How to Create Your Own Medicinal Garden

Echinacea (purple coneflower) is commonly used in Native American folk medicine. (Image:  Pixabay /  CC0 1.0)
Echinacea (purple coneflower) is commonly used in Native American folk medicine. (Image: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

In the U.S., medicinal plants can be found growing naturally everywhere. You might spot them in the parks or even in the backyard. This may inspire you to start your own medicinal herb garden. Besides having many other benefits, medicinal plants come in handy as first aid. You may presume growing medicinal plants is difficult, but it’s not complicated at all. Learning to grow herbal medicines from the ground up is a wonderful and rewarding pastime. Herbs are a vital part of our lives. Besides flavoring food, herbs can also be prepared as teas, tinctures, poultices, or balms.

Echinacea (purple coneflower)

Echinacea is a herb that’s usually found growing east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States. It also grows in the western states, as well as in Canada and Europe. The leaves, flowers, and roots of the Echinacea plant are used to make medicine. The Indian tribes used Echinacea for centuries as traditional herbal medicine. Recently, Echinacea has become popular again due to the ineffectiveness of some antibiotics in treating certain bacteria.

The plant prefers cold dry winters and warm springs. They’re easy to grow from seeds and can be found at most nurseries. You may also buy large well-grown plants. Echinacea prefers fertile soil. You can use compost when planting to improve soil quality. Echinacea plants are hardy and require little care, continuing to bloom for a long time. The flower will eventually form an enduring seedhead for winter. The plant can be divided for propagation, but that should be done in the spring and it needs to be watered frequently. If you like butterflies in your garden, the pretty Echinacea is the right plant.

Echinacea purpurea may be used to treat pain, inflammation, migraine, and flu. During the spring and fall, you can make tea from the fresh or dried flowers. Pour a cup of boiling water over a chopped flower head. Steep it and cover it for 10 minutes. Add some honey for added sweetness and as an extra immune booster. In winter, you can make a tincture. Chop an entire plant, place it in a jar, and pour in around a fifth of 190-proof grain alcohol (never wood or rubbing alcohol) and a quart of water. It must just cover the plant material. With the lid on, put it away for two weeks. The tincture will retain its effectiveness for at least a year. When feeling a cold coming on, take 1 to 2 teaspoons four or five times a day.

Thyme

Thyme was associated with courage, bravery, and strength in ancient times. Consuming Thyme helps support digestion. It’s strongly antimicrobial, killing bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasitic worms.

Thyme is good for the lungs. (Image: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Thyme is good for the lungs. (Image: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

 If you’re worried about catching the flu, it can be used in an antiviral soup. Thyme is also a diuretic and helps disinfect on its way out. One of thyme’s less-known uses is as a respiratory aid. It soothes the lungs’ mucous membranes, reduces spasms, and fights pathogens. Thyme is a potent anti-inflammatory; it’s cited as potentially helpful in preventing diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, and cancer.

Thyme is easy to grow in the ground or in pots, and it doesn’t need fancy soil or a lot of water. Grow it on any sunny windowsill or porch. You can grow thyme as a groundcover or low-maintenance lawn. You can plant it in your veggie or flower beds, as it helps drive harmful bugs away.

Thyme can be used for steaming. Gather a large handful of fresh or dried herbs. Place it in a bowl with boiling water. Take a towel, place your face over the bowl, and cover it, retaining the air inside. Breathe in deeply to get the herb’s aromatic vapors into your nose and lungs.

New England asters

New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) is the most famous type of aster. Native American tribes used to burn the leaves and flowers, with the smoke being used in Inipi (sweat lodges). It was used in ceremonies to treat mental illness, nosebleeds, headaches, and congestion. New England asters were dried for smudging and used as an additive to Kinnikinnick, a native herbal tobacco mixture made from a traditional combination of leaves or bark.

New England Asters are used to treat nosebleeds and mental disorders. (Image: Jessica Bolser/USFWS via Flickr CC BY 2.0 )

New England asters are used to treat nosebleeds and mental disorders. (Image: Jessica Bolser / USFWS via Flickr CC BY 2.0 )

New England Asters are fall flowers and can be found growing wild in the United States. They bloom during August and September. Migratory monarch butterflies and bees adore the nectar-rich flowers. They can grow in USDA plant hardiness zones 4-8. They prefer sunny climes and good drainage. Their water needs are moderate. You can fertilize them with compost.

Aster tea is used to treat earache, relieve gas pains, stomach aches, and fevers. The flowers and roots are both used.

Aster Tataricus

Aster tataricus is very similar to Aster novae-angliae. This species has been used for at least 2,000 years in traditional Chinese medicine. The root contains triterpenes and triterpene saponins, and is a stimulant expectorant herb for the bronchial system, helping to clear infections. It is also known as “Purple Aster Tincture” or “Zi Wan.” Aster tataricus has been in the United States long enough to have naturalized in much of the Eastern region.

Starting with seeds is not recommended, because cultivated varieties don’t usually produce “true to seed.” Aster tartaricus is hardy and succeeds in most good garden soils preferring one that is well-drained and moisture-retentive. Prefers a sunny position, but also succeeds in partial shade.

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