Aromatic plant smoke holds an ancient and familiar allure. The alchemy of transforming dried plants into fragrant smoke has a profound effect on the feeling—or energy—of a space or person.
Gotu kola (Centella asiatica, Apiaceae) has been a legendary herb in India and China for over two thousand years, where it’s considered to be one of the best herbs for promoting clarity, focus, and a peaceful, calm nature.
Most culinary herbs double as medicinal allies, and the ones on this list are no exception. Plants that serve as both food and medicine are among my most reached-for herbs. Here, we’re rolling out the green carpet for ten of our most essential culinary/medicinal herbs—all of which can be grown in pots and other containers with ease.
When I first began foraging my own food and medicine, I focused on a particular array of plentiful, generous, and nourishing plants—the wild weeds, the common flora, and the invasives. These plants are some of our most superb medicinal allies and nutrient-dense wild foods. And these feral botanicals continue to be my main squeezes: non-native, “weedy” medicinals and wild foods are the most sustainable options out there.
Winter is rife with viral booby-traps—there’s a head cold and cough waiting at every gas station pump and pin pad across the land. A strong immune system is adept at navigating pathogenic obstacles, but some scenarios call for a boost, herbal-style. When I know I’ve been exposed to a cold or the flu, I don’t waste a moment in reaching for my tried-and-true immune stimulating herbs.
Last winter, I had the pleasure of visiting the Kauai Farmacy Gardens with my family on a visit to Kauai, affectionately known as the Hawaiian “Garden Island.” I was intrigued by their thriving tropical farm-to-apothecary business model and was eager to meet the plants and people involved. Doug Wolkon, one of the co-founders of the gardens, generously spent an afternoon with us, showing us around the plantings and apothecary.
We’ve been growing medicinal herbs for decades, and their return to the garden each spring is still one of the season’s great joys. As early as January, cold-hardy herbs like motherwort and lemon balm will start showing off new green leaves—followed shortly by purple-tinged anise hyssop, plush stinging nettles, and fragrant peppermint. Although it will be many more weeks before harvesting commences, their presence is a grand and hopeful sign of warmer days to come.
Each fall, all across North America, goldenrod lights up meadows and fields with a refreshing blend of ruggedness and jubilation. In addition to the sunshine it lends to the landscape, its flowers attract native pollinators and beneficial insects. Goldenrod’s piney-tasting leaves and flowers are an important medicinal remedy for the urinary, digestive, and respiratory systems. The goldenrod tribe encompasses one hundred species of late-blooming, knee- or hip-high herbaceous perennials.
Before we jump into the best herbs for small spaces, let’s talk about how you can turn your garden into a productive medicinal paradise! Not everyone has a field or lawn they are able to transform into their dream herb garden. If you only have a patio or a balcony or tend a limited outdoor space, here are some tips to help you reap the most from your plantings.
As you peer into the future, imagine how you might interact with your dream garden. Take a moment to write down all the reasons you wish to grow herbs, and how you might incorporate their medicine and beauty into your life. Then, think about how your garden will evolve with time, and which needs are the most important. Will it be a place of refuge, with secret nooks, replete with peaceful statues and comfortable seating nestled under verdant arbors? Do you envision your gardens as an inspirational educational setting, with wide paths and ample signage for visitors? Is your goal to grow herbs for your own apothecary and kitchen or do you have an herbal products business?