Herbs do more than simply enhance our food; they nourish our bodies and sustain our spirits. In fact, if you learn to listen to the plants, you will discover a wealth of healing wisdom waiting to be tapped in your own back yard.
Whether you have acres of land, a small deck or a humble patio, there are several herbs with wonderful healing properties that are blessedly easy to grow in the ground or in containers. The following is by no means a complete list of herbs suitable for a healing garden, but it does represent some of the most reliable and easy-to-use plants for the home herbalist. Bonus: Bees love these plants! And we all want to save the bees!
Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla)
Prepared as tea, the apple-scented blossoms of this member of the daisy family calm frazzled nerves and ease upset stomach and heartburn. Used topically, chamomile exerts powerful anti-inflammatory effects and promotes wound healing. It is mild enough to be given to infants with colic and to include in skin care products for babies, such as diaper rash creams.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
The volatile oils in peppermint leaves inhibit the growth of bacteria and sooth the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, making the herb effective against indigestion and nausea. Peppermint is also antispasmodic and helps to counter cramps associated with irritable bowel disorders as well as menstruation.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Also known as sweet Melissa, lemon balm has a mild sedative action and a long history of use against nervous tension, stress, anxiety and insomnia, as well as the headache and stomach upset that often accompanies these conditions. Used topically, lemon balm is effective against various skin disorders, including eczema and herpes lesions.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
Also called catmint, this herb is a potent diaphoretic, meaning it promotes sweating. This is one of the best herbs to take as tea when a fever is present. Combined with honey, catnip tea helps to quiet a stubborn cough. The leaves can be dried and infuse in oil for salves, balms and ointments. Of course, the leaves can also be stuffed into an old sock for your cat to enjoy!
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Dubbed as “the pizza herb,” oregano is a favorite culinary herb that also has strong antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Taken as tea, it is one of the best herbs to use for menstrual cramps. Oil infusions of oregano ease muscle aches and sprains, while hot water infusions (tea) are effective against acne and dandruff.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
This member of the mint family contains several antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. Recent research shows that one of them, carnosic acid, prevents free radical damage in the brain and improves memory, concentration and overall cognitive function.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
The golden blossoms of this remarkable herb are excellent for color and flavor in tea blends (try the petals in soups and baked goods) and are a must-have if you make your own body care products. In addition to providing antimicrobial effects, calendula stimulates cell generation and tissue repair. Infuse the flowers in oil for use in salves, ointments, lotions and creams.
Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
Named from the Latin word “lavare” that means “to wash,” lavender is a favorite bath and body botanical. The flowers contain organic compounds that not only lend an incredible aroma, but that also inhibit bacteria, inflammation and scarring. The fragrance has a mild sedative effect that has been shown to ease insomnia, stress and anxiety. Use the flowers in culinary vinegar, tea blends, soaps, lotions, body powders, bath sachets and in potpourri.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
This attractive and easy-to-grow herb does more than flavor stuffing. Sage has potent antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s one of the most dependable herbs to use to relieve hot flashes and night sweats. A cooled infusion of sage leaves makes an excellent skin wash, a grey-defying rinse for dark hair types and a sore throat gargle.