Grow your own medicinal herbs - Herb Garden Update
Well it is August here in Saskatchewan and as much as I am NOT READY to admit it, my growing season is coming to a close.
It has been a busy first season of growing my own medicinal plants. Some have been amazing and some less so, but the whole idea with this garden is that it will be mostly perennial - so the long haul is just as important as the first year.
If you have no idea what I'm talking about - this is my first year creating, planning, and putting in the grunt work of creating a medicinal herb garden in the front yard of my urban lot in Saskatchewan, Canada. You can check out my other blog posts about this, as well as my YouTube channel, where I have been documenting it all.
Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) flowers just blooming like crazy in my front yard herb garden.
So where to start? Well this garden came together very much in bits and pieces. I started with buying seeds for plants that I knew I wanted to grow - picking plants that I use a lot with my family and in clinic. Chamomile and Lemonbalm were heavily featured.
Along the way, I got gifted a bunch of perennials from different folks in the city. I have been super lucky to get to know (mostly via Instagram - thank you social media!) a few rad humans who are into growing edible and medicinal plants, and who were super generous and reached out to ask me if I wanted some.
Fun "work" days were had taking field trips to visit Jenine from Edible Landscapes Regina, Amy from Red Barn Blooms, and Sommer from Sommer Love Herbs. In these Covid-ey times there is nothing like being reminded of how amazing it is to have community around you. Thank you all for your kindness - you will be happy to hear that everything is still alive, except somehow the tarragon, which appears to be prolific everywhere except in my garden.
I was also able to get some prairie-hardy perennials from a local pal who is doing work with the David Suzuki Butterflyway Project. This community-led initiative is all about creating a network of plants that are beneficial to butterflies and other pollinators. Luckily, many of these plants are also fabulously medicinal, so it's win-win :)
I currently have something like 26 different types of plants growing in the garden. They are not all medicinal (at least not that I'm familiar with), but the vast majority are.
So many of these plants have flourished - it is awesome!
Gorgeous Borage flowers are edible and the bees love them
I have harvested Catnip (at least twice now), Lemonbalm, Chamomile, and Motherwort. I have eaten Nasturtium leaves and flowers and Sorrel and added Borage flowers to my salads (though I leave most of them for the bees). The Yarrow has been flowering almost constantly for a couple months now, the Marshmallow has these gorgeous pinkey-purple flowers to die for, and I even got a single Californian Poppy flower.
Mulching stuff heavily was probably the best decision I could have made. I got some bark mulch from a local landscaping place (un-dyed...why do we dye bark mulch? So weird) and it has been unbelievable for water retention (in a SUPER hot and dry summer), as well as for weed suppression. If you check out my latest YouTube video where I am doing some harvesting, you will see my love of the mulch, as it just makes weeding so easy.
Overall, I feel like it has been really successful.
A lot of the things that I've planted are perennial, and in the prairies with our short, hot, and dry growing season, it can take a while for things to establish.
My biggest fail was - of all things - my Calendula! I had Calendula seeds that I had harvested from previous gardens (though they were a couple years old) that didn't come up at all. This was a total surprise to me as I have grown Calendula successfully many times, and usually it just self-sows like crazy. Ah well, next year.
I also had one interesting outcome which was the "Peppermint" seeds that I bought from a garden center. Now I know that Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) is actually a hybrid, and as such, should only be able to be grown from cuttings or plants, not seeds (the seeds from most hybrid plants are sterile). But I bought them anyways as an experiment. Maybe I was wrong??
Spoiler alert - I was not. The seeds grew mint of some kind (maybe spearmint? I'm not exactly sure) but it was definitely NOT Peppermint. Peppermint leaves are smooth and quite a dark green, and what I got was light and kind of fluffy with wrinkly leaves. I'll insert a couple pictures so you can see what I mean. This is a very tricky part about buying medicinal herbs - make sure your seed suppliers know their shit. It's not like I got these from some small-time random either. The seeds were from a large company that sells veggie seeds everywhere in Canada, and I bought them from Peavey Mart. AND IF WE CAN'T TRUST PEAVEY MART THEN WHO CAN WE TRUST!?!
Actual Peppermint on the left (from Amy) vs the stuff I grew from seed. Trust me they are different lol.
Some things haven't flowered this year, but because they are perennial I am hoping that they spent this growing season getting good and established. I have yet to see flowers from the Grindelia, Echinacea, St John's Wort, and Bee Balm (Monarda).
I also only had one Californian Poppy flower - but I actually wasn't sure if they were gonna come up at all (I grew them from seed) so I'm counting that one flower as a total success.
Californian Poppy (and a few weeds)
The wind was a real challenge this year. It seemed like every time I came home from one of my aforementioned "field trips" and had to plant a bunch of stuff, it was ridiculously windy. So a few of my plants got absolutely blown over and have looked pretty sad. I think this also may be why the Tarragon didn't make it. But apparently it is super hardy here so maybe it is quietly rooting and will come back next year - we will see.
One other thing - more of an "aha moment" rather then an actual fail - when you harvest the flowers of something (as opposed to the leaves) - you need A LOT of it. In this instance I'm referring to my Chamomile. I feel like the plants that I grew have done well, but to get the amount that I actually need to keep me and my clinic going for a year, I would need a field. Worth growing for some beautiful cups of fresh tea, but I'm still going to have to buy some dried stuff from a herb supplier. Bummer.
My initial plan with this garden was to turn the whole front yard into a Wildflower/Medicinal Garden. However because we were getting some work done on our house I held off, which was good because I had a digger and concrete truck driving all over the rest of the front yard for a few weeks in July. I now have a mudpit/blank canvas for the next stage...
I am currently oscillating between seeding the whole area with wildflower seeds in no particular pattern or adding some areas of lawn alternative. By "lawn alternative" I mean some kind of clover, rye grass, or other mixture of more deeply-rooting plants that will do better in our climate than the ubiquitous Kentucky Blue which has super shallow roots, hence its need for constant watering and attention. Jenine has a great video about growing lawn alternatives that I will link here.
Likely it will be some kind of marriage of the two options, but I will keep you posted. I still have some seeds so I will have a look if anything needs cold stratification and if so I will legit just chuck those in the ground and see what happens.
In the meantime, I still have tons of harvesting to do :)
Sweet little harvest with lots of Catnip, Lemonbalm, Borage and Chamomile flowers.