Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Beauty in the garden - the best argument against using store bought herbal medicine

(This post is just an excuse to put up some pictures. Click to embiggen and let yourself dream. There will be links for more info on the medicinal uses of each plant at the end of the post.)

My St. J patch, nestled in with its friend
the ornamental willow.

Most of the herbs in my garden are easy to grow and come back every season without any coaxing or coddling on my part. The leaner the soil, the better these plants do. They're a godsend wherever you may have iffy soil where nothing much will grow; they'll reward you with colour AND safer medicine.

Take St John'swort, for example. Commercial 'supplements' can range from completely ineffective to downright dangerous. But if you grow your own, not only do you get a kick-ass nerve tonic, cheerer-upper and one of the world's best remedies for shingles, you get a beautiful companion that comes back in your garden year after year.

You'll know, by the way it stains your fingers, that's it's the best quality possible. Best of all, every time you use it, whether you've made tincture or oil, along with its medicine you get the memories of the sunny day you gathered it. St John'swort is a meadow plant that likes the sun, but I find it does well in dappled light, too. Contrary to what you might have read, it is NOT as subject to disease in the wild or in gardens. It just doesn't do well in mono crop conditions, meaning St John'swort grown for commercial supplements will have been doused with pesticides. Home grown = clean grown, friends!

They call it red clover, but
it's really kind of purple.
Quality control is important for red clover, too. This is another plant that commercial sources of can really mess you up. If it's stored improperly or harvested when damp it goes bad fast, and I see plenty of poor quality red clover blossoms on the market. Dangerously high levels of blood thinning coumarins anyone? That's a shame, because red clover should be one of the safest herbs out there.

My little patch, happy in the semi-shade
of our MacIntosh apple tree.
So - grow & harvest your own. As a bonus, you get to share with the bumble bees. (Some bumbles are endangered due to habitat loss, so we ought to help them out, right? Right.) Red clover is good for the health of your garden, not only attracting bees but enriching the soil, too. Meanwhile, you get a safe, nutritious infusion that's soothing on the tummy, full of minerals, and acts, as they used to say, 'to cleanse the blood'. It's useful topically for acne and other 'skin eruptions'. Its action seems to gently support the liver, hence its usefulness for hormonal, digestive or skin troubles.

You can fit a patch of red clover into almost any garden        
Early last summer, showing the patch
before blooming. It's the clump next to the path.
'decor' (not that we have a decor here, but you might). It's best harvested for human consumption during the first bloom in early summer - we just take the blossoms. When it gets straggly and unsightly in the hottest part of the summer, whack it back or even mow it down. It will come back later and bloom again. That next round of blossoms is stronger, best left for the bees. You won't come to any harm if you use them sparingly, of course, just don't count on late summer for your main supply.

Volunteer yarrow.

Speaking of bees and oh yeah, butterflies (anyone here not like butterflies?), yarrow is beloved by all sorts of pollinators. (Yes, including wasps. Please know that there are some very mellow and attractive wasps in the world, and even the so-called aggressive species will accept a truce if you truly let them alone. Wasps are important to a balanced eco-system and I love 'em.) But back to the subject at hand - Yarrow is tough, it survives droughts, mowing and anything you can throw at it. Yarrow rarely has to be planted, it will probably just appear on its own in any wild-ish area you may have in your yard (which you should, it's friendlier to the environment). But you can buy cultivated yarrows in shades of pink and red for more formal beds and they can be used herbally as well.

Yarrow "knows what to do with the blood" (a 'spit poultice' of the leaves will stop the
My favourite yarrow plant, coming up between
the stone stairs and a cement wall.
bleeding when you cut yourself instead of the rosebush),
and it's a diaphoretic (a tea of the blossoms will bring the fever out and make you more comfortable when you have the flu).  It's antiseptic, good in mouthwashes or on infected cuts.

Yarrow flowers dry nicely, keeping their shape for dried arrangements. There are those who say that keeping a bunch near electronics will protect you from the nnEMF's they produce. I don't know about that, but hey, I ain't saying it ain't so. Yarrow is a good compost activator too, so grow lots if you love your compost pile. Toss leaves into the mix every couple of weeks and it heats up/breaks down faster.    

Mallows have lovely leaves.
Let's see, what else?

The last couple of summers I've been renewing my passion for the mallows.  Mallows and their cousins in the althea family come in all sizes and several colours, from the malva neglecta with almost invisible tiny white flowers (and huge, tough roots that are loaded with mucilage and ever so good for the
Not sure of the name of this one.
It's my favourite though.
digestion) to the big showy hollyhocks. The small pink ones are referred to in the old herbal texts as 'blue mallows'. That's because when they dry, the blossoms turn blue - took me years to figure that out!  The whole family is useful because of that mucilage. I do use them medicinally but not often. I mostly nibble them in the garden, the young leaves and flowers are just delicious. And yes, you really can make 'marshmallows' from the roots of, you guessed it, the marsh mallow.

Wait, maybe this one's my favourite. 

See the seed pod, just below and to the right in this pic?
They call them 'cheeses' for the shape, and you can nibble on them, they're tasty when young and tender. This blossom is pictured nestled in with a sage plant.

Last and not least by a long shot, the good old calendula marigold. These are an annual, but they'll often self-seed, so if conditions are right you may only have to plant them once and maybe break up and scatter some seed heads in the autumn. They come in many shades of orange and yellow, and I've actually found a great variety I love at the dollar store of all places. Calendulas are a great addition to
Great companions plants, you can
mix them with just about anything. 
any flower bed or along the edges of vegetable beds, they're bright, sunny and keep bugs and diseases out of your garden. They can also help you deal with almost any family health issue, from chapped skin to fungal infections to upset tummies to vaginal distress and a host of troubles in between. They're also called 'pot marigolds' as in times of old the dried blossoms were added to soups and stews. If you only grow one medicinal herb, grow calendula.

And now, alas, I have given myself an acute case of cabin fever by writing this post. Although it is raining right now, we still have two or so feet of snow in the back yard and the temperature will be dropping into the minus teens by tonight. Aaaargh!

Links: (I encourage you to explore all these sites at your leisure)

My "opus" from a while back on St John'swort

A really impressively put together collection of excerpts from Susun Weed, Matthew Wood and others, on red clover

Matthew Wood's take on yarrow (advanced reading) and a more general take on yarrow from Richard Whelan.

A quickie on mallows from Kiva Rose to whet your appetite (or thirst, in this case).

A nice monograph on calendula including the Ayervedic take from a site I just found today, looks good!


  1. I needed that blast of summer! Thanks.

    1. I bet you did - he's in Alaska folks, that's almost as bad as here!

  2. Red clover I used to suck all the time as a kid. The others, maybe I know yarrow. But the others I'd have trouble identifying yet. I'll slowly practice. (Slowly)

    1. Once you get the families down, it's easy. Okay maybe not easy. More straightforward.

      I do better at remembering plant names than people names!