I love herbs! The sweet, spicy scents and flavors lend that extra pop of goodness to nearly any dish you cook. But that’s not all. The uses for herb plants go way beyond that.
My Herbalism Garden – Discovering Nature’s Bounty in the Backyard
I’ve grown herb plants in my garden since I can remember, but they were normally limited to culinary uses, ornamental appeal, or to entice bees (they love thyme!). My mom has always grown herbs here and there too. Now a retired nurse with more time for gardening, she keeps an arsenal of natural remedies on hand for medicinal purposes. Intrigued by all the advice she’d pass along for different issues, like using arnica for my bruises or ginger when I have an upset belly, I decided to broaden my herbal horizons and finally took the plunge into herbalism.
I took some classes and fell in love. All the herbs around me that I’d never thought twice about had now taken on new meaning, including those that naturally pop up in my backyard each year. As I learned about the different types of herbal plants and their attributes, both my knowledge and garden grew. My library did as well! In fact, if I happen to come across an herb plant I’m not that familiar with, all it takes is a trip to my huge herbal book collection to find out more.
The Many Uses of Herb Plants
I now have a much different perspective on herbs in the garden. For instance, basil is great for pesto but can also come in handy for alleviating head colds. Who knew? I probably use parsley in about everything I eat. I’ve even been known to chew on a sprig whenever I want fresh breath. But it also helps in the kitchen when my wooden cutting board still reeks of onion after washing it. I just pull up some parsley leaves and give the board a good rub down. And just like that it smells fresh too.
Is there ever enough thyme? Beyond its cooking uses, this herb is a germicide, great for deodorants and disinfectants. Using thyme water in baths is stimulating and cleansing. Lemon balm is an often overlooked herb that I simply love. To me, the overflowing pots of lemony foliage are beautiful. It can be used in place of lemon thyme in a pinch. It’s also a circulatory herb, strengthening the heart and calming the nerves.
I grow a myriad of flowering “herbs” in the garden. But they’re more than just a pretty face. Plants like coneflower and chamomile make great teas. Coneflowers help boost the immune system, while chamomile is what I turn to for rest and relaxation. Lavender, which I will admit I struggle with when growing, is another useful flowering herb. I’ve used the plant for dried flower arrangements and potpourri, but it’s a great addition to homemade soaps and candles too.
I love, love, love yarrow and have it growing all over. Yes, the umbel-like flower clusters are attractive, as is the plant’s feathery leaves, but it’s a must have in my first aid kit. As a wound herb, the leaves can be applied as a poultice for insect bites, stings and minor cuts and burns. Speaking of burns, aloe is another must have herbal plant. The leaves of lamb’s ear are also a nature’s band-aid, great for healing wounds and stings.
I’ve learned to see certain weeds differently too. Many are actually useful herbs. Of course, most people are familiar with the dandelion. It may be a troublesome weed to some, but not me. All parts of this plant are edible and it’s very nutritious. I also like the fact the roots can be used as a substitute for coffee (same for chicory), so in the event of some catastrophic event, there’s likely still gonna be plenty of dandelions and I can have my coffee fix to tame the morning beast.
I once deplored the sight of chickweed in the garden. Now that I’ve learned about its uses (it’s edible too by the way), I’m loving it tossed into salads. I don’t typically grow deadnettle, but it commonly takes up residence in my backyard. That’s okay. The greens can be eaten while young and tender, and the plant also helps boost the growth of veggies nearby. Their flowers are favorites of mine for pressing too. Although I could go on and on, there’s one more favorite”¦ the homely little wild violet. I look forward to the purple and white blooms in early spring. These dainty flowers are edible and have expectorant properties, easing coughs and colds. I think they make pretty additions to salads.
Herbs in the garden have so many uses. I was once limited to common culinary and ornamental types, but have since expanded on my herbal repertoire. And I’m still making new discoveries every day.