If you’re like most gardeners, you probably enjoy growing plants that have a dual purpose – both ornamental and medicinal. Medicinal plants can provide relief from common ailments, and they can be a beautiful and unique addition to your garden.
Here is a list of my top 5 favorite medicinal plants to grow and use. Not only are they beautiful and interesting plants, but they are also highly functional. There is nothing quite like having a natural pharmacy right in your backyard.
Lavender is a member of the mint family native to Europe and Asia. The plant’s flowers can be dried and made into tea or oil. You can use lavender oil to relax the body and mind and apply it topically to help heal wounds and reduce inflammation.
Lavender growing tips:
- Sunny spot. Lavender thrives in full sun, so pick a spot in your garden that gets at least six hours of sun per day. If you live in a hot climate, some afternoon shade will protect your plants from wilting in the heat of the day.
- Well-draining soil: Lavender does not like wet feet, so make sure the soil in your garden drains well. If your soil is heavy or clay-like, mix in sand or other amendments to improve drainage.
- Don’t overwater: While lavender does need regular watering, be careful not to overwater as this can lead to root rot. Water your plants deeply about once a week, or more often if the weather is hot and dry.
- Keep it trimmed: Keep your plants healthy and looking their best by trimming them every few weeks during the growing season. This will also help to promote new growth.
Chamomile is a flowering plant that is native to Europe and Asia. Chamomile tea is commonly consumed for its calming effects and is also used as a natural remedy for anxiety and insomnia. Chamomile extract is also known to be effective in treating skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.
Chamomile growing tips:
- Sun with afternoon shade: Chamomile prefers full sun but appreciates some shade in hot regions
- Rich soil: Amend your soil with compost before planting.
- Water regularly: Water chamomile regularly during the first growing season to help the plants establish deep roots. Once they are established, chamomile is quite drought tolerant.
- Pick off spent blooms: Deadhead spent flowers to encourage new blooms throughout the summer months. Cut back plants by half in late fall to promote fresh growth in spring. Chamomile will self-seed readily; be sure to leave some flowers on the plant if you want it to come back next year!
Echinacea, also known as the purple coneflower, is a flowering plant native to North America. Echinacea is commonly consumed as a tea or supplement and is thought to boost the immune system. Echinacea is also used topically to treat wounds and skin infections. This is one of my favorite medicinal plants!
Echinacea growing tips:
- Sun and soil: Echinacea thrives in full sun and well-drained soil. If you live in an area with hot summers, it’s best to plant in an area that gets some afternoon shade. Before planting, loosen the soil with a shovel or tiller and mix in some organic matter, such as compost or manure. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to plant!
- Spacing: When planting echinacea, it’s important to space them about 18-24 inches apart so they have room to grow. After planting, water them thoroughly and mulch around the base of the plant to help retain moisture.
- Feeding: Throughout the growing season, water them regularly (about once a week) and fertilize them every 4-6 weeks with a general-purpose fertilizer.
- Deadhead: To encourage more blooming, deadhead spent flowers regularly. Deadheading is simply removing the spent flowers from the plant so that the plant can put its energy into producing new ones.
Garlic is a member of the onion family that is native to Central Asia. Garlic has been used medicinally for centuries and is thought to have antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. Garlic is also known to boost the immune system and lower cholesterol levels.
Garlic growing tips:
- Sun and soil: Choose a sunny spot in your garden with well-drained soil, and prepare the bed by turning the soil and removing any rocks or debris.
- Break up bulbs: Then, break the garlic bulbs into individual cloves, making sure each clove has a piece of the root attached. Plant the cloves about two inches deep and six inches apart, pointing the root end down and the pointed end up.
- Water regularly: Water your garlic regularly, keeping the soil moist but not soggy. Once the shoots start to emerge, you can add a layer of mulch around the plants to help retain moisture and keep weeds at bay.
- Remove scapes: As your garlic starts to grow, you may see flower buds form on the tops of the plants. These buds are called scapes, and they’re edible! You can snip them off with a sharp knife or shears and use them in stir-fries or soups. Just be sure to remove the scapes before they start to curl, as this signals that the garlic is getting ready to form seed heads.
- Harvest and storage: Garlic is ready to harvest when the leaves begin to yellow and brown. Carefully dig up the bulbs with a spade or shovel, taking care not to damage them. Brush off any excess dirt and allow the bulbs to dry in a cool, dark place for two weeks before storing them in a cool (32-40 degrees), dry place for up to eight months.
Ginger is a root that is native to China and India. Ginger has long been used as a remedy for nausea and vomiting, and it is also thought to be effective in treating arthritis pain and menstrual cramps. Ginger can be consumed fresh, dried, or powdered, or it can be made into a tea or supplement.
Ginger growing tips:
- Warmth and sun: Ginger plants thrive in warm, humid environments with plenty of sunshine. If you live in an area with cold winters, you’ll need to grow your ginger indoors or in a greenhouse. When choosing a spot in your garden, select an area that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight per day.
- Rhizomes: Ginger roots (or rhizomes) can be purchased from most nursery and garden centers. Be sure to start with a quality root.
- Rich and well-drained soil: These should be planted in well-drained soil that’s been amended with organic matter such as compost or manure. Plant your roots 2-3 inches below the surface of the soil with the buds pointing upward. Water thoroughly after planting and keep the soil moist throughout the growing season.
- Fertilize: To encourage strong growth, fertilize your ginger plants every 2-3 weeks with an organic compost tea or fish emulsion fertilizer.
- Harvesting: Harvesting can begin when the leaves start to yellow and die back—usually 9-10 months after planting. To harvest, simply dig up the entire plant and cut off the roots you need. The rest of the plant can be replanted for next season’s crop!
To learn more about these and other medicinal plants and how to grow and use them pick up a copy of my latest book, Grow Your Own Pharmacy!