In an ideal world, we would each have inherited the ability to conjure a personal list of essential garden herbs, tailored to our particular climate and health concerns. As it is, many of us are re-learning the traditional art of the apothecary garden—a place where beauty, medicine, and bees reign supreme.
1. Calendula, Pot Marigold.
Calendula is one of the most familiar and beloved herbs, earning our affection with its cheerful golden flowers. The “petals” (technically known as ray florets) are edible and the whole flower is an important medicinal herb for addressing skin conditions. Calendula flowers (whole; including the resinous green bracts) are incorporated into topical oils and salves for healing wounds, rashes, burns, and dry skin. This plant holds an interesting claim to fame—it is the herb most likely to be found in diaper rash ointments and creams.
Motherwort is one of the easiest herbs to grow and is a highly versatile medicinal. It is taken as a tincture or tea to lessen pain, such as: headaches, menstrual cramps, and muscle sprains and aches. It is an ally for many women in menopause for easing hot flashes and hormonal-induced irritability. Motherwort is also used in childbirth to help strengthen contractions.
Passionflower is a native vine to the southeastern United States, with gorgeous flowers and interesting foliage. It is weedy in much of its range and fairly easy to grow elsewhere, especially if given a wall or trellis to climb. The leaves and flowers are an important nervine sedative and are used to help promote sleep and alleviate pain, such as menstrual cramps and headaches.
4. Echinacea Or Purple Coneflower.
Purple coneflower is one of the most popular garden ornamentals with its showy purple flowers that attract all manner of butterflies and bees. Not only is it gorgeous, it’s easy to grow—echinacea is a decidedly unfussy plant, withstanding drought, disease, and insect infestations. Purple coneflower’s (another name for echinacea) roots, seeds, and fresh flowers are all medicinal, and can be made into a tingly tasting, immune-stimulating tea or tincture.
5. Holy Basil, Tulsi.
This close relative of common basil is native to India, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia, and has gained recent popularity as a tasty herbal tea. Holy basil is highly aromatic and antimicrobial; its leaves and flowers are used as a medicinal tea for colds, coughs, asthma, bronchitis, sinusitis, headaches, arthritis, diabetes, stress, and anxiety. Its adaptogenic effect offers an uplifting energy and helps with mental clarity and focus.
6. Meadowsweet, Queen Of The Meadow.
With billowy clusters of creamy flowers that reign over ferny leaves, this European wetland herb certainly is deserving of its moniker: queen of the meadow. The flowers are quite attractive and are traditionally used to flavor meads; hence its former name meadwort. You can also make an herbal simple syrup with meadowsweet, sassafras (Sassafras albidum) root, black birch (Betula lenta) bark, and a touch of cloves (Syzygium aromaticum) and add it to sparkly water to make a homemade root beer soda. The leaves and flowers have a pleasant wintergreen aroma and flavor, and are used internally for inflammation, fevers, heartburn, and peptic ulcers.