Medicinal Garden: A-F

Arnica (Arnica spp.)
American ArnicaNative to the high mountain regions of North America—A. chamissonis—and alpine regions of Europe—Arnica montana—Arnica may be applied topically as a gel or cream for treating bruises, inflammation, and even as an antiseptic. Do not use on open wounds or broken skin. If taken internally, it may be toxic unless prepared by a homeopathic specialist. Arnica is slow to grow to flowering size by seed propagation, taking at least two years for A. montana to fully bloom. A. chamissonis, however, may flower the first year from seeding, and is a far hardier plant. Make sure to plant your seeds outdoors in the fall or spring, or, purchase plants or root divisions in the springtime. Arnica likes full sun and moist, well-drained acidic soil. Arnica montana prefers high altitudes and alpine garden conditions. Richo Cech, of Strictly Medicinal Seeds says, “Arnica chamissonis does better at lower attitudes, spreads more easily into clumping patches and has the same active compounds as A. montana.” Richo recommends planting A. montana in part shade, and not full sun, should it be grown at lower altitudes. Wet feet, high pH and overly rich soils may cause Arnica to struggle. A. chamissonis is recommended for most gardeners at lower altitudes and for beginners, seeing as how A. montana can be quite difficult to grow.

Basil-TulsiBasil Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum)
Basil tulsi, also known as holy basil, tulsi, or tulasi, is gaining popularity in the United States, but has been grown in India for more than 3,000 years—it is native to tropical Asia. In Hindu mythology, Basil tulsi is a symbol of one of the most valued goddesses, Lackshmi, the wife of Vishnu. Tulsi has also played an important role in ancient Greek, Roman, Siddha, and Ayurveda medicinal history. The basil is known to benefit the mind, body, and spirit. Basil tulsi is used in many basic practices due to its antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. However, holy basil is best known for its stress-reducing properties: eugenol and caryophyllene. These compounds are mostly used for reducing stress levels, increasing mood and clarity, as well as increasing the ability of your body to respond to stress responsibly. Having holy basil around will help your body cope with the stress of everyday life. Less stress is beneficial for both your mental and physical health.

BonesetBoneset (Eupatorium perfoliatium)
Native to North America, boneset flowers or leaves may be used to make a tea or tincture that treats fevers, colds, and flus. Eupatorium perfoliatum was once used by the Native Americans to treat “break bone” fevers (an illness considered so painful that those infected felt as if their bones would break), hence the common name of “boneset.” When taken internally, boneset promotes perspiration in the body. Its beneficial properties may be accredited to a synergy of phytochemicals. Boneset is closely related to the larger and showier, pink flowered Joe Pye weed, or E. purpureum also used by Native Americans to treat fevers, or afflictions of the bladder or kidneys. Boneset is easily grown in moist areas of rich soil, preferring sun, but tolerating some shade. In the garden, boneset is easily propagated from crown divisions, or may be purchased as seed started indoors in early spring.

CalendulaCalendula (Calendula)
Calendula is a flowering plant native to southern Europe, the Mediterranean, and parts of Asia, often used for its medicinal properties. Calendula flowers are known to prevent muscle spasms, start menstrual periods, stop bleeding and reduce fever. Calendula is also applied to the skin topically to reduce pain, inflammation, and swelling. It is also commonly used to treat a sore throat and mouth, menstrual cramps, ulcers, hemorrhoids, proctitis (inflammation of the rectum), and conjunctivitis (inflammation of the lining of the eyelid). Calendula has also been used as a traditional ingredient in Mediterranean cooking, Middle Eastern dishes, and German stews. Its lovely golden pedals add color to butter and cheese as well. Calendula is often confused with ornamental marigolds, which commonly grow in vegetable gardens.

catnipCatnip (Nepeta cataria)
Catnip is native to most of Europe and extends through parts of Asia, including China. Although catnip is best known as a sedative for cats, it has other healing properties that are beneficial to humans. Catnip also acts as a sedative for humans and provides an outlet for those suffering from insomnia. Drinking a cup of catnip tea at night will not only ensure a good night’s rest, it will also act as an anti-inflammatory, reduce bloating, and help relieve constipation; however, consuming too much catnip tea may cause liver or kidney problems. Catnip can also be applied directly to the skin to cure headaches and rashes from bug bites or poison and can be used directly on open wounds to facilitate the healing process and help fight a cold. It can also be used to induce sweating, which detoxes the body. Intake of catnip is not recommended for women who are pregnant. Catnip has menstruation inducing properties that reduce the pain caused by cramps but can also cause abortion.

A daisy-like flower known primarily for its use in teas, chamomile’s name is derived from the Greek term “khamaimēlon,” which literally means “apple of the ground.” Two types of chamomile are known and used for their health benefits: German chamomile (Matricaria retutica) and Roman, or English, chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), both of which are related under the family Asteraceae, an immense taxonomical category for numerous flowering plants. While Chamomile is mostly known as a soothing remedy for an upset stomach, it can also be used as a treatment for chest cold irritation, slow-healing wounds, abscesses, gum inflammation, and skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, chickenpox, and diaper rash. According to WebMD, for these conditions, you would use chamomile in an infusion or bath, or as a tincture, which is a concentrated extract mixed with alcohol.

chinese rhubarbChinese Rhubarb (Rheum palmatum)
Bitter tasting with a celery-like appearance, rhubarb is popularly known to make a good pie or cobbler, but it also has some beneficial medicinal values. The earliest cultivation of rhubarb goes back to about 2,700 B.C. in Rha, China. Rhubarb is said to have been given to the Wu emperor of the Liang dynasty to help cure his fever. Unfortunately, he quickly realized that the medicine should only be consumed in moderation. The leaves of the plant contain higher amounts of oxalic acid compared to the roots; if too much oxalic acid is consumed at once, it can have some nasty side-effects such as intestinal pain, diarrhea, uterine contractions, and even death. Consuming the petiole of rhubarb can help cure stomach-bleeding, cold sores, and also improve kidney function. Evidence suggests that a salve containing 23 mg each of sage and rhubarb is said to be as effective as acyclovir in curing cold sores. Rhubarb is also said to act as a natural laxative for those who suffer from constipation. Furthermore, rhubarb contains lycopene, which helps reduce the risk of heart disease.


Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Native to North America, coneflower can be used for tea, which is effective in supporting overall immune health, and treating the common cold. Coneflower also has antibacterial, antiviral and antimicrobial properties, which make it a perfect ingredient for topical creams and salves. Echinacea grows best in the spring. Seed germination benefits from a cold stratification treatment, which is achieved by refrigerating the seed for up to 2 weeks before sowing. Once planted in a warm area, it may take up to 3 weeks for germination. Growing is easy once the plants are established.