[dropcap]H[/dropcap]ere are some of the best medicinal herbs to grow at home. The ones that are easy to grow in a moderate climate, and that have wonderful medicinal properties. I’ll also give you a few tips to grow them easily, and a simple recipe where the herb takes center stage.
The botanical definition of an herb is: “Any seed-bearing plant which does not have a woody stem and dies down to the ground after flowering” (From the Oxford dictionary). With this definition, the banana tree is technically an herb. But outside of the botanical world, herbs are plants that are known for their medicinal benefits, scent, flavor, or other assets.
They differ from vegetables in that they are used to season dishes, not eaten as a main ingredient. Herbs are great for home-growing. They are generally small, easy to care for, and smell wonderful (if you are growing them inside you can get rid of those artificial air fresheners!). While really all herbs are medicinal, simply meaning they have a positive, healing effect on your body, there are some standouts. Everyone should be utilizing then much more than is typical.
Keep reading to discover which are our favourite medicinal herbs to grow at home.
Oregano, whose name means “mountain joy” is native to the Mediterranean region. It has been valued for thousands of years for both its culinary and medicinal purposes.
- Antioxidants: Two main compounds within oregano are rosmarinic acid and thymol, which are strong antioxidants. It is important to understand what antioxidants are. It seems like the word is thrown around a lot without the meaning being understood. Antioxidants are molecular compounds which attack (and get rid of) free-radicals in our bodies. Free radicals are byproducts of cellular processes that can build up and cause chronic diseases. I like to picture antioxidants as the Pac-Man who eats the little dots that are free radicals. So these compounds in oregano help clean your body, which lowers the chances of chronic illness and sickness.
- Anti-bacterial: Oils in oregano can inhibit the growth of bacteria, some are even comparable to prescriptions. Researchers in Mexico found oregano to be more effective against Giardia than the most commonly used prescription drug.
- Nutrient dense: Oregano has exceptionally high levels of vitamin K, which is essential for blood clotting as well as bone health. It is also a good source of iron and calcium.
Oregano is unique: its taste and smell become stronger once it is dried. Do this by tying bunches of the stalks together and hanging them in direct sunlight. Then strip the leaves from the stalks and store in an airtight jar. As it is antibacterial, making oxymel is a great way to help fight off a cold. Oxymel is combination of honey and vinegar that was traditionally used to administer unpleasant tasting herbs. But with lovely herbs like oregano, it is a treat!
Combine 1/3 cup dried oregano, 1/3 cup honey, and 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar in a glass jar. Cover with a lid, and store in a dark place for a month. Then strain the liquid and take a spoonful as needed (plain or added to drinks) to soothe a sore throat and boost the immune system.
Plant oregano seeds in well draining soil and somewhere where they will receive direct sun. Not only will it grow best with a lot of sun, it will also obtain the strongest flavor. Oregano is a drought tolerant plant and therefore doesn’t need a lot of watering, making it one of the best medicinal herbs to grow at home. Only water when you notice the soil is dry to the touch, and then thoroughly soak it. Like basil, pinching off the flowers as they appear helps the plant grow and improves the flavor of the leaves.
Rosemary is a beauty of an herb, and surprisingly is in the mint family. If you grow it outside, give it a permanent spot because it can live for up to twenty years!
- Brain booster: Compounds in rosemary increase the amount of oxygen that cells in your brain are able to uptake. This leads to improved concentration and memory. It also improves blood circulation to the brain, which helps relieve headaches and even migraines.
- Reducing inflammation: While inflammation is a natural response of the body to fight off infections, factors such as pollution and stress can cause it to become chronic. This can lead to conditions like asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Rosemary contains rosmaricine which, when combined with its antioxidants, reduces inflammation, helping inflammation-related disease.
- Digestion: The strong oils in rosemary aid in the digestion of fats and starches. They stimulate the digestive system, making it more effective as a whole.
Adding rosemary to olive oil is an easy way to reap its benefits.
Gently press sprigs in your palms to start to release the oils. Avoiding aluminum and non-enameled cast iron, cover ¼ cup fresh rosemary leaves with 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil. Cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, not letting the oil simmer. Remove from heat and let sit for one hour. Strain into a glass jar and store at room temperature.
Voila! You have all the health benefits and deliciousness from rosemary, ready to be used on anything where you would use olive oil.
Rosemary is another drought tolerant herb whose soil should be allowed to dry between waterings. It also likes sun, so for best growth try to put it somewhere that will receive six or more hours of sun per day. Once the plant is established, wait until blooming has finished, and then trim the plant above leaf joints making sure to cut one no more than one third of the plant. It’s pretty great to know that by trimming it for your consumption, you are also helping the plant become happier and bushier!
Sage is in the salvia family, of which there are more than 750 species! Many are medicinal, but the one most well known in cooking is common garden sage. Its “official” name is Salvia officianales.
- Hormonal stimulant: Don’t worry, it is not going to throw your hormones all out of whack. It is only a mild stimulant. But it can support regular menstruation and relief from menopausal symptoms like hot flashes. It also helps reduce sweating and we often use it as an ingredient in deodorants!
- Cold fighter: Sage has antiseptic (preventing growth of disease-causing microorganisms) properties as well as a relaxing effect on mucous membranes. Therefore, it is effective in helping a sore throat, laryngitis, and tonsillitis. It can also help canker sores or infected gums.
- Lowers cholesterol: For a study, a group of female volunteers drank sage tea twice a day for four weeks. At the end, the participants had a 4-5% reduction in total cholesterol levels. There have been other studies where participants took larger doses of sage, in capsules, which led to further reduced cholesterol levels.
Making a tincture sounds a little scary, as it involves using strong alcohol. But it is a great way to get the medicinal properties out of an herb. It is especially great for sage, because of the possibilities for uses. You can put in a spray bottle and used as a deodorant. It can also be used as a mouthwash to help heal a sore throat, or applied as a toner for you skin (sage also has an astringent effect). Or just add a little to water and drink it.
To make, chop up a couple of handfuls of fresh leaves. Place them in a 1-pint / 0.5 ml glass jar, and cover with 190-proof (95%) alcohol. Put on a lid, and place it somewhere dark and cool for two weeks. Shake it well every day. At the end of the two weeks, strain into another jar (colored glass will keep out sunlight which is harmful to the tincture). That’s it! It is ready to use.
Besides needing well-draining soil, sage doesn’t have too many requirements. That’s part of why sage is in on of our top medicinal herbs to grow at home: it is super easy to grow and maintain! It prefers full sun, but it will do okay with a little shade. It prefers warm temperatures, but it will do okay with a little heat or a little cold. Sage simply asks to not be too wet, so be sure to only water once the soil has dried. It will also benefit from being pruned, and like oregano plants will start to get a little tired and need replacing after three to four years.
Chives are technically the smallest type of onion, meaning it is the smallest plant in the onion genus Allium. They do have tiny bulbs like onions, but unlike onions it is the stem and flowers that are consumed, with the stem being the most commonly utilized part. They are very versatile for culinary use and look beautiful and cheery in a garden or pot. Chives have a range of interesting properties that makes chive one of the best medicinal herbs to grow at home.
- Digestive help: Like basil, chives have antibacterial properties that fight bad bacteria in your gut. In particular, those in chives fight species of bacteria in the salmonella family, which can lead to one of the more common bacterial diseases. In addition, chives contain allyl sulfides. Garlic also contains high amounts of allyl sulfides, they are what you can thank for garlic breath. They, along with other compounds in chives, can be beneficial to digestive system health. But because chives contains lower amounts of allyl sulfides than garlic, you can eat chives to your heart’s desire.
- Heart health: Chives contains two organic compounds in high amounts which benefit the heart. Allicin is a compound that can reduce levels of the bad type of cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoprotein). It can also lower blood pressure. Quercetin, a flavonoid, can also reduce cholesterol levels as well as lower plaque levels in the arteries. Eat a chive and your heart will jive! (That’s what they say).
- Anti-cancer: Quercetin does more than help the cardiovascular system. A lot of research has been done on its anti-cancer potential. In one study, its effects were tested on nine different cancer lines (in a lab) including prostate cancer, breast cancer, and leukemia. It induced apoptosis (cell death) in all nine cancers. In tests on mice a significant reduction in tumor size resulted from the administering of quercetin. More research needs to be done, but it clearly is a powerful compound.
The stems are great to add to many dishes, but a simple way to use them is to chop them up and mix them into butter or cream cheese for an extra zing. It is also good to know you can freeze them, as it can be hard to use them in large amounts. To enjoy the flowers, you can either grind up the buds to use as a seasoning or fill a jar about halfway full with white vinegar, and then as the flowers begin to bloom, snip them off and put them in the vinegar. Once the jar is full, with the vinegar covering all the flowers, store in a dark place for two weeks and then use the flowers and the now-purple vinegar to your liking!
Chives prefer full sun and moist soil. Cutting them back will keep them the healthiest – just stay on top of snipping those flowers. Every two to three years it is best to divide them to give them more space and light. Simply dig up the whole planting at the beginning of spring, split it into a few pieces (depending how many you have) and replant with some space in between. They will grow profusely, but exactly in the spot you plant them. So you don’t have to worry about them taking over your herb garden: they are one of the easiest medicinal herbs to grow at home.