For those seeking an alternative to traditional medical treatments for minor ailments, look no further than your backyard. Many easy-to-grow plants have wonderful medicinal properties, and all it takes to grow a garden pharmacy is a little planting knowledge.
If gardening isn’t your speed, most of these botanicals can be found in liquid or pill form at health food stores, but growing your own is a low-cost alternative. When ill, it’s always best to consult with a medical professional (and please do your research before taking any of the plants below), but to learn about some home healing options, read on.
1. Aloe Vera
Aloe vera gel (from inside the leaves) works wonders on the skin. Not only does it help relieve burns, but it can be applied to minor cuts and used on skin conditions such as eczema. The gel can also be taken internally (many health food stores sell aloe vera juice) to correct digestive problems, including constipation and colitis.
In addition to providing beautiful color to the garden, echinacea is useful for treating a number of ailments. Its medicinal use by some Native American tribes in the Great Plains is well-documented, any many people continue to take it as a treatment for the common cold. WebMD says that it’s also sometimes used to fight infections, such as the flu, UTIs, and tonsillitis.
Not only does peppermint provide the garden with a wonderful scent, but it’s helpful to the body, too, and archaeological evidence shows that it’s been used for thousands of years. It’s rich in vitamins A and C, as well as manganese. The leaves are good for warding off digestive discomfort, such as upset stomach and gas, and may even help combat symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. If eating the leaves isn’t appealing, serving them in peppermint tea is another way to absorb the benefits.
The roots of the ginseng plant have a whole host of beneficial properties, and ginseng is one of the most popular herbal treatments in the world. It’s used to promote relaxation, lower cholesterol, fight insomnia, improve appetite, improve stamina, and lower blood sugar. It’s worth noting that there are two types of ginseng — Asian and American — and the American version is less stimulating.
5. Tea Tree
Like ginseng, tea tree oil is useful in treating a wide spectrum of ailments. Native to Australia, the plant has been used by Aboriginal people for centuries. Because of its antiseptic properties, the oil is often recommended as a natural treatment for acne, but also may be useful to fight infections such as athlete’s foot and thrush, as well as warts, burns, cold sores and insect bites. Tea tree oil is only safe when used externally.
6. Evening Primrose
Almost every part of the evening primrose plant is useful. The roots and shoots are edible, and the roots can also be used in poultices to heal bruising and tea to relieve digestive ailments. The leaves and bark are the primary ingredients in evening primrose oil, which is commonly available in stores. According to one source, the oil can be used to treat: “multiple sclerosis, premenstrual tension, hyperactivity, eczema, acne, brittle nails, rheumatoid arthritis, and alcohol-related liver damage.”
7. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm (so named because it has a minty, lemony scent) can be used both internally and externally. When the leaves are crushed and applied to the skin, they can work both as an insect repellent and treatment for mosquito bites and other skin sores. When ingested (as an infusion with water), lemon balm may quell symptoms associated with insomnia, colds/fevers, headaches, and digestive discomfort. It’s also a great flavor ingredient for iced tea.
A pretty, daisy-like flower with a fruity scent, chamomile has traditionally been considered a treatment for more than a hundred ailments. Not only is its soothing scent used in aromatherapy, but according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, chamomile is “used as a folk or traditional remedy for sleeplessness, anxiety, and gastrointestinal conditions such as upset stomach, gas, and diarrhea. It is also used topically for skin conditions and for mouth ulcers resulting from cancer treatment.”
Common sage is scientifically known as Salvia, which comes from a Latin word meaning “to feel well and healthy, health, heal.” It’s another herb that can be used both internally and externally. When ingested, sage can aid with digestive problems and women’s conditions such as excessive lactation, female sterility and problems associated with menopause. Externally, it can treat skin conditions and insect bites, as well as certain skin and oral infections.
Primarily used as an external treatment, comfrey contains allantoin, a compound that promotes the healing of wounds and infections. As an herbal remedy, it’s used to treat a range of ailments, including ulcers, diarrhea, bronchitis, chest pain, bruises, sprains, fractures, acne, and varicose veins. While it’s generally considered safe in small doses, overuse of the plant can result in the absorption of toxic chemicals.
This list is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of plants with medicinal properties, but it’s a good starting point for anyone hoping to create a garden pharmacy. But remember, it’s always wise to consult with a medical professional before undertaking any course of self-treatment.
What are your favorite healing botanicals? Let us know below!