Your Medicinal Herb Garden

One of the questions I get asked frequently is what herbs would I recommend for a small medicinal herb garden or for someone just starting out so they don’t get overwhelmed. So that’s what I’m going to cover today. Of course, I don’t know everyone’s specifics. I will have to make a few assumptions – there will be plenty of sun, access to water, and the soil is healthy. One other important point is that these are herbs I believe allow for a beginner herbalist to begin treating their family with, they are also good for more advanced herbalists (for instance, I use chamomile in many preparations because it’s good for so many things). I’m hoping this will enable more and more individuals to grow their own “farmacy”!

chamomile plantMatricaria recutita – Chamomile

Like I mentioned before, I believe Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)  to be one of the most important herbs in our home. I use it for upset stomach, trouble sleeping, calming skin irritations, colic, teething issues, anxiety, and more. It is one of those herbs that I could not do without. Once it is growing (seed germination can be difficult) it can thrive in almost any type soil as long as it is well-draining, high clay content or shallow hard pan soil would not work here. It does require full sun, so don’t try to hide this in a corner! It’s PH requirement is also quite flexible growing well in the soil as low as 5.6 up to 7.5. Sadly this is not a perennial plant which requires replanting each year. I left much of my flowers and allowed them to go to seed last fall hoping to see some new sprouts this year.

Uses: upset stomach, gripping pain, IBS, calming skin irritations and reducing infection, colic, teething, hair rinse, anxiety, sleep aid

Soil:  Well-drained

Sun: Full sun but will tolerate a little shade

Annual

Echinacea02Echinacea purpurea– Echinacea (Purple Coneflower)

I’ve always been fond of “Daisy” like flowers and Echinacea is no exception. Echinacea is not only beautiful to us but attractive to pollinators. So if you’re looking to attract more pollinators to your garden, this is an herb you want to consider. Being a perennial, as long as you are giving it space to grow it will grace your garden year after year. It does not do well with “wet feet” but, once established it will tolerate drought and heat due to its deep tap root. The best way to propagate is by root cuttings in Autumn.

For medicinal purposes, Echinacea flower can be used but will not be as strong as a preparation made from the root. If you are harvesting the flowers do it when the flowers are just starting to bloom, for the root harvest in the fall when all the energy has moved down (preferably after a frost or two). Don’t dig up the entire root, make sure to leave some to grow back in the spring. I left mine alone last year (besides clipping a few flowers) to allow it to propagate naturally.

In order for Echinacea to be helpful take it at the first sign of a cold, this is not a recommended herb to be used as a tonic. For internal use, I recommend three preparations: infusion or tincture (flowers) or decoction (root). Make sure to follow directions for preserving herbs if you want to use it over the winter./p>

Uses: Boost immunity

Soil:  Well-drained

Sun: Full sun but will tolerate a little shade

Water: water well until established, after that it will tolerate very dry

lemon balm flowersMelissa officinalis – Lemon Balm

First, a word of warning…lemon balm likes to grow and will expand in your garden if you do not keep it under control. This should not stop you from growing it, just understand you’ll need to cut it back and ‘tame’ it!

Lemon balm is my go to for two specific issues: anxiety and cold sores because of its anti-viral properties, but it is good for many other things as well: eczema, headache, insect bites, and wounds to name a few.  As a culinary herb, it adds a wonderfully fresh, lemony-mint taste to any dish, (it’s especially good in a fruit salad) and brews into a refreshing iced tea!

In my garden, it is one of the fastest growing plants I have. If I see it getting a little sad looking, I simply cut it down and it magically rejuvenates it – basically, It is another easy plant to grow and will grow prolifically if left alone! One way to control it is to clip it back several times in the summer and early fall to keep seeds from forming. Unlike mint, it does not grow underground “runners” so it makes it easy to pull any unwanted plants that might get away from you. On a side note, this makes amazing fodder for your chickens and goats. When our chickens got into my herb garden they decimated my lemon balm, of course, it grew back in a few weeks, but I was amazed at how much the chickens liked it. When I thin I just throw it over my fence and the chickens and goats fight for it!

Uses: Cold sores, anxiety, sleep aid, eczema, headaches, insect bites, wounds, colic, can help with ADHD

Soil:  moist, rich and Well drained

Sun: Full sun

Water: does not tolerate drought very well

These are three great starter herbs if you are wanting to step into growing your own medicinal herb garden.

I need to mention here that my assumption, again, is that you’ve done your research and have prepared your soil for planting. So many problems with plants can be avoided by feeding your soil and ensuring drainage is adequate and biological soil life is thriving!

Truthfully I have a really tough time narrowing it down to just 9 because so many plants are useful to have in your medicinal arsenal. However, one of the criteria I am looking for is ease of growing, which does slim down the list, and the ones I believe are most helpful for family medical care.

Last time I covered Lemon Balm, Chamomile, and Echinacea. This time I will cover calendula, Garlic, and Arnica. Three very different plants but all great for a home medical kit.

calendula-officinalisCalendula officinalis (Pot Marigold)

This sunny, happy, orange or yellow flowered plant is part of the Asteraceae family. Not to be mistaken for the marigold in the

Tagetes family. Sadly, it is an annual (I always prefer perennials), but with all its many benefits I still think it earns a place in every medicinal garden.

Propagate

Calendula does best when directly sown into the soil once the last chance of frost has passed. You can start them inside and transplant but there is more chance of harming the taproot. Make sure your soil allows for adequate drainage and oxygen, especially during the beginning stages, to avoid “damping off.”Calendula will tolerate a wide range of soils but prefers full sun.

A little tip

If you pick the mature flowers regularly in the spring and summer it may continue producing more flowers, even into the fall. Picking flowers also reduce the chance of pests (blister beetles, cucumber beetles, and aphids). Never let the flowers go to seed or you will greatly decrease your harvest.

Harvesting

The best time to pick is in the heat of the day when the water content is the lowest. Dry the flowers as soon as possible. The petals dry quickly but the receptacle does not so you can expect a total drying time of 10 days or more at 90 degrees or so. Let them cool and sort them carefully when they finish drying, as they reabsorb moisture readily.

Uses

Calendula is a wonderful anti-inflammatory for the skin and is used in many lotions, creams, and salves. Apply topically for skin irritation: dry skin cracked nipples, eczema, wounds.

Taken internally it will help the digestive system: colitis, peptic ulcers, gastritis (infusion) and is cleansing for the liver and gall bladder (tincture). It also helps reduce menstrual pain and regulate bleeding (infusion).

Preparations: tincture, infusion, salve, cream, compress

TYPE: Annual

SOIL: Well-drained, aerated soil

SUN: Prefers full sun, will tolerate partial shade

WATER: Water well 1-2 times a week

alluimAllium (garlic)

You can’t go wrong with garlic. It adds a wonderful, flavorful explosion to any fare and, if used correctly, can add nutritional benefits. Garlic is also a wonderful addition to your garden as a pest repellant.

Propagate

Garlic can be planted in the spring but you will likely deal with smaller bulbs when harvesting. I recommend planting in the fall, so put this on your list as something to do as you move into fall. You’ll want to plant garlic about a month before frost hits. Simply break apart the bulb a few days before planting but keep the husk on the individual cloves. Plant them with the pointy end up about 2” deep and 4” apart. Heavily cover with mulch. In the spring green shoots will begin emerging. As the threat of frost is gone, feel free to remove the mulch.

A little tip

Do NOT use garlic bought at the store, use garlic from a previous harvest or buy them from a local garden shop. Be aware that you need to pick a variety that is good for your zone. Garlic flowers are lovely but if you are looking for larger bulbs, clip back any flower shoots. Because garlic likes extra nitrogen fertilizing with rabbit manure or manure tea would give it that added boost. Water well about every 3-5 days during the drier season.

Harvesting

Harvest when you see the tops begin to yellow and get droopy (usually late summer in my area). Pull them from the soil gently, using a spade, brush off the dirt and hang in a shady spot with plenty of air flow. You can bunch them together but make sure every side gets air. It is ready to use when the wrappers are dry and papery. You can either “braid” them (yes, even hard neck garlic which is what grows best here) or clip off the tops and store in a dry, cool area.

Uses

Garlic is one of those things that mainstream medicine has recognized. There’s really no way you can go wrong adding garlic to your life on a daily basis.

• Reduce risk of certain cancers
• Positive effects on the cardiovascular system
• Lower cholesterol
• Antibacterial
• Antimicrobial
• Antiviral
• Antifungal

The key to achieving the highest health benefits from this powerhouse is to make sure you don’t cook it, yes, add it to dishes, but try to add it near the end of cooking, it will provide the most intense flavor and won’t destroy all the enzymes (allicin). Press the garlic through a garlic press and let it stand for 5-10 minutes, this activates the allicin. At this point, you can add it to your dish, blend it with some honey and spread it on toast, add it to a batch of elderberry syrup (already prepared) for an extra immune boost, or, get crazy and just eat it straight up. Warning – you will have garlic breath J

Preparations: capsules, food, infused oil, powder

TYPE: Annual

SOIL: Well-drained, aerated soil

SUN: Prefers full sun

WATER: Water well every 3-5 days during the hot, dry months

Warning

Because garlic is such a warming food, it can be aggravating to people with a warm constitution. In high doses, it may irritate the digestive system, causing gas, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and burning of the mouth. In normal and moderate doses garlic acts as a pre-biotic, food for the good microflora in the gut. People with a known allergy to Allium plants should avoid garlic.

arnica1Arnica

 

A daisy-like flower with a happy, sunny disposition also part of the Asteraceae family. This is a beautiful and helpful addition to any medicinal herb garden.

Propagate

If you are fortunate enough to know someone that has arnica in their garden, ask if you can have a cutting or if they are ready to divide their plant. If not, starting with seeds isn’t that difficult but germination can be tricky taking one month up to two years so patience will come into play here! Sprinkle the seeds and lightly cover with soil. Keep moist. The other option is to start them indoors with plenty of light (preferably a grow light) you can transplant these in the spring after the threat of frost is gone.

Uses

• anti-inflammatory
• analgesic (reduces pain)
• vulnerary (wound-healing: fractures, sprains, contusions, muscular pain, varicose veins)
• rubefacient (increases blood flow to an area helping speed healing)

Arnica should only be used topically on the unbroken skin. It is quite effective when used as a poultice, in a carrier oil or salve.

Harvesting

Harvest blooming flower heads in summer, June through August.

Preparations: poultice, salve, infused oil, wash ( Steep 2 teaspoons arnica in 1 cup boiling water, let cool and use)

TYPE: Perennial

SOIL: Prefers sandy, slightly alkaline

SUN: Prefers full sun, will tolerate shade in very hot areas

WATER: Not drought tolerant until established, keep the soil moist but not soaked – a good weekly watering should suffice except during very dry, hot months.

nettleI love nettles, the leaves are filled with a plethora of vitamins (high levels of Vitamin A, C, E & K), protein, chlorophyll, and minerals (calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium) making it quite useful as a vitamin drink. Juicing fresh nettle, preparing a nourishing herbal infusion, creating a “pesto”, or even using it as the spinach in a vegetable lasagna are all great ways to enjoy this herb while benefitting from its nutritive power.

I am fully aware that nettle is available to anyone who wildcrafts, so why do I recommend growing it in your herb garden? Because you know how it’s been grown and where it’s been grown. You have worked to create healthy soil and you aren’t spraying it with harmful chemicals. Furthermore, it’s growing right outside your door making it quick and easy to harvest, whether you are harvesting enough to make herbal preparations or even if you just want a little for your dinner preparations. To me, keeping things simple is key.

But what about the sting? Well, it’s a small price to pay, and honestly, if you harvest them correctly (wear gloves here) and either dry or saute/steam them, the sting is no longer a threat. Interestingly, nettle actually contains juices in its leaves that can stop the pain of a nettle “sting”. I was out yesterday looking at some nettle, I wasn’t wearing gloves and just decided to grab a leaf, roll it up, and eat it. I didn’t get stung, I decided to do an experiment and just brushed my hand against the nettles, sure enough, I was stung. I immediately grabbed another leaf, worked it between my fingers until the juices were released and rubbed it on the sting. The intensity of the pain greatly decreased, I wasn’t that bothered by it so I didn’t keep the leaf on for long. A few minutes later, the sting seemed to begin intensifying again so I grabbed a plantain leaf, crushed it and applied it with total relief in a short time. The moral of the story here is grab it like you own it – nettles sense fear J

Nettle prefers rich, moist soil and full sun but will grow in shadier areas, the difference being that the plant in shade will produce less seed which can be harvested and used as well. Seeds are great for overwrought adrenals. The seed can be a little stimulating, if you dry it first this will decrease the effect.

As a nourishing herbal infusion, it can help with fatigue, building and purify the blood, and detoxify (it has a diuretic property). This is also a wonderful herb to include in your diet and herb regimen if you are prone to allergies.

Preparations: Infusion, Nourishing Herbal Infusion, Poultice, Tincture, Juiced, Food

Growing

TYPE: Perennial
SOIL: Moist, rich
SUN: Prefers full sun will grow in shade
WATER: water well until established
Propagation: Cuttings, Root transplant, seed

lavender farmers marketLavender (Lavendula)

Lavender is a beautiful, highly aromatic plant that is not too difficult to grow in the right conditions. It is one of those herbs that almost everyone recognizes by sight and smell. Who hasn’t enjoyed the scent of lavender in soap, lotion, or even in a room or body spray? Lavender is an antimicrobial which makes it a great choice for a room deodorizer with germ-killing capabilities. It is a calming herb that can easily be added to infusions and baths to help reduce stress and irritability and induce sleep. It also has wonderful anti-inflammatory properties making it a perfect herb when treating burns and bug bites. The essential oil has been used for many years to treat burns, eczema, reduce scar tissue and aid in healing infections (including fungal).

I don’t think you can have enough lavender growing so I choose a sunny spot that has soil that is well-drained. It doesn’t like to have “wet feet” so it really doesn’t require that much input. Watering once a week is generally sufficient during the driest months. Don’t put it in with something that prefers moist soil, it will not thrive and may not even survive.

Harvest the flowers when they are dry and make sure to dry them immediately to reduce the loss of the essential oils. The leaves can also be used but are not nearly as high in medicinal properties as the flowers.

Preparations: Get creative when deciding how to use this herb: floral bath, steam inhalation, infusion, oil, pillow, sachet for drawers, tincture, poultice, salves, lotions, & hydrosol (maybe you have a friend or know someone who makes essential oils like I do which gives me a great supply for hydrosols)!

Growing

Type: Perennial
Soil: Rich, drier
Sun: Full Sun
Water: Water well once a week or so, let soil dry between waterings
Propagation: Seed, Cuttings, Layering

comfrey-true-deep-purple-flowers 002-400Comfrey (Symphytum spp.)

Many people cringe when I recommend growing comfrey. They see it as an invasive plant that will eventually choke out the rest of the herbs in their garden. Though this can be true, with a little management you can keep this from happening while benefiting from the diverse offerings of this plant!

First, I want to mention the few obvious things that are not medicine related: comfrey leaves are wonderful mulch makers and, because of their large leaf growth, will shade out competitors like any unwanted weeds that may pop up in your garden. Because they are deep-rooted they pull up the minerals found in the soil and bring it up to the leaf. Chopping and dropping these mineral-rich leaves puts those minerals back into the soil and adds organic matter (thus aeration) to your soil profile. Additionally, bees and other pollinators love the flower and if you grow a blocking variety you won’t deal with it reseeding itself.

As far as medicinal use, there is virtually no competing herb that can heal skin the way comfrey can. As a matter of fact, it can heal so well and quickly that you need to make sure the wound is fully cleansed and there is no sign of infection, it could get closed up inside. Comfrey is also well-known for its ability to treat sprains, swelling, bruises and historically even mend broken bones! It can also help alleviate osteoarthritis and other arthritic type pain.  Comfrey contains allantoin which stimulates tissue repair and cell proliferation. Which means it is also great in salves to use on areas that are troubled by irritation or rash.

Comfrey is a pretty flexible plant and can grow almost anywhere. However, it does prefer moist, rich, loamy soil and dappled sunlight. We have found that once it is established it grows really well, even in imperfect conditions. If you are wanting to control the spread I would suggest two things: do not disturb the roots. Every small root piece will grow into another plant. Make sure you are going to keep it where you plant it and don’t till the soil. Second, reduce its growth by chopping the leaves at least twice in a growing season, and dead head any flowers that appear. If it is growing in an area that you don’t want it, the best way to get rid of it is to keep its leaves so low that it loses all ability to continue growing. Do not go pulling the roots because you will likely not be able to get the entire root system out.

Preparations: Poultice, salve, infused oil, infusion

Growing

Type: Perennial
Soil: Moist, Rich, loamy
Sun: dappled sunlight
Water: occasionally, once it’s established it can tolerate drought much better because if its deep roots.

Growing An Aromatic Herb Garden

The first or original aromatic herb gardens were developed by the Persians sometimes over 2,000 years back in the courtyards of their residences. Generally, these herb gardens were of square or rectangular shape and usually they were separated into four by streams that originated from a centrally located fountain. These enclosed scented herb gardens were called pairidaeza, which was derived from the word ‘paradise’. The Persians are known to be outstanding gardeners and their ‘paradise’ essentially included three major features – running water, aroma, and shade.

In fact, the Byzantine church was mainly instrumental in making the concept of such scented herb garden popular in the western regions of Europe, earlier in the structure of cloister gardens, which were soon found in all monasteries in the region. The concept of a walled, scented garden was readily accepted by the traditional Christianity during the medieval times. In effect, it was something familiar to observing the entire creation in a representational term. By now, the references in the Bible, since the Garden of Eden to the Song of Songs, had corroborated gardens like these in the form of illustrations of the Paradise itself.

Way back in 1260, a Dominican monk Albertus Magnus spelled out the prerequisites for developing ideal pleasure gardens. He specified that the scented herb gardens ought to have a fountain plus a lawn, comprising all perfumed herbs, for instance, sage, rue and basil and similarly, include every type of flowers, counting lily, violet, rose, columbine, iris and those similar to these blooms. In addition, Albertus also recommended that there ought to be a vast assortment of aromatic and therapeutic herbs at the back of the lawn. At the same time, he emphasized that the flowers should not be there just to please the sense of smell by their fragrance, but also to enliven the sense of sight by their color and beauty.

The crusaders had already introduced the rose into the western regions of Europe. Actually, the original connotation of the term rosary is said to be an encircling rose garden that is devoted to the Virgin Mary. While the initial rosaries were developed on the sacred or hallowed ground, paintings from the 16th century depict that the pattern was espoused in gardens owned privately, wherein the rose gardens, as well as arbors (retreats), were developed by the rich and royals.

Lilium candidum (Madonna lily), attractive and extremely perfumed, was among the other blessed flowers that were grown by the Christian church in the earliest times. On the other hand, in the gardens of the monastery, lilies and roses were grown in concert along with particularly fragrant herbs like rosemary and lavender. Historians who specialized on gardens are of the view that the medieval romance garden, as well as the Renaissance love garden, were mainly rose plus herb gardens, which were held in high esteem both for their visual features as well as their efficacy.

The era of Queen Elizabeth I’s sovereignty is considered to be the prime of such scented herb gardens. During this period, people took delight in pleasantly aromatic food, clothes, and rooms. It is documented that the mistress of one manor house during the Elizabethan reign cultivated aromatic flowers as well as fragrant plants in a private formal garden generally fenced by rose briers plus fruit trees for enjoying a walk as well as sitting in the garden. In addition, the aromatic herb garden was also utilized to supply the ingredients for the mistress’ still room. In her still room, the mistress made ‘sweet waters’ using rose petals and flowers of rosemary as well as curative lotions using the stems of the spikes of lavender and the Madonna lily. Scented herbs, such as rue and hyssop, were cultivated to cover the floors of rooms with a view to disinfect the air, while they’re dried up flowers were packed into pillows and cushions to support sound sleep.

A contemporary herb garden also comprises herbal plants, which are esteemed for their fragrant attributes. In fact, a scented herb garden is a place which you may possibly want to visit to relax yourself following a hectic day. Such a garden may perhaps be made up of a small number of pleasingly aromatic herbs grown in containers and placed in one corner of the porch, a vast garden having sitting area, or simply comprise numerous aromatic herbs grown along a preferred pathway in your courtyard.

It may be noted that the majority of the aromatic herbs usually emit their fragrance more when someone brushes against them or touches them. In addition, a pleasant waft will also transport the fragrant scent of the herb throughout the yard and to you. Remember this aspect when you are deciding on the place where you desire to have your scented herb garden. It would surely be an excellent idea to have it close to your home.

When we are talking about aromatic herbs, you may choose from a wide variety of them. Take into account that simply for the reason that a herb is aromatic, it does not imply that you will alone take delight in its fragrance. Prior to selecting as well as planting your desired scented herb garden, you need to take the aroma of every plant with a view to ensure that its scent gives you pleasure.

Fragrant Herbs for the Garden

As mentioned above, there are assortments of aromatic herbs from which you may choose for your scented herb garden. Below is a list of such scented herbs which most people believe have a delightful fragrance. However, this list should never be considered to be a complete or final catalog of scented herbs, as there are a great many amazingly aromatic herbs which may be compiled in a list in this article. It is advisable that before you purchase any herb, you should personally examine every herb by rubbing a leaf of the plant and inhaling its aroma to ensure that it releases an aroma that you may find to be delightful. The fact remains that the same aroma is not preferred by everyone and this is something which makes the world revolve.

Generally, people consider basil to be a herb that is mostly used for cooking. However, the irrefutable fragrance of this herb is pleasing as well as comforting. Catnip is another herb which emits a pleasant aroma, you ought to be conscious that the kitties in your neighborhood would also get pleasure from this plant and may perhaps result in some kind of a untidiness in your desired scented herb garden.

Cultivating catmint has a special reward and that is the loaded scent of cinnamon. This herb is really an attractive addition to any scented garden. While Nepeta Grandiflora comes to flower first and is generally incorporated in early collections, Nepeta siberica flowers during the later part of summer and is generally incorporated in the later classifications. Following the blooming of both these herbs, cut them to a height of a couple of inches, as this will encourage fresh growth as well as flowering for a second time. Several beneficial butterflies and insects visit these plants, which are frequently used in the form of an under planting for white as well as pink roses.

While most people usually think that the herb chamomile is used for preparing tea, it may be noted that this herb is also attractive and the flowers, as well as foliage, have a marvelous scent enlivening your garden.

Special mention needs to be made regarding Roman chamomile, which is among the small plants that are loaded with the aroma. Having the aroma that has a resemblance to a Jolly Rancher bitter apple candy, Roman chamomile makes a fragrant vivid green cover for the ground in places having cool summer climatic conditions. In England, this herb is frequently used to jam the fissures between the blocks of the pavement. In addition, Roman chamomile, which is also known as the English chamomile, is also used in the form of a path cover or maybe in the form of a soft cover for a bench.

In addition, you may also use Roman Chamomile to prepare an aromatic alleyway or a pleasant scented amaze grown among other plants in the garden. In case the herb is able to push its way against other plants in its vicinity, Roman Chamomile may even grow up to a height of a foot when it is in bloom.

Feverfew is another herb that has gorgeous flowers, but the majority of the plant’s aroma is released by means of its foliage and making it a pleasant inclusion in any scented herb garden. On the other hand, lavender has always been a preferred herb for gardeners growing scented herbs. The leaves, as well as the flowers of lavender, give off a potent, but comforting aroma.

The herb lemon balm derives its name from the plant’s leaves, which possess an aroma similar to that of lemons. Numerous herbal gardeners actually admire the fresh fragrance of this plant. Recognize the value of the fact that lemon balm multiplies very fast and has the aptitude to invade your garden rapidly provided its growth is not kept under control.

Mint is also an aromatic herb which may be somewhat invasive, but still, it is favored for its fresh fragrance. There are various species of mint and you may choose from spearmint, peppermint, orange mint or chocolate peppermint for growing in your scented herbal garden. Provided you restrict the growth of the different species of mint in different areas of your herbal garden, each species will be capable of releasing its distinct aroma.

Scented geraniums do not blossom very frequently nor are they eye-catching like their cousins, which are just known as geraniums. However, they emit an amazing fragrance which makes this species among the most excellent plants to be grown in any scented herbal garden. In fact, there is an assortment of scented geraniums for you to choose from for your garden. The wide variety of scented geraniums comprises cinnamon, apricot, lemon, apple, ginger, orange, nutmeg, rose, strawberry, and peppermint are only among a few of them. One needs to touch the leaves of this plant for them to emit their rich fragrance, therefore ensure that you grow these scented plants close to the boundary of your scented herbal garden. It may be noted that scented geraniums are subtle plants and in most places, they would require moving indoors during the winter months.

Anise hyssop is neither a mint nor a genuine licorice, but this herb certainly enhances the fragrance of licorice candy to your scented herbal garden. In addition, licorice mint (anise hyssop) is a wonderful culinary herb and may be used for cooking or dried up to prepare a tea. You may try to infuse some amount of this herb in milk and freeze it to prepare an ice cream. Usually, shear licorice mint returns to the ground following flowering during mid spring and again appears in the form of a small green hedge for the remaining growing season. Alternately, you may allow the plant to provide for little birds and disperse the seeds of the plant for a crop of seedlings to appear voluntarily during the subsequent spring. Whatever you may do, this plant will keep on enhancing the aroma of the herbal garden till frosting. Generally, the plants wither away and return to the ground when it frosts. Ensure that you mark the place where you are growing this plant so that it is not removed prior to its re-emergence during the next spring.

This list is likely to help you to start work on your scented herbal garden. However, always bear in mind to spend some time to personally inhale the smell of the entire herbs that are obtainable from your neighborhood gardening center prior to deciding on the specific herbs you would like to grow in your personal scented herbal garden. In fact, it will not be a very easy task choosing the herbs you would prefer to grow because there are far too many varieties available.

Can Essential Oils Treat Depression?

Essential oils are used for many purposes, from serving as a natural mosquito repellent to reducing back and neck pain. However, can essential oils help treat depression?

Essential oils do not cure depression and should not be used as an alternative to the treatment prescribed by a doctor. Essential oils can, however, be used as a complementary therapy alongside conventional treatments, such as behavioral therapy and antidepressants.

Certain essential oils may relieve some of the psychological and physical symptoms linked with depression. Some research has shown that using essential oils may improve sleep, enhance mood, and improve a person’s quality of life.

Essential oils may also help lessen symptoms of anxiety, which are common in people with depression. It is estimated that around 43 percent of people with anxiety and stress use some form of alternative therapy to help reduce symptoms

As with all forms of alternative therapy, essential oils should be used with caution. Always discuss the use of essential oils with a doctor or an aromatherapist.

Essential oils that may help treat depression

It is claimed that the following essential oils may help with some symptoms of depression:

lavender
Lavender oil may be used to enhance sleep and relieve anxiety.
  • Bergamot may reduce anxiety and stress
  • Bergamot, lavender, and frankincense had a positive effect on pain and depression in people with terminal cancer
  • Lavadin reduced anxiety in patients before surgery
  • Lavender may reduce anxiety-like behavior and inhibit depression, found in dental patients and lower stress and anxiety scores in nursing students
  • Lavender, frankincense, and rose may help relieve anxiety and fear during labor
  • Lavender, Roman chamomile, and neroli reduced anxiety levels in patients before nonsurgical heart procedures
  • Lavender can also enhance sleep
  • Rose may be helpful for anxiety, depression, and stress
  • Rosemary may provide antidepressant-like effects
  • Sweet orange may reduce or prevent anxiety
  • Wild ginger may inhibit depression-like behavior responses
  • Ylang ylang may reduce heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate

Other oils that are reported to relieve symptoms of depression are:

  • Basil may reduce stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Chamomile may calm emotions and reduce nervous tension
  • Clary Sage may reduce anxiety, stress, panic attacks, and depression
  • Geranium may relieve anxiety, stress, and nervous fatigue
  • Grapefruit may have a calming effect and decrease anxiety and stress levels

Quality of evidence on essential oils

Essential oils
More research on the benefits of essential oils may be needed before they can be recommended for treating depression.

Many of the alleged benefits of essential oils are based on personal accounts, rather than backed up with scientific evidence. An essential oil that may have “worked” for one person may have no effect on another.

Due to the scent of essential oils, it is hard to conduct studies where the participants and researchers do not know which essential oils are being used. For this reason, many studies that explore the effect of essential oils on anxiety and stress are inconclusive.

One research article summarizing systematic reviews of the use of aromatherapy for hypertension, depression, anxiety, pain relief, and dementia concluded that aromatherapy is an ineffective therapy for any condition.

More research is required before doctors will be able to recommend essential oils as a first-line treatment for depression. However, as a complementary therapy, essential oils might improve or reduce individual symptoms and improve the effectiveness of other treatments.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are the compounds that are extracted from the bark, flowers, leaves, stems, roots, and other parts of plants.

The compounds are extracted from the plant through a process of distillation – usually by steam or water, or mechanical methods such as cold pressing. What is left of the plant after this process is referred to as essential oil.

Most studies that explore essential oils and depression look at essential oils used in aromatherapy. Here, oils are most commonly either inhaled through the nose or mouth or rubbed on the skin.

Applying essential oils to the skin may cause an allergic reaction, skin irritation, and sun sensitivity in some people, so the oils must first be mixed with a carrier oil, such as olive, almond avocado, or coconut oil. It is also recommended that people carry out an allergy test before using essential oils, as they can cause irritation.

Although the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved several oils for use as food additives and classified them as “generally recognized as safe,” digesting essential oils is not recommended.

The FDA do not regulate essential oils used in aromatherapy.

How do essential oils work?

The chemicals in essential oils can interact with the body through being absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream or stimulating areas of the brain through inhalation.

When specialized nerve cells in the upper part of the nose detect smells, they send an impulse to the brain along the olfactory nerve to an area called the olfactory bulb.

The olfactory bulb processes the impulse and delivers the information about the smell to other neighboring areas of the brain. These other areas are known as the limbic system.

The limbic system is a set of brain structures that are thought to play an essential role in controlling behavior, emotions, memory, and mood.

Importance of smell

Smelling essential oils at a market
Essential oils can interact with the body through the skin or via inhalation.

Using essential oils to help ease symptoms of depression might work because of their smell.

A sense of smell is one way that people connect with the world around them. People are very sensitive to smell and it is believed that an individual can recognize 1 trillion different aromas.

Aromas are very important and highly emotive. Everyone reacts to smells differently – how they respond to a smell depends on what they associate with that smell. For example, a certain smell may spark a memory that has been long forgotten.

Because smells are so suggestive, it makes sense that aromas from essential oils might promote improved emotion and mood; and this, in turn, may provide some relief in mood disorders such as depression.

What Are Nervine Herbs?

Nervine herbs – ranging from skullcap to oats, linden, lemon balm, chamomile, and rose, to name a few – rebalance internal tension helping to support a calm, even response to the stresses and challenges of everyday life. While they are gentle and mild in their actions – certainly not full-on sedatives – this is actually an advantage. You don’t see dependence develop, and they can be used throughout the day as well to help keep stress and occasional anxiety at bay without making us feel sleepy at work. You can see how they make an excellent complement to the adaptogens: by decreasing our perception of stress, nervines spare the adrenal response from being invoked for every little annoyance that crosses our path. Save the stress response for what really counts! And with adaptogens on board, make sure that, even when that response occurs, it’s not overdone and recovery can happen well. One plant – tulsi, or holy basil – is one of my favorites because its rich aromatic profile has a pronounced nervine effect, while its less volatile chemistry has well-documented adaptogenic action. It’s the best of both worlds – which is probably why tulsi is so revered in the Ayurvedic medical system.

Our two adrenal glands are located on top of each kidney. From this perch, they not only have access to a rich blood supply but are also close to the site of fluid and mineral balance in the body. This makes sense given their role: they participate in the stress response, of course, but are also involved in energy, libido, lean muscle growth, immune response, blood pressure, blood sugar, and water balance. So you can see how the hormones secreted by our adrenal glands have far-ranging effects: from the short-acting jolt of adrenaline to the longer-term influence of cortisol, which modulates metabolism in the liver, reduces our sensitivity to insulin, and suppresses inflammation (and immunity). We think of the adrenal glands as producing stress hormones, and this is true – but while we can perceive the effects of acute stress (heart racing, clammy hands, perhaps some anxiety), it is the more subtle ongoing hormonal activity of the adrenals that ends up having more profound effects on energy, metabolism, sleep, and mood. Unfortunately, this is hard to see until it’s gone: when our adrenal function begins to drop off, we notice fatigue, lack of motivation, metabolic slowdown, sleep disruptions, and more pain.

adrenal-infographicIt is this last piece that usually serves as a good indicator that our adrenal function is sub-optimal: if we recover more slowly from vigorous exercise, feeling more fatigue – and crucially, more pain – after a big hike, or an extra-long jog, it can often mean that our reserve of adrenal hormones is flagging. This ability to recover and feel ready again is a key piece of the adrenal response, and, as it turns out, to healthy sleep patterns, too. When our adrenal health is solid, hormone secretion rises in the pre-dawn hours, helping to boost our energy and mood and reduce symptoms of inflammation, right before we wake up. As a result, we wake feeling ready to go! But as adrenal health deteriorates, affecting our ability to recover, we wake feeling more sluggish, noticing more pain. This is because adrenal hormone levels haven’t had a chance to build up to good levels overnight. During the day, as we experience stress, they try to catch up – and often do – but by now it’s late evening and time to go to sleep. The higher evening hormone levels make it hard to get to sleep, and our crucial recovery time is disrupted – further depleting adrenal reserves. It’s the classic “wired and tired” picture, where hormone secretion has shifted from high-AM and low-PM to low-AM and high-PM.

Adrenal hormone secretion is controlled by a few different organs. The kidneys themselves trigger the release of hormones that balance fluid and sodium levels. The nervous system, in response to the daily sleep/wake rhythm and to environmental stressors, regulates the secretion of hormones like cortisol, DHEA, and adrenaline. If we are to support adrenal health, we often work with herbs that affect water balance in the kidneys and the perception of stress in the nervous system, because this “upstream” strategy takes the burden off the adrenal glands and allows them to replenish their reserves of hormones. When addressing adrenal health as part of having good energy, healthy sleep patterns, and a balanced stress response, we turn to herbal adaptogens and nervines.

Siberian ginseng - AcanthopanaxAdaptogens have broad-ranging effects, but this is mostly because they affect adrenal hormone secretion. In general, we can think of adaptogenic herbs this way: they set an “upper limit” on the signals the nervous system can send to the adrenals, making it harder for the body to crank adrenal response up to 100%. Some herbs, like licorice, keep adrenal hormones in the bloodstream longer: this lets the brain know that there’s plenty of response happening, and it doesn’t need to stimulate more. Others, like Rhodiola and eleuthero, help balance out excessive adrenal stimulation while at the same time containing chemistry that supports the activity of attention- and alertness-enhancing brain pathways. The net result: we feel more alert, but at the same time don’t produce excessive, unhealthy levels of adrenal hormones. Contrast this to the action of stimulant drugs (like amphetamines, or even caffeine): they increase brain alertness, but also crank up adrenal secretions. This is why stimulants make us feel awake, but also sometimes jittery, cold, and clammy: these last effects are the result of excess adrenal hormone secretion, and you’ll never feel them from adaptogens like Rhodiola or eleuthero.

schisandraberry_textOther adaptogens are more calming in nature: they still help set an “upper limit” on adrenal hormone secretion, but also encourage deeper, more refreshing sleep and lack any of the activity on alertness pathways in the brain. By supporting more effective recovery during times of rest, adaptogens such as ashwagandha and Schisandra allow the body to bounce back and we can really notice this during the day: a balanced mood, energy level, and inflammatory response. It’s interesting to note that these herbs won’t ever make you “sleepy” directly: their effects, due in part to limiting the body’s ability to “overdo” the stress response and make sure our adrenals secrete hormones at balanced, healthy levels, are to get us into a more restful place during the evening and nighttime hours, so recovery and sleep can actually take place.

rhodiola_rosea_a2When you put it all together, using adaptogens and nervines to help support healthy energy, mood, libido, and inflammatory response become fairly intuitive. First, learn to recognize the signs of shifting adrenal hormones: feeling unrefreshed in the morning and “wired but tired” in the evening; noticing more inflammation and longer recovery times after vigorous workouts; relying more on stimulants during the day and sedatives at night. Next, develop a relationship to more alertness-enhancing adaptogens, like Rhodiola and eleuthero, during the morning hours. I often recommend one dose on waking, and another right before lunch. This will help support good adrenal activity when you need it most, while also making sure that the adrenals don’t overdo it. Additionally, especially if sleep patterns are being affected, consider some more calming, restorative adaptogens, like ashwagandha or tulsi, in the afternoon and evening hours. Finally, have a good nervine formula on hand to try during the day, especially if you feel a lot of tension and irritability. Their gently supportive, soothing actions will insulate the adrenals from the stress of the little things in life. But if you support excellent adrenal health, you’ll find yourself turning to these nervines less and less: a great sign that tonic herbalism has worked its magic yet again.

8 Herbs and Supplements to Help Treat Depression

Depression isn’t just feeling sad or “blue.” It is a serious mood disorder with symptoms that range from mild to debilitating, and potentially life-threatening.

Depression is a relatively common disorder in that it affects millions of people each year. People of all ages and ethnicities experience depression, including children and adolescents.

Depression does not only impact how a person feels.

People with depression are significantly more likely to develop other medical conditions, such as a heart attack. Conversely, people with significant medical problems are more likely to experience symptoms of depression.

Symptoms of depression

The symptoms of depression include:

  • Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Being easily frustrated
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or normal activities
  • Sleep issues, whether too much sleep or insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in appetite
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Physical symptoms, including a headache and backache.

Herbs and supplements for depression

St John's wort
St John’s Wort may be prescribed for mild depression.

 

The use of complementary therapies is gaining popularity, as more people are starting to look for more natural treatments to manage their health.

This is especially true of mood disorders like depression and anxiety.

But are herbal remedies safe and effective?

Research is showing promise for some supplements in treating mild to moderate depression. These are some of the supplements that are most commonly used:

1. St. John’s Wort

St. John’s Wort is also known as Hypericum perforatum. It is widely used to treat mild to moderate depression and mood disorders. It has been used for hundreds of years to promote mental health, and it is currently prescribed for depression in Europe.

The effects of St. John’s Wort have been validated in clinical research. People with bipolar disorder should not take St. John’s Wort, as it can trigger mania.

2. Ginseng

Ginseng has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. This supplement is found in the gnarled root of the American or Asian ginseng plant. Siberian or Eleuthero ginseng are different plants and have different active ingredients.

This herb has been linked to helping improve mental clarity and energy and reducing the effects of stress. These properties can make ginseng particularly helpful for dealing with low energy and motivation associated with depression. Like St. John’s Wort, ginseng has been found to trigger mania in people with bipolar disorder.

3. Chamomile

A study in 2012 reviewed data about chamomile, from the Matricaria recutita plant, and its role in helping to manage depression and anxiety.

Results showed that chamomile produced greater relief from depressive symptoms than a placebo. Further studies are needed to confirm the findings.

4. Lavender

Lavender is a popular essential oil, traditionally used for relaxation and to reduce anxiety and mood disturbances.

A review of various studies in 2013 suggested that lavender may have significant potential in reducing anxiety and improving sleep. More studies are needed to confirm the results.

5. Saffron

There is some thought that saffron extract may improve depression, but more research is needed to confirm this.

6. SAM-E

SAM-E is short for S-adenosylmethionine. It is a synthetic form of a chemical that naturally occurs in the body.

More research is needed to determine the exact effect of this substance, but it is used in Europe as a prescription antidepressant. It has not been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in the U.S.

7. Omega-3 fatty acids

Early research has shown that taking an omega-3 fatty acid supplement may help reduce symptoms of clinical depression more effectively than a placebo. No serious side effects were reported.

Omega-3 fatty acids can also benefit the heart and the cardiovascular system.

8. 5-HTP

Also known as 5-hydroxytryptophan, this supplement may be effective in regulating and improving levels of serotonin in the brain.

Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that affects mood levels.

5-HTP is available as an over-the-counter supplement in the U.S., but it may require a prescription elsewhere.

Lavender
Studies have shown that lavender may help in reducing anxiety.

More research is needed, especially regarding a safety concern that it may be linked to a serious neurological complication.

It is important to remember that the sale of herbs and supplements is not regulated by the FDA in the same way as drugs and medications.

Supplement manufacturers do not have to prove that their product is consistent. The dose labeled on the bottle may also be inaccurate.

Herbs and supplements must be purchased from a trusted manufacturer.

The bottom line

Herbal and natural supplements may work well for some people, but they are not an adequate substitute for serious depression or in cases where suicide or self-harm is a significant risk.

A person who is taking herbal supplements must inform their physician, as there is potential for side effects and other drug interactions.

Depression is a treatable disease, but it may take some trial and error to work out which medication or supplement regimen is best for an individual.

When to see a doctor

If a person feels depressed or experiences any of these symptoms, they should seek help from their physician.

A range of medications and cognitive treatments, or “talk therapy,” can help people with depression.

A person who is thinking about suicide or self-harm should immediately seek emergency help, either with their physician or local hospital or by calling the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK).

If a loved one or friend may be at risk for committing suicide, someone should stay with that person and call for emergency help immediately.

Can You Treat Psoriasis With Essential Oils?

Psoriasis is a long-term skin rash that has no medical cure, although it can be managed with the help of doctors.

As with many conditions that are difficult to manage and need treatment, alternative treatments are available. These are often without the same scientific backing that conventional medicine has.

Essential oils are one of the alternatives to medical treatment that are available to people with psoriasis. Some oils have had some research was done on them for psoriasis, but many have not.

What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a long-term skin condition.

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease. The immune system attacks the body’s own cells in the skin in the same way that it would attack foreign bodies.

People with psoriasis have a rapid buildup of skin cells that form inflammatory papules and plaques with silver-colored “scales” on the surface of the skin. These lesions can also be:

lady itches her left forearm with her right hand
Psoriasis varies greatly from person to person and is a relatively common condition
  • Itchy
  • Dry
  • Red
  • Painful

Psoriasis shows in various ways in different people. Some have psoriatic plaques in specific places – at skin folds, palms of the hands, or soles of the feet. Others have psoriasis that affects the whole body, and in particular:

  • Knees
  • Elbows
  • Lower back
  • Scalp

Psoriasis comes and goes over time. It appears gradually, then goes away for a time before returning again. The flare-ups can come and go in relation to triggers.

Psoriasis is generally defined as mild, moderate, or severe. Each category depends on the amount of the body affected, and how the bad quality of life is reduced.

Some doctors make a detailed evaluation such as provided by this online tool. It rates the area involved, the redness, thickness, and the amount of scale.

A small number of people with psoriasis have a condition called psoriatic arthritis. This inflammation affects the joints. It usually occurs along with the skin condition, although it can occur on its own, too.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are natural oils from plants obtained by distillation.

They are volatile oils. This means that they can be readily vaporized and then condensed in the process of distillation.

Essential oils carry the odor typical of the plant they are extracted from. Aromatherapy is a field of interest that uses the full range of essential oils.

There is a long list of essential oils. Common examples are chamomile, bergamot, lavender, lemon, peppermint, and rosemary.

Essential oils to treat psoriasis

Some standard medical treatments for psoriasis are derived from plants. Salicylic acid was originally drawn from white willow bark, for example.

Tea tree oil, chamomile, and bergamot oil are examples of essential oils from plants that have been used against psoriasis.

Tea tree oil is found widely in nonprescription commercial skin products. It is available in shampoos used for scalp psoriasis, for example. It is known to have antiseptic properties and has been used in acne treatments.

Some people are allergic to tea tree oil and should stop using it if it causes any reaction. There is no evidence from scientific studies to confirm if there is any benefit against psoriasis from tea tree oil.

There is also a long list of essential oils used by aromatherapists. One review of essential oils used in aromatherapy listed only chamomile for psoriasis. Other sources suggest using a blend of several oils.

Bitter apricot essential oil is another example that has had some scientific study. Researchers found that it had an effect on the growth of skin cells in psoriasis. It was not a clinical study, though, so no testing was done on humans, but instead on cells in dishes.

Essential oils from the East Indian Globe Thistle have also received some study. Again, this research has been at a basic chemical level. The oil’s effect against psoriasis is suggested but not proven.

There is limited scientific evidence for essential oils used against psoriasis at present. More and more studies are looking at how essential oils work. It is possible that some people may benefit from trying them.

Other natural remedies used for psoriasis

A selection of natural remedies including plants, oils and pills
Some essential oils and natural remedies may help to alleviate psoriasis

Evening primrose oil has been used to treat psoriasis. Fish oil supplements are also taken orally, including supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids are available in dietary supplements but can also be found naturally in some vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, soy foods, fatty fish, and algae. Several studies suggest that fish oils rich in omega-3 fatty acids are effective against psoriasis.

Aloe vera is a gel-like substance from the aloe plant and can be applied to skin affected by psoriasis. Creams containing aloe vera may have some effect on symptoms such as redness and itching. Oregon grape is another option, which is also used to treat acne.

One final option that has had some research is the key component of cayenne peppers – capsaicin. A small placebo-controlled trial found 0.025 percent capsaicin cream applied to the skin four times a day for 6 weeks reduced psoriasis itching compared with a placebo. The cream cannot be used on open skin or the face, and some people experience burning sensations.

Medical management of psoriasis

Doctors involved in the treatment of psoriasis include dermatologists, who are specialist skin doctors. Patients who also have the joint disease that can go with psoriasis may be treated by rheumatologists.

There are three broad forms of medical treatment for psoriasis:

  • Topical treatments applied to the skin
  • Ultraviolet light therapy also called phototherapy
  • Prescribed drugs for severe cases

Prescribed drugs include:

  • Methotrexate, which suppresses the immune system
  • Retinoids such as acitretin and isotretinoin
  • Cyclosporine, which suppresses the immune system
  • Biologics, including etanercept, adalimumab, and infliximab

Topical treatments are generally for mild psoriasis. Phototherapy is added for moderate problems, and drug treatments are given for severe psoriasis.

Topical treatments include corticosteroids and vitamin D-based products. A review of treatments applied directly to the skin found that corticosteroids were most effective.

Vitamin D-based treatments also worked against psoriasis, but corticosteroids were better and gave fewer side-effects.

Other topical treatments include tar-based preparations, dithranol, salicylic acid, and vitamin A. Corticosteroids and vitamin D-based products are more commonly used. Two reasons for this are that they may look better and a lack of side effects.

All of these topical treatments can be prescribed by doctors.

Emollients are recommended for anyone with psoriasis and are available from the pharmacy without a prescription. Emollients include creams, ointments, petrolatum, and paraffin. They reduce scaling in psoriasis and should be applied to the skin twice a day.

Phototherapy for psoriasis can be as simple as getting more exposure to the sunshine. Controlled artificial exposure to UV light is also available through doctors.

Phototherapy can be effective but needs repeated exposure, which can increase other skin risks, such as sunburn and skin cancer.

Causes of psoriasis

man and woman sit in the sand on a tropical beach
Sunshine can help to treat psoriasis but too much may be a trigger

Psoriasis is not fully understood by doctors. Many factors have been linked as triggers of the rash, however:

  • Genetics
  • Damage to the skin
  • Infections, including HIV
  • Certain drugs, including beta-blockers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Too much sun exposure
  • Too much alcohol intake
  • Smoking
  • Emotional stress

When to see a doctor

Anyone with a long-term skin rash should see a doctor. This should lead to an accurate diagnosis and medical management.

A skin specialist will usually diagnose psoriasis by appearance and clinical history alone.

Rarely, doctors will have a sample of skin analyzed in the lab after taking a biopsy. This may be to separate it from other possible skin conditions.