In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
April, 2004
Regional Report

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Leaves from cultivated or wild cabbage can be used as a poultice to decrease swelling.

Herbal Remedies

There's a growing interest in herbal remedies and medicines that stems from people moving toward a more "green" philosophy of life, and it goes hand-in-hand with organic gardening. Our ancestors relied on information passed down from previous generations. Broken bones, stomachaches and burns were treated with what was growing in the neighborhood. I find the study of medicinal plants fascinating.

Easy-to-Grow Medicinal Herbs
Mullein (Verbascum) is a fuzzy-leaved perennial plant that was used as a poultice to promote healing of wounds. During colonial days, the leaves were soaked in vinegar, then placed under a bandage. Our forefathers would gather the oily stems and stalks of these plants to use as a torch to light their way to the john at night. Beware though, plants in the mullein family freely self-sow.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a perennial plant that grows from thick, edible rhizomes. Plant fresh ginger root from the grocery store just beneath the surface of rich, well-drained garden soil in early spring and give it plenty of water and heat. The medicinal benefit of ginger is in your tummy. It relieves seasickness and nausea. Make tea of ginger root next time you have the stomach flu.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a perennial herb with a sweet fragrance. In the middle ages, lemon balm was used as a cure against melancholia. It makes wonderful hot and iced tea drinks. It helps calm you and is very safe to use. Be aware that lemon balm will make a pest of itself in moist soils. Plant it in a container or raised bed if you don't plan on using a lot of it.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is another hardy perennial herb. The Greeks spelled the word "thymon," which means "courage." Roman warriors would bathe in thyme water before they went to battle. Its medicinal properties are antiseptic. The Egyptians used it in embalming fluids. It is used today as a remedy for colds and flu symptoms. Steep freshly picked leaves in boiling water for 30 minutes to make a tea.

Chamomile (Chamomilla), another perennial herb, not only soothes ragged nerves but also works as a natural fungicide. Soak your feet in chamomile tea to help cure athlete's foot, or spray it on roses with rust or black spot.

Lavender (Lavandula officinalis) requires a fast-draining sandy soil. The scented leaves and flowers are used for potpourris and sachets, and the aroma of lavender is reported to have antidepressant qualities. The leaves can be used dried or fresh. The ancient Romans used lavender to perfume bathing water, which may account for its name, which comes from the Latin "lavare," meaning "to wash."

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is an early spring or winter blooming annual. Feel free to eat the colorful flowers in salads or cooked with rice dishes. Dried calendula flowers can be soaked in olive oil and used as a poultice for damaged or irritated tissue. Calendula is completely nontoxic.

The Chinese used dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) as a liver stimulant. It aids in digestion and soothes the stomach.

Eucalyptus can be used to cure congestion if you have a cold. Its pungent fragrance will open clogged sinuses. Eucalyptus leaves also can be used in pet beds to deter fleas.

One of the most common of all healing plants is aloe vera. Its medicinal qualities are derived from the juice in the leaves. It is very soothing on minor cuts and abrasions, and a lifesaver if you get a sunburn. Keep a pot of aloe on the windowsill in the kitchen, just in case.


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