Hundreds of years ago, the local pharmacy was growing in the woods and the meadows and you had to know your plants! [Note: this is also the case in the popular The Hunger Games trilogy, but I digress.] In most cultures around the world, the earliest forms of healing were based on herbs and that knowledge was handed down to each new generation. Written records show herbal medicines date back to 3000 BC in Egypt, China, Babylon, and India. In many countries, herbal remedies are still the only readily available treatment.
Even in countries where modern medicine is available, many people subscribe to holistic medicine and natural treatments rather than paying for drugs and remedies. Remember: compared with modern-day medicine, herbal remedies can seem old-fashioned, but many of today’s medicines were derived from plants. If you want to consider planting your own ‘healing garden’, these are some of the herbs that you’ll want to consider*:
- To treat cold and flu symptoms, make an infusion (see below) from rosehips; drink one cup three times a day.
- Like catmint, chamomile will relieve cramps, settle upset stomachs, and aid digestion. Make an infusion from the flowers and drink three cups daily.
- Make a decoction from witch hazel bark and use it in a compress for cuts, bruises, and insect bites.
- Make an infusion from the leaves and flowers of rosemary, and drink three times daily for stomach upsets. Use the infusion as a rinse after shampooing and conditioning hair.
- Use crushed, fresh leaves of sage as a preliminary antiseptic on minor wounds. An infusion of sage leaves aids digestion and may also reduce perspiration.
- For cold, flu, and allergy relief, make an infusion from the leaves and stems of thyme, and drink three times daily.
- A tea made from fresh coneflower (echinacea) roots treats respiratory infections. Drink up to three cups a day.
- Peppermint is wonderful as a decongestant and for settling an upset stomach. Make an infusion from the leaves and drink three cups daily. Pregnant women should avoid peppermint.
- Make a compress (see below) from calendula (pot marigold) flowers and apply to stings, bruises, scrapes, and burns.
- To promote healing, apply the fresh gel from aloe leaves to sunburn, blisters, acne, and scrapes.
- Try a lavender compress to relieve tension, or a garlie or ginger compress to treat nasal and chest congestion.
- To treat infection and relieve muscle aches, make a poultice of herbs and oatmeal (see below)
*Before using any herbal remedy, it is wise to take advice from a qualified practitioner or doctor.
- Use separate mortar and pestles when preparing medicinal and culinary herbs.
- To ensure your herbal remedies are of the highest quality and purity, use plants grown in your garden.
- The difference between an herbal tea and an infusion is the length of time the herbs are allowed to steep.
- Avoid using herbal remedies if you are pregnant or nursing, or if you have a heart condition. They are also unsuitable for children under two years of age.
Infusions are made by pouring boiling water over herb leaves or flowers and steeping them for up to 15 minutes. They are best drunk fresh and hot, but can be stored in the refrigerator for a day or two. Dilute to taste or sweeten with honey or fruit juice.
Compresses: Prepare an infusion, then soak a towel in the warm liquid. Wring it out and lay it upon the affected area, covering with a dry towel. As the compress cools, replace it with a warm one. Continue for 30 minutes.
Poultice: To treat infection and relieve muscle aches, use 1/4 cup dried herbs or 3 cups of fresh herbs (washed, dried, and minced) to 4 cups of oatmeal. Mix together with hot water to form a paste. Put paste directly on skin and cover with a towel. Replace when cool; continue for 30 minutes.
Remember, herbs contain volatile oils that can be poisonous. In small doses they may contribute to our health, but are not a cure-all for serious diseases for which medical diagnosis and treatment must be sought. Some plants are extremely poisonous and must never be ingested. These include foxglove and lily-of-the-valley. Be extremely careful when growing these plants around young children or animals.