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With most of the world participating in some type of shutdown due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak, many are spending a lot of time sheltering at home. If you are like me, you may be starting to feel a little stir-crazy.
The great news is that spending time at home finally gives you the time to complete projects you have been pushing aside. For me, that means getting ready to plant herbs that I plan to use over the summer.
Gardening is a relaxing hobby that many can continue to enjoy throughout the year, depending on your location. Gardening outside has been associated with reduced stress.
A more recent study in 2018 also demonstrated that gardening reduces stress, but so does spending time outdoors in general. The study authors found that breathing in the fresh air outside, preferably in a place with a lot of foliage such as a park, lawn, or garden, can have a cathartic effect on your entire body, which may reflect in improved heart rate, blood pressure, and other aspects of your well-being. (2)
This simple excursion can be deeply relaxing and can help relieve stress, which will ultimately have a positive bearing on your overall health. (2)
Of course, you should continue to practice your social distancing measures by staying at least 6 feet apart from others due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is best to practice gardening at your private residence in your backyard, front yard, or balcony.
While all types of gardening can be rewarding, herb gardening is a fun and unique type of gardening you may not have ventured into yet.
Herbs are usually used for cooking and making cosmetic items, but they can also be used for medicinal purposes.
Medicinal herbs have been used for many years. One of the first documented use of herbs for medicine goes as far back as 5,000 years. (3)
A clay slab from the Sumerian civilization referenced over 250 plants used for drug preparations. Before pharmaceutical drugs, botanical preparations were what would be considered the modern-day drugs.
Biljana Bauer Petrovska, the author of Historical review of medicinal plants’ usage, notes that medicinal plants have been used by multiple generations. Since the beginning of civilization, each generation discovered and documented the healing properties of various medicinal plants. This knowledge was then passed on to their successors who built upon it with their new discoveries.
Thus, the latest evidence regarding the healing properties of various plants is the cumulative result of centuries of research, wherein the old properties attributed to each plant were upgraded, and new ones were added to arrive at what is known today. (3)
What exactly are “medicinal herbs”?
Medicinal herbs and botanicals are simply herbs, grown for the use of supporting specific ailments and symptoms. A common example you may be familiar with is using ginger root to reduce digestive upset.
Growing and preparing herbs can be a difficult task that involves the preparation of certain parts of the herbs, heating and extracting them in some fashion, and even adding them to a strong alcoholic base.
However, there are many herbs you can grow and use yourself without having to be a professional herbal scientist (yes, they are a real thing!).
Medicinal herbs you can easily grow at home
Here are a few easy-to-grow medicinal herbs for first-time gardeners.
Lavender is an herb that can be used for many things but mostly for anxiety and stress. Not only does it have mood-boosting benefits, but it also has a heart-warming aroma and a beautiful display of deep-purple color.
Traditionally, lavender has been used for relaxation and treating infections, burns, and bites. However, current evidence has shown that lavender oil has mood-stabilizing, sedative, and neuroprotective properties. (4)
There are a few different types of lavender, including English lavender, Portuguese lavender, Spanish lavender, and French lavender.
Here are some nifty tips when growing lavender:
Springtime is ideal for planting lavender, although it can be planted in the fall if you use larger plants.
- According to the Farmer’s Almanac, you should plant lavender 2-3 feet apart with mulch and keep it away from wet and moist areas.
- Water it one to two times per week while the new plants are forming, and then increase to every two to three weeks until buds form. Afterward, you can continue to water once or twice a week.
- If you decide to grow your lavender indoors, keep your new lavender by windows that bring in good amounts of light.
- Once your lavender has about 50% of its flower buds opened, it is time to cut the stems. The Farmer’s Almanac suggests cutting your stems in the morning, which is when lavender oil is most concentrated.
Now that you have your fresh lavender, you can use the fresh or dried buds for your medicinal needs that are related to stress and mood:
- For a relaxing aromatic experience, you can add your fresh buds to a warm bath or wrap your lavender stems and place fresh bundles around the house.
- You can also hang fresh lavender bundles upside down and dry them to make teas or sachets.
- Dried (or even fresh) lavender sachets can be used around the house and in your bedroom.
- For improved sleep, tuck your homemade lavender sachet in your pillow or bed.
- You can also use your dried lavender buds to steep a loose-leaf tea that calms the body.
Mint is a refreshing herb that can be used to clean, invigorate the body, and repel bugs. Mint has also been used to reduce stomach upset and gas, calm the mind, and promote sleep. (5)
Mint is easy to grow and is a hardy, fuzzy plant whose aroma will wake you up. This bright-green herb is also tasty and can be used in desserts, salads, and vegetable rolls.
There are many types of mint, including peppermint, spearmint, and cornmint. Spearmint specifically likes to make its presence known in the garden and spreads around easily.
Follow these tips to grow mint successfully :
- Mint does not grow easily from seed, so it is best to purchase a starter mint plant.
- If you are planting mint any time of the year outside, just be sure to protect your plant in cold climates.
- Mint grows best in soil that has good drainage and is somewhat moist.
- Be sure to plant your starting plants 2 feet apart, and consider planting them in their own confined space.
- Mint will grow relatively tall, so be cautious not to purchase too many starters unless you plan to use a lot of mints.
- When your mint leaves are grown, pluck a few off and clean them well.
Here are some uses of mint:
- You can use mint leaves for a revitalizing bath after a hard workout.
- Mince peppermint leaves and combine it with witch hazel for a facial astringent.
- If you are experiencing digestive upset, boil your peppermint or spearmint leaves in water and make a tea of out them.
- You can add mint to your loose-leaf green tea for added antioxidants or a mild energetic experience.
- Studies show that mint can ease stomach upset, so slowly drink mint tea or mint-infused water after a meal for digestive support.
- Even better, if you have leftover mint tea, save it in the refrigerator and use it to relieve a summer sunburn.
Rosemary is another safe option for new and experienced herb growers alike. It has a unique flavor and smell that is almost sweet and savory simultaneously.
Rosemary is one of the most popular culinary herbs around the world, but it has also been used medicinally for its antibacterial, antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties. In fact, rosemary is even used as a food preservation antioxidant in Europe.
However, rosemary is most praised for its positive impact on the brain. Rosemary has been shown to improve memory, reduce anxiety, and improve sleep when taken orally. (6)
When inhaled, rosemary has also been shown to enhance memory. (7)
You can plant rosemary seeds or starters in the sun in warm, well-drained soil to avoid water saturation and promote growth. (8)
Rosemary grows easily if you follow these tips:
- Rosemary can grow tall and wide, so plant rosemary with plenty of room.
- Water your rosemary lightly and evenly, and prune often.
- If you want to grow rosemary in the winter, plant and keep it indoors near a good light source.
- When you are ready to harvest, cut off the stems and use them right away, or hang them upside down to dry.
Use rosemary in the following ways:
- Add your rosemary sprigs to a pot of water and boil for a flavorful tea. Rosemary tea is a great way to ingest rosemary for its benefits orally. Enjoy 1 cup of rosemary tea as you start your day.
- You can also inhale rosemary by placing fresh bundles around your home.
Basil is a shrub belonging to the Lamiaceae family of plants and originated in north-central India. Over the years, basil cultivation has spread all over the eastern world tropics. (9)
Presently, multiple varieties of basil are grown around the world, each with its own characteristic taste, flowers, leaf color, and growth pattern. The height of the plant may vary from species to species, but it typically grows up to 60-90 cm.
Some varieties of basil are perennial, which means they can survive for more than 2 years. Others are annual, which means they complete their life cycle within a year.
This tender plant is known for its distinct aroma and flavor, which make it a popular kitchen ingredient.
It is available in different forms: fresh, dried, and frozen. Fresh basil leaves are used as a garnish or as an ingredient in popular sauces such as pesto and salads, whereas dried leaves are used as a flavoring herb.
A lot of people grow basil at home as it has fairly low maintenance. All you have to do is to provide the right kind of soil and enough sunlight for the plant to flourish and prune it from time to time.
Follow these tips to grow basil successfully:
- Basil only fairs well in a warm, sunny environment. Frost and cool temperatures can destroy this tropical crop. The best time to plant basil seeds is 5 to 6 weeks before the last frost.
- Even though the plant needs direct sunlight to thrive, you should start by sowing the seeds indoors or in a greenhouse at a temperature of 65-75°F.
After a few days when the seeds sprout a stalk, transplant the basil outdoors in a patch of well-drained soil that is fertile but not overly rich.
- Choose a spot where the plant gets plenty of sunlight for at least 6 hours a day.
- If you plan on sowing the seeds directly in an outdoor garden, make sure to thin the seedlings after germination to at least one foot apart.
- Let the plant grow for 1½ months, and then cut the tip from the center shoot to shorten the plant back to 6 inches. Nipping the plant from the top helps it grow sideways, as the freshly trimmed stem grows new leaves.
- This periodic trimming also discourages early flowering. If flower stalks do appear, simply snip them off, which will eventually stimulate the budding of more flowers in the axils of the leaves.
So, the four requisites for basil growth are:
- A steady supply of moisture
- Warm soil temperatures
- Direct sunlight
- Regular trimming
Bear in mind that homegrown basil is an annual plant, which means it will die within a year despite the most suitable conditions and optimum care.
Some benefits of basil:
- Basil exhibits significant therapeutic potential on account of its nutrient-dense composition. It is a rich source of essential vitamins and minerals, primarily vitamins A and K, potassium, magnesium, and manganese.
- This healing plant also contains ample amounts of dietary fiber, making it good for digestion, easy bowel movement, and overall gastrointestinal health. (10)
Chamomile is an herb that resembles a daisy and is most commonly used in teas and beauty products as a calming ingredient.
This beautiful flower is one of the most ancient herbs that have been used for medicinal purposes. Its flowers contain terpenoids and flavonoids that support its medicinal uses.
Chamomile is easily harvested by simply gathering the open flowers in the summer. The flowers can be dried and used in making a flavorful and relaxing tea for oral consumption.
Follow these tips to grow chamomile successfully:
- Chamomile is most easily grown in the spring from a starter plant.
- Be sure to water your plants often, especially if the summer is warm, and clip your chamomile to keep it dense.
- If you decide to grow this herb in a pot, raise it off the ground to prevent excess moisture buildup that can rot your plant during the colder months.
Here are some uses of chamomile:
- In addition to using chamomile orally, you can place dried flowers in sachets for a natural air freshener or add dried flowers to homemade soap.
- Hang a bundle of chamomile flowers upside down until dry, boil in water, and strain for a warm cup of tea to enjoy before bed. You can also flavor your tea with honey or ginger.
6. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is part of the mint family and, thus, is similar in appearance to mint.
Lemon balm was historically used to boost mood, and current data are available that support this idea. Lemon balm is indeed associated with improved mood and function according to recent research. (12)
Lemon balm is easy to grow and, like mint, can easily overtake a garden. You may want to grow this refreshing herb by itself in a pot or bed.
Follow these tips to grow lemon balm successfully:
- Lemon balm is a perennial that grows best in rich, well-drained soil.
- It can grow in partial shade and full sun.
- You can purchase a lemon balm starter, but if you plan to grow this herb from seed, start growing 2-3 weeks before the last spring frost with a soil temperature of 70°F.
Here are some uses of lemon balm:
- To utilize your garden lemon balm, simply pluck a few leaves, crush them in your hand, and rub them behind your ears and on your wrists to elevate your mood.
- You can also boil the leaves and strain them to make a mood-supporting tea.
- Lemon balm’s light taste makes a great iced tea during the summer as well. Pour your hot tea into a pitcher, chill in the refrigerator, and pour over ice.
If you are ready to grow medicinal herbs in your garden, start small and get going! As the weather is changing to warmer temperatures and the sun is staying out longer, now is a perfect time to begin your medicinal herb collection.