10 Best Herbs to Start Your Home Herbal Apothecary
Written by Meghan Gemma and Juliet Blankespoor
Photography by Juliet Blankespoor
Our apothecary at the Chestnut School is no mere medicine cabinet; it holds the stories and healing signatures of herbs gathered from local wildlands, cross-country travels, and our school gardens. The medicine in its bottles is much more than roots, leaves, and bark. It’s the essence of fields and forests, birdsong and butterfly kisses, babbling streams and fertile dirt, sunshine, and cool afternoon breezes. Are you curious about how to start a home apothecary of your own? We’ve simplified the process by choosing the ten best herbs to start your home herbal apothecary.
Starting a natural medicine chest filled with healing herbs is a soulful event, especially if you grow your own herbs, forage wild plants, or make medicine from scratch. Of course, crafting a potent apothecary with high-quality herbs purchased from local farms and online bulk suppliers is also possible. Many herbalists choose to buy herbs, opting for the most sustainable botanicals. Here’s a list of quality bulk herb suppliers for your home medicine chest.
So where to begin? After years of teaching, running a clinical practice, and raising a family, I’ve found that some herbs are universally beneficial for the personal medicine chest. These are herbs with a high safety profile that are generally affordable and easy to source. Additionally, their uses are so versatile you’ll have plenty of choices to reach for when minor health complaints arise. Many of these herbs are safe for kids and tasty, too. Be sure to look at our Safety and Contraindications for each medicinal to see if there are any herbs you’ll want to skip due to constitution, medications, or stages of life. The medicinal herbs included in our top ten list have internal and topical benefits. We hope you grow closer to each herb as you start your very own home apothecary!
Here's our list of the top ten home apothecary herbs:
- Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
- Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
- Elderberry (Sambucus nigra, S. nigra var. canadensis)
- Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa)
- Holy Basil/Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum)
- Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
- Rose (Rosa spp.)
- Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica)
- Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
- Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Keep reading for medicinal profiles on each of these herbs, accompanied by preparation and dosage suggestions, as well as relevant precautions and contraindications.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
The 10 best herbs to start your home herbal apothecary
1. Calendula (Calendula officinalis, Asteraceae)
Parts Used: Whole flowers (be sure to use the entire flower head, including the green base, rather than just the petals)
Medicinal Preparations: Tincture, tea, infused oil, salve, compress, poultice, sitz bath, vaginal douche, suppository, herbal broth
Tincture-Making Ratios and Dosage: Combine fresh flowers with 95% alcohol (or the highest percentage of alcohol you can find) at a 1:2 ratio; For dried flowers, use 70% alcohol at a 1:6 ratio. Take 2-3 ml (2-3 droppersful) three times per day
Infusion Ratios and Dosage: Infuse 1 Tablespoon dried flowers in 1 cup water. Take three times per day. See our Guide to Preparing Medicinal Teas for tutorials.
Herbal Actions: Antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, cholagogue (stimulates bile), emmenagogue (stimulates menstrual flow), lymphagogue (moves the lymph), vulnerary (promotes wound healing)
Calendula is a quintessential medicinal flower and a centerpiece of the herbal apothecary. Its radiant orange and yellow blooms are a highly esteemed topical remedy for many skin conditions, including wounds, rashes, stings, swellings, eczema, acne, chickenpox, burns, sunburns, and cold sores.
Calendula can be prepared in a number of skin-healing ways—see our article on The Topical Benefits of Calendula for more details, plus our tried-and-true recipes for making your own infused oils, salves, and poultices. Take care that you use the whole flowers in any medicinal preparation, as the healing oils are found primarily on the resinous green bases of the flower heads.
Taken internally as a tea or tincture, calendula is a traditional remedy for boosting the immune and lymphatic systems. Its flowers, appearing in every color of sunshine, gently lift the spirits and impart inner light during dark days. Additionally, calendula is an excellent remedy for the digestive system, and I especially recommend it for addressing heartburn, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), and peptic ulcers.
For a deeper dive into calendula’s medicine, visit our Calendula Hub, an online resource packed with medicinal and edible information.
Precautions and Contraindications: Do not use calendula internally during pregnancy as it is an herbal emmenagogue. Because calendula is in the aster family, it may cause a rare allergic reaction in people who are highly sensitive to other Asteraceae plants like ragweed (Ambrosia spp.) and chamomile (Matricaria recutita).
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
2. Chamomile (Matricaria recutita, Asteraceae)
Parts Used: Flowers (flowerheads)
Medicinal Preparations: Tincture, tea, syrup, bath, compress
Tincture-Making Ratios and Dosage: Fresh (1:2 95%) or dry (1:5 50%); either preparation 2–3 ml (2 to 3 droppersful) three times a day
Infusion Ratios and Dosage: Infuse 1 Tablespoon dried flowers in 1 cup water. Drink 1 cup three times per day
Herbal Actions: Antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, bitter, carminative, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, and nervine
Chamomile is precious floral currency; the flowers are light as a feather when dried and take more time to harvest than most medicines in the garden. The petite blossoms have a fresh, apple-like scent that’s often familiar to even the most novice tea drinker. This well-loved aroma, coupled with chamomile’s calming properties, makes it among the most popular herbal beverage teas in the world.
With its airy leaves and dainty blooms, chamomile imparts a gentle therapeutic signature. A delightful tradition in Mexico involves newborn babies—a dilute tea is prepared from chamomile flowers and used as the water for an infant’s first bath. As childhood unfolds, chamomile continues to be a soothing remedy, easing colic, fever, restlessness, and irritability via a parent’s breastmilk/chest milk and, later, as a tasty digestive remedy and mild sleep aid.
Adults also feel the blessings of chamomile’s bitter and nervine qualities. A cup of chamomile tea at the end of the day is a soothing evening ritual to calm the mind, ease the belly, and help the transition toward rest.
Precautions and Contraindications: Chamomile may cause an allergic reaction in those sensitive to other Asteraceae plants (such as ragweed) and has been associated with rare contact dermatitis.1
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra, S. nigra var. canadensis)
3. Elderberry (Sambucus nigra, S. nigra var. canadensis, Adoxaceae)
Parts Used: Berries and flowers
Medicinal Preparations: Syrup, tincture, infusion, decoction, mead, infused honey, shrub, and vinegar
Tincture-Making Ratios and Dosage:
- Berries: Fresh (1:2 95%) or dry (1:4 60%); 2-6 ml (2 to 6 droppersful) three times a day
- Flowers: Fresh (1:2 95%) or dry (1:5 70%); 2–6 ml (2 to 6 droppersful) three times a day
Infusion and Decoction Ratios and Dosage:
- Berries: Decoction of 4–6 g per day in divided doses
- Flowers: Infusion of 2 teaspoons to 2 Tablespoons of the dried flowers per 1 cup of boiling water three times a day
- Berries: Antiviral, antibacterial, antioxidant, antirheumatic, anticatarrhal, anti-inflammatory, cardiotonic, diaphoretic, diuretic, immune stimulant, and nervine
- Flowers: Antiviral, anticatarrhal, antispasmodic, astringent, alterative, anti-inflammatory, diaphoretic diuretic, and nervine
Elderberry is an exemplary nutritive tonic food and immune-strengthening herb rich in vitamin C, minerals, and bioflavonoids. The most universally loved way to enjoy its medicine is via a rich purple syrup that combines elderberry tincture (or elderberry-infused apple cider vinegar), elderberry tea, and elderberry-infused honey. I like to spice up the syrup with generous quantities of ginger (Zingiber officinale), cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum), and chaga (Inonotus obliquus) or with mullein leaves (Verbascum thapsus) when a respiratory tonic is indicated. There are endless ways to personalize elderberry syrup!
Elderberry has a range of other benefits when taken tonically: it is a preventative for cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis, an anti-inflammatory for arthritic conditions, and an antioxidant preventative for free radical damage.
The frothy flowers that precede elder’s berries are also medicinal. They have similar immune-stimulating properties but are less potent than the berries. I primarily rely on elderflower as a diaphoretic and anticatarrhal remedy (prepared as a hot tea) to break fevers and alleviate the congestion accompanying upper respiratory infections. I also brew the flowers with other early summer alterative herbs like red clover (Trifolium pratense) and plantain (Plantago spp.) for a seasonal cleansing tonic.
See this article on Elderberry for more on using and growing its medicine.
Precautions and Contraindications: The seeds of raw elderberries contain cyanogenic glycosides (CGs) that can cause digestive distress: most notably nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Cooking or tincturing the berries neutralizes any toxicity. Once the plant has been purged from the system, all symptoms subside.
Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa)
4. Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa, Malvaceae)
Parts Used: Calyx (red fleshy sepals); these are commonly described and sold as “flowers”
Medicinal Preparations: Infusion, infused honey, syrup, powder, chutney, vinegar, jam, fire cider, cocktails, and mocktails
Tincture-Making Ratios and Dosage: Not recommended, as the minerals, vitamins, and mucilage aren’t effectively extracted by alcohol
Infusion Ratios and Dosage: Infusion of 2 teaspoons of the cut and sifted “flowers” (calyx and receptacle) per 1 cup of boiling water; infused for one hour or decocted for ten minutes; up to three times a day
Herbal Actions: Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, astringent, cardiotonic, diuretic, hypocholesterolemic (cholesterol-lowering), hypotensive
A tart, fruity, and richly red herb, hibiscus is famous worldwide as a refreshing and medicinal beverage. Originating in the tropics of northeastern Africa, India, and Southeast Asia, the sour red calyces (often marketed as “fruits” or “flowers”) are also enjoyed in jams, chutneys, sauces, and homemade fermented beverages.
High in an array of antioxidant anthocyanins, hibiscus is revered for its supportive effects on the heart (it successfully helps lower cholesterol levels and high blood pressure)2,3, as well as on the liver, kidneys, and nervous system.4 In general, anthocyanins are helpful as a preventive against free-radical stress in the body, reducing the risk for cancer, heart disease, and inflammatory conditions.
In addition, hibiscus is packed with soluble fiber, vitamin C, and a wealth of beneficial minerals. It’s a mighty herb with a palate-pleasing flavor, earning it a place of honor high on our list of the 10 best herbs to start your home herbal apothecary.
To learn more about using, growing, and gathering this crimson healer, see our article on The Medicinal Benefits of Hibiscus. You can also start stocking your herbal apothecary with some of our favorite hibiscus recipes:
- Hibiscus Pomegranate Fire Cider
- Flavonoid-Rich Hibiscus Chutney
- Hibiscus Sun Tea (shared on our blog by the inimitable Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz)
- Hibiscus Mint Herbal Iced Tea with Key Lime Ice Cubes
Precautions and Contraindications: As a food herb, hibiscus has a high safety profile. However, it can aggravate heartburn and increase the urinary excretion of acetaminophen (Tylenol is a familiar brand). As a precaution, wait three hours after taking acetaminophen before ingesting hibiscus.5 Hibiscus could potentially compound the effects of hypotensive and diuretic pharmaceuticals with similar actions; however, no studies have examined this possible contraindication.
Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum)
5. Holy Basil/Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum, Lamiaceae)
Parts Used: Leaves and flowers
Medicinal Preparations: Tea, tincture, medicinal ghee, infused oil, vinegar, pesto
Tincture-Making Ratios and Dosage: Fresh (1:2 95%) or dry (1:4 60%); 2–4 ml (2 to 4 droppersful), three times per day
Infusion Ratios and Dosage: Infuse 2 teaspoons of dried leaves and flowers per 1 cup of water. Take three times per day. (Use a greater volume if using homegrown tulsi.)
Herbal Actions: Adaptogen, antioxidant, antidepressant, anxiolytic, anti-inflammatory, anticatarrhal, antimicrobial, antiviral, antimutagenic, carminative, diuretic, expectorant, galactagogue, hypotensive, hypoglycemic, hypocholesterolemic, and immunomodulator
Tulsi, also known as holy basil, is a sattvic herb and sacred plant in India, revered for its spicy aroma, myriad medicinal uses, and enlivening nature. In the past decade, it has gained herbal superstardom in the West as an ambrosian beverage tea and heal-all—the leaves and flowers increase mental focus and clarity and are a remedy for colds, flu, sinus infections, anxiety, melancholy, allergies, asthma, coughs, and cardiovascular disease.
Holy basil is one of my favored adaptogens—it’s relatively neutral energetically, and most people have a natural affinity for the flavor. It’s an excellent tonic for people experiencing chronic stress or going through significant life changes. I like to combine it with milky oats (Avena sativa) for a nourishing nervous system tonic.
Likewise, tulsi nurtures those who endure depression and anxiety; I frequently add it to formulas as the “backbone” adaptogenic herb for these conditions. It pairs well with vervain (Verbena hastata and V. officinalis) and motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) for anxiety. For depression, I often combine tulsi with lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Saint John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), and mimosa flowers (Albizia julibrissin).
Tulsi is one of the most versatile medicinals when starting your home herbal apothecary!
Precautions and Contraindications: Avoid using tulsi during pregnancy or if trying to conceive. Holy basil may affect blood sugar regulation—those with diabetes must closely monitor their blood sugar and consult their physician before use.6
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
6. Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis, Lamiaceae)
Parts Used: Leaves and flowers
Medicinal Preparations: Infusion, tincture, vinegar, essential oil, salve, succus
Tincture-Making Ratios and Dosage: Fresh (1:2 95%) or dry (1:4 60%); 2–4 ml three times a day
Infusion Ratios and Dosage: Infuse 2 teaspoons to 1 Tablespoon of the dried leaves per 1 cup of boiling water three times a day
Herbal Actions: Antidepressant, antiviral, carminative, diaphoretic, nervine
Lemon balm has a mythic history: across the ancient Mediterranean world, it was highly revered as a sacred herb by priestesses and melissae (oracular beekeepers). Fragrant and festively green, it was grown throughout temple complexes and around beehives to please both the goddesses and the bees. Because lemon balm’s medicine unites peace and joy in the heart, it anchors a state of well-being and sanctuary for those who enjoy its nectar.
Modern Western herbalists share these sentiments, and there is nary an herb garden or home herbal apothecary that doesn’t include lemon balm’s citrusy essence. I use lemon balm primarily as an acute and tonic nervine remedy. Its cheering qualities make it a gentle but powerful herb for sadness and prolonged melancholy, as well as an uplifting seasonal tonic for those who experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Lemon balm is especially beneficial for nervous or anxious states, such as tension headaches, stress-related insomnia, panic attacks paired with heart palpitations, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and overexcitement or restlessness in children.7 As a tonic, lemon balm nourishes, strengthens, and rehabilitates the nervous system, especially when combined with other bliss-bringing nervines such as milky oats (Avena sativa) and skullcap (Scutellaria spp.).
A treasured carminative herb, lemon balm is a beautiful remedy for soothing the stomach—I recommend it for nervous indigestion, colic, gas, nausea, and the discomfort associated with irritable bowel syndrome.8
Lemon balm is also used as an effective topical and internal antiviral herb, especially for viruses of the Herpesviridae family, including herpes (types 1 and 2), chickenpox, shingles, mono, and sixth disease (roseola).9
Visit this article to learn more about using lemon balm and tending it in your home garden (it’s so easy to grow!).
Precautions and Contraindications: Individuals with hypothyroidism should use lemon balm cautiously in large or consistent doses because the herb may affect thyroid hormones.10
7. Rose (Rosa spp., Rosaceae)
Parts Used: Buds, flowers, and hips
Medicinal Preparations: Infusion (flower petals, buds, and leaves), decoction (rosehips), tincture, poultice, oil, salve, infused honey, syrup, elixir, rose otto, vinegar, flower essence, hydrosol
Tincture-Making Ratios and Dosage:
- Flowers, buds, and leaves: Fresh (1:2 95%) or dry (1:5 50%); either preparation 1–3 ml (1 to 3 droppersful) , three times a day
- Rosehips: Fresh (1:2 95%) or dry (1:5 50%); either preparation 1–3 ml (1 to 3 droppersful), three times a day
Infusion and Decoction Ratios and Dosage:
- Flowers, buds, and leaves: Infusion of 2 teaspoons to 1 Tablespoon of dried flowers, buds, or leaves per 1 cup of boiling water, three times a day
- Rosehips: Decoction of 2 teaspoons of dried rosehips per 1 cup of boiling water, three times a day
- Flowers and buds: Anti-inflammatory, antianxiety, antimicrobial, aphrodisiac, astringent, anti-inflammatory, cardiotonic, diuretic, nervine
- Rosehips: Antimicrobial, astringent, blood tonic, and nutritive
Lest you imagine the rose is a florally frivolous herb, know it has an astonishing medicinal range. With its plush petals and color-saturated buds, rose betokens a rich sensuality and gentle healing hand. The flowers and unopened buds are an ally for those experiencing grief, loss, or hard-heartedness. These benefits are magnified when paired with hawthorn blossoms (Crataegus spp.), mimosa flowers (Albizia julibrissin), and/or lavender blooms (Lavandula angustifolia). Try rose as a tea, elixir, cordial, or flower essence for the most heart-lifting effects.
In addition to softening the edges of heartache, rose’s buds and flowers calm irritability, fits of anger, and nightmares. In children, they can impart a sense of comfort and security. The flowers and leaves are a sensational first-aid remedy; their anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial actions soothe wounds, stings, rashes, and burns. The hips, appearing after the flowers have faded, are one of the most botanically-concentrated forms of vitamin C in the temperate world and are an excellent immune system and blood-building tonic. And, of course, rose is deeply aligned with romance—the blossoms are a stirring aphrodisiac for nurturing love and intimacy.
To grow closer to rose, see our article on enjoying rose's medicine in the garden and home apothecary.
Precautions and Contraindications: Rose is energetically cooling and drying and can exacerbate cold and dry constitutions if taken tonically.
Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica)
8. Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica, Urticaceae)
Parts Used: Leaves (the seeds and roots are also medicinal, but we don’t address them in this profile)
Medicinal Preparations: Infusion, tincture, vinegar, cooked greens, juice, broth, powder, and capsules
Tincture-Making Ratios and Dosage: Fresh (1:2 95%) or dry (1:4 60%); 2–4 ml (2 to 4 droppersful), three times a day
Infusion Ratios and Dosage: Infusion of 2 teaspoons to 2 Tablespoons of the cut and sifted dried leaves per 1 cup of boiling water, three times a day
Herbal Actions: Alterative, anti-inflammatory, antirheumatic, astringent, diuretic, galactagogue, and nutritive tonic
This celebrated herb is packed with a treasure trove of vitamins, minerals, and chlorophyll—a vitality that infuses itself into nourishing herbal teas, vinegars, and medicinal foods. If the tell-tale sting of nettles puts you off, note that it’s peaceably disarmed when the leaves are dried or cooked.
Nettles is a supreme blood builder and nutritive tonic. It nourishes both those in health and those who are convalescing. In fact, I know of no other herb as helpful in restoring energy to depleted bodies and minds. It can be eaten and imbibed during pregnancy and postpartum to help birthing parents with extra nutritional demands, and it is conducive for rebuilding iron levels after heavy bleeding during childbirth.11 With its high iron content, it is beneficial for iron-deficiency anemia.
Nettles is a traditional spring tonic and alterative herb and an excellent ally during fasting and cleansing. It’s often used to help clear eczema, psoriasis, and acne. It can be combined with other alteratives for this purpose, such as red clover (Trifolium pratense) and burdock (Arctium lappa and A. minus).
As a food plant, nettles can be consumed frequently, with less attention to dosage than other herbs. Enjoy the leaves as an infusion, broth, vinegar, or food to optimize nettle's nutritional gifts. I highly recommend trying my famous Nettles Pâté Recipe. Do not prepare nettles as an alcohol-based tincture, as alcohol is a poor solvent of minerals.
Precautions and Contraindications: Nettles is a potent diuretic that can dry as a tonic herb for folks with dry constitutions. These diuretic effects can compound pharmaceuticals with the same action, such as antihypertensive diuretic medications. Nettles can potentially alter blood sugar levels—people with diabetes should closely monitor blood sugar levels when working with nettles.5
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
9. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis, Caprifoliaceae)
Parts Used: Root, rhizome
Medicinal Preparations: Decoction, tincture, powder
Tincture-Making Ratios and Dosage: Fresh (1:2 95%) or dry (1:5 70%); 1–4 ml (1 to 4 droppersful), up to three times a day (up to 10 ml daily, or 2 teaspoons, for special situations)
Decoction Ratios and Dosage: Decoct 1 to 2 teaspoons of the dried root per 1 cup of boiling water, up to three times a day
Herbal Actions: Anodyne, anxiolytic, carminative, hypnotic, hypotensive, nervine, sedative, and skeletal and smooth muscle relaxant
Valerian is one of the most popular and well-known medicinal herbs in the world—the musky roots are a much-loved remedy for insomnia, anxiety, and pain. A mainstay in household medicine chests for over two thousand years, valerian’s name stems from the Latin valere, “to be well” or “to be strong.”
Valerian’s warming, aromatic roots possess soothing antispasmodic and muscle-relaxing properties and are used as a general sedative and pain reliever for nervous tension, injuries, menstrual cramps, and headaches. Likewise, it can ease the cramping that accompanies digestive distress.
Valerian is best known as a sleep aid and can be combined with passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) and skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) to create a safe and effective hypnotic herbal blend. It’s equally helpful for those who have difficulty falling asleep and those who wake up throughout the night. Note that the use of valerian helps promote normal sleep, as opposed to heavily sedated sleep, which makes it popular as a non-groggy remedy for the home apothecary.12
Precautions and Contraindications: Interestingly, valerian is stimulating for a small portion of the population, exacerbating the symptoms one hopes to relieve. People can feel wired, alert, and even more anxious. It’s possible that folks who experience these effects are unable to digest valeric acid, one of the major constituents in valerian’s medicine.13 Consult a physician before using valerian with barbiturates, sedatives, or benzodiazepines to avoid compounding the medication’s effect on the nervous system.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
10. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium, Asteraceae)
Parts Used: Leaves and flowers
Medicinal Preparations: Infusion, tincture, poultice, powder, wash, compress, infused oil, and salve
Tincture-Making Ratios and Dosage:
- Leaf: Fresh (1:2 95%) or dry (1:5 50%); 1–3 ml (1 to 3 droppersful), three times a day.
- Flower: Fresh (1:2 95%) or dry (1:5 50%); 1–3 ml (1 to 3 droppersful), three times a day.
Infusion Ratios and Dosage:
- Leaf: Infuse 1 to 2 teaspoons of the dried leaves per 1 cup of boiling water, up to three times a day. Higher doses can be used acutely, as needed, for a short period.
- Flower: Infuse 1 to 2 teaspoons of the dried flowers per 1 cup of boiling water, up to three times a day.
Herbal Actions: Alterative, antihemorrhagic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, astringent, bitter, circulatory stimulant, decongestant, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, hypotensive, styptic, vulnerary
Our use of yarrow as a medicinal herb spans millennia: from prehistoric humans to the traditions of Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine, Native North American healing, and modern Western herbalism. Its leaves have a unique mastery over a wide range of internal and external blood-based afflictions, including wounds, nosebleeds, high blood pressure, circulatory stagnation, postpartum hemorrhage, miscarriage, and heavy menses. Both antihemorrhagic and styptic, yarrow is the first herb I turn to for deep cuts and profuse bleeding of any kind. Applied topically as a poultice, compress, or sitz bath, yarrow can bring healing to varicose veins, bruises, hemorrhoids, and postpartum perineal tears.
Yarrow is also antiseptic, which makes it one of our most powerful first-aid and emergency medicines. A wash of the leaves or flowers will disinfect wounds and can be followed by a chew-and-spit poultice of fresh or dried leaves to stem bleeding and speed healing.
Yarrow’s flowers are one of our best diaphoretics for breaking fevers and sweating out colds and flu. A hot tea of the flowers, combined with equal parts blue vervain (Verbena hastata), is an effective formula, especially when accompanied by a hot bath. Yarrow is so successful in this light that it has traditionally been used in sweat lodge ceremonies to encourage profuse sweating.
Precautions and Contraindications: Avoid yarrow internally during pregnancy due to its emmenagogue effects. Internally and externally, yarrow may cause side effects (contact dermatitis, photosensitivity, and allergic reactions) for those with Asteraceae sensitivity, although reactions are rare.
More Herbs for Starting Your Home Apothecary
Like what you’ve read?
You’ll find the names of ten more medicinal herbs we recommend for starting your home apothecary in our Budding Herbalist Guide—100 pages of herbal resources, advice on starting your herbal career, and personal wisdom gleaned from our decades of herbal experience. It’s yours for FREE!
- Foster S. 101 Medicinal Herbs: An Illustrated Guide to History, Uses, Recommended Dosages and Cautions (Interweave Press, 1998).
- Lin T-L, Lin H-H, et al. “Hibiscus sabdariffa Extract Reduces Serum Cholesterol in Men and Women.” Nutrition Research 27, no. 3 (2007): 140–45.
- McKay D, Chen C, and Saltzman E. “Hibiscus sabdariffa L. Tea (Tisane) Lowers Blood Pressure in Prehypertensive and Mildly Hypertensive Adults.” Journal of Nutrition (2010).
- Stansbury J. “High Flavonoid Herbs and Vascular Health.” In Medicines from the Earth (2011).
- American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook, 2nd ed. (CRC Press; 2013).
- McIntyre A. The Complete Herbal Tutor: The Ideal Companion for Study and Practice (Octopus Books, 2010).
- Hoffmann D. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine (Inner Traditions/Bear & Co., 2003).
- Romm AJ. Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health (Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier, 2010).
- Schnitzler P, Schumacher A, Astani A, and Reichling J. “Melissa officinalis oil affects infectivity of enveloped herpes viruses.” Phytomedicine. 2008; 15(9):734–740.
- Yarnell E and Abascal K. “Botanical medicine for thyroid regulation.” Alternative and Complementary Therapies. June 2006;12(3):107–112.
- Romm AJ. The Natural Pregnancy Book: Herbs, Nutrition, and Other Holistic Choices (Potter/TenSpeed/Harmony, 2011).
- Schultz H, Stolz C, and Muller J. "The effect of valerian extract on sleep polygraphy in poor sleepers: a pilot study." Pharmacopsychiatry. 1994.
- Gladstar R. Herbal Healing for Women (Simon & Schuster, 1993).
Meet The Green Mastermind Behind Blog Castanea
JULIET BLANKESPOOR is the founder, primary instructor, and Creative Director of the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, an online school serving thousands of students from around the globe. She's a professional plant-human matchmaker and bonafide plant geek, with a degree in botany and over 30 years of experience teaching and writing about herbalism, medicine making, and organic herb cultivation. Juliet’s lifelong captivation with medicinal weeds and herb gardening has birthed many botanical enterprises over the decades, including an herbal nursery and a farm-to-apothecary herbal products business.
These days, she channels her botanical obsession through her writing and photography in her online programs, on her personal blog Castanea, and in her new book, The Healing Garden: Cultivating and Handcrafting Herbal Remedies. Juliet and her family reside in a home overrun with houseplants and books in Asheville, North Carolina.
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