By Nancy Godwin
Have you always wanted to grow a medicinal herb garden but had no idea how to start? Well, the process is very simple whether you are a beginner or an experienced gardener. All you need is some space indoors or outdoors, and one or two plants to begin.
Here are three herbs with great medicinal benefits that you can use to start a medicinal herb garden today.
Evening Primrose (oenothera spp.)
Evening primrose is an easy-to-grow perennial plant native to North America. It is well-known for its vibrant, sweet smelling flowers that sometimes appear out of nowhere in your yard. This is because the plant self-seeds rapidly and can spread with ease throughout your yard and beyond. Check to see if it is legal to plant Evening Primrose in your local environment before going ahead to grow it.
Medicinally, Evening Primrose contains Gramm-linolenic acid (GLA) an essential fatty acid not readily produced by the body. According to research, GLA is useful to prevent or treat the following conditions, diabetic neuropathy, eczema and acne, hypertension, breast cancer and more.
How to Grow Evening Primrose
- Evening primrose grows best from seeds. Purchase some from your local nursery.
- The best time to plant Evening Primrose if in late spring or early summer
- Choose a well-drained and fertile soil to plant the seeds. Also, pick a spot that has direct or partial access to sunlight.
- Dig the designated planting spot lightly, sow your seeds, and cover. Do not plant the seeds too deep.
- The seeds will germinate in 2 weeks to a month. Thin out the seedlings to 30cm/12” after germination.
- Water the plant lightly until it is established. Afterward Evening Primrose requires little to no care.
- To prevent the plant from spreading rapidly, get rid of the flowers as soon as they bloom.
How to Use Evening Primrose
The root of the plant is edible and can be used to make an infusion. The leaves can also be boiled and consumed as greens. The flowers make a nice addition to a salad.
Oil can also be extracted from the evening primrose seed, but the process can be quite hectic.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Stinging Nettle is a herbaceous perennial plant native to several continents including western North America. The plant derives its name from its spines or hairs which release chemicals that leave a stinging effect on the skin. Despite this, Stinging Nettle can be very effective in treating pain and inflammation. Research shows that the plant can help in treating osteoarthritis, hay fever, and Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH).
It is advisable to grow stinging nettle in a fenced area in your yard especially if you have children and pets to reduce the chances of injuries.
How to Grow Stinging Nettle
- You can purchase seeds or obtain them by rubbing a seed head on an established plant into a jar.
- The best period to plant Sting Nettle is in mid-September to mid-October.
- The best soil for planting is a damp loamy soil, that is rich in nutrients and nitrogen. Dig in some compost into the area of the soil you want to plant. You can mulch the area well after the seeds germinate. Stinging Nettle can survive in a wide range of pH, but if the soil is too acidic, you can squeeze lime on the top before adding compost or mulch.
- Spread the seeds on the soil, rake them into the soil, and cover with a light leaf mulch. The plant will survive in full or partial sunlight.
- There is not a lot of maintenance afterward. Just make sure the soil is damp until after harvesting. When the plant grows to about a foot tall, you can harvest the leaves from the top.
- During fall, trim the plant down to about 4 inches and leave the trimmed parts around the plant to form organic matter that will keep the soil damp and nutrient-rich.
How to Use Stinging Nettle
The leaves of Stinging Nettle are the only parts that should be consumed. Luckily, they make quite a delicious green especially after they have been established for two or more years. The first-year leaves don’t have quite the same tastefulness and may not be as appealing. Boil the leaves to get rid of the stingers and use for teas, soup, baked dishes or salad.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Lemon Balm is a perennial herb native to Europe and parts of Asia. Due to its highly invasive nature, however, it has naturalized in other regions including America. Lemon Balm belongs to the mint family and is closely related to other herbs like peppermint and spearmint. It is an easy herb to grow and is probably the best option out of the three to start with for beginners.
Research has shown that lemon balm is useful as a sleep aid to cure insomnia and reduce anxiety. It is also used to treat venereal diseases like herpes.
How to Grow Lemon Balm
- Lemon Balm grows best from seedlings. You can also plant seeds, but if you know someone who already has the plant, harvest one or more shoots and put it in a cup of water. Replace the water every day and plant outside or in a pot when roots develop.
- For soil, Lemon Balm can grow in any soil so far it is well drained and has an almost neutral pH (6.0-7.5). Although the plant does not require a very fertile soil, it is a good idea to apply some slow-release fertilizers to supply nutrient for long.
- Choose a spot with full exposure to sunlight for your plant to thrive.
- If planting on the ground, place the seeds or seedlings with wide spacing (at least 30-38cm apart). Also, thin out the seedlings as they begin to grow. All this is to ensure that the plant does not spread too rapidly.
- For maintenance, water the plant weekly. It’s best to pick a day each week to water; if you are in an unusually hot climate increase watering to twice a week. Add organic mulch to the plant yearly usually during spring or fall. Lemon Balm can be susceptible to diseases, so trim off any dead leaves or flowers to reduce spreading. Remove flowers after they bloom to curb its invasive nature.
How to Use Lemon Balm
The leaves and sprigs of the plant give off a strong lemon smell and taste with a slight hint of mint. Harvest the seeds before the flowers bloom and use for tea, drinks, and cooking. You can also extract oil from the plant.
Use the steps outlined above to start your medicinal herb garden with one or more plants.
Images used with permission, courtesy of www.shutterstock.com and www.dreamstime.com