The cold months of the year bring a flurry of beastly germs to our doorstep. These wee-but-wicked pathogens must sense that our immune systems are vulnerable—especially during the holidays, when rich food and drink prevail. I like to start bolstering my family’s immune systems early in the cold & flu season; well before everyone around us is sniffling and sneezing. Practices like eating a nourishing diet; getting plenty of sleep, sunshine, and water; and proper hand washing are essential, but I also rely on a handful of tonic herbs to keep us healthy and resilient.
When it comes to fighting infections and warding off looming illnesses, antimicrobial herbs will be among your very best helpers. These remedies contain compounds that directly deter pathogenic bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoans.
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.
Violets are welcome “weeds” in my garden. In fact, the common blue violet—my particular brand of violet garden guest—is native to these parts, which is more than I can say for myself. The common blue violet (Viola sororia, Violaceae) is native to most of central and eastern North America. It is a common sight in lawns, gardens, sidewalk cracks and along trailsides. The common blue violet is typically considered a “weed” because of its relative ease in adapting to human disturbance, but it pushes the definition of weed because it has been on this continent for a very long time. The leaves and flowers of the common blue violet, along with many other species, are edible and medicinal. The “confederate violet” is an escaped cultivar (cultivated variety) of Viola sororia—it has white flowers with blue streaks and is a common inhabitant of lawns in the southeastern United States.
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?
Creasy greens Creasy greens (Barbarea verna, Brassicaceae), also known as wintercress, is a common weed in the Southeast and the pacific Northwest. Its close relative, Barbarea vulgaris, has a more widespread distribution, occurring throughout most of temperate North America. Here in the southern Appalachians, they grow side by side and I seriously doubt that many people pay attention […]
Lambs quarter is one of the most common weeds in gardens, backyards and fallow fields, following human habitation closely. If you add horse or cow manure to your garden you will have a steady supply of these tasty wild greens for most of spring and summer. Easy to recognize with its alternate, triangle-to-diamond shaped leaves […]