Grow your way to a healthier lifestyle with the help of Mother Nature’s medicine cabinet, otherwise known as your garden! Many of our common outdoor plants have their roots in medicine, from natural headache cures and immune boosting herbs to sting treatments and soothing creams. Herbs such as sage, dill and thyme alongside flowers like echinacea, dandelion and marigold have all been used to heal ailments for centuries, some grown solely for their powerful medicinal effects.
Still today a large proportion of medicinal drugs are plant-based, and luckily gardeners don’t have to go very far to feel the healing effects of nature with such rich pickings in their own backyard. Growing a simple herb garden or herbaceous border can provide enough ingredients for a wide array of natural treatments, from leaves to steep in tea to flowers for blending in homemade creams. To help you choose what to grow we’ve put together a handy guide to some of the best healing plants.
Warning: As with any type of foraging, always be 100% sure what you’re picking and what you’re using it for before consuming or applying to skin. It is always recommended to check with your doctor first before starting any herbal treatment.
A fragrant member of the mint family, lemon balm is an easy to grow clump-forming perennial that thrives in rich, moist soil in a sunny position. Emitting a delicate lemon scent and flavour, the herb is renowned for its calming effects when used in a natural remedy or even as a culinary garnish. Infusing the leaves in boiling water for around 15 minutes will create a relaxing tea ideal for those who suffer with mild anxiety, and can even help to cool a fever. Lemon balm is also great for digestion and can reduce bloating and feelings of nausea, whilst its bruised leaves can be rubbed on wounds to aid healing or to soothe an insect bite.
One of our oldest and most versatile plants, chamomile is packed with healing antioxidants best preserved in an alcohol-based tincture or essential oil. A member of the Asteraceae family, chamomile grows best in well-drained soil in a sunny spot in the garden. The plant promotes relaxation and helps to fight stress and calm nerves. Research has shown that drinking chamomile tea can help to prevent colds and soothe a stomach ache as well as aid sleep, whilst rubbing a paste of dried chamomile flowers on to cuts can help to heal wounds. To make a natural tea, cut fresh chamomile flower heads, gently wash and leave to dry out on a window sill for up to two weeks. Steep 3-4 tbsp dried flowers in boiling water for a few minutes, then strain and drink. Cooled chamomile tea can also be used to dab on burns, or why not add the flowers to a hot bath before bed to promote a relaxed and peaceful night’s sleep?
Perhaps one of the best known therapeutic plants in existence, lavender smells as good as it heals. The essential oils extracted from the plant are easily absorbed and are frequently used to reduce anxiety and improve sleep. Best grown in a rockery with excellent drainage and full sun, lavender only requires watering around once per fortnight, making it a good low-maintenance plant to have in the backyard. Frequently used in cosmetics and creams, lavender is highly aromatic and has a calming scent usually used to aid sleep. As an essential oil it has antiseptic properties useful for treating stings and wounds, whilst massaging it on to your temples can help keep headaches at bay. To make a mild lavender oil, cut a few sprigs of fresh lavender, avoiding any woody stems. Place in a sterilised glass jar and fill almost to the top with your choice of carrier oil. Seal and leave in a warm spot to infuse, shaking from time to time. After three days, strain out the plant material and start the process again, using fresh lavender but retaining the same oil. Repeat this two to three times, until the desired strength is achieved. Store the oil in a dark glass bottle in a cool spot. This oil can be used in the bath, massaged on to the skin or infused with boiling water for steaming.
A herbaceous flowering plant, echinacea belongs to the daisy family and is perhaps best known for its power in combatting symptoms of the common cold. The pale purple coneflower is beneficial to garden visitors too, attracting butterflies and other useful pollinators with its impressive display of colour in summer, best planted in full sun or partial shade in rich soil. Its roots, leaves and flowers are overflowing with nutrients and can all be used in herbal remedies, particularly to fight against bacterial and viral infections including sore throats, colds, flu, wounds and skin ailments. Adding a mixture of flowers, roots and leaves to hot water and simmering for around 15 minutes before straining makes an effective tea, whilst a mixture of dried echinacea and vodka can be used to make a tincture for cold and flu relief.
More than just a beautiful orange bloom, marigolds have been used for thousands of years for their incredible health benefits, including healing skin wounds, burns, rashes and insect bites. Easy to grow, marigolds perform best in full sunshine in well-drained soil, though they can adapt to almost any soil type. Marigold’s natural antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties can help to treat swelling and inflammation, hydrate dry skin and heal wounds. As with most herbs, a tea is perhaps one of the easiest and most effective ways of consuming its natural benefits, whilst an oil can be created to apply to damaged skin. To make a quick marigold oil, pour olive oil over dried marigold petals in a glass jar, so that it covers them completely. Seal the jar and shake, then warm the jar in a water bath for a few hours over a low heat. Once ready, strain the liquid and store in a dark glass bottle. The oil can be used to treat cuts, burns, bites and other minor skin irritations.
You may be surprised to learn that this delicious aromatic herb is packed with health benefits as well as culinary flavour. The essential oils and flavonoids found in dill are often used to treat digestive disorders, stomach pain and menstrual cramps. Its leaves and flowers are best used fresh, whilst its seeds make a pungent spice. Part of the celery family, dill is best cultivated in a warm climate, sowing seeds in full sunlight in rich soil – dill also attracts beneficial predatory insects to the garden to help banish the likes of fruit flies. Unlike many other remedies, dill is ideally consumed naturally in food, or simply chew on its seeds, to make the most of its benefits.