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Starting a Medicinal Garden

by Sally Machin

Plant medicines often come in capsules, dried (for teas), or in liquid extracts. These are all great ways for people to have easier access to botanicals, but there is something special about growing and creating one’s own herbal products. Get started with these three easy-to-grow medicinal plants. They will add beautiful color to any garden and can be harvested to create one’s own herbal formulas. If growing these to make useful products, make sure to buy medicinal plants or seeds that will contain the right compounds.

Calendula officinalis (Calendula):

Now available in many different colors, medicinal calendula tends to be either vibrant yellow or orange. The flowers are medium-sized and make a beautiful cut flower. With regular dead-heading, calendula will stay in bloom throughout the spring and summer. Calendula is used medicinally to support wound healing—a perfect herb to have on hand.

Calendula Salve (to be used topically over cuts or scrapes)

Supplies:

  • Mason jar
  • Calendula flowers
  • Olive oil
  • Strainer
  • Cheese cloth
  • Saucepan
  • Beeswax pastilles (¼ the amount of olive oil used)
  • Containers for finished product

Instructions:

  1. Pick the heads of calendula and dry in a food dehydrator, or out in the sun. They are ready when the leaves crumble easily, but the flowers maintain their color.
  2. Once dry, put the calendula flowers in a mason jar and add olive oil until just covered.
  3. Stir vigorously to combine the flowers and oil; the smaller the flower bits, the more the plant comes into contact with the oil. Once mixed, put the lid on the mason jar.
  4. Wait six weeks before using the oil. Shake the jar daily during this time. Mark six weeks on a calendar, so you don’t forget when the oil is done.
  5. Once six weeks is up, it’s time to strain off the flowers, to leave only the calendula oil. Line a strainer with cheese cloth and pour the contents of the mason jar over the strainer, with a saucepan to catch the oil underneath. This will go slowly, so pour carefully.
  6. Gently heat the calendula oil on the stove top, then stir in beeswax until melted.
  7. Pour the final product into containers and let cool; the consistency will be a little softer than lip balm.

Thymus vulgaris (Thyme)

The same herb used for flavoring soups and other meals, thyme also makes a delicious savory tea (or sweet if you add some honey) that can support the body while it’s battling a cough or cold. Thyme Tea

Supplies:

  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2-4 cups water
  • Small saucepan

Instructions

  1. Pick about five sprigs of fresh thyme and place in saucepan.
  2. Add water and bring to a simmer.
  3. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Let cool a little before drinking; add a teaspoon of honey if desired.

Lavendula augustifolia (Lavender)

Lavender is a well-known plant and for good reason. Its little spires of purple dance in the wind and even the image of lavender can calm an anxious mind. The very act of having a bath is soothing and can help relax tense muscles, but when lavender and Epsom salts are added, it enhances the whole experience.

Lavender Bath

Supplies:

  • Lavender flowers
  • Cheese cloth
  • Kitchen twine
  • Epsom salts (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Place about a ¼ cup of lavender flower in the center of some cheese cloth.
  2. Tie the cheesecloth into a bag around the lavender; make sure the twine is secure, but the fabric around the flowers is loose.
  3. Start a warm bath and add the lavender flower baggie. Squeeze under water a few times to fully moisten.
  4. If adding Epsom salts, use about 2 to 4 cups/bath, and add them now. Swirl the water to help the salt dissolve.
  5. Test the water for temperature, then sink into the bath. Afterwards, the lavender can be added to a compost pile to restart the growth cycle.

Dr. Sally Machin is a naturopathic physician at Natura Medica, in Mystic, Connecticut. She uses nutrition, lifestyle counseling and botanical medicine to help patients of all ages, but has a special interest in women’s health issues. For more information, call 860-572-9566 or visit NaturaMedicaMystic.com.