Medicinal Plants have a rich tradition of use throughout human history. It is easy and enjoyable for the home gardener to grow her own medicinal herbs, whether on a windowsill or in the garden proper. The following are a number of medicinal herbs you can start growing right now and enjoy through the summer.
A word of caution: In rare cases, medicinal herbs may cause allergic reactions or may conflict with prescription medication. For preparations, dosages, and contraindications, you will have to do your own research about each herb. Also, the common uses listed are only some of the uses; there may be many others.
Echinacea is used as a general immune system booster used to prevent and fight colds, sore throats, and sinus infections. It is also used for respiratory tract and lower urinary tract infections. It is used externally for skin abrasions and ulcerations. Echinacea, in the sunflower family, is native to the North American plains. The plants grow from 18 inches to 5 feet tall and bear beautiful cone-shaped flowers which bloom from early to late summer, for which they are commonly called ‘coneflower.’ They are drought- and heat-tolerant and prefer poor to average, well-drained soil.Growing from seed can be tricky and there’s a chance they will not form flowers in the first season. If taking this route, plant seeds when there is still a possibility of light frost. Be patient as they can take a couple weeks to sprout. Otherwise, divide a mature plant and use the division. Once established, plants are perennial and will come back year after year. Water to help plants get established, but once established, water sparingly.
The root and leaf are used externally to help heal cults and wounds. A comfrey tea is used to relieve coughs; the plant is reputed to help internally with healing, even of broken bones and fractures (although there is debate about the safety of using it internally). Comfrey prefers full sun to partial shade. It is a perennial, originally from Europe, and grows strong in the spring and summer. It is drought-tolerant but regular watering will help it thrive. It prefers rich organic soil and pH from 6.0-7.0. It can be grown in different soil types from sandy to clay. If growing from seed, comfrey seed needs a winter chilling period and may not germinate for up to two years.
More common ways to propagate are through root cuttings, young plants, or crowns. Plant root cuttings less deep in clay soil and more deep in sandy soil, 2-8 inches deep. Space plants three feet apart.
Used externally on skin abrasions, minor burns, and wounds. Used internally for minor digestive irritation. Flowers are edible and can be used to liven up the look of a green salad, for instance.
Calendula is native to the Mediterranean, but is now naturalized in the Northeast and western United States. It grows from 1′-2′ high and can produce flowers from mid-summer until late fall. Propagate with seeds in early spring. Plants will reseed themselves year after year. Plants prefer rich, well-drained soil but can tolerate less than average soils. Plant in full sun to partial shade.
Nettle is used as a nutritive tea and is good for treating acidosis. It is also used for chronic bladder irritation and as a pain-reliever on painful or arthritic joints. The nutritious leaves are also eaten, cooked or steamed, similar to spinach. Nettle has been used to help nursing mothers produce milk. Plants grow 2′-3′ tall. Grow well in various soil types, and generally prefer partial shade to full shade, but will also grow in full sun. They can be difficult to start from seed and are more commonly propagated through root cuttings. Gardeners, beware: Once established, nettle will spread its roots and seeds and become quite a garden nuisance if not kept in check, similar to mint.