11 Nourishing Medicinal Herbs you can Grow at Home

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Some of my fondest childhood memories are of days spent at my grandfather’s vegetable plot. I can recall one particular occasion in mid-autumn when he went outside to pick beetroot leaves, coughing and spluttering all the while. His intention was to use them to make tea for a chest infection he couldn’t shake. Like many of his generation, he had a lingering mistrust of doctors. Whether or not it worked, I don’t know.

Though we often forget that plants hold powerful medicinal qualities, it’s something that our hunter-gatherer forbears understood all too well. The connection that man holds with nature, and in particular with plants, is something that’s deeply innate. There’s now even a whole academic subject, ethnobotany, that explores this millennia-old relationship.

Indeed, it’s not difficult to picture a prehistoric human peeling bark from a tree, or cracking open fruit husks in search of seeds, or crushing leaves into a poultice, all in an effort to make medicine.

And the wonderful thing? You can do it too – easily and with little effort.

Real, Tangible Benefits…

Bringing a little knowledge of plants and their healing properties into your life can yield tremendous benefits. A whole host of common ailments – from aches and pains, headaches, sickness, insomnia, anxiety (and many others) – can be alleviated with home-grown healing herbs.

In fact, scientists have conducted numerous studies exploring their potent pharmacological effects. One botanist in particular who has tried to counter the misconception that plant medicines are too mild or weak to have any real effect is James Wong. In an article in The Telegraph, he was quoted as saying:

…up to 50 per cent of over-the-counter medicines are based on chemicals that were first isolated from plants. “Aspirin, for example, is made from the same chemicals that were first isolated from willow, which has been used for thousands of years as a painkiller.”

Are They Easy to Grow?

Chives

Yes! Plants are momentously forgiving and will thrive as long at they have a few basic needs met. Whilst this article is focused on growing herbs in pots, either outdoors, on a bright windowsill or in a conservatory, if you do want to plant them outside, they’ll be perfectly happy in the ground.

One small piece of advice: give them a south-facing window. The south side of a house is the one that gets the most sunlight and is the ideal place to locate plants. In general you’ll need:

  • A reasonably-sized pot.
  • A good potting soil.
  • Some bi-weekly feed.
  • Lots of light. (Give them your brightest window.)

During the bright summer months you’ll want to give your leafy green inhabitants a light liquid feed every two weeks or so. This will encourage flowering and growth and also allow for slightly heavier harvesting. As a general rule, when picking, you don’t want to take more than 30% of growth, after which you should allow the foliage to replenish.

1. Chamomile

Chamomile

You’ll probably know chamomile it for its strong aroma and relaxing properties. If you haven’t yet tried it as a tea then you’re missing out! It’s very easy to grow and seeds are readily available.

Growing Tips

  • Snip off flowers liberally to harvest. Doing so will encourage new growth.
  • A medium-sized pot is best. They only grow to around 6 in. high.
  • Opt for a perennial variety (Anthemis nobilis) so that you don’t need to start from seed every year.

Helps With…

  • Anxiety
  • Indigestion
  • Sickness
  • Tension
  • Rashes

2. Lovage

Lovage

Lovage, though out of fashion at the moment, has been cultivated for centuries. The leaves are perfectly edible and make a lovely addition to soups and salads. They also hold a host of healing properties – chief amongst which are the alleviation of joint pain and support of kidneys.

Growing Tips

  • It’s a tall-growing plant so is best-suited to a large pot on the floor.
  • Leaves taste bitter when dried so pick and use fresh.
  • Feed monthly through the summer and cut off the small green flower-heads when they appear (discard these).

Helps With…

  • Indigestion
  • Bloating
  • Rheumatism
  • Menstruation
  • Kidney Stones

    3. Marigold

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Marigolds are amongst the easiest, most colourful annuals (living for one year) that you can grow. Simply sow some seeds into a pot filled with a good potting mix and leave them to it. The flowers can be eaten fresh or used to make a tea. Dried flowers can also be used as flavouring.

Growing Tips

  • Grow them in a small to medium-sized pot.
  • Snip off the flowers as soon as they bloom to encourage further flowering.
  • If growing them for colour as well as to eat then try experimenting with different varieties.

Helps With…

  • Coughs
  • Colds
  • Infections
  • Varicose Veins
  • Rashes
  • Infections

4. Lemon Balm

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Lemon balm is an ancient herb that has been used as a curative for hundreds of years. It’s also got to rank as one of the best-smelling plants in existence! Nestled amongst other herbs on your kitchen windowsill, it will fill the whole room with a lovely, lemony aroma.

Growing Tips

  • Mix some sand into your potting mix to help with drainage.
  • Watering is important but don’t overwater, they don’t like standing in damp soil.
  • In summer, water with a very dilute fertilizer (half-strength) every two weeks. Repot every second year.

Helps With…

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Discomfort/Irritability
  • Indigestion

5. Thyme

Thyme

Thyme needs no introduction! It’s a popular herb that’s loved for its sweet-tasting, aromatic leaves and beautiful summer flowers. Although commonly used in stews and as a garnish for meat, thyme leaves make an excellent tea. They’re easy to grow, will thrive in pots, and don’t mind regular harvesting.

Growing Tips

  • Give them as much light as possible. They enjoy being taken outdoors through summer but should be “overwintered” (brought inside for winter).
  • If you’re growing a plant indoors through summer make sure it’s well-watered. Thyme can dry out very quickly.
  • Harvest liberally throughout the summer. The pink flowers are edible.

Helps With…

  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach Ache
  • Sore Throat
  • Cough
  • Bronchitis
  • Stomach Ache
  • Bedwetting

6. Lavender

Lavender

Lavender is another plant that can do exceptionally well in pots, has ornamental value, and is incredibly easy to harvest. The flowers work better as additions to tea rather than as main ingredients but can be harvested liberally when the plant is in bloom.

Growing Tips

  • Choose a medium-sized pot and give it the sunniest spot available. Rotate the plant during summer to give the leaves equal access to the source of light.
  • Feed lightly through the summer months and make sure the soil doesn’t dry out. When the weather is warm enough it will appreciate being taken outside.
  • Reduce watering during winter and eliminate feeding altogether.

Helps With…

  • Pain and discomfort
  • Skin disorders
  • Unhealthy hair
  • Digestion
  • Poor blood circulation

7. Echinacea (Purple Coneflower)

purple Coneflower

Echinacea is another plant that has been used for centuries as a folk medicine. It’s a member of the daisy family and if you live in the USA or Canada you’ve probably seen crowds of them populating areas of prairie and open woodland. The work wonderfully in pots and are ideal for window boxes.

Growing Tips

  • They prefer a very well-draining soil and are also somewhat drought resistant.
  • Start from seed in spring. Keep them well-watered and give them plenty of sun.
  • You can harvest leaves, roots and flower petals. Roots are particularly good in tea and can be dried for storing.

Helps With…

  • Colds & Flu
  • Respiratory Tract Infections
  • Bladder Infections
  • Potential Anti-Cancer Properties

8. Sage

Sage

The leaves of the sage plant are amongst my favourite – thick, grey-green and hairy. The taste is absolutely fantastic and it makes an excellent (and very underrated) tea. They’ll also grow quite happily in a pot.

Growing Tips

  • Add some sand to your potting mix as they like drainage. A bigger pot is better.
  • Feed lightly in the warmer summer months.
  • Harvest freely throughout the summer, keeping to the one third rule.

Helps With…

  • Alzheimers
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Inflammation
  • Depression
  • Rheumatism

9. Oregano

Oregano

Oregano is a low growing plant (it will only reach half a metre in the ground) and is known to be particularly high in antioxidants. It has a tendril-like growing habit which makes it look particularly good on windowsills.

Growing Tips

  • Don’t over fertilize. Through the summer feed it only once or twice.
  • Harvest young growth by snipping off a few inches from the top of the stem

Helps With…

  • Menstrual Cramps
  • Urinary Tract Infections
  • Gastrointestinal Disorders

10. Bay

Bay Leaves

Bay is an evergreen shrub or small tree and is commonly used as a flavouring for stews and fish dishes. It also has a host of healing properties, not to mention a place of honour in ancient mythology – it’s leaves were used to crown the great Olympians. The leaves are best used to make a tea.

Growing Tips

  • Give it a big pot to allow it to grow to its full potential.
  • Don’t harvest too liberally. Only take a few leaves at a time, making sure that the plant has time to replenish itself.
  • They’re not winter-hardy so bring them inside during the colder months if growing in pots. Otherwise wrap them in some horticultural fleece.

Helps With…

  • Diabetes
  • Fever
  • Coughs
  • Colds
  • Aches & Pains

11. Tarragon

Tarragon

Always buy French Tarragon if you’re starting from seed. It’s a fast growing plant that can sometimes be a pest in the garden (a little like mint) so is best kept in pots. Its flavour, which resembles licorice, is brought out particularly well in tea (like most of the other plants on this list).

Growing Tips

  • If keeping the plant outdoors cover it with some horticultural fleece through the cold months.
  • Remove flowering shoots through summer to redirect the plant’s energy into foliage growth.

Helps With…

  • Anorexia (Increases Appetite)
  • Hiccups
  • Flatulence
  • Toothache
  • Insomnia
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