Medicine from the Garden: Five Common Garden Plants that Belong in Your Medicine Chest

Medicine from the Garden
Five Common Garden Plants that Belong in Your Medicine Chest

Summer is here! As a result of the recent and very welcome spring rains, our local trails are suddenly burgeoning with blossoms. A stroll through any one of our Los Alamos canyons becomes a sensory-filled experience thanks to the lush colors and scents of the many plants, herbs, shrubs, and blossoms that are coming out in force. Many of us have planted our gardens, and are eagerly awaiting our first harvest.

Summer is the perfect time to collect, preserve and store up a supply of herbs and spices for the fall and winter months. While many herbs are available through local herbs stores and natural grocers, collecting and growing medicinal herbs is a fun and educational experience for the whole family.

Most of us are familiar with common garden herbs, such as chives, parsley, and cilantro that are usually used to flavor and enhance our food. Many of us are growing beneficial medicinal herbs in our yards as well, although their usefulness may not be as widely known.

Five common garden plants that also are powerful medicines:

Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis, is an easy-to-grow and attractive perennial that can become ubiquitous in your yard within a couple years. Lemon Balm has a delightful scent that is enlivening and can brighten your day. The leaves and stems can be made into a delicious tea, and its aromatic constituents are considered to be antidepressant and especially useful for anxiety. Clinical research shows that consuming a strong cup of Lemon Balm tea (2TBS of leaf per cup) or its extract (1tsp per dose) decreases anxiety for up to six hours. Lemon Balm contains anti-viral constituents and is useful for colds in children. When applied topically, Lemon Balm has been shown to be an effective treatment for herpes simplex.

Lavender, Lavendula spp., has long been recognized for its sweet fragrance, and is often added to soaps and lotions. Lavender is considered a nervine (meaning it nourishes and soothes nerve tissues), and is a mild antidepressant. Lavender essential oil can be added to your bath to alleviate stress, tension and insomnia. A tea made from Lavender is known as being an effective treatment for sunburn and acne.The fresh flowers are often used in cooking, and can be added to salads, honey, butter, lemonade, and white chocolate desserts. Another wonderful way to take advantage of Lavender’s soothing and relaxing scent is to create an herbal pillow filled with the fragrant dried flowers.

Sage, Salvia officinalis, has a long history of use as an herbal medicine, being known and revered throughout the world. Sage is easily grown on the Pajarito Plateau due to its hardy nature and beautiful and enduring flowers. Sage has been used for stomach and digestive troubles, and is useful for inflammation of the gums, mouth, and throat.  Topically, Sage tea can be applied to scrapes and wounds to prevent infection and to decrease inflammation. Sage is considered anti-spasmodic, and is effective for such wide-ranging uses as asthma attacks, griping cramps resulting from gastritis, and menstrual cramps. Research has shown Sage to be a useful remedy for some women going through menopause, being particularly useful for night sweats and hot flashes.  Recent research is investigating Sage’s ability to improve brain function and memory.

Calendula, Calendula officinalis, also known as pot marigold, Calendula is a centuries-old antifungal, antiseptic, and wound-healing ally. The petals of the cheery yellow and orange flowers contain an abundance of skin-soothing and anti-microbial constituents that are used in many natural cosmetics and diaper creams. Traditionally, Calendula has been used to treat conjunctivitis, eczema, gastritis, hemorrhoids, sore throats, oral inflammation, minor burns including sunburns, warts, and minor injuries such as sprains and wounds. It has also been used to treat menstrual cramps. Calendula contains constituents that speed up wound-healing by increasing blood flow to the affected area and promoting the production of collagen proteins. The petals of the flowers can be soaked in olive or almond oil for several weeks to create a topical oil useful for cuts and abrasions. 

Peppermint, Mentha piperita, Mint is a common garden plant and hosts a variety of different medicinal uses. Mint is known to be useful for coughs and colds, digestive issues, menstrual complaints, pain relief, headaches, inflamed mouth and sinuses, skin conditions, and can enhance energy. Teas from the fresh leaves are an easy way to enjoy the fragrant and tasty herb. Peppermint essential oil can be added to almond or coconut oil and applied to the chest, forehead, and sinus areas to relieve congestion during colds and flu. The same oil can relieve muscle pain. The leaves can be harvested and dried and used both alone and with other herbs such as lemon balm, green tea, and chamomile for a tasty beverage throughout all the seasons. Fresh peppermint tea can frozen in ice-cube trays and added to a tall glass of iced-tea for added flavor.

These five common garden plants are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the abundant native and cultivated medicinal plants that can be found in our beautiful mountain community. Gardening, strolling on the local trails, and learning about our local flora is an enjoyable way to connect to nature and enhance your health at the same time. My advice is to get outside and enjoy the beauty of our seasonal plants as much as possible. May you well.

Editor’s note: Kristi Beguin is a clinical herbalist, birth doula and ecologist. She specializes in women’s and family wellness, and offers a variety of wellness classes, personal development programs, and health consultations. Direct questions about this column to Beguin:

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