In a previous article, I described some medicinal properties of oregano, rosemary, and sage. I’ll focus now on a few more of the best medicinal herbs to grow in your garden or your balcony.
Herbs are leafy friends that often pack a big punch of medicinal properties. It is fascinating the range of benefits herbs can provide, and how they really can help every aspect of our health from relieving a cough to helping thin blood.
Basil, chamomile, and red clover are three powerful, unique, and delicious herbs. They could very well save you from that cold, and at least bring you deliciousness throughout the winter season!
A native of India, Asia, and Africa, basil is now loved all over the world. It is of course an essential of Italian cooking. Basil is also a symbol of love in Italy and is derived from the Greek word basilikohn which means royal. It definitely has a royal reputation as one of the most popular herbs. While most people know the powerful flavor, basil also has numerous medicinal benefits that are less often talked about.
- High in vitamin K: Basil ranks third after parsley and oregano for concentration of vitamin K. A 112g serving of fresh basil contains about 30% of the vitamin K a woman needs in a day and 21% of what a man requires. We tend to overlooked Vitamin K, but it is a important vitamin. It plays an essential role in blood clotting and helps maintain mineral density in the skeletal system.
- Antibacterial properties: Studies have shown that the oil in basil leaves effectively fights harmful bacteria. The big news is that this includes bacteria which have become resistant to antibiotics. Included are staphylococcus species (which cause staph infections) and E. coli, among others. One study published in an issue of Food Microbiology showed that washing produce in water mixed with 1% of basil essential oil significantly lowered the number of Shigella (a bacterium which can cause intestinal issues).
- Heart health: Basil is especially high in beta-carotene, the pigment often associated with orange vegetables (make way for leafy greens!). It is a strong antioxidant, helping protect blood cells from free radical damage and preventing cholesterol from oxidization, which is the state in which it becomes harmful. In addition, basil is high in magnesium which relaxes blood vessels, improving blood flow.
If you are a pasta lover, this will be the best medicinal herbs to grow at home for you. Indeed, pesto is a traditional but irreplaceably delicious way to use basil! For this I say the simpler the better, but a little experimenting is needed to find your pesto. A good place to start: blend 30g toasted pine nuts, 75g parmesan cheese, 110g basil, 3 cloves garlic and 110ml olive oil together, possibly with a little lemon juice and salt. Then experiment with different amounts of cheese, garlic, or nuts, and adding in other herbs (parsley is a common one).
Basil will grow an impressively deep webs of roots, so be aware that you will have to keep moving it into larger pots if planting from seed. It will prefer full sun and consistent watering. Aim to water in the morning, as it doesn’t love having wet roots overnight. An important aspect of growing basil is removing the top flower as it begins to grow. This forces the plant to grow out instead of only up, creating a much larger number of leaves.
We couldn’t give you our best medicinal herbs to grow without mentioning chamomile. Chamomile belongs to the daisy family. Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks highly valued chamomile for its medicinal assets since ancient times. The Egyptians even dedicated it to the sun god Ra. The essential oil which contains the medicinal properties is present throughout the plant, but the content is higher in the flowers. Therefore, the flower is most commonly used for medicinal purposes.
- Anxiety relief: Chamomile promotes general relaxation of the nervous system, which calms the entire body and mind. It can help treating serious anxiety-related disorders such as anorexia nervosa and withdrawals from alcohol, as well as helping with sleep and general relaxation.
- Skin health: It has been used for centuries to heal an array of skin ailments including ulcers, burns, eczema, and canker sores. We now know that the essential oils are also helpful in reducing dandruff, treating chickenpox, and fading scars. And if you simply need help with dry skin in the winter, this is your herb.
- Cardiovascular health: While we need more studies to confirm, chamomile could reduce the risk of death from coronary heart disease, especially in older men. There has been one large study (with 805 men), which showed a strong inverse association between consumption of flavonoids from chamomile and mortality from coronary heart disease.
It is great to add the oil to lotions for skin purposes, but the extraction method is a little complicated. So unless you’re ready to do a chemistry experiment, buying the essential oil is the way to go. With flowers you grow yourself, making your own tea is a simple and beautiful way to get the benefits of chamomile. Using fresh flowers will give you the most flavor and benefits: simply pop 3-4 tablespoons of flowers straight off the stems, put them in a mug and pour in boiling water. Adding a little mint will add extra flavor to the sweet apple-y taste of chamomile. Also, don’t be afraid to throw the flowers in a recipe just like any other herb!
When planting chamomile seeds, do not cover them with soil as they need sunlight to germinate. Simply press them gently into the soil and spray or sprinkle a little water on top. Seedlings prefer partial shade, but once established plants prefer full sun or a small amount of shade. This medicinal herb prefers well draining soil, and it is best to let the soil almost dry out between waterings. While it is an annual herb, chamomile will self seed, so be prepared for free and beautiful flowers in year two!
You may have driven by red clover a hundred times and never known that you were really driving by a powerhouse of a medicinal herb. Red clover is common across Europe, growing in fields, along roads, and in yards. It looks just like a normal clover but with a red flower, and has been used in traditional medicine for a long time, mostly for its blood-purifying and fever-reducing properties. If you have a yard you may already have some growing, and if not it is one of the best medicinal herbs to grow in your backyard!
- Skin-healing: Red clover is very effective in relieving the symptoms of skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. It relieves the pain of such conditions due to the presence of anti-inflammatory compounds including salicylic acid, which can also treat the entire condition of eczema. Because it contains these pain-relieving ingredients, it can also help with burns and other sores.
- Blood thinning: It has long been used for its blood-thinning capability, which is due to the presence of the compound coumarin (which is found in highest amounts in cinnamon). This is where I will write always consult a doctor if using any of these herbs as a treatment for a condition! Consuming this on top of another blood-thinning medication, for example, can be dangerous.
- Expectorant properties: an expectorant is a compound which helps loosen mucus, to put it eloquently. Red clover is famous for its capacity to sooth a cough and even treat bronchitis. In ancient times smoking it was thought to help asthma. Most people today would agree that smoking anything won’t help asthma, but because it is an expectorant, drinking it as a tea or taking it another way could help with asthmatic symptoms.
*Menopause: Red clover contains phytoestrogens, compounds which mimic the activity of estrogen. These can be beneficial for women suffering from menopausal symptoms caused by decreases in estrogen. However, research has shown mixed results for how effective it really is.
Making tea is a straightforward and delicious way to get the medicinal benefits of red clover. Bring 236ml (1 cup) of water to a boil. Pour it over 14g (1 Tbsp) of red clover blossoms and let steep for five minutes. The flowers will be naturally sweet but adding some honey and/or lemon will add extra medicinal benefits and flavor.
A fairly low maintenance plant to grow, red clover will do fine in full sun or partial shade and can manage in poor soil conditions. It is in the legume family and is therefore a nitrogen fixer, so it is great to plant it next to other plants that are unable to obtain nitrogen themselves. It will fix enough nitrogen for itself and have some to share.
I hope you now have some inspiration for possible additions to your “get through winter sickness-free” handbook. And while this time of year brings extra need for immune-strengthening tools, these plants are some of the best medicinal herbs to grow at home, stress-free. They are wonderful all year long, providing beauty and vigour to your home and health.