Herbalism : Growing Your Own Medicine

Modern medicine seems so far removed from a collection of glass jars full of dried leaves and flowers in a cabinet, but many of our current medicines actually derive from these incredible plants. Digitalis, the heart medication, takes its name from digitalis aka foxglove, the plant it originated from. Morphine, the painkiller, is derived from poppies. There are countless examples of modern medicines and their plant-based parents. 

This just goes to show how plants really do in fact have medicinal qualities and can be used at home to treat minor ailments. They can also be strong enough to cause interactions in your body with other pharmaceuticals you may be taking which means you need to be educated in what you are doing when using herbs for any form of medical treatment. Please speak with your doctor before adding herbs in with your pharmaceuticals. 

With that, I’m going to go over some of my favorite herbs to work with and give you some of my go-to resources for all things herbal.

  1. Basil ocimum basilicum 

You may already have this versatile herb growing in your garden for its culinary uses and companion plant capabilities. It is a tender annual meaning it is very sensitive to cold and absolutely thrives in the heat. Cut it back regularly to make it grow nice and bushy. The flowers and leaves are medicinal, and the flowers are popular with pollinators. Keep in mind though that once it is left to flower, it will stop focusing on growing leaves (and they will become super bitter) and focus solely on reproduction. So keep pinching the flowers as long as you are wanting to harvest leaves. I tend to get sick of basil by the end of the season so I let it flower and set seed which are super easy to save. All basil is medicinal, but some argue that the more spicy the variety, the better its healing properties.

This easy to grow herb is a good friend to those who need some digestive assistance reducing nausea and gas due to its antispasmodic qualities. It is also antimicrobial and helpful in reducing congestion so it makes a good addition to teas and soups when you are sick. 

  1. Calendula calendula officinalis aka Pot Marigold, Garden Marigold

Calendula is a wonderful addition to any garden as it is a pollinator favorite, incredibly easy to grow, prone to self seeding, and is just so cheerful when it flowers. It is a cold hardy annual but can also be grown as a biennial or short lived perennial in warm enough zones. They self seed quite readily so be mindful of where you plant it. The sticky resin on the plants is what is really the medicinal part, so keep the green backings on the flowers for your medicinal usage rather than just using the petals. Keep harvesting the blooms so the plants keep producing them. Once they are left to go to seed, flower production will stop and they will focus just on seed production. The seeds are incredibly easy to save. All calendula is medicinal, but the variety ‘Resina’ produces the most resin and is therefore the most medicinal.

For topical applications, calendula has wonderful anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and overall skin healing abilities. This means it’s a great addition to skin salves, body butters, and diaper creams.

For internal use, calendula boosts the lymphatic system leading to increased immune action so be mindful of this if you have any autoimmune conditions. Otherwise, adding fresh or dried calendula flowers to your soup stocks and teas is a great way to help ward off any illnesses and keep your digestive system happy since it soothes any GI irritation through its healing and anti-inflammatory properties. 

  1. Yarrow achillea millefolium aka nosebleed plant, bloodwort, milfoil, soldier’s woundwort, staunchgrass

Yarrow is a native perennial that is hardy down to zone 2. It can be grown from seed, but is easiest to propagate through division. The plants spread just like mint, sending runners out under the soil and taking over anywhere it feels particularly comfortable. All varieties of yarrow are medicinal, but some feel the common yarrow is the best for medicinal usage.

As you can probably guess from the many names, yarrow is an incredible herb for your hiking and gardening first aid kit. The leaves and flowers, both fresh and dry, have styptic (blood clotting) abilities when applied to cuts and wounds, are antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory, plus a whole bunch of other really cool properties when taken internally. There are a handful of contraindications for taking yarrow internally so I am only going over topical/external uses. 

Ever ripped part of your nail off while weeding in the garden? Grab a few leaves from a yarrow plant, crush them up by rolling them between your fingers, then apply to the wound and prepare to be amazed at how quickly the bleeding stops. Since yarrow is native to the US, it is easy to find pretty much everywhere while out hiking too which can be helpful. Of course, please still wash and treat any wounds as you normally would, but in a pinch yarrow is your best friend. 

There are two poisonous look-alikes that you should be aware of when foraging for yarrow, Queen-Anne’s Lace and Poison Hemlock. Be 100% sure of your identification before harvesting/using any plant materials.


So now you know that herbs can indeed act as powerful allies in improving your health and wellbeing. Always exercise caution when adding herbs to your diet, especially if you have any preexisting medical conditions, are taking pharmaceuticals, and/or are pregnant or nursing. 

Always be 100% certain of your identification before using any new herbs, and a very important note too is to ensure the herbs you use have not been sprayed with any chemicals, are not growing next to a road or near any old buildings or industrial locations. This is to ensure you do not introduce any heavy metals or toxins into your body. If you’ve ever tried the experiment of putting crushed garlic on your foot and found you had garlic breath demonstrates how topical applications still permeate the skin and enter the bloodstream. 

A final note, more and more herbal books available on Amazon are actually written by AI and do not contain safe or accurate information. So be careful, educate yourself, and enjoy a whole new world of herbal goodness!

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