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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.