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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

Planning Your Herb & Food Garden for This Year

It's that time of year! Spring is officially here and the garden sections at our local co-ops and hardware stores are bursting with bright annual colors and fragrant spring bulbs. I've been spending some extra time planning out my garden for this year and getting seeds started. Adjusting to four distinct seasons (instead of my southern California-ingrained "almost everything grows year-round here" mindset) is new for me, so I've been devoting a lot of time to the study of local planting calendars. As I've been mapping out my own little plots and sketching beds and boxes for my talented husband to build, I've come across some really excellent gardening resources that I thought I'd share with you. I'd also love to hear about your favorite tools and resources - share them with me in the comments section at the end of this post!

GARDENING RESOURCES

  1. Kitchen Garden Planner - This website has the best online garden planning tool that I have ever come across. It is so easy to work with. You start by designing a single raised bed, planter box, or garden space. Drag and drop the plants you want to include in the space and the program will automatically plug in the correct amount of seeds you need (based on square foot gardening methods). Save the bed when you are finished and then work on the next one. After you've saved each individual garden bed/box/space, you can drag and drop the finished beds into your "site plan" and place them where they'll be in your yard. If you scroll down after finishing each bed, you'll find growing guides specific to each plant you've placed in the space. It's such a handy tool and you can save your plans and access them later as well! If you don't want to start from scratch, the site also offers pre-planned raised bed and planter box charts available. It's an insanely handy tool! It doesn't include drag-and-drop medicinal herbs, but it does include many culinary herbs, along with a host of veggies.
     
  2. This book. I've been reading through it as I plan out my space and am finding it useful, especially for calculating yields and determining how much I need to plant. I'm also reading this book and I have some vintage favorites like this one that I plan to review next.
     
  3. Master Gardeners Groups - Back in southern California, we frequently visited a demonstration garden that was kept by our local branch of Master Gardeners. There was always a Master Gardener available there during the daytime to help with answering gardening questions. Each one was knowledgeable in our local growing conditions and common local pests and diseases and was able to help gardeners identify the issues they were experiencing in their garden so they could determine how to target the problem in an effective way that wouldn't harm the ecosystem. I've just recently located the local MG branch in our new hometown and am looking forward to visiting them soon. It seems like many areas have a Master Gardeners group, so I'd highly recommend checking to see if there is one near you. They often host gardening classes as well.
growing organic herbs by erin stewart aromaculture.com-1.jpg

MY FAVORITE SEED COMPANIES

  1. Renee's Garden - She has a lovely selection of florals, including butterfly and pollinator blends, as well as a wide variety of organic edibles and herbs. I've had great germination rates with their seed.
     
  2. Botanical Interests - I've had good success with this brand as well. The organic selection is excellent. In southern California, we had a garden chain called Armstrong Garden Center that would clearance out their seeds at the end of each year right around Christmastime and we would always stock up on this brand. We've had great germination rates with these too.
     
  3. Strictly Medicinal Seeds (formerly Horizon Herbs) - If you're wanting to grow organic medicinal herbs in your garden, beware - their vast array of seeds will pull you in until you look down at your shopping cart and realize that you need to drastically pare down your selection. ;) I've ordered live plants from them in the past (my baby Hawthorn tree made the move to the PNW with us and is just starting to show signs of spring growth) and have also just purchased a selection of medicinal herb seeds from them. I've got them in sprouting trays right now and will keep you updated on my success with them.
     
  4. Siskiyou Seeds - This is a local seed company in the PNW. I came across it at our local co-op and picked up a few packets of seed to test. I highly recommend purchasing seeds from local companies whenever you can. If they are growing their mother plants locally, your seeds will already be well adapted to your area.
     
  5. Baker Creek - This company boasts a large selection of unique heirloom seeds. I haven't purchased from them since they updated their name, but their available varieties look as lovely as ever.

MY FAVORITE TOOLS AND SUPPLIES

Compost

I prefer homemade compost fresh from the vermiculture bin, but when I don't have enough of it available and need to supplement, I like to use this brand. Whatever you have available locally that is organic or OMRI listed will do. Sometimes the local compost available in your area is the best option. Talk to other gardeners in your area to see what they recommend and watch out for companies that include plastics and glass in their mixes.

Organic Amendments

If you care for your soil properly, you'll have healthier, more nutrient-dense plants that are far more resistant to pests and diseases than conventional plants or plants grown in depleted soil. I like to use lots of organic worm castings in my soil, along with organic or OMRI-listed amendments. I've heard great things about including rock dust as well, and will be experimenting with that this year.

OTHER PRACTICAL TIPS

Trade with locals

If you're attending classes or meetups with other gardeners or taking time to get to know your gardening neighbors, chances are you're making friends who you'll be able to trade seeds, cuttings, and plant starts with!

Check out the local digs

Trader Joe's stores often stock organic starts of the harder-to-germinate herbs. Local natural foods stores often do the same.

Some herbs can be planted via organic starts from the produce department of your natural foods store or farmer's market. I've had good success with growing Ginger and Turmeric that I purchased from a local store and have heard many stories of folks successfully growing garlic,  potatoes, green onions, and even some other herbs sourced this way.

Local farmer's markets can be a great place to find organic seedlings. Look for certified local farmer's markets - they're the ones that are full of local farmers selling their locally-grown plants and produce. Our local farmer's markets include a couple of local organic farms that are selling in-season organic seedlings.

WHAT ARE YOU PLANNING TO GROW THIS YEAR?

Let us know down in the comments below!

Much love,
Erin

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