Potions, lotions, poultices and teas made from plants have been used for centuries as herbal treatments and complementary therapies for common ailments ranging from colds and cramps to skin conditions and infectious diseases.
They are as popular today as they’ve ever been. Many can be made at home with herbs straight from the garden while some can only be produced in commercial manufacturing processes.
Naturally, please be aware that herbal remedies should not replace conventional medicines. If symptoms of any ailment persist, seek advice from your general practitioner. It's also important to be guided by professional medical opinions as to whether herbal treatments may be used in conjunction with prescribed medications.
Here’s our Top 10 medicinal herbs for good health and wellbeing of body and mind:
A soft herb of the daisy family, Chamomile is a groundcover that is easy to grow. Its dried flowers are used to make infusions. While there are two chamomiles used in herbal medicine – German (Matricaria recutita) and Roman (Chamaemelum nobile) – it is the German type that is most common in Australia.
Chamomile might look soft, but it is quite hardy. Planted between pavers or as a lawn alternative, it may be walked on occasionally. It is a great companion plant for most flowers and vegies where its strong scent deters pests. It will seed prolifically. You can transplant seedlings to other parts of the garden or give them to friends.
Echinacea or Cone Flower (Echinacea angustifolia) is a herbaceous perennial with pink, daisy-like flowers that have a prominent cone in the centre. The flowers attract bees and add a bright splash of colour to the garden.
The plant's leaves, stems and roots are used in tablets, tinctures, extracts and teas for alternative treatments to common infections. Echinacea plants contain an impressive variety of active compounds including caffeic acid, alkamides, phenolic acids, rosmarinic acid and polyacetylenes.
Cone Flower may be grown from seed or seedlings. Well drained, loamy soil is essential. Make sure to water regularly during the first year after transplanting into the garden but once established, it is quite drought tolerant. It will do best in a full sun position but will also grow reasonably well in partial shade.
Aloe vera is a fleshy succulent grown for both its ornamental features as well as its medicinal value. It is said to be have powerful antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It produces a clear gel when cut that can be applied directly to the skin to treat superficial wounds and burns. Always test a small area first in case you have an allergy to it before using it over large areas of the body.
Aloe vera, like most succulents, is low maintenance and thrives over wide-ranging soil and climatic conditions. It can be grown in the garden or indoors in a pot. Choose a position that receives partial shade rather than direct sun and allow the soil or potting mix to dry out between watering. It may brown off if the soil is too wet or the growing position is too exposed.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a perennial herb belonging to the same family as common mint. Unlike its relative, it isn’t invasive so can be safely planted into the garden. However, like many herbs, it may do better grown in a pot so it is handy to the kitchen.
The leaves and stems have a mild citrus scent and flavour and are used in foods and herbal remedies. While there is no scientific evidence to support claims, lemon balm is said to be helpful in the treatment of a number of afflictions.
Extracts and oil of lemon balm are used as flavourings in food and beverages. They contain high levels of citronellal, which is responsible for the lemon aroma and taste. Citronellal is a very effective mosquito and bug repellent when rubbed on to the skin.
Lemon balm grows into a low bushy herb that needs regular watering when young but is reasonably dry-tolerant when established.
Ginseng is the common name given some eleven different species of the genus Panax. The plants are short and slow growing with fleshy, branching roots.
Remedies and supplements using extracts from the roots are believed to improve and restore overall wellbeing, resulting in ginseng being one of the world’s most popular and traditional herbal treatments. While ginseng is said to have medicinal properties (and there is some evidence to support this) the benefits have not yet been scientifically proven.
Ginseng is very slow growing and has quite specific cultural requirements so it may not be practical or even possible to grow your own at home. Ginseng is most often available in commercially manufactured supplements available from health food stores and traditional herbalists.
Feverfew or Batchelor’s Buttons (Tanacetum parthenium syn Chrysanthemum parthenium) is a member of the daisy family that’s not only an attractive garden plant but also is said to have beneficial medicinal properties when its leaves are dried and used to make an infusion (tea). It’s an ancient herb used to reduce migraine symptoms, soothe skin irritations and protect against sunburn. Like most such remedies though, sound scientific evidence is minimal or at best conflicting.
A hardy and adaptable perennial that sets seeds readily, feverfew is easy to grow. It may become invasive if allowed to seed uncontrolled. It grows to about 60cm and has strongly scented leaves that have a bitter flavour. It prefers a sunny to lightly shaded position and is dry-tolerant when established. Good drainage is preferred.
Common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is one of the best known and most useful of herbs – its ornamental, culinary and medicinal attributes have been appreciated for thousands of years. A small, perennial evergreen shrub with highly aromatic foliage, thyme is related to oregano.
Thyme can be used fresh to flavour many dishes, it can be dried or dehydrated and thyme oils, vinegars, butter and honeys may also be made at home for use when it’s not possible to pick it fresh from the garden. Apart from its many culinary uses, thyme is said to be beneficial in the treatment of many afflictions.
Thyme is a hardy small shrub that thrives in most soils and climates. It occurs naturally in Mediterranean regions so does best in a warm, sunny spot that has free draining soil. It is quite dry-tolerant when established. There are also other species available, including lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus).
Common sage (Salvia officinalis) has been grown and used by man for thousands of years. It is appreciated for its attractive grey foliage and purple flowers, as well as its strong aroma and taste that add a savory flavour to many dishes. It should be used sparingly in cooking as it can be overpowering and unpleasant if too concentrated. Sage is said to have many health benefits.
Sage is a hardy perennial shrub that does well in most situations and climates. It is dry-tolerant when established and responds well to regular pruning to maintain a neat shape and encourage new shoots, which are the most tender for use in the kitchen.
Rosemary (Salvia Rosmarinus, formerly Rosmarinus officinalis) is a woody evergreen shrub from Mediterranean regions that is used as a culinary condiment, for its perfume for cosmetics and its health benefits. It produces mostly blue flowers although there are white and pink forms also available.
Rosemary belongs to the same plant family as thyme, oregano, basil and lavender. It is best eaten fresh, added to savory dishes, or steeped in a teapot (dried or fresh) to make an infusion. Ingesting undiluted rosemary oil at any time or consuming large quantities of leaves or tea is not recommended.
Rosemary grows well over a wide range of soils and climates but does best in a well-drained loam with a slightly acidic pH (6.0 – 6.5). It prefers a sunny position and dislikes having its roots disturbed so avoid hoeing too close. It is dry-tolerant once established. Rosemary also does well in a large pot close to the kitchen. Prune regularly to keep the bush neat and encourage new growth. It strikes readily from cuttings with a heel of older wood.
Parsley is an extremely popular and useful herb used in all types of cuisine. There are two types commonly grown – Italian or flat-leaf and French or curly leaf. They are both varieties of Petroselinum crispum and have a distinctive taste that elevates the flavour of dishes like casseroles, stews, soups, salads and sauces. It is best picked and added fresh to dishes but may also be dried for use over cooler months when plants may die off.
Parsley is easy to grow and seeds readily for a continuous supply. It is a biennial, meaning the lifecycle is two years from germination to dying off after setting seeds. It prefers to grow in a rich loam that can be kept consistently moist while also being free -draining – it does not like constantly ‘wet feet’. An open sunny spot in the garden is best but it also thrives in pots near the kitchen provided it has good light and is watered often.
You must be a registered Workshop community member to comment. Please join Workshop or sign in to join in the discussion.