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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.
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    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.
     
    fennel

    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.
     
    lavender

    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.

    peppermint

    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.

    parsley

    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.
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Herb “forts” and other companion plantings

September 10th, 2009

In her summer garden tour, our gardener Arlene describes the configuration of the plantings in specific beds as herb “forts.” This clever name refers to the protective barrier created around different varieties of vegetables; the herbs create a protective barrier because they either repel or attract harmful or beneficial insects. Companion plants can also be effective for other reasons; for example, plant sunflowers next to beans because beans enjoy the partial shade provided by the sunflowers’ foliage. To download the pdf of Arlene’s Summer Garden Tour visit our website and click on the link to the tour on the homepage.

Specifically in our garden this summer, Arlene discusses the English thyme/garlic chive “forts” that have been planted around the yellow crookneck and rêve scallopini squashes. Thyme is a beneficial companion plant because it helps to control whitefly which can be harmful to squash, and because garlic chives contain the same essential oil as garlic, its smell is displeasing to aphids, flies, and mosquitoes. The photo below shows the yellow crookneck squash surrounded by the garlic chives.

The other benefit to utilizing companion planting in your garden is that it decreases the need for pesticides or herbicides. Companion planting is a critical aspect of organic gardens. According to Kelle Carter of Seeds of Change, “Organic gardening is composed of numerous aspects that make up a whole interconnected system. This system relies upon insects, birds, shade, sun, and all other aspects of a living and working community. By growing numerous types of crops you create habitats for beneficial insects or animals, deter problem pests, and enrich your soil to create a living ecosystem of beneficial bacteria and helpful fungi.” Read Carter’s article about companion plants here; the article is an excellent overview and also includes a chart of plants, their companions and their effects.

You can also visit the Good Life Garden website for detailed information about the crops we have planted currently. We provide information about companion planting and pest management, nutritional information, historical facts, and how to plant, grow and prepare the edibles in your garden.

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