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Green Healing: 10 Herbs to Start a Medicinal Herb Garden

Spring seems to have arrived early in northern Illinois this year, but there is still plenty of time to plan a medicinal herb garden for the growing season. Starting your medicinal herb garden is a journey into an ancient world of natural healing and wellness. Cultivating your own herbs is a rewarding endeavor that connects you to the earth. I find it also important to deeply understand the herbs that you are working with - understand not just their biology, but also their spirit. You can connect with these healing plant allies daily by growing herbs in your backyard or in containers on a patio or window sill.

Choosing Your Herbs

Starting your herb gardening journey starts with selecting the right plants. You want an assortment of plants that can aid in common ailments, but, if this is your first time growing herbs, you might want some that are easy to grow and tend. My recommendations about plant heartiness and annuals vs perennials are based on my local growing zone, 5b. (The zone map was recently updated; you might want to check your zone to confirm which plants will do best. However, most of these plants will do well throughout most parts of North America.) Here are some excellent choices for those just starting that will equip you with herbs that are easy to find, grow, and use:

Mint (Mentha spp.): A hardy and vigorous plant, mint is excellent for digestion and making refreshing teas. Remember, it's an enthusiastic grower, so confining it to containers can prevent it from overtaking other plants. Mint will return year after year if you let it naturalize. If you have the space, it's ok to let it spread - the blooms attract pollinators, and if you have to mow it, it smells amazing.

Closeup of mint plant

Lavender (Lavandula spp.): Lavender is not just a treat for the senses with its soothing fragrance and beautiful blooms; it's also valued for its ability to promote relaxation and sleep. It’s a perfect addition for a serene garden corner or as a boarder. Lavender is a perennial, so while the plants can be a bit more expensive, she will return season after season.

Lavender growing in a garden

German Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla or sometimes referred to as Matricaria recutita): Easy to grow and lovely to behold with its delicate, daisy-like flowers, chamomile is famous for its calming properties, making it a staple in any medicinal herb garden. Once it starts to bloom, you can continuously harvest up to 1/3 of the blooms until the first frost. Chamomile is also a supporting herb for seasonal allergies, muscle spasms, and mild pain.

German chamomile in bloom

Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum): Also known as Holy Basil, Tulsi is revered in Ayurvedic medicine for its ability to strengthen the immune system and relieve stress. It’s a versatile plant that adds both flavor and healing properties to your garden. Tulsi also has antimicrobial properties, making it a good choice for treating minor wounds. Tulsi is a tender annual and will die with the first frost, but you can pick its leaves and stems throughout the growing season.

tulsi or holy basil in bloom

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis): This robust perennial is not only known for enhancing memory and concentration but is also a versatile culinary herb that can elevate a variety of dishes. Rosemary is useful in assisting with headaches, fatigue, hair growth, and digestion. Its also a wonderful antimicrobial - you can add it to a homemade household cleanser or burn it as incense or a smudge. Rosemary might over-winter, but it is best to take her inside during the winter.

rosemary sprigs

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium): With its daisy-like flowers, Feverfew is more than just a pretty face; it’s traditionally used to prevent migraine headaches and is also known for its anti-inflammatory properties and ability to reduce fevers. It also has analgesic properties making it a good choice for pain associated with arthritis and toothaches. I've had luck with feverfew coming back each spring from the roots.

feverfew in bloom in a garden

Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea): This beautiful and robust plant is a must-have for its immune-boosting properties. It’s not only medicinal but also attracts pollinators like bees and butterflies to your garden. The whole plant can be used (including the roots) for its antibacterial and antiviral properties. I wouldn't recommend starting this plant from seed in the Spring, since the seeds need a rest in the cold before they will germinate. (You can plant seeds in the fall and let them rest through the winter.) Also, starting with a plant might make it more likely to bloom. Typical first-year plants do not bloom. Once established, these plants will return year after year.

closeup of purple coneflower, echinacea in bloom

Bee Balm (Monarda didyma or M. fistulosa): There are 17 species and over 50 cultivars of this helpful plant. Many are grown for their decorative qualities. While the two species listed above might be a little less showy, they are grown for healing abilities. It’s used for soothing sore throats and supporting digestive health. It effectively combats candida overgrowth in the digestive system and has some anti-inflammatory qualities. Bee Balm, with its vibrant flowers and minty scent, is also excellent for attracting pollinators to your garden.

purple bee balm about to bloom

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis): A relative of mint, this herb is loved for its lemony scent and calming properties. It’s fantastic for reducing stress and anxiety, improving sleep, and aiding in pain resulting from digestive issues like bloating or gas. Like mint, this herb can quickly spread and take over your garden, and it will return year after year.

lemon balm

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): Known for its wound-healing properties, yarrow is also a beautiful ornamental plant. There are many cultivars that have yellow, pink, or orange flowers, but it's the white-flowering variety that is best for medical purposes. Yarrow is used both topically and internally for its ability to reduce bleeding, help us sweat (when we need to release toxins from the body through the skin), assist with allergies, and relax the body. Yarrow will return year after year from the roots, but you might also find yarrow coming up from its seeds.

closeup of white yarrow blooming

Planting Tips for Your Herb Garden

  • Location: Choose a sunny spot as most herbs thrive in full sunlight (at least six hours a day). If you're limited on space, windowsills and balconies can also be great options.

  • Soil: Well-draining soil is crucial for herbs, as waterlogged roots can lead to rot. Amend heavy soils with organic matter to improve drainage.

  • Watering: Herbs generally prefer drier conditions. Water them only when the soil feels dry to the touch, and try to avoid wetting the leaves to prevent fungal diseases.

  • Spacing: Give each plant enough room to grow. This helps with air circulation and reduces competition for nutrients and water.

herbs in terra cotta pots

Caring for Your Herbs

  • Pruning: Regular harvesting or pruning helps encourage bushier growth. Always snip above a set of growing leaves to encourage the plant to branch out.

  • Feeding: Use a balanced, organic fertilizer sparingly. Overfeeding can lead to lush foliage with reduced flavor and medicinal properties. I find I don't need to fertilize at all while they are growing, but I will add some organic fertilizer or compost to the nearby soil in the fall.

  • Pest Control: Pests rarely attack these plants, but keep an eye out for common pests like aphids and spider mites and treat them before they get out of control. Natural remedies like neem oil or a gentle soap solution can be effective treatments.

Integrating Herbalism into Your Life

Incorporating herbs into your daily routine can be simple and enjoyable. Start with herbal teas or add fresh herbs to your meals. As you become more familiar with their flavors and effects, you can explore making your own herbal remedies, such as tinctures, salves, and poultices. You might even consider taking one of my classes on herbalism as an introduction or to expand your skills.

The journey of growing and using medicinal herbs is a personal one. Safely experiment with different plants and preparations to discover what works best for you and your family. Not only will you develop a deeper connection to your garden, but you'll also embark on a path toward more natural, self-sufficient living. Remember that herbs can have contraindications, so please consult with an experienced herbalist, clinical herbalist, or your doctor.

Starting a medicinal herb garden is an empowering step toward taking control of your health and well-being. With a little care and patience, your garden will flourish, providing you with a bountiful supply of herbs to enhance your life and health!


Disclaimer: Adhara Alchemy is not a licensed medical professional practice, and I am not a licensed medical professional. The information provided in my consultations is intended to support your overall health and wellness and is not intended to replace medical advice or treatment. It is important to work with your primary healthcare provider and to inform them of any herbs or supplements you are taking. Herbs may have side effects, cause individual sensitivities, or interact with medications, and it is important to discuss these risks with your healthcare provider.

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