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Medicinal Herbs in the Garden

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.

sage medicinal herbNasturtium

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.

nasturtium medicinal herbJohnny 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.

johnny jump up flowerBasil  

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.


Lady’s mantle 

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

Green Sauce

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.


Medicinal Benefits of Culinary Herbs

medicinal culinary herbs cover


Did you know that most common culinary herbs also have medicinal benefits?


Enliven your food with easy-to-find fresh herbs this summer. Fresh herbs often have a more potent flavour than dried herbs,  and, not only do they taste great, they’re also very nutritious. They are loaded with biologically active compounds, and they’ll add a boost of vitality to your daily diet. Many are used as medicines by modern day herbalists, it makes one wonder where to draw the line between food and medicine. 


When cooking with fresh herbs, the leaves should be bruised by rubbing them in your hands before chopping or snipping with scissors. They are best added to the pot a few minutes before the dish is done, or sprinkled over food before it is served; fresh herbs lose their flavour if cooked too long. To store, roll the herbs in a wet paper towel inside a plastic bag, and leave in the crisper of the refrigerator for up to one week. With the herb left over from your recipes, add a handful to your teapot and become further acquainted with their unique characteristics.  


Medicinal Benefits of 10 Culinary Herbs


Thyme Thymus vulgaris

Research has determined that of the 75 known phytochemicals found in thyme, 25% are antioxidants. A valuable medicinal food, this herb contains a flavonoid that counteracts the activity of dietary carcinogens formed during cooking. Medicinally, it is used primarily to treat respiratory complaints such as bronchitis, asthma, cough due to colds, and sinus congestion. It is also used for topical bacterial and fungal skin infections. The tea makes a good mouth rinse and gargle. It is of value in gastrointestinal disorders including dyspepsia, colic, flatulence and diarrhea. Extracts of thyme have demonstrated significant inhibition of Helicobacter pylori, thus it is used in the treatment of peptic ulcers.


Parsley Petroselinum crispum

It is a shame to see this nutrient-dense herb regarded as a mere garnish, because parsley has many medicinal benefits. It is one of the richest food sources of vitamin C, and also exceptionally high in magnesium, calcium, iron, and chlorophyll. Parsley leaves make an excellent breath freshener, especially to combat garlic breath. It is beneficial to the urinary system, and is used for bladder and kidney complaints. Its diuretic action can be applied to conditions such as gout and rheumatism to facilitate the removal of uric acid from the joints. The leaves eaten with any meal help prevent gas. 

Safety: It is not to be used medicinally when pregnant.

Here’s a fresh tabouleh recipe from Cookie & Kate.


Sage Salvia officinalis

This herb is useful as a gargle for sore throat, laryngitis and mouth ulcers.  It provides relief to singers who have strained their voices. Digestive aid, memory aid. 

Due partially to its estrogenic properties, it is used to relieve the night sweats and hot flashes of menopause. For this it is best taken as a cold infusion. To make, steep 1 tsp. herb in one cup boiled water, covered for 10 mins. Strain and drink 1/2 cup 3 times daily, or as needed. 

Safety: It is not to be used medicinally when pregnant or in epilepsy. Reduces milk flow in nursing mothers.


Fennel Foeniculum vulgare

Like most of herbs with high volatile oil content, it acts as a carminative – a remedy for gas pains and flatulence. It is a treatment for upper GIT disorders with gas, nausea, belching and heartburn, and for IBS and colitis, and is an excellent remedy for babies with colic. Fennel is a galactagogue, which means it increases milk flow in nursing mothers. It is also useful for cough, and used internally and externally to improve eyesight and to treat inflammatory eye disorders such as conjunctivitis.

Instead of after-dinner mints, India has something called saunf ( fennel) or mukhwas (mouth scent), that is a mix of candied seeds, featuring fennel seeds. You’ll often see a little dish of this near the register in Indian restaurants, and it’s common to take a spoonful to freshen the breath and aid digestion after a meal. 


Cilantro   Coriandrum sativum

Coriander and cilantro are the same plant, but where we are, the leaves are usually called cilantro, and the seeds are known as coriander.

It is cooling in nature, thus a good summer seasoning.

Cilantro is a chelator – it binds with and removes heavy metals from the body. It is also carminative and diuretic. Add the leaves at the end of cooking, or use plenty of raw cilantro as a garnish in Latin American or Tex-Mex cooking. It’s also used in Indian cuisine as a garnish. 

This creamy sauce from Oh She Glows (my favourite cookbook, btw) made with fresh cilantro is a unique addition that goes well with Latin American dishes. 

Many people either love or hate cilantro. Did you know that genetics play a role this strong reaction to it? A particular genetic trait makes cilantro taste like soap to some people. This trait is less prevalent in people of Latin American, South-East Asian, or Middle Eastern descent, explaining its relative popularity in those cultures.*


Oregano Origanum vulgare

This herb originates from the Mediterranean region; it becomes more pungent with more sun, and is popular in Italian and Greek cooking. Greek cooks believe it is best used dry, and in fact is the only herb worth drying. It is used medicinally for indigestion and as an antiseptic wash, and is heating and a diaphoretic. Bees and butterflies love its flowers.


Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis

A powerful medicine – improves blood flow to the brain, hence its usefulness as a memory aid, it is uplifting, anti-depressant, helpful for headaches, aids liver and gallbladder  function, strengthens blood vessels and is used to treat arteriosclerosis. Use it as an infused oil as a scalp massage for hair loss and rub for sore muscles.


Garlic Allium sativum

It is a potent antibiotic and immune stimulant and is useful for respiratory conditions, digestive disorders, cardiovascular disease, and cancer prevention. It is my first choice as an antibiotic; bacteria do not become resistant to its powers. Not only does it destroy bacteria, but it is also anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-parasitic.   

To unlock the anti-cancer benefits,it is best crushed and let sit for 15 minutes. This causes an enzyme reaction that boosts the beneficial compounds.  It’s best eaten raw for medicinal use.


Turmeric Curcuma longa

Preventative and treatment for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. Anti-inflammatory for RA and OA, eczema, psoriasis, asthma. Improves gastric and liver function, hyperlipidemia.  Antioxidant. High doses not given in combination with anticoagulant drugs.

Turmeric has skyrocketed in popularity in recent years for its anti-inflammatory effect. 

If you like Indian cuisine, you probably already eat a lot of turmeric, but if you’d like to increase your intake, a popular way to take it is in a hot beverage. It is fat-soluable, so you want to take it with fat, and black pepper increases its bio-availability. 

Here’s a yummy vegan Golden Milk recipe   to get your turmeric in the most effective delivery. I use coconut oil or MCT oil in mine, and you can also add a pinch of cayenne if you like the heat.


Basil Ocimum basilicum

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. A pot of basil in the kitchen is known to discourage flies.

Here’s a refreshing summer recipe for Blueberry Basil Lemonade. Basil might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you want to make lemonade, but you’ll love this.