Gardening with herbs, which is becoming increasingly popular, is indulged in by those who like subtlety in their plants in preference to brilliance.
– Helen Morgenthau Fox
Medicinal Plants at Present
The medicines that we see today, including the heavy antibiotics and the normal syrups, didn’t exist a century ago.
In the past, people depended exclusively on herbal remedies or traditional medicine. Plants have been used in treating human diseases for thousands of years. Even cosmetics and perfumery were from extracted plant oils.
Present time, nothing has really changed.
Medicinal plants are still considered a primary health source for the pharmaceutical industry. American botanist James A. Duke cites that 25% of all modern prescription drugs are derived from plants, or at least one phytochemical.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reveals that 80% of the world population still rely on raw herbs and unrefined extracts in the treatment of diseases. This rate is much higher in African countries.
Medicinal Plant Properties
The first modern botanical gardens, which were founded in 16th century Italy, in Pisa, Padova and Florence, were medicinal plant gardens attached to medical faculties or schools.
The term ‘medicinal plant’ is used to determine the plants or plant products used by human beings in the protection against, or treatment of, illnesses.
A plant is considered to have medicinal use if there are chemical components within its structure that can elicit a response in humans. This clarifies that not every plant is a medicinal plant. Further research is needed to identify other plants with useful medicinal properties.
Medicinal qualities of plants are due to biologically active substances, which include:
- Bitter compounds
- Essential oils
- Citric and tartaric acids
Aromatic Medicinal Herbs
The term ‘herbal drug’ is used to determine the part/parts of a plant used for preparing medicines. Botanists describe an herb as a small, seed bearing plant with fleshy, rather than woody, parts.
Herbs also refer to a far wider range of plants. Apart from herbaceous perennials, herbs also include trees, shrubs, annuals, vines, and more primitive plants, such as ferns, mosses, algae, lichens, and fungi.
These plants are valued for their flavor, fragrance, medicinal and healthful qualities.
Herbs with a strong fragrance often have a remarkably powerful effect on the body. Also called aromatics, these plants are generally said to have a spicy, pungent, or acrid taste. Peppermint is one of the best known aromatics.
Most herbal medications are easy to prepare.
Infusion or tea: involves pouring boiling water over leaves, stems, and/or flowers. The usual proportion recommended by experts is one ounce or one-half ounce of herb to a pint of water, allowing it to steep for around 10 minutes or so.
Decoction: refers to extracting the volatile principles from hard or woody parts, such as bark or roots. It involves boiling for 3 to 4 minutes, then allowing it to steep for an additional 2 to 10 minutes.
Cold extracts: requires double the amount of herb. Leaves, stems, and/or flowers are steeped in cold water for up to 12 hours.
Tincture: produced by steeping a dried, powdered herb in a one-to-one solution of alcohol and water for about two weeks. The bottle is shaken daily, and at the end of the period the herb is strained away.
Poultices: involves crushing or bruising the medicinal parts of a plant, heating the resulting pulp, and then applying it directly to the affected area.
Meanwhile, essential oils from herbs are obtained through four methods, namely distillation, extraction, enfleurage, and maceration.
Growing a Medicinal Garden
Medicinal plants are finding a new, expanding market as herbal components of health foods and preventative medicines.
To save time and money, you can stock your backyard or windowsill with some of the basic medicinal plants, known to treat common ailments, such as inflammation, minor cuts, colds and flu, poor digestion and insomnia.
Most herbs are not very difficult to grow. Some even have lovely flowers and interesting foliage that can easily be integrated into your perennial beds.
A lot of herbs can also grow well in pots, either indoors or outdoors. They are very adaptable to climates and types of soil. What’s more, herbs are naturally pest resistant plants, making maintenance easier.
The best rule to follow for new gardeners is – aim small.
When starting a medicinal herb garden for the first time, keep things simple and manageable. Dig up a small area in the yard, or fill a few pots on the patio. If you do this, and experience success, you’ll more than likely be inspired and energized to continue!
Here’s a helpful blog for more information on planning your medicinal garden.
What medicinal plants to use?
Think about the herbs you use all the time. Are you always out of Echinacea, ginger, garlic, licorice root? You also need to do a little research for the condition that each plant will need in order to grow.
Pay special attention to how many hours of sun your medicinal plant needs a day, the type of soil it needs, and the temperatures it can take.
Here’s an A-Z medicinal herb chart by common name.
These five basic herbs are also recommended:
It’s one of the top-selling herbs in health-food stores. It does well in any well-drained garden soil, and can tolerate up to half shade. It’s often used during the cold and flu season in order to alleviate the common cold.
The poultice of the plant was used to stop the bleeding of soldiers during ancient wars.
According to research, it contains more than 120 other chemical components that may be used to ease digestion, calm anxiety and reduce inflammation. They require no care, remain pest-free, and are winter-hardy.
Traditionally, lemon balm has been used to reduce fevers, treat colds, and calm the digestive tract. It is a great medicinal herb to grow yourself because it is more effective when used fresh or freshly dried.
Mint has been mentioned in the world’s oldest surviving medical text dated 16th century B.C., used as a stomach aid. It’s ideal to grow them in pots or containers, as they can be quite invasive. Peppermint tea is delicious and refreshing.
People have used chamomile tea for centuries as a gentle sleep aid. It’s perfect for beginners as it can be easily grown from seed. The daisy-like flowers usually appear within six weeks of planting.
Where do I find medicinal herb plants?
You can always order some catalog from a quality seed house in your area.
The good thing is, they provide helpful descriptions as a reference and to answer any questions you have. The seeds are always viable, and the packets have great information as well.
For those who don’t want to take the time to grow from seeds, you can start with potted seedlings or root cuttings. You can also purchase from online vendors who sell medicinal herb plants.
You might find this list of seed companies helpful.
How to Plant Herbs?
In most cases, herbs are grown in pots, or window boxes. Most herbs prefer full sun, as long as regular summer temperatures don’t rise above 90 degrees.
Materials needed include the following:
- Planter or container
- Potting mix (not garden soil)
- Watering can
- Slow-release fertilizer
- Try using larger containers for herbs because the soil would absorb enough water for them to grow properly. You need approximately 1 to 4 feet in diameter for each plant.
- Fill your plant pot with potting mix, leaving 25cm. of space from the top. Potting mixes are recommended instead of regular potting soil. They have an ideal combination of balanced pH and nutrients for optimum growth of plants.
- Release the plants from their starter containers and begin placing them into your pot. Gently press soil around the edges to fill.
- Sprinkle some slow-release fertilizer into the pot. Go for fertilizer designed for culinary herbs as you want the leaves to reach their maximum growth limit.
- When you’ve finished planting, water the container. Wait several days to water again. Do not overwater. More water is not better and can lead to diseases or just poor growing conditions for your herbs.
For more tips on container gardening, here’s a guide on how to plant garden pots.
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