Since moving to my hometown in Saskatchewan, Canada last November, I have been thinking a lot about gardening.
I have moved so much and lived in so many different climates (from rainy cool Dunedin to subtropical Auckland in NZ, to desert-like Kelowna in BC and now these windy Prairies) that I feel like everywhere I go I have to totally re-learn what the growing season is like, what will grow there, what is a perennial vs an annual (Rosemary, for example, will not survive a Canadian winter outside I have learned!), what kinds of pests do I have to navigate, and just basically *what the hell am I doing*.
The nice thing about growing herbal medicines though, is that MANY of them are super resilient and very easy to grow! No matter what your climate or growing season.
So thought it would be a great time to chat about what plants you can grow at home - even if you aren't much of a gardener.
Whether you have an acre or a balcony, you can grow your own plant medicines.
You see, one thing that I just love about herbal medicine is that it can bring a huge appreciation for some "underrated" herbs (*cough* weeds).
So here's a list of some faves, from easiest (aka you couldn't kill them if you tried) to the kind that you should probably water once in a while. Many of these double as culinary herbs, so bonus!
Herbs to Grow at Home
1. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
I can hear the comments now- You're kidding me right!?! Dandelions? My neighbours will hate me!
But wait! Your neighbours will love you because you don't even have to really grow these- you can just volunteer to pick or dig them out of your neighbour's lawn in exchange for them not spraying them.
Dandelions definitely fall into the "weed" category of plants but they are really so awesome.
You can eat the young leaves in salads, which are high in minerals like potassium and great for kidney support. You can dry the leaves for tea, you can make wine out of the flowers, and you can dry, roast, and make a decoction out of the roots. (A decoction is like a tea that you simmer on the stove- usually for tougher parts of plants like roots, bark, or seeds).
The root has been shown to be good for healthy blood sugar and liver support. It is also full if prebiotics- the kind of fibre that feed our good gut bacteria.
I promise- in no time you'll be wandering your neighbourhood exclaiming "Oh look at that beautiful Dandelion!"
2. Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Sometimes called Pot Marigold but NOT the same as common marigold (Tagetes genus), Calendula is pretty, helps keep pests out of your garden, attracts pollinators and easily self- seeds.
The way that I have grown Calendula is to just literally throw the seeds around and then watch them pop up. They will come back on their own in the spring as they self-sow easily.
Calendula flowers are edible so can be put in a salad so you can take a fancy picture for Instagram 😂.
You can use Calendula flowers internally- they are slightly bitter and so are a good tea for digestion.
But topically is where Calendula really shines, as it helps to heal cuts.
Pick the flowers throughout the growing season and let them dry (I just have a cardboard tray and make sure they have some space to breathe). Once you have a bunch you can make an oil infusion with them.
Simply put the dried flowers in a glass/pyrex measuring jug and cover them in oil (olive oil works great, or you can use a neutral oil like almond or apricot). Put the jug in a pot of water on the stove - you are making a water bath. Bring to a gentle boil and then let simmer on low for a couple hours (being careful that your water doesn't boil out!). Once cool, strain the flowers out and you will have the most gorgeous golden oil.
Use topically on cuts or scrapes (after cleaning thoroughly) or make into an ointment. Can also be used as a facial oil. Divine!
3. Mint and Lemonbalm (Mentha spp. & Melissa officinalis)
I'm putting these together because 1) they are from the same plant family (Lamiaceae, in case you were wondering) and 2) this blog is gonna be way too long if I don't.
Plants from the mint family are excellent to grow because they spread easily. In fact, I highly recommend growing these in pots as otherwise they may takeover your garden.
Seedlings are a good way to go for these plants as they spread easily so you don't really need a bunch of seeds. Also- fun fact- true Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) is a hybrid and so you can't actually grow it from seed- it must come from a cutting/seedling.
Whatever variety of Mint you choose (and there are LOTS), the volatile oils in the leaves help with digestion- bloating, cramping, gas, etc. Whether you add your mint to a salad, chew a leaf on it's own, add it to a cocktail or drink it as tea- your tummy will thank you.
Lemonbalm is mint's fuzzy-leafed, lemony-scented cousin. Also brilliant in a tea for digestion, Lemonbalm is one of my favorite all time herbs for anxiety. You can use it in tea dried or fresh straight from the garden (same with mint). Or you can harvest a big batch and make a tincture (instructions on that will come later in an email/blog/video).
While these plants are perennial in more temperate climates, in my (limited) experience growing them in Canada I had to re-plant in the spring. If you did have them in a pot you could bring them inside for the winter and keep them happy on a sunny windowsill. Or just harvest lots and dry the leaves for tea all winter long 🥰.
4. Rosemary, Thyme, & Oregano (Rosmarinus officinalis, Thymus vulgaris, & Oreganum vulgare)
Another grouping for these lovely Mediterranean herbs.
These babies need a bit more sunshine and love than some of the others, but can still be grown pretty easily, either in pots or just out in the garden. They will all spread pretty easily, depending on the variety you choose.
I tend to buy seedlings for these plants as well, rather than growing them from seed. This is mainly because you only need one or two plants to get a good amount of growth so unless you are hardcore and planting out your yard for commercial growing then I wouldn't bother with seeds.
These plants have a wide range of actions but in all 3 of them, those volatile oils that you can smell and taste have antimicrobial properties.
All of these plants can be made into tea (Thyme I particularly love with lemon and honey for a cough), eaten in a myriad of dishes (obvs), or made into a tincture.
These are also plants which are perennial in more temperate climates but I find need to be re-planted every spring in Canada.
Any more experienced Canadian gardeners out there with a different experience please correct me! I may know what to do with the plants but I'm really quite a novice grower of them 🌱.
So that's it for today! I could have gone on and on and on and on... I really wanted this to be a full workshop for Mother's Day but what with the old quarantine we're not quite back to workshops yet.
Happy gardening! Leave a comment below and tell me what you are gonna try and grow in your backyard/balcony this year. I've got some Holy Basil seeds that I can't wait to try out.
Take care and talk soon,