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Grow Your Own Medicinal Herbs.

When I want to relieve stress and leave my daily cares behind for a while, I walk through my herb garden and breathe in its sweet and pungent odors. I have a small garden, but it's filled with a variety of plants that heal both emotionally and physically. I can work in my garden and benefit from an aromatherapy session or I can pick some herbs for a cup of soothing tea.

Whether you inhale herbs or drink them, they have medicinal qualities. Even if you have room for only a container garden, growing medicinal herbs is rewarding on many levels. For one, it assures you of having natural medicines at your fingertips, and allows you to prepare some of your own salves and tinctures.

The biggest problem I found in growing herbs was finding a good source for both organic seeds and herbs and enough information on growing them to be able to choose those that will grow well in my area. I can find rosemary and lavender, but what about wild yam and wood betony? Then I met Richo Cech, an outstanding herbalist and herb grower who has gone from working with Herb Pharm (a company that makes some of the best herbal tinctures available, which can be found in natural food stores) to growing hundreds of organic herbs for sale. Richo is also the author of several books, including Making Plant Medicine (Horizon Herbs, 2000), which takes you through a step-by-step approach to making your own extracts, tinctures, and salves.

Look for these seeds at your local nursery, but be sure to buy organic seeds from a reliable source to get the right variety.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is the one herb Richo would grow if he were limited to a single medicinal plant. You can make its flowers into a salve (which is surprisingly easy) or chew them and apply to injuries. Calendula reduces inflammation and helps wounds heal. I also use the deep yellow flower petals in my summer salads.

Mormon tea (Ephedra nevadanensis) is a woody shrub that grows three to five feet tall and is native to desert climates. Unlike other species, this variety contains very little or none of the stimulant effect of ephedra. This variety is safe to use in tea form to dry up sinuses and dilate the bronchial tubes. Mormon tea is particularly valuable for chest colds, bronchitis, and allergies.

Skullcap (Scutellaria laterifola) is a creeping perennial used as a nerve tonic, a sedative, and for anxiety. All parts of the plant may be used in tincture or tea form. But not all Skullcap variations are alike. If you want the variety with the strongest relaxing effect, be sure you get the Scutellaria laterifolia variety.

Natural progesterone creams are made from Chinese wild yam (Dioscorea batatas), but the substance in the herb is not converted into progesterone through the skin. The potato-like tubers from this perennial vine are used as a food, a general tonic, and are used specifically for nerve pain, chronic irritable bowel, and diarrhea. Wild yam is easy to grow in large pots or in your garden.

For a valuable shrub or small tree that's simple to grow, consider growing chaste tree (Vitex agnuscastus). Its berries are used to help balance hormones in menopausal women. A tea made from its berries may be used for endometriosis, infertility, and menstrual disorders.

No herb garden should be without aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis or Aloe arborescens). The gel contained in its fleshy leaves heals burns and cuts once the plant is several years old. Aloe vera likes warm weather, but grows well in pots and can be brought indoors during the winter. The plant reproduces by forming little suckers. Replant them for additional plants for yourself or friends.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a member of the mint family and easy to grow. It is the major ingredient of topical lip salves that really work well to stop cold sores. Its fragrant leaves can lift your spirits; its tea helps many people relax and sleep. Like all mints, lemon balm tea aids in digestion.

If you'd like a selection of medicinal herb seeds that are easy to grow, you can get a Gift Blend from Richo. It contains a mixture of calendula (anti-inflammatory), echinacea (boosts immunity), elecampane (cough and lung remedy), feverfew (may prevent migraines), motherwort (reduces irregular heartbeat), wood betony (headache and general pain remedy), and yarrow (antiseptic and anti-inflammatory). At $2.65 for enough organic seeds to cover 200 square feet, you can create a beautiful instant garden for pennies. Perhaps this is the place to begin, and then look in your local nurseries for plants to add. If you're looking for less familiar plants, you may need to go directly to a grower.

There are a number of books on herbs that can help you choose those for your climate. Several books I like that give simple recipes for their medicinal use include: Making Plant Medicine by Richo Cech (Horizon Herbs, 2000); Herbal Remedy Gardens by Dorie Byers (Storey Books, 1999), and Growing 101 Herbs That Heal by Tammi Hartung (Storey Books, 2000). If you like gardening books with photos of plants, you'll Want this last book, which takes you through every step of growing and using medicinal herbs.

Cech, Richo. Making Plant Medicine, Horizon Herbs, Williams, OR, 2000 (500 846-6704).

Horizon Herbs Strictly Medicinal Growing Guide and Catalog, same info.
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Author:Fuchs, Nan Kathryn
Publication:Women's Health Letter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2001
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