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Your Medicinal Garden:

Ten Herbs to Plant This Spring

by Karyn Sweet

Come Spring, the nursery catalogs will be arriving in the mail.  All of us are entertaining grandiose gardening plans.  This year, while planning your food gardens, consider adding some plants that can also be used as medicine.  I know, I know, it's more fun to think of spring and all its loveliness, but with the current health care issues, it's helpful to remember that winter and sickness always rolls around again.  Adding medicinal plants to your garden might be the best insurance.

Garlic (Allium sativum)

Aren't we lucky that one of the most powerful and all around useful herbs is also delicious?  Garlic is one of the most effective antimicrobial plants around since it fights bacteria, viruses, and parasites.  In the respiratory system, garlic helps with infections that cause bronchitis, recurrent colds, influenza, and congestion.  In the digestive track, garlic supports the proliferation of healthy bacteria while attacking pathogenic bacteria and parasites (don't ask me how this wondrous plant knows the difference).  It can also be used externally to treat ringworm and threadworm.

Throwing garlic into your meals will give you a preventative daily dose.  If you feel a cold or congestion coming on, take ½ teaspoon of garlic oil every hour.  To make the oil, mash one or more bulbs of garlic into enough apple cider vinegar or olive oil to cover and mix well.  Allow to stand for one or two days.  Strain the oil through cheesecloth or a thin cotton towel, wringing and squeezing the garlic until you have collected all the juice.  Store in the refrigerator. This oil can also be added to food.  Furthermore, a few drops warmed and placed in the ear can help with ear infections.

Garlic grows best in rich, moist, sandy soil in a sunny spot.  Divide the bulbs into cloves and plant each clove about two inches deep and six inches apart.  Try to keep the bed free of weeds and occasionally mound soil over the bulbs.  Plant in February or March if you want to harvest the garlic in August or September.  Garlic is ready to be harvested when the leaves begin to wither and fall over.

Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis)

Chamomile is the quintessential herb for teas.  It has a pleasant, sunshine taste, it's gentle enough for children and elders, and it has a host of benefits.  Drink chamomile frequently to add peace to your body and your day.  Chamomile calms the body, particularly the nervous and digestive systems.  In part, this is because chamomile is high in calcium and magnesium.  As such, it is helpful for dealing with muscle tension, headaches, bellyaches, flatulence, colic, insomnia, and achiness due to colds and flu.  Chamomile's anti-inflammatory properties also aid in the treatment of sore throats, hemorrhoids, sore eyes, acne, wounds, ulcers, and conjunctivitis.

To make an herbal tea, place two teaspoons of dried herb into one cup of boiling water.  Cover and steep for 15-20 minutes.  Strain and sweeten with honey, if desired (do not give honey to children under the age of one).  With gentle herbs such as chamomile, more herb can be used to make a stronger, more therapeutic tea.

Chamomile likes a sunny place in sandy soil.  The “Roman” variety, Anthemis nobilis is a perennial while the “German” variety, Matricaria, is an annual.  Both have similar uses but the German variety is sweeter, with an apple taste.  Chamomile is hardy and can withstand some foot traffic.  However, it sometimes attracts aphids; take care of these pests by encouraging a visit from the ladybugs and by hosing the plants with a strong spray.  Harvest the flowers on a dry morning after they have fully bloomed.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Another beautiful present from Nature.  Yes, those weeds in your yard are incredibly effective herbal medicine.  Dandelion is very nutritive and acts as an overall tonic for the entire body.  It provides a good dose of vitamins A and C, lecithin, potassium, boron, calcium, and silicon.  It is particularly useful in supporting the digestive system because dandelion is a digestive bitter that induces bile flow, cleans the hepatic system, helps with gallstones, gastritis, gout, urinary tract infections, bladder stones, kidney stones, and flatulence.

Dandelion is best harvested when it firsts appears in the spring; the entire plant can be used.  Consider making dandelion “coffee” in order to feed the body, purify the blood and liver, and to feel more relaxed.  Simmer two teaspoons of roasted dandelion root and one teaspoon of roasted chicory root in two cups boiling water.  Make a tea as above.  Add honey to taste.

You probably already know that dandelion likes open, sunny places.  If you are actually lacking in dandelions, you can order seeds at

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Lavender is another herb that is very effective yet gentle enough for children and elders.  It has an affinity for the nervous system and as such acts as an anti-depressant and a relaxant.  It has a wide range of healing uses such as sore throats, toothaches, diarrhea, cough, arthritis, menstrual pain, and lowering blood pressure.

It is wise to have lavender essential oil on hand in the house, car, backpack, and/or diaper bag.  It can be used directly on the skin for burns and wounds.

Lavender likes sunny places with sandy soil (think of the beautiful lavender fields in Provence).  Harvest the flowers and stems on a dry morning after the flowers have bloomed.

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)

Motherwort is truly “mother's little helper”.  As a woman's herb, it tones the uterus, brings on delayed menses, lessens afterbirth and menstrual pain, soothes the storms of menopause, and helps maintain emotional balance.  As the Latin name suggest, motherwort is a useful herb for the circulatory system; it can help to strengthen and normalize the heart, reduce palpitations, and lower blood pressure.

To make an herbal tincture the “Wise Woman” way, gather a good size handful or two of fresh or dried herbs and place in a glass jar.  Cover the herbs with alcohol; brandy or grain alcohol are the most commonly used.  Leave enough space so that you can gently shake the the tincture every day for at least two weeks.  Cover the jar with wax paper before you put the lid on if you are using a metal lid. After the allotted soaking time, strain the herbs.  Tinctures generally last seven years.  Three droppers-full is the usual adult dose.

Motherwort likes sunny places but will also thrive in partial shade.  It is a member of the mint family and so it can take over if not contained.  Plant it in dry, well-drained soil although it can tolerate poor soil.  Harvest the leaves and the entire flower stalk with clippers when the flowers are in full bloom, anywhere from late June into August, being sure to leave enough flower stalks for reseeding to occur.  It reseeds easily once established.

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