Basil: People don’t usually think of basil as a healing herb and yet traditionally, it is called the “king of herbs”. It is used medicinally as a natural anti-inflammatory and is thought to have mild antiseptic functions. Some healing uses are for flatulence, lack off appetite, nausea and cuts and scrapes.
It is also superb on spaghetti and in pesto but then you already knew that. Basil is an annual plant so you will have to start anew each year.
German Chamomile: Chamomile is one of the most popular herbs in the Western world. Its flower heads are commonly used for infusions, teas and salves. These in turn can be used to treat indigestion, anxiety and skin inflammations. As a tea, it serves as a mild sedative to help with sleep.
Feverfew: This perennial is a member of the sunflower family and has been used for centuries in European folk medicine as a remedy for headaches, arthritis, and fevers. The name feverfew comes from a Latin word meaning “fever reducer.”
Its many uses include easing headache pains – especially migraines. This is done by chewing on the leaves. A tea made from the leaves and flowers is said to relieve the symptoms of arthritis.
Lemon Balm: Lemon balm is a member of the mint family. Considered a calming herb, it has been used as far back as the Middle Ages to reduce stress and anxiety, promote sleep, improve appetite, and ease pain and discomfort from indigestion. Even before the Middle Ages, lemon balm was steeped in wine to lift the spirits, help heal wounds, and treat venomous insect bites and stings.
As with many other herbs in your healing garden, lemon balm promotes relaxation and a sense of calm.
Parsley: While not one of my favorites, there is nothing like a sprig of parsley to take away bad breath. It is no wonder that this biennial (meaning it lives for two years) is used to decorate and garnish plates in the fanciest of restaurants.
When brewed as a tea, parsley can help supplement iron in a person’s diet, particularly for those who are anemic. Drinking parsley tea also boosts energy and overall circulation of the body, and helps battle fatigue from lack of iron. Other uses? Parsley tea fights gas and flatulence in the belly, kidney infections, and bladder infections. It can also be an effective diuretic.
Sage: Did you know that the genus name for sage is “salvia” which means “to heal”? In the first century C.E. Greek physician Dioscorides reported that sage stopped bleeding of wounds and cleaned ulcers and sores. He also recommended sage juice in warm water for hoarseness and cough. In modern times, a sage tea is used to sooth mouth, throat and gum inflammations. This is because sage has excellent antibacterial and astringent properties.
Thyme: Back during medieval times, thyme was given to knights before going in to battle. The purpose was to infuse this manly man with vigor and courage.
These days, thyme used to relieve coughs, congestion, indigestion and gas. This perennial is rich in thymol, a strong antiseptic, making thyme highly desirable in the treatment of wounds and even fungus infections. Thyme is a perennial that does well, even in cooler, Pacific Northwest climates.
Rosemary: Long ago, rosemary was known as ‘the herb of remembrance.’ Even today, in places like Australia and New Zealand, it is used as a symbol of remembrance since it is known to help sharpen mental clarity and stimulate brain function. You might recall that many statues of the ancient Greeks and Romans show men wearing sprigs of rosemary on their heads – signifying mental acuity.
The needles of the delightfully fragrant rosemary plant can be used in a tea to treat digestive problems. The same tea can also be used as an expectorant and as a relaxing beverage that is helpful for headaches. Other healing uses include improving memory, relieving muscle pain and spasms, stimulating hair growth, and supporting the circulatory and nervous systems.
Peppermint: Peppermint has a long tradition of medicinal use. Archaeological evidence places its use far back as ten thousand years ago. It is commonly used to soothe or treat symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, indigestion, irritable bowel, and bloating and more.
The leaves and stems contain menthol which in addition to use medicinally, is used as a flavoring in food, and a fragrance in cosmetics. The plant is prolific, growing well in moist, shaded areas as well as in sunnier locations. The roots emit runners that can quickly overtake the garden so most gardeners prefer to plant peppermint in pots.
The easiest way to acquire a peppermint plant? Find a friend or neighbor that is growing peppermint to break off a stem. Place it is a glass of water and in a very short period of times, roots will form an you will have your own peppermint start.
How Do I Get Started?
With so many to herbs to choose from, where do you start? A lot will depend on the amount of space you have, the climate, and the availability of seeds, starts, or cuttings. My recommendation is that you start with three or four herbs that appeal to you from a healing perspective. Many can be grown in pots on a porch or deck so if space is a problem, you can start modestly.