Do you have dirt and sun in your backyard? That’s all you need to start a medicinal garden that can supply herbal remedies for years to come. Read on for instructions on how to plant powerful medicinal plants that can serve as natural treatments for anything from a common cold to insomnia!
Choosing the Right Plants
The variety and longevity of the medicinal plants you choose to grow may differ according to the climate you live in. Below we’ve put together a list of a variety of herbs, along with the type of climate and care that each prefers. Find the perfect combination for your new medicine garden and get planting before the full heat of summer arrives.
This fragrant flowering herb is famous for its soporific, relaxing effect on the mind and body. You can utilize lavender to create a versatile, sweet-smelling oil that can be used for everything from making scented candles to soothing dry, irritated skin. Dried lavender leaves and flowers can also be steeped in hot water to make a calming tea that’s perfect just before bedtime. The smell of the plant alone can be relaxing, so keep potted lavender plants in the bedroom to improve sleep! Here’s how to grow it:
- Climate: Lavender prefers a dry, Mediterranean climate but can thrive also in US plant hardiness zones five through eight. If you live in an area where winter temperatures drop below 15º F, the plant will not survive unless you bring it inside during the coldest months. Plant in early spring or fall.
- Soil: Lavender will grow in most types of well-draining soil, but it does not produce well in soil that is too rich.
- Water: Water twice per week after planting, until the seedling is well-established. Then, water when the soil dries completely, about every two or three weeks until buds form. When the plant begins to bud and flower, water once or twice weekly until harvest.
- Sun: Lavender needs full sun, that is six hours or more of direct sunlight per day.
- Fertilizer: Most plants thrive without any fertilizer at all. An inch of compost around the roots during early spring is the most feeding it will ever need.
- Harvest: When about half of the buds have bloomed, it’s time to harvest. Cut only the flowering stalks just above the woody growth at the bottom of the plant. Do not cut into the woody growth if you want the plant to return for another growing season. Lavender will continue to thrive year-round, as long as you trim it back by one-third each spring.
No medicinal garden would be complete without aloe vera. This magical plant contains its healing gel ready-to-use just inside the thick, rubbery leaves. Pure, fresh aloe vera gel is the go-to for minor scrapes and burns, since it instantly soothes pain and promotes healing. The same goes for acne on any part of the body; a touch of aloe vera gel can soothe and heal the unsightly spots. The gel may also be consumed in small amounts to calm the stomach and alleviate the symptoms of certain conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
- Climate: Since aloe vera is a succulent, it is not well-suited to the cold. The plant will only survive outdoors in hardiness zones nine through 11, so you may need to grow it in an indoor container if you live elsewhere.
- Soil: Sandy, well-draining soil is best.
- Water: Water deeply every time the soil is completely dry, but make sure you let it dry out between waterings. The plant may require a little more water when it is actively growing and less water when it goes dormant in cooler months.
- Sun: The more sun, the better. Give aloe vera six to eight hours of full sun every day.
- Fertilizer: This plant rarely needs fertilizer. If you do feed it, use a phosphorous-heavy water-based fertilizer in the spring.
- Harvest: If you need a bit of aloe gel to quickly treat a scrape or burn, you can snip off the end of a leaf, cut it half, and use the gel that’s held within to apply directly to the affected area. If you’d like to harvest larger amounts of gel at a time, entire leaves can be trimmed off of a healthy plant. Cut the leaves off as close to the root as possible, starting with the outermost stalks. You can remove up to a third of the plant at a time. Cut the leaves in half and scrape or squeeze the clear medicinal gel into an airtight container. Store aloe vera gel in the refrigerator. Entire leaves may also be frozen for later use.
Melaleuca Tea Tree
Although it can be a bit tricky to grow and use, the melaleuca tea tree is well worth the effort. The leaves can be used to create tea tree oil – an amazing antimicrobial with hundreds of potential applications. Tea tree oil is naturally antiseptic and anti-fungal, so it can be applied (in diluted form) as a disinfectant to any clean minor cuts and wounds, bug bites, or other skin abrasions. It is also an excellent remedy for acne and certain types of nail fungus. Australian aborigines even use tea tree oil as a natural insect repellent! The oil and leaves are toxic to ingest internally, however, so keep the oil out of the reach of children. If you have pets that may chew or taste the plant, a melaleuca tea tree might not be the best plant for your garden.
- Climate: Another plant that needs a warm climate, the melaleuca tea tree will only grow outdoors in hardiness zones nine through 11, but it can be grown indoors if you provide it with plenty of direct sunlight. The tropical evergreen shrub can be planted at any time of the year, but keep it sheltered from temperatures below 50º F. If you do plant it outside, keep in mind that the shrub can grow up to 16 feet in height when planted in-ground.
- Soil: Any well-draining soil will work well.
- Water: This is a tropical plant that is accustomed to daily rain showers. Whether it is grown indoors or out, the tree will need to be watered frequently. Keep soil moist at all times and do not allow it to become dry between waterings.
- Sun: Four to six hours of direct sunlight each day will be sufficient.
- Fertilizer: Feed your tea tree a basic, well-balanced liquid fertilizer regularly throughout the year.
- Harvest: You can harvest leaves from your tea tree any time of year, once it is well-established and growing. Dry the leaves and then implement a distilling process to extract the oil.
You may think of it as a nice spice in your pantry, but thyme actually has a variety of curative properties in addition to its wonderful scent and flavor. One excellent use for the herb is to soothe cold and flu symptoms. A tea made from steeped thyme leaves can relieve cough, chest congestion, and sore throats. The herb has also been shown to boost the immune system and lower blood pressure.
- Climate: Thyme can grow happily in hardiness zones five through nine, although it thrives best in hot, dry climates. Especially in cooler climates, plant thyme in spring so it has time to become well established before winter. The plant can survive temperatures slightly below freezing but will remain dormant during the coldest months.
- Soil: Provide thyme with well-draining soil that’s slightly alkaline.
- Water: Water thyme deeply only when the soil is completely dry.
- Sun: Thyme needs full, direct sunlight for six or more hours per day.
- Fertilizer: Thyme usually does not need fertilizer, but if growth seems slow during the spring, a bit of organic liquid fertilizer may help. Use sparingly and avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers.
- Harvest: You can snip off bits and pieces of a well-established thyme plant any time you need them, but the plant will grow better if it is pruned thoroughly once or twice per year. Cut back the plant by up to two-thirds in early spring to promote healthy growth.
Like thyme, sage is often considered a seasoning spice for cooking, but it has so many more uses. This antibacterial herb can relieve pain from mouth sores, toothaches, and sore throat when it is gargled or used for a hot compress. You can also boil the leaves and inhale the steam to open up congested airways and clear the sinuses. Finally, some say that drinking sage tea may help with menstrual cramps and some symptoms of menopause.
- Climate: Sage can grow in hardiness zones four to nine. The hardy plant can overwinter well and survive temperatures as low as 30º below freezing, yet it can still withstand the strong heat of summer. Plant in early spring or fall when the soil temperature is between 60º and 70º.
- Soil: The best choice is a loamy, sandy soil with excellent drainage.
- Water: Like most Mediterranean herbs, sage needs little water. Water deeply when the soil dries completely.
- Sun: Although sage will survive in partial shade, make sure it has direct sun at least four hours per day.
- Fertilizer: Sage needs little to no fertilizer. Feed the plant with a low-nitrogen fertilizer in spring, if ever.
- Harvest: Wait 75 days after planting to begin harvesting sage leaves. The plant can be cut back by six to eight inches at least twice during the growing season.
Marjoram is a versatile herb with a wide range of properties, such as antiseptic and anti-fungal qualities. For curative purposes, one of marjoram’s most notable uses is to relieve digestion problems like constipation, gas, nausea, and stomach ache. All of these results can be achieved by drinking fresh marjoram tea.
- Climate: Marjoram will only grow as an outdoor perennial in hardiness zones seven through nine, although you can bring it indoors to survive cold winters. It is not a hardy plant and may not survive extremely hot summers either, so if you live in an area of extreme temperatures, you may have to replant marjoram each year. Since it grows slowly, it’s best to start seeds indoors in late winter and transplant outdoors after the last frost.
- Soil: Any well-draining soil will work well.
- Water: Soak thoroughly when the soil feels dry to the touch. Do not over-water.
- Sun: Although it will grow in partial shade, marjoram prefers full, direct sunlight for four to six hours per day.
- Fertilizer: Marjoram does not need fertilizer unless it’s grown as a perennial. In this case, a mild water-soluble fertilizer may be applied once in the spring.
- Harvest: You can begin to snip off leaves for everyday use once the plant reaches four inches in height. If you plan to harvest the entire plant and dry the leaves, harvest just as buds begin forming but before the flowers bloom.
As its name suggests, feverfew has long been considered a viable treatment for fevers. It is believed that the herb stimulates sweating which, in turn, can break a fever. The leaves can also be consumed or steeped in a tea to be used as a natural pain reliever for headaches, arthritis, and menstrual cramps. Some research suggests that drinking a daily dose of feverfew every day can prevent migraines for those who suffer from those chronic debilitating headaches.
- Climate: Feverfew thrives best in hardiness zones five through nine. It can be planted in either spring or fall, but the plants should be well-established at least four weeks before the first frost.
- Soil: A loamy or sandy soil works best.
- Water: Water well whenever soil feels dry to the touch. Allow soil to dry between waterings.
- Sun: Partial shade and several hours per day of direct sun will serve perfectly.
- Fertilizer: A balanced organic fertilizer in the spring is all that’s needed.
- Harvest: Although leaves can be snipped off for use at any time, a larger harvest should wait until the plants are in full bloom. Cut feverfew back by no more than 1/3 if you want the plant to survive.
Ginger is famous for its nausea-fighting effects; it’s even considered one of the most effective natural remedies to relieve morning sickness during pregnancy. It can be used to alleviate any number of digestive discomforts, in fact, including heartburn, dyspepsia, and gas. The pungent herb can also relieve some symptoms of colds and flu, and ginger may even kill certain viruses that cause head-colds when consumed as a tea.
- Climate: This tropical plant likes a warm climate and grows best in hardiness zones nine through 12. It may survive in zones seven and eight as well but will go dormant in the winter. If your area suffers cold winters, try growing ginger in a container that can be moved indoors during cold months. Plant ginger in the mid to late spring when soil temperatures reach 70º.
- Soil: A rich, loamy, well-draining soil is ideal.
- Water: Ginger needs moist conditions. Keep the soil watered at all times so that it always feels moist to the touch, but not soggy.sage
- Sun: Ginger does not like too much direct sunlight. Partial shade or filtered light will be perfect.
- Fertilizer: Organic, slow-release fertilizer or a rich compost can be added to the soil once per year. No additional feeding is required.
- Harvest: Ginger is not a plant you can rush. The best yields of ginger root will not be ripe for harvest until the leaves have died down, about eight to 10 months after planting.
Some people may call this invasive, quick-spreading flower a weed, but mullein has a surprising variety of medicinal uses. It is most commonly known as a cough suppressant, especially for deep, dry chest coughs. The leaves and flowers can be steeped to make a tea or boiled and inhaled as a vapor to soothe respiratory ailments like bronchitis and asthma. The herb has been used in an oil infusion since ancient times as a treatment for earache, perhaps because of its strong antibacterial properties. Mullein has even been shown to be a powerful anti-inflammatory agent.
- Climate: This hardy biennial can survive in hardiness zones three through nine, returning during its second spring with an impressive flowering stalk that may reach eight feet in height! Plant mullein in early spring.
- Soil: Mullein likes a sandy, even gravelly well-draining soil.
- Water: Water deeply only when the soil is completely dry. Let the soil dry between waterings.
- Sun: The more direct sunlight, the better.
- Fertilizer: Mullein does not need fertilizer.
- Harvest: You can harvest mullein leaves for use at any time once the plant is well-established. For medicinal use, the youngest, smallest leaves are the most potent.
With this wide variety of medicinal plants, you’ll have a remedy on hand for most everyday ailments. There’s no medicine that’s more natural or wholesome than living herbs picked fresh from the garden.
Don’t have time to grow a medicinal garden? You can buy pure, all-natural herbs in the Living Clean store, or read more about herbal remedies on the blog: