Thursday, March 10, 2011

My herb garden

I've gotten asked several times about the front yard herb garden. Specific questions are "what are you going to put in there?" or some variation of that theme.

My answer has been a shrug and "i dunno" for awhile. I had an idea. I sorta kinda new what sounded trendy or good. But I didn't have anything concrete.

So since my focus on my preperation of medicinal needs I set about deciding what I would put in my garden.

First, the garden has three functions. It's a medicine cabinet that only I know about really. It also is a cooking cabinet for herbs and spices. Finally, it's a butterfly and helpful insect attractant. In order for my backyard food production to get noticed I need to make my house THE place to be for helpful insects. So using the front yard (as well as parts of the backyard) as solely a place to put out the welcome wagon seems like a good idea.

For cooking herbs I want to have thyme, oregano, basil, sage, parsley, dill, rosemary and chives. Most of those will probably be in pots or just randomly spread through the raised bed and window sill in the front and back yard. Those I don't worry too much about.

When it came time to selecting medicinal herbs though I knew I needed to be a little more selective. I started by looking at what items I most likely would need by looking at my family's health and what issues we have.

1. Male, 36 - high blood pressure, some depression issues
2. Female, 31 (almost 32!) - hypothyroid, frequent headaches, menstrual cramping on and off
3. Female, 15 - no known health issues but of a child bearing age
4. Female, 6 - no known health issues
5. Male, 1 - asthma

On top of that I knew I needed to be able to handle seasonal issues like colds and the flu.

Then I needed to evaluate where we live and what will grow here. We live in the Rocky Mountain region, approximately a mile above sea level. We are pretty arid and our summer sun is intense. Soil depends on where you live. I currently have pretty decent soil.

Then I started reading and researching. I bought a book, Edible & Medicinal Plants of the Rockies and attended a class called Herbal Remedies for Cold & Flu at my local greenhouse.

Between these items I've narrowed down my list of MUST GROWS.

Elderberry - (Whenever I say this out loud I feel like I'm in a Monty Python movie) In the backyard I'm putting Black Elderberry bushes. While elderberry raw is often considered poisionous (there is some debate on that but lets just assume for safety's sake it's correct) the flowers and cooked or dried berries are edible and quite tasty. (I tried some at the class) Black elderberries are considered edible by the way, don't go for the red ones. In addition to being tasty and packed with vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron and potassium they also contain anti-viral compounds which are VERY useful in treating many strains of the flu. I've also found some information indicating the leaves and flowers are helpful for treating skin ailments such as eczema and blisters. Combine that with the fact that these berries have 5 times the amount of anthocyanins as blueberries and more antioxidants than cranberries and this feels like a must have in my food stash as well as my medicine cabinet. Also, this is safe for children.

Echinacea - Also known as purple coneflower. Most people use or have used echinacea as a vitamin suppliment to avoid getting the cold. I'm not certain how effective this is but it does appear that if you take it when you notice yourself coming down with a cold you can reduce the severity or almost avoid it entirely. Generally it is the roots and flowers used in either tea or tincture form.

Lemon Balm - The crushed leaves of lemon balm can act as a mosquito repellent and who doesn't need that? It also has mild sedative properties and anti-viral properties. It helps peoples mood and mental performance but shouldn't be taken by people like myself with hypothyroidism as it can make the body absorb less of the medication we take and possibly inhibit the hormone TSH from attaching to the TSH receptors.

Catnip - Of course my cat will LOVE this but did you know that Catnip can also be used for human consumption? It, like Lemon Balm, has a mildly sedative quality and the crushed leaves also act as a mosquito repellent. Also it is a mild muscle relaxer and has been used to calm coughing.

Goldenseal - Believe it or not goldenseal is actually very helpful for sub-acute or chronic conditions such as inflammation of the mucus membranes. Subacute means it's gone past the initial first 3 days of the disease and is lingering or causing a worsening of the condition. This is actually an endangered plant and so it would be better and more predictable if I grew it myself instead of trying to forage for it. It is not safe for pregnancy.

Coltsfoot - This herb is used to treat coughs and other lung complaints. It has mucous cleaning, cough suppressing and mucous inhibiting properties making it fantastic for use when people are experiencing a cold or asthma onset.

Lobelia - Fast anti-spasmodic action, relaxant. Relaxes bronchial spasms during an asthma attack. Expectorant, bronchiodilator. Tastes terrible as a tea.

Chamomile - This plant is an anti-inflammatory and good pain reliever and also has been used as a sleep aid and to calm people and relieve mental stress and tension.

Lavender - Lavender has been shown to be effective as a sleep aid (anyone NOT used Johnsons baby lotion lavender scent?) as well as treating headaches. It can also be used to treat insect bites and burns as it has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.

That's what I've got on my wish list for now. I have a few others that I would love to add but I'm not sure if I can find them or they tend to grow wild and don't cultivate well (Gumweed I'm looking at YOU).

Additionally I'm looking at food as a way to combat some of our medical issues as well. For example Celery, garlic and tomato can all be helpful for lowering blood pressure and they are foods he will eat.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions?


Andrea said...

Do you have a Richter's catalog? OMG. It's like a medicinal herb reference catalog.

Kimberly said...

I'm also starting my medicinal herb garden. I've got a list of herbs that I want-- but haven't finalized it yet with what I can actually grow here. :) I have started my kitchen herb garden though. lol!

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