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Nature’s Medicine Chest

April 8th, 2011

This is an abridged article written by Jan Bower, Yolo County Master Gardener,  from “The Yolo Gardener” Fall 2010 Newsletter–a quarterly publication by the UC Yolo County Master Gardeners. Thank you Jan for this great information!  To read the full article, visit their website here.

Herbs have a variety of uses. They flavor foods, perfume gifts, repel insects, heal illnesses, and serve as companion plants. They can be grown in their own formal garden, along a pathway, or in containers.  They played an important role in traditional medicine, but are also playing an increasingly important role in modern medicine.

For medicinal purposes, the herbs are most often prepared as teas, oils, or spices used in foods, but they can also be inhaled in steam baths and included in ointments, poultices, pills, powders, and gargles. One thing to keep in mind, however, in using herbs for healing is that some of them might be poisonous or addictive so consulting a medical practitioner before use is recommended.

Disclaimer: Medicinal herbs have been with us since the earliest of times. However, many have not been proven to be effective for all of their traditional uses; one should always consult a medical professional before self-treating with an herb.

Here is a short list of some familiar herbs and their medicinal qualities and applications – all of which can be found in the Good Life Garden!

  • Basil  (Ocimum basilicum) comes in many varieties with different scents and flavors. Used widely in tomato-based dishes, it can be a remedy for diseases of the brain, heart, lungs, kidney, and bladder and is often mixed with borage in a tea to revive lowered vitality. The dried leaves are also made into snuff to remedy headaches and colds. One variety has the distinct aroma of camphor and has been known to draw out poison from insect stings and bites.

    Check out all that basil from our herb harvest last year!

  • Bay leaves (Laurus nobilis) and berries from the bay laurel tree have a volatile oil that can be applied externally to bruises and sprains, dropped into ears to relieve pain, and used to treat rheumatism, hysteria, and flatulence. As an essential ingredient of a “bouquet garni” (a bundle of herbs that are tied together and used in cooking), bay leaves can improve the appetite and cure fevers.

    bay laurel

    One of the few bay laurels we have in the garden.

  • Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) contain a pungent oil that stimulates the appetite, aids with kidney function, and helps lower high blood pressure.
  • Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) seeds and leaves can serve as a laxative, relieve dizziness, help purify the blood, or help cure kidney stones and other urinary dysfunctions.
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is used to strengthen eyesight and refresh tired eyes. The seeds produce an oil that helps digestion and relieves asthma and abdominal pain.

    We had some massive fennel last year!

  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) has the effect of smelling salts – it calms nerves, relaxes tensions, and alleviates faintness, dizziness, and insomnia. Used in the bath, lavender refreshes the skin and is recommended for oily complexions and pimples.

    Who DOESN'T love lavender? It smells amazing, is awesome for home remedies, and is gorgeous.

  • Marjoram (Origanum majorana) is used to fight bad colds, cramps and other digestive disorders, painful swellings, rheumatism, colic, and nervous headaches.
  • Mint (Mentha arvensis) provides relief for colds, inflammation of mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract, gallbladder disorders, gastrointestinal pain from gas, and muscle and nerve pain.


    Be careful of mint - it has a variety of uses but can take over your garden! That's why we keep it in a raised bed.

  • Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is rich in iron, vitamins A, B, and C, and an oil called apiol, which is extracted from the seeds for therapy related to infections of the urinary tract, general disease prevention, and treatment of digestion and circulation problems, and kidney stones.


    Who knew parsley had so many uses and was filled with so many vitamins?

  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) stimulates memory and circulation, relieves headaches and other rheumatic conditions, and strengthens eyesight.
  • Sage (Salvia officinalis) decreases sweating, restores energy and memory, and is helpful in digestion, particularly as it relates to the liver. It is found in mouthwashes and gargles because of its antiseptic properties and is used to whiten teeth and heal inflammations of the mouth and throat, e.g. gingivitis and sore gums due to wearing dentures.
  • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is used to treat bronchitis, whooping cough, sore throats, colds, headaches, cramps, colic, bowel and bladder disorders, bad eyesight, and loss of appetite.

Chive Harvesting

September 14th, 2010

Let me start off this entry by saying that I am one of those people whose anthropomorphic skill set extends beyond projecting human characteristics onto animals and inanimate objects.  I do the same with plants, and I believe that our proud chives need some attention!  They were mistakenly overlooked in favor of  the ever-popular basil, lavender and mint plantings at last week’s free herb harvest.  I think it may be because people don’t know how awesome they are!  They are hearty (hard to kill), perennial, beautiful (their flowers are gorgeous), and can be a delicious part of every meal!

At our next harvest (date TBA) check out our chives!  Harvest the stems that are not yet flowers like the one below.  Do you see how it is about to grow a flower yet, but hasn’t?  This is a good choice.  Snip it at its base so we avoid that unattractive chive stubble!

There are a variety of ways you can enjoy this wonderful herb; it’s not just for topping your potatoes!  With a milder flavor than onion, chives are usually snipped raw as a finishing touch for salads, soups, sauces, vegetable and fish dishes. Chives also work well in egg dishes such as quiche and omelets.  Here are the top 20 chive recipes according to

Is there an edible that you love, that seems to get overlooked by more popular (common) fruits, vegetables, or herbs?  Why do you think it has an image problem?  Let us know!


Chive Talkin’–How to divide and transplant this perennial favorite

October 8th, 2009

Here Arlene talks about prepping your chives for transplant to other areas of your garden. Chives are a perennial herb. When they get a little too big you can divide them and replant them–it’s a two for one deal! You’ll be sure to always have a supply, or you can give some to your family, friends or neighbors. These tips don’t apply to chives only. This technique can be replicated on many different types of perennials.
Once the large clump of chives has been removed. The next step is to divide it. In this video Arlene talks about how she completes this step and the type of tool that she uses. First of all she looks for a natural break in the plant, then she uses a garden saw to separate the two areas.
Now that you have your chives separated, you can transplant them to another area of your garden or into someone else’s yard! In this video Arlene goes over the steps necessary to prepare the soil for the transplants by first, digging the hole and getting the soil nice and moist.
Fear not if your transplants look as if they have seen better days in the weeks ahead. They are okay, but they are in recovery mode because they have had an operation. As Arlene says, “When you get home from an operation you don’t look so good, but you bounce back!” That is what will happen in a month or so after your transplants have had time to adjust.