HERBS FOR THE SUMMER GARDEN: There are a wide variety of herbs & plants that can be harvested during the summer months.
WHAT IS THE SUMMER SOLSTICE? According to the Herbal Academy, “Of all the times of the year we celebrate plants, no other day is quite as magical as the summer solstice.” The solstice occurs annually between June 20th and June 22nd in the Northern Hemisphere, and it marks the first official day of summer, the longest day, and the shortest night of the year. The warm weather, singing birds, and blooming flowers bring hope and joy. “Many ancient cultures have traditionally harvested herbs on this day, believing them to be at their greatest medicinal value.
Bee Balm (Monarda spp.): a member of the mint family that grows from 3-5 feet tall on a square, hairy stem. Flowers are made up of 20-50 narrow tubular flowers that vary in color depending on the species. Bee balm can be planted in the spring or in the fall in full sunshine. Space plants 18-24 inches apart in rich, well-draining soil. Bee balm needs good air circulation, otherwise it can develop mildew on its leaves. Water thoroughly at the time of planting.
Bee balm can be used fresh or dried in all types of herbal preparations. Brew the leaves into an aromatic, medicinal tea that tastes similar to mint but milder. Bee Balm combats colds and flu and soothes a sore throat. Herbalist Rosalee de la Floret suggests using bee balm for oral infections of the mouth and digestive tract, to discourage fungal growth in and on the body, to diffuse the heat of fevers from viral infections, to bring on delayed menses, and is great for people who are uptight, nervous, or anxious.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis): also called “Pot Marigold”, there are many varieties and shades of calendula, including orange, yellow, and russet. There are also varieties with increased resin that are more medicinally active, and the yellow and orange varieties are more common in medicinal preparations. Plant Calendula just after the last frost of the season, about ¼” deep, and 8” apart. Calendula likes lots of sunlight and can become leggy if they do not get enough, so plant them somewhere bright but not extremely hot. Calendula can survive in dry conditions, but during the hottest time of year, water them once a week to keep them perky and encourage blooming. Deadhead old flowers regularly to promote new growth.
Calendula’s natural anti-inflammatory properties make it wonderful for soothing a sore throat and healing urinary tract infections.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita): can be planted in the spring and grows best in cool conditions and part shade. The soil should be dry. Once chamomile is established, it needs very little care. Too much fertilizer will result in lots of weakly flavored foliage and few flowers. Chamomile is drought tolerant and only needs to be watered in times of prolonged drought.
With beautiful daisy like flowers that smell mildly fruity like an apple, chamomile is a useful medicinal tea herb. It’s traditionally used to induce calm and sleep and improve symptoms of insomnia. Chamomile flowers are bitter, neutral to cooling, moistening, and have an affinity for the liver, stomach, and lungs.
Chicory Flowers & Root (Cichorium intybus): sow chicory seeds 6 to 10 inches apart in rows that are 2 to 3 feet apart. Thin the plants if they crowd each other but close planting discourages weeds. The seeds are planted ¼ inch deep and thinning is done when the plants have three to four true leaves. Chicory requires well drained soil with plenty of organic matter. It performs best when temperatures are below 75 degrees.
Chicory can be used in fresh or dried form as a tea or tincture. Matthew Wood says that traditional herbalists and physicians used chicory to improve digestive and metabolic process, stating that chicory not only enhances these functions, but then helps the body absorb the material into the blood. This is due to its bitter properties and effects on the liver.
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra): elderberries prefer partial shade and would rather be cool and moist than hot and dry. Proper drainage is key to preventing root rot, so avoid any place prone to standing water. It is recommended that elderberry be planted in pairs, no more than 60 feet apart, for the full benefit of cross pollination, which yields more fruit to enjoy! Allow plenty of space between plants. The more air that can circulate between the shrubs, the better they will fare against diseases of the leaf structure. Since they can grow up to 12 feet tall and six feet across, mature bushes will need lots of room to thrive. Elderberries should be planted in the spring, once the danger of frost has passed.
Elderberries have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, and immune stimulant actions. Elderberry is commonly used to address colds and flu with a specific indication for inflammation of the upper respiratory tract, including hay fever, sinusitis, and tonsillitis. Elderberry is an ideal herb to use at the onset of a cold or the flu or after a virus has already taken root.
Elderflower (Sambucus nigra): are at their peak in late spring to early summer. In most regions, mid-June seems to be the best time for harvesting. Elderflower blooms closely resemble hogweed and hemlock, so be sure of the proper identification. During elderflower harvest time, the umbels are covered in tiny creamy white flowers. Each ripens at a different time with the center opening first. Remember to leave some flowers to ripen into berries.
Elderflowers have alterative, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, diuretic, and nervine actions. Elderflower helps clear signs of heat in the respiratory system and promotes sweating. Heat signs include coughing, wheezing, nasal discharge, sinus congestion, sore throat, chills, and fever. It helps reduce excessive amounts of mucus and restore the mucosa to moderate levels. This is one of the reasons elderflowers are used for both acute and chronic forms of bronchitis.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare): plant in spring after the last frost. It’s a great option for growing in raised garden beds, containers, and in-ground gardens. Space fennel plants 4 to 12 inches apart, depending on the variety. Grow them in an area that gets at least 6 hours of sun and has fertile, well-drained soil. For best results, improve your native soil by mixing in several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter. Promote excellent leaf production by regularly feeding with a water-soluble plant food. Keep soil consistently moist and water when the top inch of soil becomes dry.
Fennel seeds are used to prepare tea that is very beneficial for digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, and flatulence, and it also eases painful menstrual cramps. The tea has a delicious, slightly bitter licorice taste.
Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis): a member of the touch-me-not family, Jewelweed grows 4-5 feet tall. It has translucent-like, watery stems with swollen joints, and it branches out in different directions. Leaves are ovate, thin, smooth, almost wax-like, serrated, and light green grey in color. They have a silvery shimmer to them when placed in water. Jewelweed has a distinct irregular blossom that is yellow or orange in color with 5 petals, 2 of which are united, 3 sepals, and 5 stamens. Seed capsules, when mature and full of seeds, explode, throwing seeds all over.
Jewelweed is mostly used in fresh form, but it can also be juiced or gently boiled in water and frozen into ice cubes to preserve it. It’s most commonly used as a poultice or infused in water, witch hazel, or vinegar, but some use it dried in infused oils, salves, and soaps. Jewelweed is a well-known astringent herb and is commonly used for external skin conditions. It has cooling and moistening energetics.
Lavender: (Lavandula): grows well in full sun and in well-drained soil. Lavender is best planted in the spring as the soil is warming up. If planted in the fall, use bigger plants to ensure survival over the winter. Plant lavender 2 to 3 feet apart, and keep away from wet, moist areas. Give the plants 6 hours or more of full sun each day and apply very little water. Most people overwater. Make sure there is good air flow around the plants if the humidity is high. Don’t mulch or use any topping that will bring moisture to the plants, and do not fertilize. Prune back the plants in the late fall. When choosing lavender plants, keep in mind that lavender is native to the Mediterranean, where the winters are cool and moist, and the summers are hot and dry.
Lavender is a natural antiseptic and can be used on burns, insect bites, cuts, and skin irritations. The camphor in the oil is great for stress, sleep, headaches, tension. The floral taste of lavender tea is amazing! A delicious cup of this herbal tea is sweet and fragrant in taste and is perfect for calming the mind, reducing tension, and alleviating headache.
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria): also known as “Queen of the Meadow” meadowsweet loves to grow in damp meadows and banks. It grows from 3 to 7 feet tall. The individual flowers are quite small but have five petals and many stamens, typical of the rose family. The leaves are dark green on top with a whitish and downy color on the underside. They grow as leaflets that are three to five lobed on the terminal leaflet. Meadowsweet blooms from June to September and boasts creamy white flowers. The flowers are strongly aromatic and sweet smelling.
Herbalists use meadowsweet to treat a variety of conditions including pain, indigestion, heartburn, arthritis, gastritis, chronic ulcers, peptic ulcer, minor stomach upsets, and diarrhea. Meadowsweet has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and astringent actions. A simple meadowsweet tea is wonderful medicine. It is strongly aromatic, sweet, and slightly astringent. Use a heaping tablespoon per pint of water. Steep covered for 15 minutes. It will get noticeably more bitter with the longer steeping time. Meadowsweet also works well as an alcohol extract or tincture. Generally, a small amount of glycerin is added to help extract the tannins.
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris): grows to 4 feet in height, but occasionally reaches heights of up to 6 feet. Its angular reddish-brown stems have bitter-tasting leaves that have a sage-like aroma. The plant blooms with yellow or dark orange flowers in the summer.
The mugwort plant is used for colic, diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, headache, epilepsy, irregular menstrual periods, anxiety, hypochondria, fatigue, sleep problems, restlessness, irritability, and depression. It is commonly used in cooking to flavor fish, meat dishes, desserts, pancakes, soups, salads, and beer. Mugwort is used in a variety of herbal preparations, including extracts, tinctures, supplements, and as a poultice, a soft, moist mass of plant leaves kept in place with a cloth and applied to the body to relieve soreness and inflammation. Mugwort can be made into a tea by adding 1.5 teaspoons of mugwort leaves to a cup of boiling water, steeping for 10 minutes then straining off the leaves and serving. The roots of mugwort are used to make an energy tonic.
Mullein: (Verbascum thapsus): a biennial plant that grows in zones 3 through 9. It prefers full sun and dry soil. The plant grows from 6 to 10 feet tall, so to prevent it from spreading in the landscape, remove the fuzzy rosettes that appear on the plant. Remove the flower stalk before the seeds disperse to prevent a widespread seeding.
The leaves, flowers and roots of the Mullein plant are used for the treatment of various inflammatory diseases, diarrhea, asthma, coughs and other lung-related ailments.
Peaches (Prunus persica): an herb that is commonly foraged during the summer months. There are several varieties of peach, but most all are medium sized trees with 4-inch-long, lance shaped, finely serrated leaves. Blossoms grow in groups of 2 or more at the end of last year’s branches and are pink in color with 5 petals, 5 sepals, and many stamens. Blossoms turn into fruit with thin skin, juicy flesh, and seed encased in a wrinkled pit.
Matthew Wood suggests using peach leaves to cool and moisten hot, dry conditions like those that can present themselves during allergies or autoimmune issues. He also recommends it for skin eruptions, hot digestive and respiratory conditions, and to help cool the body during menopause. It’s also an excellent herb for children and sensitive individuals. Kiva Rose suggests using peach for to aid an upset stomach and nausea anytime there are signs of excess heat, to help with adrenal health, to relieve hot, swollen bug bites, and to soothe the nervous system as it has an almost sedative-like effect that varies from person to person.
Peppermint: (Mentha piperita): is very robust plant and can even get out of hand in the garden. Plant in spring after the last frost, in full sun, and space 18 to 24 inches apart. Add several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter. Keep soil consistently moist and water when the top inch becomes dry.
A most favorite tea herb and popular among herbal tea lovers. Peppermint tea soothes digestive disorders, abdominal pain and stomach cramps, stimulates the appetite, reduces flatulence, and is very refreshing in flavor.
Red Clover Flower (Trifolium pratense): thrives in moist or dry conditions but drainage should be good. Slightly acidic soils with a pH between 6.0 and 6.5 are preferred. Plant in full sun or partial shade, although full sun provides the best yields. Sow the tiny seeds in a well-prepared bed from January to April or August to November. Plant seeds at ¼ inch deep or even scatter them on the surface of the soil and lightly dust them with earth. Keep them moderately moist until germination, which is generally 14 to 21 days. Water established plants regularly. Choose the site carefully, as red clover has a tendency to spread and become invasive. Cut back seed heads to prevent over-sowing of seeds and invasion of other beds. Otherwise, you can opt to till late summer planted clover in spring to increase soil fertility.
Red Clover is highly nutritive and rich in vitamins and minerals, including vitamins B and C, calcium, chromium, magnesium, thiamine, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, and iron. As an alterative, red clover helps the body assimilate nutrients, remove metabolic waste, and ease skin conditions, chronic inflammatory conditions, and degenerative diseases. As a lymphatic and diuretic, red clover keeps fluids moving through the lymphatic system and eliminates waste via the urinary system. It also stimulates and nourishes the liver to keep the blood well-filtered. Red clover can be used as an infusion, tincture, and it can be consumed as food in salads, soups, and stews, vinegar infusions and herbal honeys. It is also excellent as a topical preparation such as a balm, salve, or massage oil.
Red Raspberry (Rubus idaeus): has white flowers, each with 5 separate petals and 5 sepals, as well as ovate shaped leaves with serrated margins. Leaves are typically pinnate and compound, arranged in an alternate pattern. Leaves are commonly green on top with a white/grey coloring on the bottom. Plant in early spring once the ground thaws out and can be worked. Raspberries grow best in a sunny position but will also grow in a partially shaded spot. The more sun, the more fruit. The planting site needs rich and well-drained soil, great air circulation, and shelter from wind. Avoid a wet area, as well as a windy spot, as raspberries do not like to stand in water nor totally dry out. Before planting, soak the roots for an hour or two. Dig a hole that is roomy enough for the roots to spread and keep the crown of the plant 1 or 2 inches above the ground. Canes should be spaced 18 inches apart, with about four feet between rows. Fill the soil back in and tamp it down with your foot. Once the canes are planted, cut them down to 9 inches tall to encourage new growth.
Red raspberry leaf is an astringent herb and is often used to tighten and tone relaxed tissues in the digestive and reproductive organs. Known as the woman’s herb, red raspberry is naturally high in vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, potassium, iron, calcium, and vitamins B, A, C, and E. The high levels of B vitamins make it useful for relieving nausea, soothing leg cramps, and improving sleep.
Sweet Hips Rose (Rosa rugosa): choose a location that will get a lot of sun and can handle the plants growing to a height of 5 feet. Plant roses where they will receive a minimum of 5 to 6 hours of full sun per day. Morning sun is especially important because it dries the leaves, which helps prevent diseases. Rugosa roses will grow into a very dense and thorny shrub, so don’t plan on using it too close to any walkways or paths. Brushing up against the rose bush can be unpleasant and prickly. Dig a hole large enough for the roots of the rose seedling, and plant it to the same depth as it was in its original pot, then give it a generous watering. Rugosa roses are extremely hardy and are known to grow in the wild in the most inhospitable places. Water it regularly until it starts to produce new growth and get established. Once growing well, only water it during a drought. To get the hips to form, leave the dead rose blossoms on the bush. It may not look that attractive but it’s necessary to let the plant produce its fruit. If growing roses for the hips, do not cut the flowers to bring inside. Just enjoy them on the plant.
Rose petals and rosehips can be used to make tea. Rose petal tea is full of Vitamin C which boosts immunity and can help ease the pain of menstrual cramps with its lovely floral flavor. Rosehip tea has a tart, fruity flavor and is packed full of nutrients such as Vitamin C, calcium, and zinc. Rose hips have been used to treat influenza, colds, to help strengthen the heart, and arthritis pain. Studies have shown that rose hips have anti-inflammatory, disease-modifying, and antioxidant properties.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis): requires only sunlight, good drainage and ample air circulation to thrive. A sandy, well-draining soil and 6 to 8 hours of full sunlight daily will have the plants off and running in no time. Grown in a sheltered area with a southern exposure, plants can survive short periods of temperatures in the low teens. Rosemary doesn't need a lot of water whether indoors or out, but it does need to be put in front of a sunny south facing window. If this is not possible, use artificial light. Heat is not critical. A cool room will do fine. Move the plants back outdoors once the frost-free date has passed.
Rosemary has a ton of health benefits, including helping to boost memory and mood, and decreasing inflammation? Rosemary is a rich source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, which help boost the immune system and improve blood circulation. It is rich in antioxidants, which play an important role in neutralizing harmful particles called free radicals. The aroma from rosemary can improve concentration, performance, speed, and accuracy. Rosemary contains an ingredient called carnosic acid, which is protective against brain damage, improves recovery, and can slow brain aging.
Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans): plant in spring once all chances of frost have passed. Space plants 24 to 36 inches apart. Grow them in a spot that gets abundant sunshine and has sandy well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0 to 8.0. Improve the native soil by mixing in several inches of aged compost or rich organic matter. Water regularly for the first few weeks after planting, then only water during a dry spell. Good drainage is essential during the growing season.
Pineapple sage has the sweet taste of pineapple combined with the earthy flavor of sage. It has Adaptogenic, antioxidant, anxiolytic, anti-inflammatory, carminative, antimicrobial, diuretic, stimulant, and expectorant properties. It is also a good source of vitamin A and Vitamin K. Pineapple Sage relieves anxiety, lowers blood pressure, eases mental fatigue, stress, and depression.
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum): a pretty little shrub with cheery yellow flowers that have a burst of long, showy stamen in the center, the blossoms of St. John’s Wort last from midsummer until fall, and they are followed by colorful berries. St. John’s wort grows well in sand, clay, rocky soil or loam, and tolerates acidic to slightly alkaline ph. St. John’s wort adapts to both moist and dry soil, and even tolerates occasional flooding. It also withstands drought but grows best with irrigation during prolonged dry spells. Plant in a location with bright morning sunlight and a little shade in the hottest part of the afternoon. Water slowly and deeply after planting and keep the soil moist until the transplants are well-established.
St. John's Wort boosts mood, relieves symptoms of depression, calms anxiety, eases menopause-related symptoms and PMS, and helps with seasonal affective disorder, and smoking cessation. An oil made from St. John’s wort has also been used topically for wound healing and a variety of other skin conditions such as eczema and hemorrhoids.
Thyme: (Thymus vulgaris): plant in spring once the danger of frost has passed. Thyme grows well in full sun but also tolerates partial sun. It is an ideal herb that is very low maintenance. Space thyme plants 12 to 154 inches apart in a very sunny area with fertile, well-drained soil that is on the dry side, and has a pH close to 7.0. Before planting in-ground, improve the existing soil by mixing in several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter. For best results, feed regularly with a water-soluble plant food. Keep soil moist and water when the top inch of soil becomes dry.
Thyme is an effective herbal tea ingredient that calms stomach problems and sore throat. Use its leaves to prepare tea, and if there are flowers, add them too. Thyme is easily dried, refrigerated, frozen, or preserved in oil or vinegar. The tiny leaves air-dry quickly. Add thyme to butter or mayonnaise to taste. Use thyme in dried beans, meat stews, and strong vegetables such as cabbage. Thyme is also great with any slowly cooked soup, stew, vegetable, meat, or sauce. Use lemon thyme in teas, on seafood, or in just about any dish calling for a lemony zing.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): grows from 1-5 feet tall, and has many rough, hairy stems sprouting from a rhizomatous root. Bipinnate leaves branch off the stem in a spiral pattern with larger leaves at the base of the plant and smaller leaves at the top. The leaves are finely segmented giving them a feathery look, and the creamy white, daisy-like flowers grow in flattened, terminal, loose heads, or cymes.
Yarrow can be used in fresh or dried form in teas, tinctures, oils, salves, and syrups. Rosemary Gladstar suggests using yarrow to increase circulation in order to open the pores and induce sweating as a way to gently lower body temperature. She also suggests it as a first-aid herb to slow internal and external bleeding, to relax cramping of the digestive and reproductive organs, and as an antiseptic wash for wounds.