Want to create a natural pharmacy in your own backyard or in a small pot on your kitchen windowsill? It’s possible. Chamomile, thyme and oregano are the easiest medicinal plants to grow on your own, according to Francisca Coelho, vice president for glasshouses and exhibitions at the New York Botanical Garden. “All you need is a well-drained soil, and you can grow all of them from seed,” Coelho says. “You can do them in pots or you can do them directly in the soil.”
Although these plants need bright sun and will go dormant in the winter, they are also hardy, Coelho says, and they come back by themselves in the spring. Each of these plants has different watering needs and Coelho’s best advice is to allow them to dry out once in order to figure out the right watering schedule.
Find out more about how these and other healing plants can cure what ails you, as well as the best way to make your natural remedies garden grow.
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Chamomile is a nervine—a calming herb that restores stability to the nervous system, says Winston. “Traditionally, it’s been used for teething pains, stress headaches, menstrual cramps, digestive upset,” he says. Those who suffer from severe ragweed allergies could react adversely to the pollen in chamomile, “but beyond that, you can drink millions of cups of [chamomile tea] through the day [without adverse reactions],” he says.
“We’re talking about an herb with anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal activity,” Winston says. Oregano is also a carminative, which means it helps relieve gas and nausea, he says. It can also be used as a gargle for a sore throat or as part of a saline wash in a neti pot.
Lemon balm can be used for hyperacidity (excessive stomach acid) and also acts as a mild anti-depressant and mood elevator, according to Winston. It is powerfully anti-viral “so if someone has a herpes outbreak, or even shingles, you can apply lemon balm tea directly to the wounds.”
The best way to make lemon balm tea is to take the most vibrant, green leaves you can find and dry them out before boiling them in water. “Lemon balm can also be used for colds and as a mild influenza remedy,” Winston says.
Lemon balm is very easy to grow and can flourish anywhere from partial shade to full sun, points out Winston. Although the plant does grow quickly and spreads easily, it is not as aggressive or as invasive as peppermint, “and it will do very well in average garden soil,” he says.
This amazing herb is anti-viral, anti-bacterial and relieves discomfort from gas. Rosemary is also a mild anti-depressant, but most importantly, it increases memory, Winston says, even in people with age-related cognitive decline. “Rosemary is anti-inflammatory and can be used for things like spider veins and varicose veins,” he says. “And because it is strongly anti-viral, it can be used in an inhalation to clear the sinuses.”
However, the herb isn’t a hardy plant so it won’t survive an east coast winter, as it is a more Mediterranean plant, and it also doesn’t like humidity much. “You can keep it inside in a bright sunny spot and again, keep tabs on the watering schedule,” Coelho says. Rosemary doesn’t do well in clay soil, notes Winston, and it prefers full sun, so while it’s easy to grow in the summer, it can be problematic in winter.
Ginger is wonderful for nausea brought on by morning sickness as well as post-surgery. It is also a diaphoretic, according to Winston—meaning, it promotes sweating—so if you have a fever it will make you sweat, lowering your temperature. Ginger is also an expectorant, “so if you have a cold damp cough, ginger combined with orange peel is a wonderful remedy.”
Winston recommends taking a quarter teaspoon of dry ginger, mixing it with 8 ounces of boiled water (adding orange peel if you want to), and letting the mixture sit for 10 to 15 minutes before drinking it.
To grow ginger, go to your local farmer’s market and get a good hunk of fresh ginger, suggests Coelho. “Place it in a pot in a good soil mix and once it roots, it will grow in season,” he says. Ginger will get hit by the first frost and will go dormant in the winter, so it should be brought inside, recommends Winston. “Dig it out every two years, divide the root and replant,” he says, “and put it out in the summer.”