A Simple Medicinal Garden

Ilona Erwin

Grow Your Own Medicine

You can make your own little “physic garden” with plants that can be used as simple remedies for common maladies like headache, colds, or general well being. Would you like to know how?

The time to plan a medicinal herbal garden is in winter, the time to plant it is in spring, the time to harvest is late summer. Put together plans for next years garden with the addition of a small space for herbal remedies.

Chelsea Physic Garden

Apothecaries were historical “drugstores, where knowledgeable people combined wines, infusions, spices, and herbs to create remedies for common ailments. In a sense, many who like the idea of making a garden source for the herbs used for healing are acting as their own “apothecary”, with a store of treatments from herbs you grow yourself.

“The garden is the poor man’s apothecary.”
– German Proverb

Traditional Designs

herb garden wheel design

© Ilona Erwin

A quarter design of square raised beds would be ultra simple to make and maintain.

A wagon wheel or ladder design is also ideal, but any design described in the Simples herb garden post will work well. If placed near a door for easy access, or beside a building it will provide protection.

However, be sure the space gets plenty of sun. All herbs benefit, if not need, from a sunny exposure.

Enrich the Soil

The soil needed is average and cultivated to a good tilth.

You can manure some of your planting spaces, using chicken, cow, or horse manures that are well composted. Never use human or pet wastes.

While most herbs are tolerant of drought, they benefit from regular watering at the right times. Mints need the most regular moisture of all the listed herbs.

On this page

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Most of these plants are fine for a small garden space:

  • Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
  • Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
  • Cayenne pepper (Capsicum annuum)
  • Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis)
  • Garlic (Allium sativum)
  • Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
  • Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)
  • Mints (Mentha)
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
  • Sage (Sage officinalis)
  • St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
  • Thymes (Thymus spp.)

Have room to spare? Plant some yarrow, valerian, or mullein.

Elderberry shrubs produce both flowers and berries for use as tonic and for immune system support.

Plants for a Modern Medicinal Garden

Surprisingly simple, a modern collection doubles in part as a culinary addition. Many of the herbs we add to foods have healing properties. Some are included for their medicinal use alone.

‘Officinalis’ in the name indicates its use as a medicine or necessary.

Don’t forget the many uses of roses, both their petals and rosehips.

Lavender is aromatic, used in cooking and in aromatherapy, with carminative and nervine properties.

Cooking Herbs That Heal

“Let thy kitchen be thy apothecary; and, let foods be your medicine.”
– Hippocratus

Plants for a starter medicinal garden:

  • Thyme, Thymus vulgaris, is antiseptic, antispasmodic, tonic and carminative
  • Garlic, therapeutic for heart, colds, even cancer prevention, is anti-inflammatory. Used as diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, stimulant.
  • Rosemary is tonic, astringent, diaphoretic, stimulant.
  • Chamomile, Anthemis nobilis, is tonic, anodyne, and antispasmodic; and feverfew is made into a tea for …fevers. There are several plants called “camomile”
  • Mint, Mentha spp. is stimulating, stomachic, and carminative. Peppermint is most effective of the family.

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Click for what the medicinal term means

  • Anodyne: giving pain relief.
  • Antiseptic: prevents the growth of disease-causing microorganisms.
  • Antispasmodic: herb that suppresses muscle spasms.
  • Anti-inflammatory: reduces inflammation
  • Carminative: relieves gas.
  • Diaphoretic: increases perspiration.
  • Diuretic: induces urine.
  • Expectorant: promotes discharge of mucus from the chest.
  • Nervine: calming properties.
  • Stimulant: increases alertness and activity.
  • Stomachic: aids digestion
  • Tonic: invigorating and for general wellness.

How Safe are these Herbs to use?

Culinary, or cooking, herbs are very safe to use, but you should still be aware of interactions or allergies. Even garlic, that ubiquitous addition to all sorts of cuisine, can interact with drugs that you may be taking, including but not limited to warfarin (blood thinner) and birth control.

Mill Dene Apothecary Garden

‘Medicinal’ means that these plants have actual effects, and it would be good to consult with your medical practitioner if you are planning on dosing yourself.

  • Use rose petal infusion in vinegar to apply topically for headache,
  • Or Peter’ Rabbit’s mother’s camomile tea, to aid digestion and calm an upset stomach, there are many ways to make use of this type of garden.
  • Ginger or mint are also time honored digestion aids.
  • We often use these homely recipes just because they were passed on to us by our forbears
  • If we collect modern research on some of these old time alternatives, we might find the medicine we need right in the garden.
Grow your plants without insecticides or herbicides.  Many of these same herbs are protective against pests in the garden.

Use reliable information for making infusions or applications of your herbs for their healing properties.

Research the plants you intend to use, learn to prepare them, and use modern information to guide you in the use of these herbs.

Plant Your Medicinal Garden

  • Which herbs to grow?

    For good digestion and general health, grow parsley, mint, garlic, thyme, and rosemary.
  • Treating colds and fevers? Try mullein, feverfew, horehound.
  • Try St.John’s Wort, Camomiles, Valerian for well being or sedative effects.
  • Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium), Rose, Lavender, Garlics, Thymes, Valerian, St.John’s Wort, Sage… and more, have a bright show of flowers and planted together.

You might have the makings of an old fashioned cottage garden. In fact, however, the inclusion of these plants were more for their usefulness, than for their pretty looks.

I think these are all easy plants to grow, and when properly harvested could comprise an alternative medicine cabinet for use when your body needs just a little help to heal.

A Starter Herb Garden
A Garden of Simples
Herb Plantlists
Harvesting and Storing Medicinal Herbs
Mrs. Grieves Modern Herbal

Historical apothecaries…
Apothecary history
Colonial apothecary

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.