Healing Herbs: Cultivating a Garden of Medicinal Plants

Discussing the benefits and uses of growing your own herbs for health.

If you’re not growing herbs, you’re missing out!

Fragrant, tasty, and beautiful… These are three words that come to mind when I think of herbs

Herbs are some of my favorite plants to grow. They are a delight to the senses and are versatile in their uses. I smell them as I walk through my garden, pick leaves to enhance the dishes I create in my kitchen, dry plant matter for my apothecary, and admire their contributions to my garden. 

I grow them in planters, raised beds, and the ground (depending on the herb), and many grow back year after year. 

One of the best qualities herbs have to offer us is their medicinal benefits. That’s right – the plants we grow can improve our well-being.

Yerba buena, a mint

Healing herbs I grow in my garden

I have always been drawn to plant medicine, but 2021 is the year I decided to expand my herbal understanding and herb garden. Before then, I had a small herb collection: A rosemary, mint, rosebush, lavender, and a few others. I brought some raised beds into my garden and had prime real estate to experiment with, and decided I would use the space for more herbs.

Now, I never miss an herb section when I visit a nursery because I never know what I could find and bring home!

Some of my favorite healing herbs to grow include:

• Mint (specifically peppermint and yerba buena)

• Lemon balm

• Catnip

• Chamomile

• Rosemary

• Tulsi/holy basil

Why do I like these herbs & how do I use them? Great question! I use the mint for its refreshing & uplifting taste, as well as its digestive benefits. Lemon balm is a calming herb that is known to tone the nervous system. While catnip excites cats, it’s a mild sedative for humans! Chamomile is another calming herb, and has supported my family through headaches, stomach aches, and stress. I dry the flowers and store them in glass jars for when I need them. Rosemary has anti-inflammatory benefits, and it’s just tasty! I like to use it freshly picked from the garden. Finally, I grow holy basil because of its unique divine smell, and because it’s an adaptogen – it helps the body regulate stress. 

Roses have a long history as a healing herb

These are only some of the many herbs I grow, and I recommend them to anyone who is interested in growing herbs in their garden. I do caution you to research the plants and where you are growing them, because some plants (like those in the mint family) can spread and take over, while others like holy basil can grow prolifically from seeds after it flowers. 

Although these dried herbs are widely available online, there is something special about growing them myself. I am more connected to my harvest. I respect the plants more because I know the time and energy that went into growing them, and I know exactly how they were grown. Every meal is improved with home grown thyme or rosemary, and a cup of tea with home grown chamomile is bound to be extra healing.

Native herbs growing in your garden

Did you know that many of the “weeds” growing in your garden are native medicinal plants? It can seem like we’re encouraged to remove anything from our gardens that we didn’t plant ourselves, but many (if not most) of those persistent plants that always show up are an important part of our ecosystems. And many of those plants have healing properties, waiting to be put to use. 

I encourage you to familiarize yourself with the plants growing in your yard, and there are several ways to go about this. 

1. Look for foraging experts in your area who specialize in the native plants, like Dr. Mark “Merriwether” Vorderbruggen in Texas

2. Look for books written on plants native to your area

3. Use plant identification apps to learn what a plant is, and then research that plant through reputable sources 

Common medicinal plants that grow in my garden include chickweed, cleavers, and dandelion. I wasn’t aware of how much medicine I had in my yard before I began learning about healing plants. 

Before you go chewing on the mysterious plants in your garden, there are a few things to consider:

1. You need to be 110% of your plant identification

2. It’s best not to consume a plant that has been targeted with herbicide

3. You need to ensure you are preparing the plant properly

Do not let your excitement to harness the power of healing plants get in the way of your safety! Many plants have toxic lookalikes, and you must be safe in your consumption.

Dandelion growing in my garden

Plant medicine is our birthright

Plant medicine lost public appeal for several decades in the US, but it’s growing in popularity again. We evolved alongside plants, and have a rich history of using them to promote well-being. At the very least, incorporating the sensory benefits of herbs into your everyday routine is bound to uplift your mood and enhance your life experience. They’ve made a difference for me, and I don’t plan to stop growing or enjoying them anytime soon! 

Plant-Based Diets: Growing Your Own Health Food

My experience with growing edibles

I have several major goals for my garden. One goal is to create a vibrant space I can enjoy along with local wildlife. That’s right – I welcome the possums, anoles, hummingbirds, bees, and even the pesky squirrels and mosquitos. Another goal is to foster a natural space full of plants growing together in harmony. Lastly, I like to grow plants I can consume. 

Growing fruits and vegetables enhances my diet and gardening experience, and the herbs I grow provide me with culinary and medicinal support. Right now, I have nectarines, peaches, blueberries, blackberries and grapes fruiting and flowering. This is the greatest harvest I have ever seen coming to fruition in my garden, and I am looking forward to eating some home grown fruit!

I have tomatoes and peppers growing, but it’s still early in the season for their harvest. Many of my herbs are flowering, like lavender and cilantro, and others are newly planted and taking root. 

Growing your own food is a wonderful way to connect with nature as well as eat fresh & nutritious food. In this blog, I will share some of the key lessons I have learned from growing food in my garden.

I grew this massive cucumber in my garden

The key lessons I’ve learned from growing food

One of the major lessons I learned is to be aware of what you can manage and what you can’t. Early in the season, it can be exciting to start hundreds of seeds or buy dozens of life plants and get them in our soil. But, the work doesn’t end there. Will you need to protect them from birds and squirrels? Will you be able to take the time to address an infestation if one develops? When it’s time to harvest, do you have the space required to process what you collect? Will you be prepared to eat or preserve what you grow? 

These questions might seem unnecessary, but I know many people who have let potential harvests go to waste because tending to the plants became too much between work and responsibilities. Some people simply forget about their edible food when they get busy! Growing nectarines sounds like a great idea, but you have to be faster than the squirrels! This year, I took time to wrap my ripening nectarines in mesh bags in hopes of keeping them out of reach from interested wildlife.

It’s important to know what will grow where you are. For example, people in northern Canada might be able to get a pineapple propagation to root in water, but it’s unlikely to grow to the point of producing fruit in that cold climate. It’s one thing to propagate the pineapple for fun, but if your goal is to truly grow your own fruit, you need to be deliberate with what you plant. 

I had a mature pineapple plant come to fruiting here in Texas, but since we started having annual freezes, the plants don’t do well here and none of my plants have made it that far. So, I grow pineapple plants because I like how they look, but not because I plan to enrich my diet with home grown pineapples. 

This is a pineapple top I propagated & rooted in water

We also must consider what our plants or trees need in order to fruit. For example, some trees and plants need a partner to produce fruit. Not everything is self-pollinating or able to produce on its own.

My recommendation to people who want to grow food is to visit their local nursery and talk to the staff. They should be able to tell you about what will grow best where you are, and how you can optimize the process with your space and resources. 

How to start growing food 

If you’re new to gardening and you want to begin growing your own food, I think you should start with a couple herbs such as basil and rosemary, and a vegetable plant like sweet pepper. Once you start flavoring your omelets, salads, soups, or bread with home grown herbs, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner! The pepper plant will take more patience and monitoring, but the experience will increase your understanding of what edible plants entail. This will also help you get into the routine of monitoring your edible plants, using what you grow, and figuring out what you can fit into your schedule. 

I encourage everyone to grow their own food in the space available to them (backyard, balcony, spare room, rented plot), while reminding everyone to pace themselves. The last thing we want is garden burnout, which can lead to wasted efforts or feeling discouraged. 

I also think that growing edibles is the perfect opportunity for people to come together and share the labor and the reward. If growing food seems daunting, talk to your friends and family – you might have somebody in your life who is interested in getting started with you.

This is a hydroponic growing system

Mindfulness in the Garden: How Gardening Can Be a Meditative Practice

How I discovered meditative gardening

One of the most common questions I am asked is: “How do you know so much about plants?” People then ask if I have any favorite books or resources that I can suggest. 

The knowledge I have gained is the result of genuine enjoyment of gardening and plant care. I didn’t decide to one day become an expert gardener and follow a pre-existing path of learning; I found myself inspired by my plants and interested in learning how to help them grow.

As I learned and my garden grew, I realized that gardening had become a meditative practice in my routine. The time spent carefully digging, watering, planting, and landscaping calmed my mind, energized my body, and inspired my spirit. These tasks may sound like “work” to other people, but for me, they were exactly what my well-being needed. 

I relearned the importance of kindness, patience, and positivity, and became a better teacher, friend, and son. I’d take the stress and frustrations of my day-to-day life into my garden, and walk into my house a couple hours later, less burdened and at peace. 

The view of my garden from my back door

Approach gardening like a meditation

I don’t believe there is any one or right way to meditate, as meditation is deeply personal. Instead, I focus on the result of meditation to measure its effectiveness. A good meditation is clarifying, energizing, calming, and/or invigorating. It can help us to find solutions to problems, peace in chaos, and relaxation to tension. 

If you’re interested in adopting gardening/plant-care as a meditative practice, or turning your current gardening into an activity for mindfulness, here are my top tips. 

1. Allow yourself to be present

Meditation is about engaging in the moment that is happening. How many of us spend our time worrying about something that happened in the past or concerned with the potential occurrences of the future? For gardening to be meditative, I encourage you to leave the thoughts of time past and future behind when you step into your greenspace. 

2. Engage your senses

You might be wondering: How am I supposed to be present with so many things happening in my life? I understand that it’s difficult to be present – especially when we are stressed. One of my favorite things about gardening is the sensory stimulation. The majority of us spend most of our time inside, looking at a screen, and touching a keyboard. The air isn’t fresh, the screen is harsh on the eyes, and the keyboard is uninspiring plastic on the fingers. 

In the garden, we have fresh air, a variety of smells, different colors to see, the sounds of birds, and the texture of leaves, petals, and dirt. Turn gardening into a meditative by literally stopping to smell the roses. I find that many people neglect the healing and meditative side of gardening by focusing exclusively on the aesthetic side of things. A pretty space is nice to look at, but plants have much more to offer us. Incorporate things that smell lovely, are interesting to the touch, and help you appreciate the present moment. And, sensory stimulation is known to cognitive benefits, from helping children develop to supporting people with dementia. This leads me to think everyone can benefit from engaging their senses outside. 

3. Consider your mood

When you wander around your greenspace, replant a monstera, or fill a bed with mulch, take notice of yourself. Are you agitated? Is your breathing rushed? Are you holding unnecessary tension in your body? Are you relaxed and peaceful? How is your mood affecting how you manage the life in your care?

A common problem is people not realizing how stressed they are because the stress has become normalized in our everyday living. Be honest with yourself when you are among your plants, feet on the ground and hands in the soil. If you’re feeling positive and at ease, appreciate the serenity and share it with the beings your cross in your garden. 

4. Appreciate the life around you

I always say: We are never alone when we are outside. Between the insects, animals, and plants, we are just one being in a greater community. I’ve come to understand our spirit as our connection to life and other beings. Tend to your spirit when you are in your garden and consider all the other beings that are working to make the ecosystem thrive. Practicing gratitude daily is known to reduce anxiety and even support sleep, so take time to extend gratitude to the worms hard at work in the soil!

When work took over my life and I didn’t have much time for developing relationships, my garden became a place where I could find connection and a sense of belonging. Restore your spirit by respecting the life around you – a garden meditation is the perfect time to do it. 

Appreciating fallen flowers in the garden

Your garden meditation

Are you ready to turn gardening into a meditative practice? I hope you find new ways to nourish your mind, body, and spirit while enjoying time outside.