A Walk Around a Herbalist's Garden
Life is busy. Often there's not much time to just stop and look. But today I did.
I stopped, just for a little while, and had a really good look at what plants are in my garden. Spring is a good time to look and see what there is growing quietly away and what I saw was not only a beautiful collection of colour, shape and form but also a very useful medicine chest. I am a herbalist so some of my plant choices are not so surprising but some plants, often chosen by gardeners just for their beauty, are in fact wonderfully useful medicines. As I looked closer I began to realise, more by chance than by design, that I in fact have medicinal plants for every part and system of the body.
For the respiratory system there is Sage (Salvia officinalis) for sore throats; Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) with its lung disinfecting essential oils; Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis) whose spotty leaves, the Doctrine of Signatures suggests, look like lungs and which has a soothing, demulcent action on coughs; and the beautiful Cone flower aka Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia) with its purple daisylike flowers and swept back petals whose roots are so famously good at supporting our immune systems.
For the nervous system the beautifully aromatic Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) is wonderfully uplifting for the spirits. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) has tall, frothy heads of pretty pink flowers which exude a characteristic perfume loved by cats but whose roots are, medicinally, so useful for relieving anxiety, tension and pain and which can also help to induce a peaceful and restful sleep. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is, of course, another garden classic but such a useful medicine, traditionally known for aiding sleep, reducing anxiety and lifting the spirits. And of course what garden can be without Rose (Rosa spp) not only for its beauty but also for its gift of aiding depression and mental fatigue.
For the cardiovascular system, the Garlic (Allium sativum) growing in my little vegetable corner is fantastic for the circulation, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol and reducing the tendency to clotting heart attacks and stroke. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), as well as being a very useful culinary herb, is also good at stimulating blood flow to the head and brain and so helps mental function. Shakespeare didn’t say “There’s Rosemary, that’s for remembrance” for nothing! Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) are one of my favourite wild flowers that regularly just appear in my garden as if by magic and are so loved by the bees. It’s not much used by modern herbalists today, but is an important plant that gave the world many modern heart drugs.
For the Digestive system cooling Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is a soothing digestive helping to ease heartburn, indigestion and promoting liver and gall bladder function. Tall, gracefull Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) with its aromatic feathery fronds of leaves, enhances the appetite and digestion and dispels uncomfortable bloating and wind.
For the urinary tract there are two plants commonly known as weeds which happily and regularly appear in my garden. Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) is an ancient prehistoric plant packed full of minerals which is so useful for easing cystitis and other urinary tract problems and Couchgrass (Agropyron repens) has rhizomes full of soothing mucilage that calms an inflamed urinary tract.
For the reproductive system the astringent and anti-inflammatory qualities of Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) can aid heavy, painful periods and cool and balance during the menopause. Pasque flower (Anemone pulsatilla) with its beautiful purple blooms is a good analgesic and useful during childbirth.
For skin wild pansy (Viola tricolor), a cheerful little plant, has the ability to help clear stubborn skin problems such as eczema and Chickweed (Stellaria media) is excellent for cooling hot itchy skin rashes.
Nettle (urtica dioica) and Cleavers (Galium aparine) are two weeds nearly always found side by side. Mother Nature has paired them so since they make a perfect spring cleanse for the lymphatic system, clearing away toxins and waste metabolites from the body after winter and helping to cleanse and clear the blood. Nettles are particularly rich in vitamins A and C and several minerals and so help support the immune system.
And, lastly, for the skeletal system I have my magnificent clump of Comfrey (Symphytum officinalis) which promotes healing of broken bones, also known as Knitbone.
So, yes life is busy and it’s hard to find time to just stop and look but I’m glad I did today. It’s amazing that even a small garden like mine can hold so many beautiful and medicinally useful plants for every part of the body.