The Medicinal Herb Garden
A “Simple” was an herbal plant grown on its own as a medicine. “Simple” being a term from the melding of two Latin words, Singula plica: a single purpose. This was the most elementary way to use medicinal plants. No fancy recipes or scientific acumen was needed. Often given as teas,Â or used as poultices,Â Â herbs were sometimes mixed together, or used singly.
The housewife of olden times was able to use these simples for common remedies often needed in daily life in her home and with her domestic animals. Increasing milk, treating a fever, calming a queasy stomach… the medicinal herbs held the answers for many common ailments.
Remedies compounded from herbs were important to common people, monks, and kings alike.
Use with Caution, Update your Knowledge
This article is a guide for purposes of landscaping and historical interest. Any use of herbs medicinally should be with consultation with your health professional, as well as your own research into the use and dosages of such plants.
Beware that some medicinal herbs are downright poison, especially if ingested without expertise; foxglove, or digitalis, is one of those plants. Pennyroyal might be another, but as decorative plants they give a garden their beauty. Their historical medicinal use might be for academic interest alone– just interesting to know.
With that rather scary warning, most herbs that you might grow in a simples medicinal herb garden will be mild and safe, such as mint or chamomile. Some are common culinary herbs, like sage, rosemary, and thyme. For many of us, the decorative value is the most important thing, but the addition of knowing how to use our herbs for good health is a boon we can enjoy, too.
Useful as food, medicine, and flavorings, theyÂ have time proven properties. Warnings are necessary because proper knowledge is needed when taking even the most natural source of medicine. More and more findings about spices and herbs show that these are indeed healing plants.
Once you decide you would like to have a handy, natural medicine cabinet closeby, it is time to plant the layout.
Simple Designs for Simple Gardens
It seems to me that if we use our herbs for their properties, that we would like to grow them in the most organized and clear way possible. I imagine that is the idea behind some of the early garden designs of growing a single type of plant in blocks, the way a Colonial garden is often laid out.
Besides growing the plants in well defined blocks, using markers made of permanent, weatherproof materials will identify plants. It is surprising how similar the foliage of one may be to another.
Translating the past into the present requires some forethought. How much labor is involved? Does the style work with modern house and landscape?
Rich nobles in Europe had the means to build intricate plans of knots and parterres, but most folk had little time or space for such things. The amount of care laborers gave in service of a wealthy castle owner makes a large knot garden more trouble than it is worth to most homeowners.
Parterres may lose their visual value if you live in modern one story home. On the other hand, including elements from large historical estate gardens are grace notes that could makeÂ your own design a source of pride and pleasure.
Whether the idea of clipping neat lines of herbs is appealing, or simply snipping some fresh leaves from raised boxes near the back door, there are plenty of ways to incorporate this type of garden into your plan. For medicinal uses, I would definitely take notes from earlier generations and keep the plants well marked and in a particular section of the plan, whatever the style.
A Shaker Herb Garden Motto
simplicity, order, purpose, and beauty
Design Ideas Plucked From The Past
Many medicinal garden plans are planted around the spokes of a wheel, or in squares divided by wattle fences or boards. Such order in the garden can be quite pretty, and takes the guesswork out of which herb is being harvested.
A ladder gardenÂ isÂ where each rung of an old ladderÂ isÂ divided to create block of space planted to single herbs. Works best if the herbs are of similar height.
Similarly, aÂ wheel gardenÂ has sections of a circle divided by spokes for separated planting areas.
Blocks of herbs lining a straight pathway is a straightforward way to add fragrance to your yard.
A circular bed with low growing medicinal herb choices centered with a fountain or birdbath is a traditional and formal look. For more on herb garden design, see the Herb Garden page.
Incorporate ‘Physic gardens’, as they were called, into the vegetableÂ patch. Many of the herbs were also used as flavoring for the vegetables and stews, anyway. AndÂ they might proveÂ useful for repelling insect pests by virtue of their volatile oils.
Suggested Medicinal Herb Garden Plants
Many of these are very ornamental plants with colorful flowers or handsome foliage. Check out theÂ list of companion plants used to deter pests and diseases for more medicinal herb uses.
Herb Plants For Healing
|Boneset, Eupatorium perfoliatum||for fever and colds|
|bacterial and fungal infections, and minor irritations|
|Motherwort, Leonurus cardiaca||calming, for heart, rheumatism and lung problems|
|Scarlet Bee Balm, Monarda didyma||expel gas, to relieve nausea, in menstrual cramps|
|Mugwort. Artemesia vulgaris||for worming and as insect repellent|
|Catmint, Nepeta cateria||mild sedative, settles the stomach, soothes flatulence, and colic|
|Meadowsweet, Eupatorium purpureum||for fever and to eliminate stones.|
|Hyssop, Hyssopus officinalis||expectorant, and cough suppressant|
|Southernwood, Artemisia abrotanum||deworming,moth-balls,and as topical wash|
|styptic which help heal wounds; also used for cols and fever|
Seeds and Plants: