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A medicinal herb garden can provide a wide variety of herbal remedies for the home apothecary!

WHY MEDICINAL HERBS? planting medicinal herbs provides a wide variety of herbal remedies for the home apothecary. Parts of the plant that are used for herbal medicine include bark, berries, flowers, leaves, roots, and stems. Medicinal herbs are used extensively for their therapeutic properties as ciders, cordials, decoctions, elixirs, extracts, glycerites, honeys, juices, infusions, oils, teas, tinctures, tonics, and vinegars. Herbal medicine has been used for centuries to improve health, prevent disease, and treat illness.

WHAT MAKES AN HERB MEDICINAL? Medicinal herbs synthesize hundreds of chemical compounds for a variety of functions including defense and protection from insects, fungi, diseases, and herbivorous animals. Most pharmaceuticals originate from a specific herb or plant. For example, aspirin is derived from the white willow tree.

The four main phytochemicals responsible for herb therapeutics are:

Alkaloids: found naturally in 20 species of flowering plants and herbs. They can act as an anesthetic to relieve pain, and also have anti-inflammatory and cardioprotective actions.

Glycosides: found naturally in flower and fruit pigments. They can act as a cardioprotective in congestive heart failure and atrial fibrillation, and also have antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antitumor, and antiviral actions.

Polyphenols: found naturally in fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, rea, dark chocolate, and wine. They can act as antioxidants to neutralize free radicals, and also have anti-inflammatory and immunomodulant actions.

Terpenes: found naturally in the oils of plants, flowers, and herbs such as tea, thyme, cannabis, sage, and citrus fruits. They can act as an antibacterial to ward off infection, and also have analgesic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial actions.

THERAPEUTIC ACTIONS OF MEDICINAL HERBS: medicinal herbs have a wide range of therapeutic actions on the body, and any one herb can have numerous actions. These actions are often synchronized together in a way that benefits the body as a whole system and on multiple levels.

Commonly recognized herbal therapeutic actions include:

• Adaptogen: strengthens the immune system and stress response.

• Alterative: strengthens and nourishes the body.

• Anti-inflammatory: reduces inflammation.

• Antiviral: opposes the action of a virus.

• Bitter: stimulates appetite and digestive function.

• Cardioprotective: increases heart strength and tone.

• Carminative: promotes the release of stomach or intestinal gas.

• Demulcent: soothes inflamed and irritated mucus membranes.

• Expectorant: encourages removal of mucus and other materials.

• Hepatic: protects the liver.

• Nervine: soothes the central nervous system.

• Sedative: soothes the body and promotes tranquility.

• Styptic: stops bleeding.

• Tonic: stimulates energy and increases strength and tone.

• Vulnerary: aids in would healing.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis): the flowers are used to make herbal remedies.

Calendula is an annual flowering herb that will readily reseed. The bushy plants have simple and alternate leaves on angular and branched stems spreading up to 2 feet long. The stems are covered in fine hairs. The edges of the spatulate or oblanceolate leaves are wavy but not toothed, and the leaves are sticky and aromatic. The daisy-like flowers are typically bright orange, yellow, white, or bi-colored, and are monoecious, and 2-3” across with both ray florets and disc florets.

Calendula flowers have anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, and detoxifying properties. Its key constituent is triterpenoid compounds which inhibit bacteria, and when ingested, calendula helps stomach ailments such as gastritis, peptic ulcers, regional ileitis and colitis, and can be extremely cleansing for the liver. Use the flowers in tea, oil infusions, or in salves to help with internal and external ailments.

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale): the leaves and roots are used externally to make herbal remedies.

Comfrey is a perennial shrub that is fond of moist soils, has a thick, hairy stem, and grows 2 to 5 feet tall. Its flowers are dull purple, blue or whitish, and densely arranged in clusters. The leaves are oblong, and often look different depending on where they are on the stem. Lower leaves are broad at the base and tapered at the ends while upper leaves are broad throughout and narrow only at the ends. The root has a black outside and fleshy whitish inside filled with juice.

Comfrey has anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, astringent, demulcent, emollient, hemostatic, and vulnerary actions. Comfrey roots and leaves contain allantoin, a substance that helps new skin cells grow, along with other substances that reduce inflammation and keep skin healthy such as rosmarinic acid and tannins. Comfrey ointments are used to heal bruises as well as pulled muscles and ligaments, fractures, sprains, strains, and osteoarthritis.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale): the flowers, leaves, and roots are used to make herbal remedies.

Dandelion is a hardy perennial weed with a rosette base that produces several flowering stems and multiple leaves. The flower head has 150 to 200 yellow ray florets and no disk florets. The ray florets spread outward from the center, and at the base, there are inner and outer bracts that are green. The inner bracts are linear or linear-lanceolate and pressed together to form a cylindrical tube around the ovaries of the flower head. The outer bracts are linear-lanceolate and sharply curve downward. Flowers are produced sporadically from early spring to late autumn. Dandelions have toothy, deeply notched, basal leaves that are hairless, are 3-9 inches long, and form a rosette above the central taproot.

Dandelions are a rich source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and has digestive, diuretic, and hepatoprotective actions. All plant parts when taken internally can be a digestion ally, mild laxative, can support the body's ability to absorb nutrients, and provide liver support. For some, dandelion can be a powerful diuretic when taken in high doses or too frequently. Avoid if there is a latex allergy.

Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia): the flower, leaves, roots, and seeds are used to make herbal remedies.

Echinacea is an herbaceous perennial that grows in clumps to from 1-1/2 to 4 feet tall on strong and erect stems. The leaves are lance-shaped and alternate with 3 or 5 veins, and the leaves and stems are covered with fine and stiff hairs. The flowers, called capitulas, are actually made up of a cluster of individual blooms called ray and disc florets, and each petal is a single flower. The ray florets are the colorful petals that line the exterior of the head, and the disc florets are the stiff inner parts that stick out of the cone. There is an extended stigma with little bits of pollen at the top of the flower.

Echinacea has alterative, analgesic, antibacterial, antiviral, and immunomodulant actions. Its key constituents are polysaccharides and volatile oils, and it is used to fight viral and bacterial infections, colds, flu, upper respiratory tract infections, and to decrease the duration of illness.

Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra): the berries and flowers are used to make herbal medicine.

Black elderberry is a deciduous, sprawling, and multi-stemmed shrub that grows to 8-20 feet tall and is noted for its aromatic late spring flowers and its edible fruits, The compound pinnate leaves grow to 10” long and are dark green. Each leaf contains 3-7 serrate, ovate to elliptic leaflets that grow to 5” long, and have an unpleasant aroma when cut or crushed. Tiny white flowers in large flattened umbel-like cymes that are up to 10” across bloom in June-July, have a musky fragrance, and give way to clusters of glossy black elderberry fruits that are 3/8” across in late summer. The fruits and flowers are attractive to birds and wildlife.

Elderflower has alterative, astringent, demulcent, diaphoretic, diuretic, and styptic actions. It contains mucilage and flavonoids, and is traditionally used to support the immune system, regulate elevated body temperature, open the pores, allow for sweating, and release a fever in those who have trouble mounting an efficient immune response.

Elderberries have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and immunostimulant actions. Their key constituent is anthocyanin, and they can be prepared into wine, jam, juice, syrup, gummies, or extracts. Elderberries are commonly used to normalize the functions of the gastrointestinal tract, support a healthy body temperature and perspiration, and support body resilience throughout the winter months.

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium): the flowers are primarily used to make herbal medicine, and the leaves are used on occasion.

Feverfew is a perennial shrub that grows to a height of 2-3 feet. It is related to chamomile and is often confused with it, however, feverfew’s properties are primarily in the leaves rather than the flowers. Feverfew is an upright and tall plant with a flat central yellow portion of the flower, feather-shaped leaves that are pinnately lobed, yellow-green in color, has short and smooth hairs, and are vibrant even in early or mild winters, and a hairy stem.

Feverfew has an affinity for the head and research shows that it is an excellent choice for managing migraines. It has analgesic, antiasthmatic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antipyretic, antispasmodic, and diaphoretic actions, and it is used in herbal medicine for fevers, colds with accompanying aches and pains, bronchial congestion, phlegm, inflammation, tinnitus, vertigo, and insomnia.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale): the thick and fleshy yellow rhizome is used to make herbal medicine.

Ginger is a reedy, leafy stemmed perennial that grows up to 2 feet and shoots up a tall stem with lanceolate leaves in the spring. The flower stalk grows from the root and at the tip and develops an oblong and scalloped spike from which white, yellow, pink, or magenta flowers blossom.

The rhizome has a pungent, sweet, and slightly spicy taste, and it is used extensively for both culinary and medicinal purposes. It can be consumed prepared in food, as an infusion or syrup, chewed fresh or candied, or applied topically as an oil or poultice. Ginger is traditionally used fresh when it is most effective as an anti-microbial, but dried ginger is used in TCM to relieve "damp and chill." Dried ginger root is more drying and pungent than fresh root so for folks with sensitive digestions, fresh ginger root tea is preferred.

Ginger is a warming herb that has antiemetic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic antiviral, carminative, circulatory stimulant, and radioprotective actions. By stimulating circulation and energy, it enhances the "fire" in the body that supports digestion, heart health, immunity, and reproductive system vigor and balance. Its warming nature is especially good for cold, damp, and stagnant conditions. Matthew Wood describes it as ideally suited for “cases where the organism or a part is cold, depressed, cramped up, or inactive.”

Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis): the rhizome with root fibers is used to make herbal medicine, and the aerial parts are used on occasion.

Goldenseal is a hairy woodland perennial that grows 6-12 inches tall. It has alternate leaves that usually appear in pairs on a forked branch with one leaf larger than the other. The leaves are large and grow up to 12-inches wide, and are double-toothed, typically with 5 lobes but can have up to 7 lobes. From late April to early May, the plant produces a single, white flower with a cluster of greenish-white stamens with no petals. Between July and August, the flower gives way to a single, bright red berry that resembles a raspberry and contains 10-30 seeds. The bright yellow rhizome grows horizontally from ¼-3/4 inch thick, and has a knotty appearance, bearing the scars or “seals” caused by stem growth.

Goldenseal has alterative, antibacterial, antidiarrheal, antifungal, antihemorrhagic, antimicrobial, astringent, choleretic, oxytocic, parasiticide, stomachic, styptic, and tonic actions. Its key constituent is berberine, and it is used as a stimulating stomach tonic to improve appetite, boost peristaltic action of the digestive system, promote production of saliva and bile, and tone muscles of the stomach and intestines.

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna): the fresh or dried berries, flowering tops, and leaves are used in herbal medicine.

Hawthorn trees range in height from 3 to 49 feet, have branches that are thorned, and the white flowers are grouped in inflorescences of 5-30 flowers, depending on the species, and appear in the spring. The berry-like pomes appear in the fall and are usually bright red. The leaves are toothed and can be elliptic, oval shaped, or deeply lobed.

Hawthorn has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, astringent, cardioprotective, cardio restorative, cardiotonic, hypolipidemic, hypotensive, nervine, and vasodilator actions. Its key constituent is anthocyanidin, and it is used to treat angina pectoris, valvular deficiency, with or without enlargement, pericarditis, tachycardia, rheumatism of the heart, cardiac neuralgias, palpitations, vertigo, apoplexy, dropsy, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

Hops (Humulus lupulus): the strobiles and pollen are used to make herbal medicine.

Hops is a dioecious perennial with a stout and prickly stem that grows up to 30 feet high with heart-shaped leaves that are opposite, dark green, and finely toothed. Hops bear male and female flowers on separate plants, and the female flower is a cone-shaped catkin known as a strobile that grows up to an inch long. At maturity, the female flowers are round and fragrant, with overlapping yellowish-green bracts. The bracts, and the small fruits held inside, have a series of yellow translucent glands that dust the plant with a golden powder. The male flowers grow in panicles that are 3 to 5 inches long.

Hops have analgesic, anodyne, anti-inflammatory, antirheumatic, antispasmodic, aromatic, bitter, carminative, cholagogue, diuretic, febrifuge, nervine, parasiticide, sedative, soporific, and stomachic actions. Its key constituent is lupulone, and it is used to purify the blood, reduce fevers, cleanse the liver, aid in digestion, ease pain and inflammation, and promote restful sleep.

Nettle (Urtica dioica): the leaves, rhizomes, seeds, and stalks are used to make herbal medicine.

Nettle grows from 2-6 feet tall on a square and fibrous stem with deep grooves running along its length. The dark green leaves are ovate and sharply toothed with a heart-shaped base and a pointy tip, are located in opposite pairs, and become progressively smaller toward the top of the stem. The leaves and stems are covered with tiny and hollow hairs tipped with silica. Nettle spreads by rhizomes, so each plant can have multiple stems and it typically grows in dense colonies. The tiny and inconspicuous green flowers droop in bunches from the leaf axils.

Nettle has alterative, antihistamine, anti-inflammatory, astringent, diuretic, galactagogue, hemostatic, nutritive, and rubefacient actions. Its key constituent is formic acid, and its nourishing action is attributed to its vitamin content, including A, C, E, and K, its mineral content including calcium, chromium, magnesium, potassium, iron, and zinc, and its amino acid and chlorophyll content. It is used to make tea, tinctures, and infusions to nourish, support, and energize the entire body, and to nourish the blood.

Plantain (Plantago major): the leaves are used to make herbal remedies.

Plantain is a perennial herb with a basal rosette of 5 – 7 ovate to elliptical or lance-shaped ribbed leaves with distinctly fibrous parallel veins. When picking the leaves, stretchy white threads are visible as the leaf separates from the stem. The overall size of the plant is variable depending on its growing conditions. A cylindrical spike of tiny hermaphroditic flowers grows up to 15 inches and is followed by seed capsules. Polysaccharides in the seed coat absorb moisture and become sticky, allowing the seeds to adhere to animals or humans for dispersal.

Plantain leaves have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antimicrobial, emollient and wound-healing actions. Their key constituent is allantoin, and the leaves also contain vitamins A, C, K. The leaves can be eaten raw as they’re more nutritious than other greens and taste similar to Swiss chard. Cooking the leaves will help improve their texture. The leaves can be used externally as a poultice to treat insect bites, snakebites, sunburns and cuts. Plantain can also be taken internally as a tea and helps with cold symptoms.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis): the rhizome and roots are used to make herbal medicine.

Valerian is a clumping perennial that can grow up to 4 feet tall, and has scented leaves, stems, flowers, and roots. It has a clump of deeply lobed basal foliage from which rises slender and sparsely-leaved stems that are topped with highly fragrant, white to pale pink flowers that appear in June and July in branched panicles and cymes 2-4-inches wide. The leaves are odd-pinnate with each leaf having 7-10 pairs plus a terminal of toothed and lance-shaped leaflets that are aromatic when bruised.

Valerian has analgesic, anticonvulsant, antidepressant, antispasmodic, anxiolytic, nervine, neuroprotective, relaxant, sedative, and soporific actions. Its key constituents are valepotriate and valeric acid which contribute to its affinity for the nervous system. It is especially useful for muscle tension that leads to anxiety or the inability to sleep.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): the aerial parts and leaves are used to make herbal medicine.

Yarrow is an herbaceous perennial that grows 2-3 feet tall on a sturdy and erect stem with finely divided feathery and aromatic leaves becoming smaller toward the top of the stem. Yarrow spreads by rhizomes, so each plant can have multiple stems. The flower heads, comprised of many small flowers, are flat clusters at the end of the stem, and can be white, pink, yellow, red, and purple depending on the cultivar.

Yarrow has analgesic, anticatarrhal, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antispasmodic, antiseptic, antiviral, astringent, bitter, cardioprotective, diaphoretic, febrifuge, hypotensive, relaxant, styptic, and vulnerary actions. Its key constituents are flavonoids, tannins, phenolic acids including caffeic and salicylic acids, alkaloids, and coumarins, and its volatile oils are responsible for its strong aroma. Herbalist Matthew Wood calls yarrow the “master of the blood” and describes yarrow’s capability to “decongest blood associated with inflammation, thin stagnant, congealed blood, tone the veins, stimulant the capillaries and arteries, and move the blood to or from the surface”.

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