Basic Herbs to Grow for Health and Body Care
When most beginners start their gardens, they choose to include herbs for cooking and culinary use. Basil, rosemary, and thyme are common in home gardens, as they should be. But as I’ve learned, culinary herbs are just the beginning of a wide world of herbal options. Some herbs and flowers offer incredible options for medicinal purposes and body care, among other uses.
As I’ve explored this topic and have started growing my own, I’ve discovered my many fun herbs to grow and use for health, body, and home. Here are my favorites.
First, you should know that I am not a medical professional or a certified herbalist. I love gardening and I have grown to love herbs. I am sharing my own experiences that shouldn’t be used to diagnose or treat anything. I hope this will get you started growing these herbs and help you begin your own research.
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This is my favorite herb to grow and to have at home. I love drinking hot peppermint tea from my dried peppermint. I drink it mostly for stomachaches and headaches. I do not usually like hot tea, but I love it when it’s made with my own herbs. When I can harvest it fresh, I love to crush it and add it to my water for a refreshing drink.
Last year, I made a homemade, all-purpose cleaner with my peppermint. I’ve used it in my kitchen and my bathroom all year.
First, purchase a potted start from a garden center, or ask a friend for a cutting. Where you place peppermint in your garden is important. It is invasive and will take over whatever space you give it. I don’t recommend planting it in a ground bed or even a raised bed unless you want only peppermint in that bed in the coming years.
Calendula is a beautiful flower that boasts amazing properties for the skin. It’s a common ingredient in homemade salves and lotions. Infused oils can be used for skin balms as a remedy for various ailments. I even used some leftover calendula-infused olive oil as a face moisturizer and I love it more than any moisturizer I’ve ever purchased. Beyond their beauty and their skincare properties, these flowers attract beneficial insects such a syrphid flies and therefore help the rest of my garden.
You can start calendula indoors from seed or direct sow the seeds just after the last frost. This isn’t a perennial plant, but it often self-sows so you may not have to plant it every year. I can’t imagine ever having too much calendula!
Yarrow is a tall plant with fern-like leaves that sports clusters of white (or other colors) flowers. Although it is beautiful, I love how useful it is.
My favorite way to use yarrow is dried. You dry both the leaves and flowers together. I use it for minor cuts to help stop the bleeding. We’ve also used it in a tea blend, as it can help reduce fever and even help with a headache. Yarrow also helps attract beneficial insects!
Yarrow is easily planted from seed — either start indoors or plant it directly in the garden around your last frost. Yarrow does easily self-seed so be aware because you can end up with more than you expected. At maturity, yarrow grows to about three feet tall, so keep that in mind as you’re planning where to plant this flowering herb.
Lemon balm is a perennial plant in the mint family with a variety of refreshing uses. In the spring and summer, the crushed leaves are a perfect addition to water for a refreshing beverage. You can also dry it and drink it in hot tea. Lemon balm is also commonly known as having mood lifting qualities that help bring calm and positivity. It can also be infused in oil for use in homemade salves.
Growing Lemon Balm
To grow lemon balm, purchase a potted start. I recommend growing it in a container because it can be invasive — though in my experience, not as invasive as mint. In most areas, lemon balm will come back year after year, even if it dies back in the winter.
Most people think of this as a culinary herb, but I have found that it offers other beneficial properties. I use it in a tea blend that is very soothing for a sore throat. I have also used it fresh for a sore or itchy throat. Though the texture is a bit strange, sucking one leaf like a lozenge has helped throat irritations.
To grow sage, purchase a transplant. I recommend planting it in a container since in many areas, it will die back in the winter but will return each spring.
Chamomile is a beautifully dainty flower that is a great addition for the garden and for your tea cabinet. The flowers smell and taste like sweet apples. Chamomile tea is best-known as a calming beverage, and chamomile flowers can enhance the taste of otherwise distasteful medicinal teas.
You can purchase potted starts or you can try starting with seeds. When I tried starting seeds last year, they didn’t work very well but I’m trying again this year. Before you plant, decide which kind of chamomile you want to grow. Roman chamomile is perennial but German chamomile is an annual that readily self-seeds. I’m trying both this year!
Echinacea is one of the most well-known herbs for immune support, and its gorgeous flowers only enhance the awesomeness of this flower!
I started echinacea from seed last year, but haven’t been able to harvest yet. While the flowers, leaves, and roots contain immune-enhancing properties, the roots are most beneficial. Recommended to take at the onset of an illness, you can drink dried echinacea in hot tea, or you can tincture it. I use the tincture in a Sore Throat Spray, taken from a recipe from Rosemary Gladstar’s book Medicinal Herbs.
Echinacea is a more complex process to grow and harvest than other herbs. If you start from seed, you’ll need to go through a process called cold stratification. Then, the flower won’t bloom until the second season. You may find it quicker and easier to use a potted start.
Feverfew is a dainty herb not unlike chamomile, though its flowers are a bit larger.
As its name might suggest, this herb can be used in hot teas to help to reduce fever. I love how beautiful and dainty the flowers are, and I grow it just as much for its ease and beauty as for its medicinal properties.
Feverfew is simple to grow from seed. You can start it indoors for a head start or direct sow them in the garden around the last frost. Both the leaves and the flowers can be harvested and dried in teas. In many places, feverfew will survive all year, though it is grown as an annual in cooler climates.
Plantain is usually overlooked as a weed, but it boasts some powerful benefits. I do not purposefully grow plantain (though I would!); instead, I forage for it in my yard. Plantain is a powerful plant to use fresh on bites and stings. (Just crush it and apply it to the wound.) When it is dried, infuse it in oil and use it in skin-healing balms. One of my favorite recipes is called Itchy Bite and Sting Balm from the book Healing Herbal Infusions.
Chickweed is another herb that I find around my yard. It’s amazing for stings, bites, and minor skin wounds. While it doesn’t dry well (by hanging or in a dehydrator), you can let it “wilt” on the counter overnight and then use it in an infused oil. Chickweed is also an ingredient in my Itchy Bite and Sting Balm.
Other Herbs I’m Trying
The 10 above are herbs that I’ve tried before and are great for getting started with medicinal herbs. Remember, if you’re just starting out, you should start small and “grow” from there.
Are you planning to grow medicinal herbs this year? What do you hope to try? Do you have any uses to add to the ones I’ve listed above?
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