By Dorothy Foltz-Gray, Natural Solutions
Luckily, you don’t have to head to landscaping school to create a medicinal garden. You don’t even need a backyard, since many healing plants do well in containers. Growing herbs is so simple that even people who routinely kill houseplants will find they can do it. Many herbs, in fact, thrive on benign neglect; the less water they get, the stronger their medicinal compounds. And in most cases, there’s no need to fertilize them. Turning the herbs into soothing teas and tinctures is easy, too. Below, we’ve picked five of our favorites and asked experts to help us understand just how to grow and harvest them—and how to transform them into aromatic, and often tasty, healers.
What it’s good for: Sharpening memory
When British herbalist Anne McIntyre was a student, she kept rosemary sprigs on her desk during classes, squeezing the oils onto her hands. “The scent stimulates blood flow to the brain and aids concentration,” says McIntyre, author of The Medicinal Garden and ten other herb-related books. Years later, science came to the same conclusion. In a 1998 study, University of Miami researchers exposed 40 adults to three minutes of rosemary scent. The group showed increased alertness and worked math problems faster—and no less accurately—than they had before the aromatherapy session.
How To Grow It: Rosemary is a Mediterranean plant, thriving in sun and well-drained soil. If your winters are very cold, grow it in a pot and take the pot inside for the winter. It’s hard to grow from seed, so start with a plant. Or cut a spike from a friend’s plant at the woody end. Add rooting hormone (available at plant centers) to light soil, insert the cutting, and chances are it will root.
How To Use It: Ancient scholars used to wear wreaths of rosemary around their heads, but you don’t have to go that far. Nurse Dorie Byers, author of Herbal Remedy Gardens, simmers a cup of rosemary needles in two quarts of uncovered water, letting the smell waft through the house whenever she’s doing brain work. Or you can brew rosemary tea, adding one to two teaspoons of rosemary needles to one cup boiling water. Steep it for five minutes, strain the herbs, add a squirt of lime juice, and enjoy. Of course, if you’re feeling both forgetful and hungry, rubbing chopped rosemary over chicken or fish creates a dish you’re bound to remember.