For thousands of years people have used plants for beauty and optimising health. Traditionally people developed medicine through observation and experimentation with plants. And in many countries, women in particular were responsible for collecting food and herbs to administer medicine and care for the wounded and sick. Herbs are still highly valued and used to heal and maintain health.
I have chosen nine herbs to write about, which are readily available in my urban garden. These plants can be easily grown in a small space in your backyard, and with them you can produce infusions and tinctures that will help you maintain your health.
The Memory Plant
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) was believed to be a wonder plant in medieval times. It is native to the Mediterranean, so when planting rosemary attempt to create a similar climate. Rosemary enjoys dry roots so make sure to choose an area that is well drained. The perennial plant sprouts rapidly when pruned. It has the reputation of improving memory, relieving muscle pain, supporting immune and circulatory system and promoting healthy hair growth. Plus, it tastes great! Learn how to make your own rosemary study mist here!
Mother of All Herbs
Artemisia (Artemisia vulgaris) was known as the mother of all herbs. Its silver leaves look beautiful when they reflect the light of the moon. Artemisia has been used to open the appetite, relieve the stomach pains, and treat fevers, depression and muscle aches. It also helps with memory and was used as a treatment for worm infections. Artemisia loves sun and dry soil. Plant the seeds or divide the roots into more plants.
The Sun Worshipper
Aloe (aloe vera) is a sun worshipper so it makes sense that it has been used for centuries to heal sun damaged skin and burns. The Greek physician Dioscorides recommended aloe externally for wounds, haemorrhoids, ulcers and hair loss. Propagation is easy as the aloe shoots out a baby aloe. Gently wiggle the baby aloe until it loosens from the mother plant. Plant the aloe in well-drained soil. Cleopatra was believed to use aloe regularly. Its fresh sap heals damaged skin leaving you looking more youthful.
The Miracle Plant
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) has been called the “miracle plant” because of its multiple uses. It has been known since the middle ages as a curative agent for fractures. The root was boiled in water until it produced a thick paste in which cloth was soaked and then wrapped around broken bones. The leaf contains small amounts of calcium, potassium, phosphorus, vitamins A, C and B12. The leaves can be used for compresses and ointments, and are applied externally on bruises, varicose veins and tendons. When planting, dig deep and simply remove a mature plant. Separate the roots. Replant each root in well-drained soil.
Herb of Love
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) was one of the plants most valued herbs in the medieval times and was a regular ingredient in every medicine cabinet. It was believed to ward off the plague, calm the nerves and was nicknamed the “herb of love“. When planting choose a sunny position with well-drained soil. Lavendar essential oil is an excellent antiseptic with anaesthetic properties. It is also used in the treatment of insomnia, depression and nervousness.
Archilles Healing Plant
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a potent medicinal plant. It is believed that the scientific name Achillea originated from the battle of Troy, when Achilles healed many of his warriors from bleeding to death with a compress of yarrow. It has also been used for stomach cramps, cystitis, arthritis and rheumatism. The Chinese use yarrow to help predict the future. Yarrow tolerates a shaded area in the garden. Carefully divide the roots and plant in rich, moist soil.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) was believed to be discovered by the Romans for its medicinal value and its usefulness in food seasoning. The healer, saint and poet, Hildegard of Bingen recommended parsley compresses for arthritis. Parsley is also believed to reduce the risk of breast, digestive, skin and prostate cancers. It contains high levels of flavonoids such as Apigenin, from which come the anti-cancerous properties. It is also a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Parsley is biennial so choose a semi permanent place in the garden. Leave the seeds immersed in the water overnight and then plant in rich, moist soil. When harvesting, crop the outer leaves first.
My Favourite Herb of All
Sage (Salvia officinalis) is one of the most sacred and beloved of all medicinal plants. Sage was considered to be something of a cure-all. The Native Americans use sage to purify the air and make way for the Great Spirit. In Europe, women drank sage for longevity and ease into menopause. It was also placed on the door to block the entrance of the evil spirits. Sage sprouts easily from seeds. It likes well-drained soil. Resist the temptation to over-fertilize as it thrives in poorer soils.
Nettle (Urtica dioica) is a herb found in the wild. Curiously the Romans flogged themselves with nettle before going into battle and used it in an ointment to warm the body in the colder northern climates. Watch out! It can be a painful treatment. The aerial parts are used in teas to remove uric acid from the body, relieving pain from arthritis. The leaves, rich in nutrients, can be included in the natural fertilizer. Nettle is usually found in the field and can be harvested wild. Using a pair of gloves, take the first two or three pairs of leaves at the top of the plant. Carefully place in a carrying bag as they have a stinging effect.
An infusion is a simple method of extracting herbal constituents and/or flavours from medicinal plants. An example of an infusion is herbal teas.
Generally there are two ways to make an infusion. If your infusion consists mainly of roots and barks then ideally you should boil some water in a stainless steel pot. Once the water is boiling then lower the fire and add the herbs. Simmer the herbs for 10 minutes and then turn the fire off. Allow the infusion to steep for another 10 minutes and then sieve, and pour into a cup.
Whereas, if you herbal tea is primarily made out of flowers and leaves you can boil some water in a kettle. Place the herbal tea into a teapot or cup. Then pour the boiling water over the herbs, covering them. Allow the herbal infusion to steep for 10 minutes and then sieve. Your infusion is now ready.
You can purchase Herbal Teas on my Shop by clicking here.
Tinctures are alcoholic or alcohol/water herbal extracts. A tincture provides a dry herb strength ratio of 1:5 or weaker (one part herb to 5 parts water). This is different to a liquid extract that has a dry herb strength ratio of 1:4 or stronger. Comfrey is an excellent plant for making homemade tinctures, which can then be used to make healing balm.