The middle of winter is a time we really miss our time in the garden. Herbs satisfy all our senses at once as we touch, smell, nibble, watch and if we listen hard enough maybe even hear what they have to say. It's all about attitude and how healthy it is to return to that connection with our natural world.
That urge to get back outside as soon as the sun shines warm again is so very good for both our physical and emotional wellness. It's no secret that to get some fresh air on a daily basis can do wonders as both a mental and physical energy boost. Getting your hands back into the dirt and smelling that distinct scent of turned up soil is enough to get most gardeners excited about what they plan to do come spring.
You'll soon find that once you get an herb garden established, there isn't a whole lot of expense every year. The perennials return on their own and the annuals that dropped seed will be found here and there and anywhere they can thrive. The trick is in knowing where these plants like to call their home. You'll soon learn you can't force a plant to do well in a certain spot just because it is where you'd like it to be, such as in an orderly fashion in your garden. Which is why so many of our beloved herbs are also called weeds. They grow where they please because they know a lot better than we do what conditions they need to survive, and that may not be in the confines of our nice, manicured, rich garden soil.
Most herbs don't like to be coddled. They are usually naturally resilient, drought tolerant and very good at adapting to their environment. Most herbs like full sun but will still grow in partial shade. Good drainage is a requirement with most plants.
There are many, many plants that can be used as part of your medicinal garden but here we have really good ones for the making of salves. The flowers and/or leafy parts are picked and infused in carrier oils such as olive, almond, grapeseed or coconut for about six weeks. The plant material is then strained off and the herbal oils are thickened up with beeswax to create a variety of very healing, effective home remedies.
Encouraging these plants in your landscape is not just beneficial for our sake. They provide survival for our pollinators, an issue we hear so much about with the detrimental effects of habitat loss. Don't be scared off by the chorus of their buzz. The bees and other insects are just doing their thing. You'll be amazed how you really can work side by side without incident.
A member of the mint family, hyssop has the typical square stem and the dense whirl of purple flowers along a spike. A bee magnet for sure. Anise hyssop has a wonderful licorice smell and flavor and while it does make a nice salve with its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, it is often used in teas and confections.
Cheery Calendula is a must have, not only because it is so useful, but because it is so easy to grow and reseeds itself. It is also a valuable companion plant for the vegetable garden. Plant this annual near beans and lettuce. Keep the flowers picked and it'll be happy to produce more and delay going to seed. Medicinally, Calendula is very well known for it's anti-inflammatory and healing properties, good for eczema, rashes, radiation redness, cuts and scrapes. Makes a good wound wash. Safe for babies, this salve makes a nice sore nipple balm during those months of breastfeeding.
Comfrey is such a good healer for wound care that you have to watch you don't use it too soon. Puncture wounds cannot close up too quickly, as they heal from the inside out. It's name actually means "make grow together". Very useful for bone fractures. This perennial can spread out so give it room. The bees love the little purple tubular flowers and the fuzzy, rough leaves make an excellent compost tea for your gardening needs. Those large leaves are often used as a poultice for covering larger wounds.
This perennial is named for the summer solstice as it begins to flower during the month of June. Though labor intensive to pick just the yellow flowers, it's hypericin results in a deep red, crimson oil which is so worth it. Many people associate this plant as a remedy for depression which is true, but as a salve it is invaluable for any injury involving the nerves, as well as a sunburn remedy. Though planted as part of an herb garden, this plant is often seen wild in meadows and along roadsides, so be sure what you're picking has not been sprayed with herbicide.
Yarrow is another perennial that can often be found growing wild but it can be added to your herb garden to return year after year and be divided easily to propagate. This plant makes for an awesome bug deterrent.and for healing it is very helpful for skin rashes and itchy spots. Yarrow is what is known as a styptic which means it can stop bleeding. Known as woundwort, yarrow had been indispensable for wounded soldiers on the battlefield. Containing antiseptic and analgesic properties this plant helped avoid infection and lessen pain. As an addition to the garden it's a good choice if you're interested in deer resistant plants.
(Matricaria Recutita) German chamomile
(Chamaemelum nobile) Roman chamomile
Though both types are great for calming anxiety, the German chamomile is better for skin conditions such as eczema and inflamed, irritated skin rashes. German chamomile is an annual that is taller and will pop up here and there, whereas the Roman chamomile is a low growing perennial. Chamomile is wonderful for relieving gas and belly pain, very safe for children. Gather the flowers for the perfect, apple scented cup of tea and go back for more to use for herbal oils. The more you pick the more they'll produce.
Plantain is so often a hated lawn weed because it's a space hog amidst the grass and has those tassels that for sure will escape the lawn mower blades and pop back up again. But when it comes to healing this plant is called the "mother of herbs". The astringent properties make for an excellent poultice to lay on wounds, thorns or bee stings to draw out toxins and neutralize pain. Should you get stung by a bee, quickly pick some plantain leaves, chew them into a mush, apply to the spot, and be amazed how quickly the pain diminishes.
This is another of those weeds gardeners often detest. An annual, chickweed arrives early in the growing season and can quickly creep over an entire garden. Actually, this plant is a very good springtime foraging food, very healthy and tender if picked before it gets stringy. It's often used to help loose weight. Itchy eyes during allergy season can be relieved by applying a chickweed poultice. As far as being used as a salve, this cooling herb is great for itch, rashes and bug bites.
Though dandelions spread their fluffy seeds every which way the wind blows, this plant is actually a deep rooted perennial. People who pull them aren't getting rid of them at all, since breaking off the root only makes it grow right back. This is a weed to most people which is a shame since dandelions are such a necessary food source for birds in early spring and such a nutritious herbal remedy. For use as a salve dandelions are very soothing for breast massage. It's properties get the body's lymphatic system moving to release fluids and relieve painful breasts during the monthly cycle.
Lemon balm is wonderful for its soothing tea but did you know it's antiviral properties make it perfect for a herpes remedy. Be it from shingles, chicken pox, cold sores or genital herpes, lemon balm can help with those painful blisters during a flair-up. Best if applied at that first tingle.
If you do plant lemon balm, remember it is in the mint family and will spread. Therefore if you want to keep it where you want it, plant it in a big pot(s) and bury the pot if you'd like.
Considered a weed by some, personally I love to see the splash of color violets add to a lawn. Also known as heart's ease, the common violet contains demulcant properties which give it significant amounts of mucilage which is what makes them so good for healing. Cooling to the skin, it reduces inflammation and relieves redness. Finding a good violet patch may prove difficult but this perennial is a treasure once established.
This list could easily become longer as more plants come to mind. But for now, think spring and all you want to do this season!