The healing power of plantsApr 04, 2023 03:02PM ● By Bryan Reed
A little-known fact about me: I first became interested in plants not for food, but for the medicinal benefits.
I started by making my own herbal remedy first aid kit for traveling. Then having a family meant broadening my repertoire of health-promoting plants and processing them into ointments, tinctures and teas.
From native shamans, I’ve learned to work with the healthiest plants I can, which means growing crops that thrive in our local conditions. And a healthy plant makes the healthiest product—fruit, seeds and flavor as well as volatile oils, phenols and flavonoids.
In this article, I’ll share with you my top five medicinal herbs that I grow in rotations in my garden. Some I can harvest enough of to last me two to three years. Others I go through annually. I have other favorites (holy basil and catnip, for example), but these five medicinal herbs handle the top health needs in my family.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
This is my heavy hitter. It’s an adaptogen that helps our body maintain homeostasis by adjusting to stress and illness. It can boost energy and really fortify the immune system and overall endocrine system. Many people even report a boost in sexual energy after just a couple of days.
It’s in the Solanaceae family along with tomatoes and peppers, so it enjoys the same growing conditions. It makes a nice bushy plant about 18 to 24 inches tall that we grow for the root and harvest in the fall.
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)
Known as the King of Tonic herbs, astragalus is loaded with antioxidants to support the immune system. It also wards off colds and upper respiratory infections. It can also lower blood pressure and helps protect the liver.
Astragalus is a legume that prefers full sunlight and good soil texture as its roots are thinner than ashwagandha’s and are more delicate to dig up in the fall. Unfortunately, the best Astralagus phenols set after two years and the third year is the point of maximum health benefit. So if you’re set on growing astralagus, be prepared to dedicate garden space for the next two to three years.
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)
This herb can calm restlessness, headaches, hypertension and insomnia because it tonifies the nervous system. Additionally, it helps bring nutrients and energy to the organs and muscles throughout the body.
Skullcap is a clumping plant that’s 12 to 20 inches tall and likes consistent moisture in the soil, so mulch is a necessity. Harvest the leaves and dry them early in the season, then by mid-summer it can go to blossom and produce snapdragon-like blue violet flowers.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
I was fortunate to pick up some orange calendula seeds from a friend’s garden. This plants produce a high oil content that delivers skin nutrients which makes growing these flowers worth it. Calendula is great for treating hives, eczema, diaper rash and small cuts. The petals also make a great addition to a salad and are loaded in lutein, beta carotene and Vitamin C.
Calendula is a cheery addition to the garden. We harvest the flowers the day they open and in the heat of the day when their oil content is at its peak. These healing oils readily transfer to plant-based oils for topical applications. Fill a jar with dried calendula flowers and top it off with organic extra-virgin olive oil. Place the jar in a sunny location with a brown paper bag over the top to protect the oil from the sun’s rays while warming it during the day for a more thorough extraction. Wait one month and strain it into amber bottles.
A small warning: Calendula grows as an annual but self-seeds itself robustly, so thinning calendula sprouts will be on next year’s chore list.
White Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)
Even though it’s a perennial, I made the commitment to horehound for its internal organ strengthening abilities. A member of the mint family, horehound can help with digestive problems and liver and gall bladder function while supporting the lungs to stimulate better breathing. It can also lessen painful menstruation periods.
Horehound’s dried leaves make a refreshing tea and it blooms dainty pink and purple flowers. For those of you keeping track of the planting phases, April 1-9 and 23-30 are optimal seed planting dates on the biodynamic calendar.
Learn more from my March 2022 article on biodynamic gardening.
April 18 • 6 p.m.
Colorado Mesa University, Escalante Hall, Room 125
Bryan discusses our current food system and how consumers can support growing practices that bring us nutrient-dense food while aiding our local soil health and the planet overall.
May 2 • 6 p.m.
Mesa County Libraries Community Room
In this insightful workshop, learn how to raise and care for worms to make superior vermicompost for our gardens and compost tea.