Herbs for health and wellbeing

My garden wouldn’t be a garden if it stayed the same year after year.  What I love most about having my own outdoor space is trying out new ideas and having fun learning along the way.  If it turns out to be a complete disaster then at least I know never to do it again or try it a little differently if I do.  

One of the new concepts I’m trying this year is to grow a medicinal herb bed.  Lots of us already grow herbs for culinary purposes – parsley, sage, thyme, rosemary, lovage, etc – but this herb bed is specifically herbs that are used for health.    

This is a project I am undertaking as part of a new diploma course I am studying with the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh on the subject of Herbology – that means plants that can be used by humans for healing.    My challenge is to grow 12 medicinal herbal plants – at least half of which must be grown from seed.  I must tend to those plants throughout the growing season ahead, and then create a variety of healing herbal remedies (lotions, syrups, tinctures, balms) using those plants that I must then present to my tutors.  It is an exciting (if slightly intimidating) plan and one that I am really excited about bringing to fruition.

So far during my studies I have discovered there are so many familiar garden plants, and a lot of ‘weeds’ that have fabulous medicinal properties.  Sticky willy (Galium aparine) for example is a prolific herb which we all try to eradicate from our borders in late spring and early summer but it is a fabulous plant for tackling inflammation in the body, as well as treating skin problems such as eczema .  It contains high amounts of silica, an essential nutrient for hair, skin and nail growth and repair and is wonderful for kick-starting a sluggish digestive system (Chown & Walker, The Handmade Apothecary: Healing Herbal Remedies, 2017). A wonderful recipe is to collect some fresh sticky willy, put it in a jug of water, leave in the fridge overnight and then serve, strained in a glass the next morning. Delicious.

In my medicinal herb bed, I plan to grow a variety of annual and perennial herbs including Calendula officinalis (marigold), Echinacea purpurea, Fillipendula ulmaria (meadowsweet) and Achillea millefolium (Yarrow).  As I move through the processes of sowing, caring for and harvesting my herbs I will try to share my journey with you so that you could perhaps try and create your own herb bed for yourself.

Two weeks ago I sowed Calendula officinalis seeds into a peat-free seed and cutting compost. I left to germinate in a sunny windowsill, kept well watered and now they are growing into healthy little seedlings. I’ll wait another couple of weeks before pricking these out and potting them on into individual 9cm pots.

Needless to say I am not a qualified herbalist.  While herbs are natural it doesn’t mean they can’t be dangerous if taken in inappropriate quantities, with other drugs and even on their own.  I will reference my work and recipes when I post them here, but please seek advice from a trained medical herbalist before embarking on any new course of medicine.

Watch this space for more info (and hopefully some recipes) coming soon.