The Garden Pharmacy
Gardens are a source of beauty, tranquility, and sustenance; they also provide us with medicine. Chances are you have a pharmacy in your back yard that you aren’t aware of. The culinary herbs have medicinal properties, as do many of the common ornamentals, not to mention the weeds. The weeds are another story, but for now I would like to reacquaint you with some of your garden favorites. You may find there are already several medicinal herbs in your garden.
The pungently potent little leaves of this hardy herb contain over 75 known phytochemicals, 25% of them have been identified as having anti-oxidant properties. This makes thyme a valuable protection remedy against oxidative damage at the cellular level. It has a special affinity for the respiratory system and can be used to treat bronchitis, asthma, cough due to colds and sinus congestion. It helps to ease indigestion, colic, flatulence and diarrhea. Extracts of thyme have demonstrated significant inhibition of Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria that infects gastric ulcers.
Thyme can be used as a steam inhalation for respiratory disorders, or as a tea or tincture.
This pleasant green is packed with nutrition – it is one of the richest food sources of vitamin C and contains high amounts of calcium, magnesium, iron and chlorophyll.
For nutritional benefit, it is best eaten fresh as a salad green or as a base for a green sauce “recipe below”. Its minerals can be extracted by steeping the fresh leaves in apple cider vinegar for two weeks, then strained and used to make salad dressing. Medicinally it is used to treat kidney and bladder conditions such as infection and urinary stones. Its diuretic action can be applied to arthritic conditions such as gout and rheumatism to facilitate the removal of uric acid from the joints. For these uses it is best taken as a tea.
There are hundreds of species of this savory herb and its medicinal use dates back to ancient times in many parts of the world. Its traditional uses hold true today and in modern herbal medicine it is used to treat indigestion, throat inflammation, and to reduce sweating, particularly the hot flashes of menopause. It is a valuable remedy for the nervous system and can help to ease anxiety and nervous tension, and recent studies show its value in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss.
Sage can be taken as a tea or tincture.
This orange/yellow flowered beauty brings vibrancy to the garden, pungency to the salad, healing to the skin, and medicine to the teapot. The juice squeezed from the fresh leaf and flower can be applied directly to wounds for healing and to treat or prevent infection. It has a reputation for improving hair growth when rubbed into the scalp. The tea and tincture can be used for dry cough, pneumonia and bronchitis, and for urinary tract infections.
Johnny Jump Ups
These tri-coloured little beauties are found in many a garden. It is primarily a skin remedy that can be used internally and externally as an infusion to treat conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and acne. It is also a remedy for arthritis and respiratory disorders. The fresh flowers add colour to salads, they contain a substance called rutin, which strengthens blood vessels. In folk medicine a cup of tea made from this herb was reputed to ease a broken heart – hence another of its common names, heartsease.
The flowers and leaves can be used fresh or dried as a tea or tincture.
Contains high levels of vitamins A and C. Used for nervous irritability and has anti-depressant effects. It eases indigestion, stomach upset and nausea. Stimulates milk flow for nursing mothers. The fresh juice has been used to treat warts and bug stings. Makes a yummy tea or green sauce.
Mint is a summer herb; it is cooling for the body, internally and externally. It can be used in a lotion or as a compress to reduce inflammation and pain from sunburn, and it is soothing on the itch from bug bites. As a digestive aid it will ease, gas, cramps and nausea. Peppermint is an old- time remedy for colds and flu with fever. For this, it is typically combined with yarrow and elder flowers. It brings symptomatic relief to asthma and bronchitis, and when inhaled clears nasal congestion.
To enjoy the cool delights of mint try adding the chopped fresh herb to salads, ice cream, dips, yogurt (recipe below), sauces and pasta.
As its common name implies, this herb is used to treat women’s health concerns. It is a uterine tonic and can be used to normalize menstruation, and is astringent and helps to stop excessive bleeding both internally and externally. Use it as a gargle for sore throat. Its Latin name, Alchemilla, comes from ancient alchemists who held this plant in high esteem due to its many healing properties. The dew that collects in the flower cup was believed to hold magical, alchemic powers.
Its young leaves and flowering shoots can be dried and used as a tea, or made into a tincture.
Herbs are a potent source of preventative medicine – small daily doses added to food or teas help to enhance vitality and protection from dis-ease. If herbal medicine is new to you, a good place to start is with the familiar culinary herbs which likely already have a place in your garden.
Brewing a Medicinal Infusion
Gather the herbs fresh from the garden and rub off the dirt, then chop and bruise them with a mortar and pestle, or rolling pin. For each cup of freshly boiled water use 2-3 tsp. fresh or 1-2 tsp. dry herb. Cover the infusion while it steeps to retain the volatile oils, which offer aroma, flavour and medicine to the tea. Let it steep for ten minutes, then strain and drink hot, or add ice for a cool summer drink.
Recipes with Medicinal Herbs from the Garden
1 cup olive oil
½ cup fresh green herb, one or a combination of (parsley, basil, lovage)
3 cloves fresh garlic
¼ cup pumpkin seeds
½ tsp. salt
¼-1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
Combine all ingredients in the blender or food processor.
Use as sauce for fish, steamed or roast veggies, salads, pasta or as a dip for bread or crackers.
Raspberry & Mint Yogurt Drink
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup mineral water
3 tbsp. honey
3 oz raspberries
¼ cup fresh mint leaves.
Puree all ingredients in the blender. Pour into glasses and decorate with a sprig of mint. Serve chilled.