‘Tis the season to be jolly and contagious. Winter seems to be a time when the cold and flu run amok through otherwise healthy communities. Already I’m seeing reports of entire families taken out at once, parents and kids laid up in a pile of tissues and blankets. There’s nothing fun about being sick, especially the feeling that conventional products are your only hope for a little relief.
Medicinal plants are an ideal way to give your body what it really needs — immune support — while also making you feel more comfortable. Although they’re not a quick fix like over-the-counter remedies, they will actually help you heal instead of just masking your symptoms. Homegrown herbal medicines can treat many of the same ailments as conventional remedies, but with very few side effects and at only a fraction of the cost.
If you’re ready to say goodbye to foul-tasting, delirium-inducing “medicines” like Nyquil and Sudafed, here are a list of medicinal herbs that you can grow right in your garden or window box. Also included are tips on how to use them to start feeling better fast. (Note: Do not use a medicinal herb or supplement without first talking to your health care provider, especially if you’re currently taking a prescription medication. Some negative interactions can occur).
Echinacea was highly valued as a medicinal herb by Native Americans and early American settlers who used it to treat weeping wounds, boils, abscesses and snakebite. Today, Echinacea is still one of the most widely used medicinal herbs. Echinacea is most commonly known as an immune system booster, but it’s also an effective anti-inflammatory and antiviral treatment for wounds. In your garden, echinacea will produce lovely purple and pink flowers in late summer. A review of 14 clinical trials found that echinacea reduced the odds of developing a cold by 58% and the duration of a cold by 1-4 days.
Peppermint is a fragrant and easy to grow herb that has been used as a medicine for thousands of years. Its soothing properties make it an excellent choice for upset stomach, sore throats, heartburn and fevers. The oil that’s extracted from the peppermint plant contains lots of compounds. Menthol is the most abundant and pharmacologically important. In 2007, Italian investigators reported that 75% of the patients in their study who took peppermint oil capsules for four weeks had a major reduction in their IBS symptoms, compared with just 38% of those who took a placebo pill. Peppermint is high in vitamins A and C, as well as manganese. When applied topically, peppermint also has a soothing and cooling effect on skin irritations caused by hives, poison ivy, or poison oak.
Chamomile has been used as a medicine for thousands of years, dating back to the ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks. Historically, chamomile has been used to treat many conditions, including aches and pain, upset stomach, the common cold, wounds, and burns. This herb also promotes relaxation and is widely popular brewed into tea as a sleep aid. The oil contains ingredients that reduce swelling and may limit the growth of bacteria, viruses and fungi. The tiny daisy-like flowers of German chamomile have white collars circling raised, cone-shaped, yellow centers and are less than an inch wide, growing on long, thin, light green stems. Chamomile is native to Europe, north Africa, and some parts of Asia, making it an easy plant to grow indoors or out.
How to Use: Make tea from chamomile flowers; make a chamomile tincture; add a few drops of essential oil of chamomile to hot water (or use tea) and breathe in the steam to calm a cough; make a paste by mixing powdered herb with water and apply to inflamed skin.
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