!

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Ingredients:

  • organic Rose petals
  • organic Rose hips
  • organic cherries
  • raw, organic apple cider vinegar
  • raw honey
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To make your shrub, fill your jar 1/4 of the way with dried Rosehips, then add cherries until the jar is about 2/3 full. Top off with fresh Rose petals (organically grown; not from a florist). Pour apple cider vinegar over the plant material, secure the jar’s lid, and refrigerate the mixture for a week or two (or four, depending on how strong you like your shrubs). Strain out the herbs and stir in honey until it’s sweet enough for your liking.

An extra tip: Honey infused with Ginger and Cinnamon powders
makes a lovely addition to this recipe!

Shrubs can be added to lemonades, teas, sparkling waters, juices and other beverages and they can also be used in homemade vinaigrette recipes. Have you ever made one? Let me know how it went in the comments section below.

Much love,
Erin

Tell me your favorite herbal shrub recipe in the comments section below.

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Guide to Growing, Harvesting, Drying, and Using Calendula

If I made a list of the top 10 herbs I use the most in my apothecary and in the kitchen, Calendula would be right there near the top of the list. Her sunny little blooms fill the garden with vibrant cheer and I love working with her for both topical and internal applications. The fresh petals have a peppery taste that is delicious in baked goods and fresh salads, sprinkled in mashed potatoes, pressed into butter, and tossed with roasted veggies. The dried blooms are continuously infused into new batches of carrier oil in my apothecary for use in skin care blends and medicinal salves. I’m distilling a lot of Calendula this year so I can use the hydrosol more because it’s lovely as well. The flowers are a staple in my herbal foot bath blends and teas. This versatile plant is so easy to grow yourself, so I highly encourage you to plant out a few packets of seed if you haven’t added it to your garden yet.

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I'm right in the middle of a Calendula trial right now, so Calendula is definitely at the forefront of my mind. I'm testing over 30 different varieties for vigor, floriferousness (not a word), and medicinal quality for a project that I'm working on, so I'm definitely knee deep in working with this pretty little plant. It's truly one of the most used in my apothecary!

GROWING CALENDULA

Calendula is grown as a hardy annual in most growing zones and as a perennial in a couple of the warmest zones. Back in southern California, I could definitely grow it as a perennial, but even here in the PNW, it kept right on blooming through the frosts and the snow we had over the winter. I've heard reports of it not overwintering well in areas that get a lot more snow (and much colder temps) than we do, but the plants that I left in the ground last fall kept right on flowering and are still going while my new seed-grown batch is just starting to produce more heavily!

Calendula loves to be grown in full sun and will produce the highest yields when planted in the brightest areas of your garden. Well-drained soil is a plus and it seems to thrive when I add lots of compost to the soil before planting and a layer of mulch just after transplanting.

Plant your seeds in seed boxes or propagation trays, covering them with about ¼” of soil and water in well. You can direct sow the seeds, but planting them up in trays first will give you a head start on the growing season so you can start harvesting blooms sooner. It also gives you an opportunity to provide an early food source for the pollinators, which love this plant. Mine are consistently visited by at least 7 different kinds of bees, among other things.

Once your plants have well developed root systems and are ready to be planted out, you can space them about a foot apart throughout the garden. I’ve found that dedicated Calendula beds are strikingly beautiful, but I also plant them throughout my vegetable beds in between plants to draw pollinators to the food plants. If it will overwinter in your area, consider giving the plants even more room in their beds because they'll grow to be quite a bit larger than plants grown as annuals and will need more space. 16-18" would be good.

HARVESTING CALENDULA

Once flowers start opening, you’ll want to harvest at least every 2 to 3 days, but I’ve found myself harvesting daily during its peak blooming time. Pick the flowers the day they are fully open and leave a few for the bees, but make sure that you deadhead the flowers you leave behind before they go to seed to keep your plants happily producing throughout the season.

I like to pull or snip the flower heads right off into my gathering tray and then come back through and trim the stems down on the plant later. Your hands will get sticky from the resins in the involucre of the flower heads (the green bracts on the bottom of the flower head). Most of the time, the sticky residue will wash right off with soap and water once you're finished harvesting, but you can also use a little bit of olive oil (or any fatty oil) if necessary for stubborn bits.

DRYING CALENDULA

Calendula flowers are best dried in a single layer on screens in a warm area away from direct sun with excellent air flow. The blooms are thick (the flower centers, especially), so it’s important to make sure that all of the moisture is gone out of the blossoms before storing them. Make sure you check the flowers after about a week of drying time and if there is any moisture left in the center of the blooms, let them dry longer. Some folks like to use fans in their drying room when they process their Calendula to help speed the process along, but for home-sized batches, I haven’t needed them. If you’re in a humid area, though, fans might be a good idea.

Where I live, Calendula may even take 2-3 weeks to dry completely in the center, so be patient. It's better to wait to get them in your jars than to spoil a whole batch because of leftover moisture in some of the blooms.

USING CALENDULA

Once your blossoms are completely dried, they can be used in:

  • herbal butters
  • herbal vinegars and salad dressings
  • tinctures
  • glycerites
  • syrups
  • compresses and poultices
  • herbal oils
  • salves, balms and ointments
  • lotions and creams
  • kitchen recipes (both sweet and savory)
  • herbal tea blends
  • bath tea blends
  • skin care recipes
  • and more!

Calendula is especially suited to applications for the skin (it's full of skin-healing and skin-protective compounds), mucous membranes, and the digestive tract, so keep that in mind when formulating with it. You can read more about making herbal oils with Calendula flower heads here and I also have a post about some of my favorite ways to use Calendula here.

Once you start growing Calendula, you’ll probably find yourself planting increasingly more of it each year. It’s such an irresistible and usable plant!

How about you? Do you grow Calendula?

Much love,
Erin

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The Complete Seed Starting Guide for Herbs & Edibles

When we begin to approach our last frost date, I start to get all kinds of excited because it means that, soon, I'll be able to start harvesting things from my garden again. Spring is beautiful here. The crocuses and daffodils and hyacinths have flowered and now the tulips and pansies are filling the neighborhood landscapes with color. Flowering trees are filled with blooms and fresh new leaves. Hardy plants are happily growing in the garden and the perennials have started to wake up. Everything starts to look like it’s hopeful again, ready to see the sun, prepared to send its energy back out into the world. Seed trays have been sown and are incubating in our mini greenhouses. This was my first full winter in an area where things look drastically different in the wintertime, and, while I enjoyed spending a restful season inside, away from the chilly temperatures, I also really anticipated the days I could start getting plants in the ground again. Since many of you are now entering prime seed-starting season, I thought I'd put together a comprehensive mini guide to starting seeds for you.

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Starting Seeds 101

The first thing you need to figure out when you sit down to dream about your garden for the year is what you want to grow in the space you have available. Which veggies would you love to pick fresh right from your garden? Which herbs would you like to have on hand for your kitchen? Are there any medicinal herbs you’d like to grow this year? Once you know what you want to grow, you can determine which varieties will do best in your growing zone, purchase seeds, and schedule out your optimal planting dates. These are things I like to do during the months of December and January, when things are a bit quieter in the garden, but you still have time if you haven't had a chance to do your planning yet.

I like to map out my growing space and decide how much of each plant I'm going to grow and where I'm going to plant it. Having a master plan helps me to plan crop rotations, to not to over-fill my beds and to use my space efficiently. Knowing what I'm going to plant ahead of time allows me to create my planting schedule for the year so I don't fall behind on seed sowing, plant feeding, succession sowing, etc..

Starting Seeds Indoors vs. Outdoors

If you live in an area with a shorter growing season, you can get a head start with your seeds by starting them indoors 4-8 weeks (sometimes up to 12 weeks, depending on the plant) earlier than you would be able to get them going outside. Things like tomatoes and peppers and warm weather loving herbs like Basil can all be started indoors and then planted out after your area has finished its frosty season. If you're starting seeds in the house or garage, make sure you have a good daylight balanced bulb or a bright spot near a big window to give seedlings the light they need to get going. Plenty of light will keep them from getting leggy.

If you’re blessed with a warm growing zone and a long growing season, you can still start seeds indoors and then successively sow more seeds outdoors a month or two later to take advantage of that long season, or you can start your seeds directly outdoors once the nighttime and soil temperatures have warmed up a bit.

When we lived in southern California, I started all my seeds outdoors, but because we live much farther north now, I like to start most of them indoors or in our mini greenhouses to extend my growing season.

Seed Starting Containers

I used to use 72-cell propagating trays to start my seeds. They were super convenient and efficient. I could easily label each row of seeds and each tray was automatically watered through the flat tray that would sit beneath it. Since we started to transition away from plastic, though, I’ve come to love handmade wooden seed starting boxes even more. They’re tall enough to give my plants enough room to develop a really healthy root system right from the start and the plants seem to like them a lot better.

I also use biodegradable seed starting pots on occasion. They're usually made from coco coir or peat and are especially useful for plants that don’t like to be transplanted (think Borage, squashes, etc.) because they can be planted directly into the ground after gently removing the bottom of the pot without disturbing the roots of the plant.

Special SEED Treatments

Stratification

Some seeds need to experience a cold season before they can properly germinate. If you live in an area where you already have a cold season, you can probably plant most of these seeds out in late fall, directly in the garden. But if you’re wanting to plant in spring, you can simulate the cold season by placing the seeds in a labeled container in the fridge with some barely moist soil or sand and allow them to chill there for a month (or two, or three, depending on what the plant needs) before planting the seeds outside in early spring.

Scarification

Some seeds have a super protective seed coat that keeps the seed from germinating for a while. If you want those seeds to germinate quickly and more consistently, you can nick that seed coat with a piece of sandpaper or the edge of a blade to help the seed wake up. This can be difficult with seeds that are very small and hard to keep a grip on, but if you are patient and stick with it, scarification will improve your germination rate. Certain seeds can/should be scarified with freshly boiled water, but most will need to be treated with a blade or sandpaper.

Soaking

Many seeds need to be soaked in water overnight (sometimes even longer) to help them germinate. Sweet peas come to mind. During our rainy seasons, I’ll sow them just before I know we’re going to get a few days of good rain and let the showers give them all the moisture they need. I've had success with this method, but if you’re expecting lots of sunny weather or if you're planting large amounts and you're dependent on your crop, it’s best to give them a soak indoors before you want to plant them. Fill a ramekin or a small dish with lukewarm water, drop the seeds in before you eat dinner, and, in most cases, they’ll be ready to plant out by the time you’re ready to head out to the garden the next morning.

Choosing the Best Spot in the Garden

Take heed to what kind of environment your plants like best. Do they prefer full sun? Part shade? Rich soil? Well-draining soil? Wet feet? Choosing the best place you can for the plant will give you the best results when it comes time to harvest. Knowing what conditions each plant prefers will also help you plan out your companion plants and permaculture-style garden layers as well.

Some plants that love full sun:

Tomatoes, peppers, dahlias, poppies, cosmos, Basil, Parsley, Thyme, Lemon Balm, Rosemary, Lavender…

Some plants that can also thrive in part shade:

Peppermints, Turmeric, Ginger, Chives, Cilantro, Oregano, Skullcap, Calendula…

Some plants that can grow in the shade:

Parsley, Cilantro, Chives, Chives, Thyme, Peppermint, Bleeding Hearts…

Many resilient plants can grow in either full sun or part shade. Try experimenting with a plant in each area to see which one does better, then you can plant more in the better-performing spot the next year.

What are you hoping to add to your garden this year?

Much love,
Erin

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Turmeric's Therapeutic Effects

Turmeric (Curcuma longa, C. domestica) is an herb with a reputation. Even people who don’t use herbs for anything beyond flavoring their favorite dishes often know that Turmeric can be used to help reduce chronic inflammation, relieve pain, and help to improve overall health and well-being. I have one friend who is very involved with western medicine and loves to use Turmeric for her gut health, and another who uses it alongside her normal medications to help reduce the severity of painful symptoms related to her chronic medical condition. Turmeric is a user-friendly food herb that people easily recognize. It’s also immensely valuable in the apothecary.

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Turmeric is an invigorating, warming herb that contains a wide variety of constituents, including the well-known curcumin, yields an essential oil that contains turmerone and zingiberene, among other constituents, and also contains sugars, protein, bitters, resins, and even vitamins A, B, C, E and K, flavonoids, and minerals like calcium, iron, potassium and zinc. The rhizome is the part of the plant that is most often used in cooking and in the apothecary. I grew Turmeric in my garden this year and it grew happily alongside my Ginger plants throughout our warmer months.

Therapeutic Properties

Turmeric boasts a wide variety of therapeutic effects, including the following: analgesic, antibacterial, anticarcinogenic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antimutagenic, antioxidant, antispasmodic, antiviral, astringent, blood moving, carminative, cholagogue, emmenagogue, hemostatic, hepatoprotective and vulnerary. As you can see, it’s quite a versatile herb.

For the Digestive System

Turmeric’s doctrine of signatures accurately points to its value as a liver supportive and liver protective herb. One veterinarian who uses Turmeric in his practice says that Turmeric stimulates the flow of bile and can increase its output by as much as 100% whilst also increasing its solubility.(1) Turmeric is commonly indicated for a wide variety of liver ailments as well as gastrointestinal issues and a plethora of other digestive complaints. It supports the digestive process, helps us to better absorb and use the nutrients in our food and helps improve gut flora. Its carminative effect is valuable for alleviating gas and associated  discomfort as well.

For the Respiratory System

While many may not think of Turmeric as the first herb to turn to when dealing with a respiratory issue, it is an excellent immune supportive, antiviral(2,3) herb to use when facing a cough or cold and flu symptoms. It is one of the ingredients in the famous Fire Cider remedy. Golden Milk, which features Turmeric as its main herbal ingredient is another traditional remedy that is often taken when the first sign of symptoms appears. Taking Turmeric in a formula that also includes black or white pepper is thought to increase its overall effectiveness.

Turmeric's Other Talents

Turmeric is also used to support the health of cardiovascular system, reduce anxiety levels
(especially in people who tend toward a cold constitution), support healthy menstruation, and is used in a variety of skin care applications. Its antifungal properties are employed in formulas meant to address skin issues such as athlete’s foot, eczema, psoriasis and ringworm and its anti-inflammatory properties are sometimes considered when formulating daily-use skin care products. Topical use blends that are used to help aid recovery after injury or trauma also make use of Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Blends that are formulated for topical use on wounds, insect bites and stings and scrapes and bruises often include Turmeric as an ingredient.

Rosemary Gladstar says that Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory effect is accomplished by sensitizing the body’s cortisol receptor sites and speaks of studies that have revealed Turmeric as being stronger acting than hydrocortisone without its harmful side effects.(6)

Its cardiovascular effects include improved circulation and cholesterol levels, anticoagulant properties and protection against heart disease.

Turmeric's Test Results

One trial showed that Turmeric improves the memory of people who had early signs of prediabetes and Alzheimer’s.(5)

Multiple studies have found that Turmeric (and curcumin) has an anti-cancer effect, inducing apoptosis in cancer cells and helping to protect the body’s healthy cells. Pancreatic cancer,(7) head and neck cancers,(8) ovarian cancer,(9) breast cancer,(10,11,12,13,14,15) colon cancer,(16,17) prostate cancer,(18,19) skin cancer(20) and esophageal cancer(21) have all been examined in these studies.

One study found that the anti-inflammatory properties of Turmeric compare with the anti-inflammatory effects of hydrocortisone acetate and phenylbutazone (an NSAID drug used in the treatment of animals).(4)

Turmeric’s herbal extract was found to be as effective as ibuprofen for the treatment of knee arthritis.(23)

When combined with white pepper, Turmeric was found to be able to decrease inflammation.(24)

The essential oil shows promise as a mosquito repellent, especially in combination with a few other essential oils.(25)

Curcuma oil protected mice with hepatic injury from inflammatory and oxidative stress and inhibited hepatoma cell growth in vivo and in vitro.(26) Turmeric’s extract inhibits gastric acid secretion by blocking H(2) histamine receptors.(2)7 It also inhibits entry of all hepatitis C virus genotypes from entering liver cells.(28)
Turmeric’s antiviral effects have been demonstrated in studies involving Zika(29) and other viruses, HIV,(30) and the Herpes simplex virus,(31) among others.

Turmeric also shows promise for use in a number of eye conditions.(32)

Applications and Uses

I love incorporating Turmeric into my skin care routine. I use the hydrosol as a facial toner and I often include the powdered herb in an exfoliating face powder recipe with powdered Rose petals. I also like to combine it with a bit of honey, Turmeric hydrosol, and clay to make a face mask that can be painted onto the skin and left for a few minutes (don’t let it dry out) before rinsing off.

Turmeric is famously used as an herbal dye that produces a vibrant yellow color. It’s no secret that Turmeric likes to stain everything it touches! Because it is so effective at sharing its color with everything around it, it’s often employed as a substitute for saffron in dishes where that brilliant color is desired. It makes fried rice and stir fry dishes beautifully colorful and can make for a fun addition to bread making.

When used for its flavor, Turmeric is perhaps the most noticeable ingredient in curry spice blends. Curried peas and curried roasted cauliflower are favorites in our home. I also love to include a bit of it when making fermented veggies!

Turmeric can be brewed alone as a tea, but is more effective when a bit of black or white pepper is added to the brew. It’s especially tasty when prepared as Golden Milk with a few more pungent, warming spices and bit of honey. I also like to include it in smoothies or use the fresh juice combined with the juice of carrots and lemon in the mornings.

The leaves of the Turmeric plant are used to wrap and steam-cook fish. The rhizome is beautiful in soups and is one of the ingredients in Fire Cider, a traditional herbal remedy. The powdered herb can be used to season grilled meats and add color to a variety of dishes, including potato salad (yum!).

Turmeric is most effective when used steadily over time, so try incorporating it into a variety of dishes to discover how you like it best.

Turmeric for Dogs

Turmeric is also a useful herb to use when caring for animals, especially dogs. It can be sprinkled into their food to assist with / help prevent liver, digestive and cardiovascular ailments. It can also be used topically (infused into a carrier oil or Aloe or used as a hydrosol) for wounds, eczema, and other skin-related issues.

One of my pup’s favorite treats is a scrambled egg cooked with a pinch of Turmeric powder sprinkled into it. I’ll sometimes add Turmeric to her food when I’m cooking up the rice that I include in some of her meals. It turns the rice a brilliant yellow color and adds a bit of flavor as well.

Growing Turmeric

Growing Turmeric in the garden is so easy and so enjoyable. The plants are happy growing next to my Ginger and Plantain and I can’t believe how vibrant Turmeric is when I use it just after digging it up. There’s something special about using an herb therapeutically when it was a living plant just a few moments ago.

Growing: Turmeric can be grown outdoors in partial shade or partial sun during the warmer months and potted up and brought indoors to go dormant for the cooler months (if your growing zone is below 7 or 8; otherwise it can overwinter outdoors in areas where you ground doesn’t freeze). It prefers a moist soil and a humid environment, but I’ve heard reports that it will even grow in dry soil. To plant it, lay the rhizome flat on top of the soil and top-sprinkle with a bit more soil (bits of the rhizome should still be visible). Don’t bury it completely or it could rot. The plant is very easy to grow; I highly recommend planting some in your own garden, greenhouse or sunroom.

Harvesting: Turmeric can be harvested in the fall with other fall-harvested roots, after the leaves have started to lose their color and lushness. The rhizomes can be stored in the fridge for a few months and enjoyed while fresh, but for longer storage, you’ll want to dry them.

Safety Considerations

Turmeric has the potential to exacerbate signs of excess heat in the body, so if you already tend toward a hot constitution, you’ll want to avoid overusing it. Therapeutic doses should generally be avoided when pregnant or while taking blood thinning medications, but use as a food herb in reasonable amounts is generally regarded as safe.

Essential Oil and Hydrosol

Turmeric essential oil is rich in turmerone and zingiberene, among other constituents. Its therapeutic properties include: analgesic, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, aphrodisiac, cholagogue, digestive, restorative, stimulant, stomachic and tonic. It is commonly used to support healthy digestion, relieve muscular cramps, spasms and aches and pains, and to soothe skin ailments with symptoms of excess heat. It is contraindicated for small children and women who are pregnant and may irritate sensitive skin, so use it at a proper dilution and after testing it on a small area before widespread application.

The hydrosol is used topically for skin ailments and in digestive support preparations and is sometimes used internally (in cooking or otherwise) to help support healthy digestion.

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How about you? Have you made friends with Turmeric yet? What stands out to you about it?

Much love,
Erin

References

  1. Dr. Kidd’s Guide to Herbal Dog Care by Randy Kidd, D.V.M., Ph.D
  2. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0166354216307483
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25600522
  4. http://www.mccormickscienceinstitute.com/public/msi/assets/Aggarwal_book.pdf
  5. http://apjcn.nhri.org.tw/server/APJCN/23/4/581.pdf
  6. Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs, a Beginner’s Guide by Rosemary Gladstar
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25071333
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22583425
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25429431
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24864107
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22772921
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23140290
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23448448
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25031701
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24365254
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25238234
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24550143
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25594891
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23875250
  20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22080352
  21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22253518
  22. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26396311
  23. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24672232
  24. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24260564
  25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25817806
  26. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24270742
  27. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16327153
  28. gut.bmj.com/content/63/7/1137.long
  29. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0166354216307483
  30. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2608099/pdf/jnma00383-0007.pdf
  31. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0042682207007982
  32. https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/html/10.1055/s-0033-1351074

 


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7 Ways to Preserve Your Herb Harvest

When your herb garden is flourishing so much that you have more herbs than you know what to do with and you have extra herbs even after you’ve shared some with friends and family and folks in need, what do you do with the surplus? Let's talk about ways to preserve your herbs so you can use them throughout the year.

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Tincturing

A tincture is a liquid herbal extract that, when properly executed, can effectively preserve your herbs for months or even years. Tincturing is one of the simplest, most traditional ways to preserve herbs for medicinal use. The two most common menstruums for preparing tinctures are alcohol and apple cider vinegar. If you choose to use alcohol, you’ll want to use something that is at least 40 proof. If you have liver problems or prefer not to use alcohol, raw, organic apple cider vinegar can also be used for tincture making. The shelf life of vinegar-based tinctures is shorter (usually 6 months to a year or so, if properly stored), while an alcohol tincture could last several years. The menstruum you choose may impact which constituents are drawn out of your herb into the carrier, so if you’re interested in a specific action or component of the herb you’re using, you may want to choose your menstruum accordingly.

The Simpler’s Method of Tincturing: Fill a jar with your freshly harvested herb (or dried herb, if it’s one of the plants that prefers to be tinctured when dry) and pour your menstruum over the herb until the jar is full of the liquid. Tightly secure a lid on the jar, give it a good shake, infuse your remedy with intention, and leave it to macerate for 4-6 weeks, shaking it daily. At the end of that period, strain out the herb and bottle your finished tincture in a sterilized, labeled jar.

Note: Glycerin is also sometimes used to make tinctures (glycerites) and is a suitable option for preparations meant for use with children, folks who prefer not to take alcohol-based remedies, and animals. Glycerites can be effective, but are far less potent than either of the other two options.

Drying

Many herbs can easily be air dried. Harvest your herb, remove the bottom leaves from the stem, tie several stems together, and hang the bundle upside down for a couple of weeks. You can also use clothespins to hold individual stems upside down while they’re drying. Alternatively, lay your herbs out on a drying screen in a single layer and allow them to rest there until completely dried.

For thicker herbs that take longer to dry and may dry inconsistently, you might prefer to use a dehydrator to dry your herbs. Spread them out in a single layer on your dehydrator tray and dry until they no longer have any moisture left in them.

Freezing

Preserving herbs via freezer can be one convenient way to preserve them for cooking. There are a few different methods that you can try.

In Water: Chop your herbs into the size you like them to be when you use them for cooking. Place the chopped herbs in the wells of an ice cube tray (fill ‘em up!) and pour filtered water over the herbs. Place the tray in the freezer and let sit until frozen, then remove the herbal ice cubes and store them in an airtight container for future use.

In Oil: This method offers two options. The first is to follow the same steps listed above for freezing chopped herbs in water (just substitute olive oil for the water) via an ice cube tray. The second is to blend your herbs with olive oil and freeze the pesto-like paste in ice cube tray wells or silicon molds.

On Their Own: Lay the dry herbs out in a single layer on a cookie sheet or tray and freeze. Once the leaves are frozen, move them all into an airtight container and store in the freezer until needed.

Herbal Infusions

Herb infused oils are one of my favorite tools for my apothecary. Many of them can be used in the kitchen to add flavors to dishes, while even more are wonderful for use in herbal products meant for use on the skin.

You can read more about infusing herbs into oil here. Infusing an herb into honey is another great option too.

Canning

Some herbs can be used to make syrups or jams / preserves that can then be canned to extend shelf life. Think Hawthorn berry jam, Elderberry preserves, Violet flower syrup… all valuable medicinally and able to be easily preserved via canning.

Butters

Making herbal butters is another traditional method of preserving herbs for use in the kitchen. Chop your herbs, fold them into butter, and freeze the butter for future use. You can either place the herbal butter into silicon molds to create pretty shapes, freeze, then store in an airtight container in the freezer, or you can spread the herbed butter out on a sheet of freezer/parchment paper, shape the butter into a cylinder (like a log), and freeze that for future use.

How to you like to preserve your herbs? Let me know in the comments below.

Much love,
Erin


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The Differences Between Lavender Essential Oils

This article has been excerpted from The Lavender Guide, a new book by Erin Stewart. The excerpt has been adapted for use here and was also featured in the August issue of AromaCulture Magazine.

I've never met a Lavender plant I didn't love. When they pop up in garden shops around here, they are quickly snatched up by adoring plant-tenders and whisked away to their new homes where they're lovingly planted up and made a part of the family. My German Shepherd even loves them. There was a house on our block in CA that had a large, vibrant, seemingly ever-blooming Lavender plant in the front yard and it spilled over the picket fence into the sidewalk. Every day on our walk, my pup had to stop and stick her nose into that Lavender plant and just breathe it in for a moment before we continued on our way. Every time. It's rather adorable, really. She's a smart one.


Did you know we made a film with the lavender farmers of southern Oregon? Click on the image below to watch it - it’s free! You’ll get to go behind the scenes at working lavender farms and learn directly from the farmers as they teach you how to grow, care for and distill lavender!


Lavender is a flowering shrub in the Lamiaceae (mint) family and boasts over 40 known species with an ever growing count of over 400 cultivated varieties. While it's native to areas near the Mediterranean, Lavender is now grown all over the world and the various species provide us with several different essential oils. While they are all "Lavender" essential oils, the different species (and varieties) yield essential oils with slightly differing chemical compositions that might make one more suitable for certain issues than the others. Let's focus in on some of the differences between some of the most commonly available Lavender oils.

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TRUE LAVENDER

Botanical name: Lavandula angustifolia, Lavandula officinalis

The main Lavender used for therapeutic purposes in both herbalism and aromatherapy is Lavandula angustifolia. There are many cultivars of L. angustifolia, with flowers ranging in color from light purple to dark purple, white, and even pink. This Lavender is sometimes referred to as English Lavender. I have also heard some people call it French Lavender, but since that term has also been applied to Lavandin (L. x intermedia) and to L. dentata, it is best to refer to it via its botanical name, L. angustifolia, to avoid confusion.

 
 

L. angustifolia plants produce less essential oil than the hybrid Lavandin plants do. A friend who distills Lavender daily has found that 6 to 8 plants' worth of L. angustifolia flowering stalks will fill the basket of a 15 gallon copper alembic still and will yield about 70ml of essential oil per distillation.

While not considered ideal for florists and designers because of their shorter stems, the angustifolias have a sweeter, softer aroma than other Lavender varieties and are considered superior for therapeutic use. The plants themselves are much shorter and smaller than Lavandin varieties.

My favorite L. angustifolia cultivars include: 'Bowles Early,' 'Buena Vista,' 'Hidcote,' 'Loddon Blue,' 'Miss Katherine,' 'Opal Rain,' 'Royal Velvet,' and 'Sachet.'

The essential oil of L. angustifolia plants is rich in linalol and linalyl acetate, among many other constituents (possibly as many as 450 or more) and is considered the choice Lavender oil for use in aromatherapy. Professional aromatherapists will rarely use a Lavender oil produced from another Lavender variety, except, perhaps, for Spike Lavender (L. latifolia / spica) in cases where 1,8-Cineole and Camphor are preferred constituents for application. The different varieties of L. angustifolia produce similar, but still subtly different essential oils. ('Buena Vista' and 'Hidcote Pink' are two of my current favorites.) A discerning nose will be able to notice slight differences in aroma between the different oils, but in general, L. angustifolia essential oil is not sold with the variety name included unless it is being purchased directly from a small farm that distills their own Lavender on site. Most larger distillers, even if they grow several varieties of L. angustifolia, will co-distill the different varieties together and sell the finished product labeled simply as 'Lavender - Lavandula angustifolia' essential oil.

I have found that L. angustifolia essential oils consistently boast the following therapeutic properties (among others): analgesic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anxiolytic, antispasmodic, carminative, cicatrisant, diuretic, emmenagogue, nervine, sedative, and uplifting. They are generally useful for any kind of skin ailment, nervous tension, anxiety, lack of restful sleep, aches, pains, and spasms, and a variety of more serious complaints [covered more thoroughly in the full chapter found in the book].

While Lavender is safe for even neat use on the skin, some clinical aromatherapists now recommend using it undiluted only for acute ailments (like a bee sting). When used regularly over time, it may be best to dilute even the friendly Lavender essential oil in a carrier.  

True Lavender essential oil is costly to produce and is often adulterated with isolated (or synthetic) linalol or linalyl acetate, synthetic Lavender oil, and even Lavandin essential oil. Know your source well to be sure you're purchasing a true, 100% L. angustifolia essential oil.

 
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LAVANDIN

Botanical name: Lavandula x intermedia, Lavandula hybrida, Lavandula x burnati

Lavandin (L. x intermedia) is a Lavender species that is cherished by growers and distillers around the world. Lavandin plants are created when a Lavandula angustifolia and a Lavandula latifolia plant are cross-pollinated. The resulting hybrid is a much larger plant than the L. angustifolia varieties and yields a great deal more essential oil. Lavandins make beautiful garden hedges because of their impressive size and color. They bloom later in the season than L. angustifolia varieties, so adding Lavandin to your Lavender garden is an easy way to extend your blooming season.

A few of my personal favorite Lavandin varieties for the garden include, 'Fred Boutin,' 'Grosso,' 'Impress Purple,' 'Jaubert,' and 'Lullingstone Castle.'

Like the L. angustifolia essential oil varieties, Lavandin essential oil is usually offered as simply 'Lavandin - L. x intermedia' or 'Lavender - L. x intermedia' essential oil, though you may be able to find specific varieties like 'Grosso' and 'Super' labeled individually, especially if purchasing directly from a farm that distills onsite. Lavandin essential oil is not as commonly used in the aromatherapy industry, but it is produced worldwide for the fragrance industry. It is a common ingredient in soaps, laundry detergents, skin care, perfumes, and cleaning products. It's far less chemically complex than L. angustifolia essential oil and is considered to be somewhat inferior therapeutically, so not many professional aromatherapists use it. Still, the aroma is lovely - a bit sharper than an angustifolia, due to its higher Camphor and 1,8-Cineole content. Some people prefer its aroma because it's more similar to the traditional Lavender smell they're used to while others, who think they don't like the smell of Lavender until they smell a true L. angustifolia, shy away from the Lavandin scent.

Therapeutically, Lavandin essential oil is used for its antibacterial properties and to support the respiratory system. [Further therapeutic uses are covered in the full chapter in the book.]

 
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LAVANDULA STOECHAS

Botanical name(s): Lavandula stoechas

L. stoechas is sometimes called Spanish Lavender, but since that term is also applied to L. dentata and L. stoechas is also called French Lavender (a term also applied to L. angustifolias and L. x intermedia varieties), it is best to just refer to it by its botanical name: L. stoechas.

L. Stoechas makes a stunning compact hedge in the garden and tends to bloom continuously beginning in late spring. My absolute favorite variety is 'Kew Red,' but I also love 'Cottage Rose,' 'Otto Quast,' and 'James Compton.'

The essential oil is not as easily found, but it can be sourced. Generally speaking, it is not well suited for use with little ones and comes with a few safety contraindications. It is rich in Camphor (even more than Spike Lavender), 1,8-Cineole, and Fenchone, and has an affinity for the respiratory system. Since it is so rich in ketones and oxides, it should be used with caution. [Further therapeutic information covered in the full chapter in the book.]

 

SPIKE LAVENDER

Botanical name(s): Lavandula latifolia, Lavandula spica, Lavandula spicata

Spike Lavender grows at a lower elevation than the L. angustifolia plants and is sometimes called Aspic. The essential oil has a sharper, more camphoraceous aroma than the essential oil from Lavandula angustifolia, with a camphor content that can vary based on where the plant was grown, sometimes reaching concentrations up to about 35%. It also contains higher amounts of 1,8-Cineole. Its aroma hints at its antiseptic qualities and smells quite medicinal. It is often utilized in respiratory support blends and is especially useful when you're feeling a bit stuffy. It can be helpful for pain and inflammation. While not nearly as calming as a True Lavender oil, it does stimulate circulation and effectively gets stagnant energy moving through the body again.

Because of the camphor content, it is recommended that this oil be avoided when pregnant.

Therapeutically, Spike Lavender essential oil is analgesic, antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic, antispasmodic, circulatory, and expectorant. It is sometimes used in skin care preparations and is often included in blends that support skin ailments, cramps and spasms, headaches, and minor wounds. [Covered in more detail in the full chapter of the book.]

 
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CONCLUSION

There are many other Lavender species and varieties that are grown around the world. Our personal collection has many beautiful varieties. Some of my favorites that aren't listed in this particular article include L. multifida and L. x christiana (pictured above).

There's just something so special about Lavender. Once you've spent some time with it, you can't help but want to be around it all the time. Plant one or two varieties in your own garden. Before long, you'll probably be growing your collection too!

Are you growing any Lavender in your garden? Which varieties? Let me know in the comments below. =)

Much love,
Erin

 

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It's Lavender Season! A Behind-the-Scenes Glimpse at Lavender Farms

When you ask an herbalist or an aromatherapist to choose a favorite herb or essential oil, most of them preface their response with a statement somewhat like, "What!? How could you ask me that!? I could never choose just one!" I'm the same way. But if you were to ask me what my favorite herb to grow is, I would say Lavender, without hesitation. Walking out into the garden and seeing her happy, purple-topped stalks makes me feel so at home and so peaceful and so joyous that I would choose her first for my garden every time. I always come home with a batch of new varieties when I visit our local Lavender experts (I just can't help myself!) and Jon and I dream of planting at least an acre of it after we purchase our land. Since I'm fairly certain that I'm not the only one who feels this way about this special plant, I thought I would set aside a day to take you on a relaxing, behind-the-scenes stroll through some of our local Lavender farms here in the PNW. Here are a few of the photos I've been taking at some of our dreamy, purple hot spots this season.

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If you're ever able to visit the PNW during Lavender season, try to visit near the end of June or the beginning of July. We have Lavender festivals and events most weekends during that time frame throughout both Oregon and Washington!

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I could get lost in these rows for hours and be quite content. I recently told a friend that if I were a mouse or a fairy, I would want to live in a Lavender garden.

Every plant in a Lavender garden is alive with pollinators. Thousands of them flit about throughout the fields, happily working the day away. Wouldn't you like to have their job?

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One last photo, from my own garden. It's not a field of blooms, but I just love this dark variety. <3

I'm currently knee-deep working with lavender spikes and with some of these beautiful dreamland locations to bring you some extra special Lavender surprises very soon, so stay tuned! If you love Lavender too, make sure you're on our email list so you'll be amongst the first to know when we're ready to share more info. <3

Much love and wishes for Lavender-filled days,
Erin

Top 11 Herbs and Essential Oils for the Skin

Walking down the skincare aisle at the drugstore is sort of amusing to me. Shelves and shelves of products with pretty packaging, clinical claims, and long lists of synthetic, chemical-laden ingredients...they don't appeal to me at all anymore, but they do cause me to ponder the reasons our culture tends to so easily buy into their marketing. Before I transitioned to a chemical-free lifestyle, I tried so many different storebought products to try to force my skin into looking vibrant and glowy and clear, but none of them worked long-term and many of them even caused irritation or damage to my sensitive skin. When I started using homemade, botanical products instead of the options offered to me at the local Nordstrom, Target, or CVS, I saw such a drastic improvement in my skin (and my health) that it's hard for me to even fathom picking up a toxin-laden, though prettily packaged, product again.

Since June is Skin Healing month here at AromaCulture, I decided to reserve some blog space to talk about my favorite herbs and essential oils for the skin. All of the botanicals in this post are well suited to a wide variety of skincare and first aid applications and can be used for every skin type. They're perfect ingredients to include in your own skincare formulations. Ready to see what made my Top 11 list?

1. DANDELION

So much of the skin's health depends on what is actually happening on the inside of your body. If your liver and kidneys are not functioning well or your digestive system and circulation are a bit stagnant or your gut health is not quite where it should be, you'll start to notice changes in your skin. Acne, blackheads, irritation, inflammation, dull skin...these are all outward manifestations of an inner imbalance that needs to be addressed. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)  is one of the best herbs for this. It supports the health of the digestive organs, especially the liver (which is directly related to the health of your skin), and helps the body to purify the blood and flush out the yuck that doesn't belong. Any time I start to notice little spots popping up on my face, I know it's time to bring out the Dandelion. My skin thanks me every time.

Dandelion can be utilized for the skin via digestive bitters, herbal hand and foot baths, or through the diet. The whole plant is edible. Flowers can be added to salads, roots can be added to soups, and the greens can be cooked down with something sweet and eaten like any other edible green. (The younger leaves are better tasting than older ones.) Generally, the leaves are used as a diuretic (think stagnant issues, like cellulite) and the root is used to stimulate digestion and the production of bile, supporting the liver (and, therefore, the skin). The root can be roasted and brewed as a coffee substitute and is often included in homemade root beer formulas.

If you have a latex allergy, you will probably want to avoid Dandelion. That milky white sap that you see when you pick a Dandelion is latex.

 
 

2. BURDOCK

Burdock (Arctium lappa) is another liver-supportive herb that will indirectly improve and support the health of the skin. It works to correct the internal imbalances that manifest themselves outwardly via issues with the skin (i.e. dandruff, eczema, psoriasis, dry skin, etc.) and is also valuable when used externally for scalp health, wounds, rashes, and inflamed areas. It's great at getting the lymph moving, too, so is again indicated where there is stagnation. My favorite herbal shampoo includes Burdock root as a main ingredient. It can be infused into a carrier oil and included in first aid preparations and skin care formulas or can be decocted and used as a wash. Burdock can also be taken internally as a tincture or as a food. The root is often cooked and eaten as a dish called Gobo and it can also be brewed into a tea and included in homemade root beer soda blends.

Burdock is a weedy plant, so it's extremely easy to grow yourself. Start a little patch of it (it'll do well in just about any kind of soil) and harvest the root in early fall. There are no known safety issues for Burdock.

3. CALENDULA

Ah, Calendula. Possibly the herb supreme for skincare formulas. This sunny little bloom is chock-full of flavanoids and carotenoids that help to heal the skin. Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is indicated for everything from acne to wounds and helps to reduce inflammation and promote cell repair. It's one of the easiest herbs to grow in the garden and will start blooming in early spring and last until well after the first frost if you keep cutting the stems throughout the growing season. Harvest seeds in the fall or winter to save for the next year's growth.

Use Calendula for the skin by infusing the dried blooms into carrier oils for skincare formulations. It can also be brewed as a tea and used as a compress, wash, or poultice (or taken internally). The hydrosol is lovely on its own or included as an ingredient in cream formulas. The tincture can also be used in some cases, though it may be drying when used externally. Calendula also produces a lovely CO2 extract which can be incorporated into topical blends.

 
 

4. COMFREY

Comfrey (Symphytum uplandica or Symphytum officinale) seems such a happy plant to me. It contentendly pops its first little leaves out of the soil in early spring and sets right to work filling its plot with cheerful green. It may be one of the fastest growing, most resilient plants in my herb garden. Comfrey is one of those botanicals that herbalists just love. It has an incredible affinity for healing the skin and has such pronounced wound healing properties that it's earned the nickname "knitbone" because it is said to 'knit' wounded tissues back together. Rich in the skin-healing and protective component, allantoin, it's often included in first aid formulas and skin care preparations. Infuse the leaves into carrier oil or Aloe to use in blends or use an infusion / tea as a wash. Comfrey can also be utilized as a compress or poultice.

5. LAVENDER

No list of skin-healing herbs would be complete without Lavender. There are many varieties of Lavender products available on the market, but you'll want to look for Lavandula angustifolia for skin-healing purposes. The herb, essential oil, hydrosol, and infused carrier oils are all useful for skin preparations. Most folks who are even the slightest bit interested in herbs and essential oils are familiar with Lavender, so I won't expound too thoroughly on it here, but do know that it can be included in just about every herbal / aromatherapeutic product you ever make for the skin without seeming out of place. Aside from its own contribution to the therapeutic effects of the blend, it seems to marry together all of the other ingredients you choose to include to create a more potent synergy.

Lavender is another easy-to-grow herb that will do fine in well drained soils to a zone 5. In cooler areas, it can be grown in a pot and brought in during the colder months. We're growing about a dozen varieties this year and it hasn't taken me long to decide that it's my favorite herb to grow. There's nothing quite so lovely and delightful as this sweet plant!

Infuse Lavender buds into carrier oils, Aloes, and honeys. Use the tea as a wash. The herb can be used as a compress or poultice. The hydrosol is lovely on its own as a facial toner or body spray or as an ingredient in creams. The essential oil can be added to most any skin care or first aid formula.

 
 

6. ST. JOHN'S WORT

Who doesn't love this sunny little plant? The St. John's Wort used for skincare is Hypericum perforatum, which can be easily identified by the little "holes" in its leaves. When you hold a leaf up to the sunlight, you'll see little dark specks (or perforations) on it. The top 4-6" of the blooming plant is used. The plant is ready to harvest when the buds produce a reddish-purple stain on your fingers when you press them. If you don't see this stain, you're either too early or too late. Watch your patch closely when the weather starts to turn toward summery temperatures near the end of June - the perfect harvesting window is short! Some will be ready and some won't. If you're unable to gather enough in one harvesting session, check back every day or two for the next week to see if more flowers are ready to be collected.

St. John's Wort can be infused into carrier oil (it will turn a bright, deep red color as the flowers release their medicinal properties into the oil) that can be used in both first aid and skin care blends. It's useful for external wounds, burns, cuts, bruises, areas of trauma, and inflammatory complaints and helps to speed recovery. Some folks include it in preparations for shingles or herpes. It's excellent for helping to relieve pain as well, so it's often used in massage oils for sore muscles or injuries.

Some people experience photosensitivity when using St. John's Wort, so be aware of any areas of your skin that will be exposed to direct sunlight after applying. If you experience any sort of rash or discomfort, stop using it.

7. HELICHRYSUM

Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum) is probably most known for its lovely, skin-healing, anti-aging essential oil. It's pricey, but oh so lovely and effective. It helps to speed recovery of wounds and is often used in first aid applications. It's also excellent in anti-aging skincare products and posh facial creams. One well-known brand uses it in their fancy hand creams and another in their makeup products.

The hydrosol is wonderful for use as a facial toner or body spray and can also be used in herbal creams. A teaspoon of it can be added to a luxurious bath (or hand or foot bath).

The herb itself can be infused into carrier oils or brewed as a tea for use as a wash. It's beneficial for a wide variety of skin ailments, including acne and eczema.

 
 

8. PLANTAIN

Plantain (Plantago spp.) is another weed-like plant that grows along the trodden path; it likes to follow human footsteps and spring up right where it is most likely to be needed. It's a skin-soothing herb that's especially great for skin irritations like bug bites and stings. Just the other day, I was planting out some new herb transplants into my garden and something decided to bite me. The swelling, itching, and burning reaction didn't seem too bad at first so I carried on with what I was doing, but within a few minutes, the bite had turned into quite a painful welt. I walked over to my bed of Plantain, picked one of the leaves, crushed it with my fingers and rubbed it over the area. I then used a fresh leaf, also crushed, to lay over the area as an herbal bandaid (it will stick on its own if you've crushed it). Within a few minutes, the itching and burning had stopped and when the leaf naturally fell off 15 or 20 minutes later, the Plantain had completed its job. I couldn't even tell where the bite had been.

 
 

Plantain can be used in a carrier oil or Aloe for first aid and skin care preparations to soothe and reduce inflammation and irritation and can also be taken internally as a tea (or used externally as a wash) for other issues.

 
 

9. ROSE

Rose (Rosa spp.) can be utilized in its every form for delightful, luxurious skin formulas. More ideas for ways to do that here and here. They contain anti-inflammatory and antibacterial compounds (which suit acne-prone skin), are rich in anti-aging properties, and are known to nourish, hydrate, and even help tone and rejuvenate the skin

Rose petals, Rose hydrosol, Rosehip seed oil, Rose flower essence, and precious Rose essential oil are all derived from this one generous plant. I like to incorporate her into every step of my own skincare routine.

Rose essential oil is also beneficial for wounds when there has been trauma. It will not only help with speeding the recovery of the skin, but will also comfort the heart and mind and work to bring stability back to the person affected.

 
 

10. CARROT SEED

Carrot Seed (Daucus carota) is available both as an essential oil and as a CO2 and an infused carrier oil. All are beneficial for the skin. It's one of those plants that's also beneficial for the liver and is helpful for releasing blocked energy, so we know it's going to be amazing for our skin! Include it in topical blends for a variety of skin ailments, including eczema, psoriasis, acne, and other inflammatory, irritated conditions. It's also useful for anti-aging skincare products and can be used in carrier oils, creams, and facial steams.

Avoid use when pregnant.

11. MARSHMALLOW

Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) leaf and root are both used for skin and hair formulas (root is more commonly used, but the leaf can also be used). It's rich in flavanoids, polysaccharides, and beta-carotene and is mucilaginous, making it skin-soothing and anti-inflammatory. You can infuse the root into a carrier oil or Aloe to use in a blend or you can prepare a decoction and use it as a poultice or wash. It blends well with Chamomile tea for this purpose as well. It's effective for a variety of ailments, including eczema, burns, and wounds, and will help to moisten dry skin. Powdered root can be included in homemade baby powder blends.

12. YARROW

I couldn't choose just 11 after all! Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is so useful in the herbal first aid kit that I felt it had to be included in this list. The leaves are styptic and antiseptic and can be powdered and used in styptic powder recipes or used fresh when needed. All of the aerial parts of the plant can be used to help speed healing of wounds, burns, and other skin ailments. The foliage is light and feathery and the flowers are lovely; it's easy to grow from seed (perennial) and the pollinators love it. Look for the white or pink flowering varieties if you want to use the herb medicinally. The yellow flowering varieties are ornamental. Use the herb in hand and foot baths, washes, and compresses to help reduce inflammation and speed healing.

I've used Yarrow hydrosol as a styptic in a pinch and it seems to be just as effective as the herb itself, at least for minor cases. It can also be used as a facial toner or as an ingredient in creams. The essential oil is antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic. Include it in blends for your first aid kit to help with the pain and swelling associated with injury. For skin-care, it can be a useful ingredient for irritated, inflamed skin complaints.
 

WHICH HERBS AND/OR ESSENTIAL OILS WOULD YOU ADD TO THIS LIST?
LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENTS BELOW.

Much love,
Erin

Medicinal Properties of 12 Culinary Herbs (that You Can Grow Yourself!)

As you saw last week, I'm currently in the midst of planning out my garden spaces for the year and getting everything planted up. Realistically, this also means that I've been trying to keep my wish-list down to a manageable selection of plants and refrain from purchasing every pretty little bulb and seedling I see when shopping around town. (Our local garden centers are full of fragrant hyacinths and lilacs at the moment. They're practically irresistible!) Quite a task for a plant lover! I've been looking forward to being able to grow more of my own herbs this year.

As I narrowed down my seed selections, I realized that I had a few herbs on my "must have" list. These plants are so easy to grow and so versatile that I think every herbal enthusiast ought to give them a try.

[Edited to add: My top 7 herbs to grow yourself or purchase from a local farm for best quality are Calendula, Yarrow, Chamomile, Tulsi, Peppermint, Red Clover, & Astragalus. The difference between herb purchased from even the most reputable suppliers vs. homegrown for these herbs in particular is incredible.]

HERBS YOU SHOULD CONSIDER GROWING THIS YEAR
+ A FEW WAYS TO USE THEM

Note: I could obviously add more to this list, but I think that these 12 herbs encompass plants that can be put to use by almost everyone, so they're the ones I'm choosing to feature today. Which herb(s) would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments section at the end of this post.

  1. Calendula
    Calendula is a beautiful, sunny, flowering, skin healing herb. It's often infused into Aloe or carrier oils and used in salves, lotions and creams meant to help support the skin as it deals with irritation, inflammation, injuries, or other skin issues. It's an ingredient well suited to skin care products for all skin types. It's also excellent for the lymphatic and digestive systems and can be taken as a tea. It's easy to grow in the garden and the freshly harvested and dried blossoms look lovely in the apothecary.
     
  2. Peppermint
    Reputed for its affinity for the digestive system, Peppermint is one of those delightful perennial herbs that is very easy to grow. It's best to propagate via cuttings and is one of those "leave it and it'll spread" type plants. If you don't want it to take over your garden, plant it in a container where it has a little bit of extra room to grow. Harvest leaves as needed for fresh Peppermint tea and for use in fresh salads and dishes that need a little something extra. Chewing on a leaf of Peppermint mid-afternoon when you're longing for a nap might be just the thing you need to feel refreshed and energized once again.
     
  3. Rosemary
    Another plant easily grown from cuttings, Rosemary is a hardy perennial herb in many parts of the US. It's obviously perfectly suited to cooking, but it's also valuable for memory and concentration, improving circulation, and is known for its ability to tone the nervous system. It's strengthening to the heart muscle and is also used in skin care products and hair products. Reputed to stimulate hair growth, it's often employed in herbal hair rinses its essential oil is included as an ingredient in natural shampoos. I love it because it tastes wonderful, smells amazing, and is so willing to be included in formulas. The smell of fresh Rosemary with fresh Lavender is probably my most favorite aroma.
     
  4. Lavender
    Who wouldn't want to grow Lavender? The plant is absolutely beautiful (even my German Shepherd adores it) and the flowers can be used in so many different ways. Lavender honeys, lemonades, cookies, teas, and other dishes often include this herb. I like to dry the fresh flowering stalks and use them to make wreaths. The dried buds are perfect for herbal pillows - I make them for our family to use in the bedrooms and keep one for use in the car for my pup. She is an intelligent, high energy dog and the pillow helps her to stay calm when we need to drive for a longer period of time. An uplifting nervine, Lavender can be employed for relaxation and supporting sleep. I like to use it in eye pillows and foot baths when I have a headache and I include it almost every skin care formula I make.
     
  5. Dill
    A pretty culinary herb, I like to include Dill in potato salads and homemade sauerkraut recipes, as well as in herbal digestive aid formulas (it's a great carminative). I also think the plant itself is quite lovely, with its delicate fronds and cheery little yellow flowers. I like to rub its leaves to release its essential oils when I pass it in the garden - its smell is so refreshing.
     
  6. Thyme
    Thyme is another culinary favorite of mine. It pairs well with Rosemary in many dishes and has an affinity for the respiratory system. Refreshing and uplifting, thyme stimulates the thymus gland, a significant part of our immune system, and is also well suited for coughs, sore throats, and related complaints. I like to infuse it in olive oil or honey with garlic and a few other culinary herbs and take it when I've been around people who are sick to boost my immune system and help me stay healthy. The freshly made tea, tincture, and essential oil are all employed in various cleaning formulas.
     
  7. Basil
    Pesto, pizza, caprese salad... Basil has so many uses in the kitchen that it's almost silly not to grow it. It's a beautiful plant and the more you use, the bushier it seems to grow. It's uplifting and antispasmodic. I've seen it included in formulas for the digestive system and for supporting restful sleep. The essential oil is well suited in blends for focus and concentration. It's sometimes included in herbal hair rinses to promote hair growth and bring balance to oily scalps.
     
  8. Oregano
    I love to include antioxidant-packed Oregano in Mexican food dishes and things like quinoa or rice. It's sometimes included in skin care formulas and is also known for its value in remedies for the digestive system. A potent antimicrobial, it's used in natural 'antibiotic' type preparations and is also employed for its anti-inflammatory properties in formulas used to address painful and inflammatory conditions. The herbal infused oil is said to be effective at keeping creepy crawlies away (among many other things), though I haven't personally tested this yet.
     
  9. Hawthorn
    Ah, Hawthorn. If I had to choose an herbal best friend, it would probably be this plant. The berries, flowers, leaves, and twigs are used in herbal medicine as a heart tonic, bringing balance and strength to even the healthy heart, but especially to the heart with some sort of ailment. If I could only use one herb for the rest of my life, it would probably be this one (but oh, how I would miss the flavorful others!). It works excellently on both physical and energetic planes and, because it is considered a tonic herb, should be used consistently over time for best results. It grows as a shrub or tree and can be employed in herbal teas (and other herbal medicine forms) and in culinary preparations (the berries are perfect for jams). I like to combine it with Hibiscus and Milky Oats for tea.
     
  10. Aloe vera
    If you're not in a sunny, warm growing zone, Aloe vera can be grown indoors, potted up on a sunny windowsill. The fresh juice/gel are used internally for all sorts of digestive complaints and externally for all manner of skin issues. A highly versatile first aid plant, I think everyone ought to be growing it. (Though it should be avoided by nursing mommas and women who are pregnant.) Freshly harvested leaves are squeezed into morning smoothies and green drinks, slathered onto acneic skin, and used in skin-healing creams. Its rare flowers (usually produced once per year after the plant reaches maturity) are a delight as well.
     
  11. Plantain
    Chances are you won't need to actually cultivate this plant. It's probably trying to spring up in your garden pathways and through cracks in the pavement right now. Well known for its skin healing abilities, it's also employed for a variety of digestive and lymphatic complaints. It's a drawing herb that can be used to draw out splinters and is also valuable for irritated, inflamed skin. I've written about it in more detail here.
     
  12. Dandelion
    Another tenacious herb that won't need to be cultivated if you allow it to grow when it appears, Dandelion is an herb supreme for for the liver and kidneys. The entire plant is used medicinally and its leaves are high in vitamins and minerals. It's used as a food herb as well, often included in dishes where a bitter green would be suitable: stir-fries, soups, salads, etc.

Other favorites to consider: Parsley, Cilantro, Sage, Garlic, Ginger, Turmeric, Pepper (the trees are so beautiful), Rose, Hibiscus, Feverfew, Red Clover, St. John's Wort

WHICH HERBS ARE YOU GROWING IN YOUR GARDEN THIS YEAR?

Let me know in the comments section below this post. If you're interested in purchasing organic herb seeds (or veggie seeds) for your garden, click here to read about some of my favorite seed sources.

Much love,
Erin