Medicinal Garden: R-Z
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officialis)
Rosemary is a woody perennial herb native to the Mediterranean basin. Its nomenclature derives from the Latin 'ros' and 'marinus' which when combined gives the sense of 'sea dew', though in certain traditions of European folklore it is attributed to the Virgin Mary as the 'Rose of Mary'. Apart from its widely known culinary applications, rosemary can also be used for pest control purposes. While evidence regarding the effects of rosemary aromatherapy as a cure for anxiety and stress is still unclear, some suggest that rosemary and lavender oil may reduce pulse rates, but not blood pressure. Other research found that applying rosemary oil to the wrist increased feelings of anxiety and tension during testing. According to WebMD, early research shows that taking a product containing rosemary, hops, and oleanolic acid can reduce pain associated with several ailments, including: arthritis, flatulence, indigestion, increased menstrual flow, gout, and many others.
Known as the “herb of grace” for centuries, rue is native to Southern Europe and has been grown and cultivated in gardens for its medicinal value for hundreds of years. From curing anxiousness before a meal to warding off witch spells, rue has a variety of medicinal benefits despite being a poisonous herb; it helps cure lack of appetite, digestive issues and diarrhea. Some people even use rue to relieve breathing problems caused by throat inflammation. Chewing on a leaf or two of rue will suppress headaches, reduce stress and anxiety, and decrease the pain caused by menstruation. Furthermore, rue helps reduce symptoms caused by arthritis, muscle spasms, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and Bell’s palsy, and can be directly applied topically to the skin in order to reduce symptoms of arthritis, sprains, bone injuries, earaches, toothaches, tumors, swollen skin, and warts. Not only does rue help relieve stress and pain, it also acts as a great anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. It is not recommended, however, to ingest rue during pregnancy, as it induces menstruation and can cause abortion. Also, keep in mind, that rue is a poisonous herb and if too much is consumed at once, it can have some nasty side-effects. Be sure to consult a doctor before use.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Sage is native to the Mediterranean coast and was thought to hold healing powers in many different ancient cultures. The genus name, Salvia officinalis, is derived from the Greek word for “salvation.” In some parts of the world, sage is grown and harvested three times a year in quantities similar to that of hay or wheat. It is also used in many perfumes and as an insect repellent in gardens. It guards gardens from cabbage moths and carrot flies, while simultaneously inviting bees and other beneficial pollinators. As a tea, sage can reduce the pain and discomfort of a sore throat. Sage can also be used for reducing sweating associated with menopausal hot flashes. When the herb is dried, it gives a stronger flavor than when fresh.
Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima)
Snakeroot is an herbaceous perennial plant about 1 to 3 feet tall that prefers the rich and shady North American woods. The root is harvested in autumn for its medicinal purposes and is typically used to treat snakebites, hence its common name. In small doses, snakeroot stimulates gastric secretions, smoothens muscle contractions, and promotes appetite. Smoke from burning snakeroot leaves is known to resuscitate the unconscious. In large doses, snakeroot can be toxic to animals, causing kidney and liver failure, gastric intestinal irritation, severe vomiting, constipation and death.
Spearmint (Mentha spicata)
Spearmint is an aromatic perennial herb. While it may bear a comely smell, spearmint is strongly invasive in gardens. Once extracted, its oil can be used to aromatize candy, toothpaste, foods, etc., and can also be used as a fumigant against certain varieties of moths or as a combatant against certain fungal pathogens. It also has medicinal applications to combat digestive disorders such as gas, indigestion, nausea, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, gallbladder swelling and gallstones. It is also used for sore throats, colds, headaches, toothaches, cramps, cancer and inflammation of the respiratory tract. Some choose to use it as a stimulant, germ-killer, local painkiller, and anti-spasm medication, or even as a treatment for various skin conditions.
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
Native to Europe, North and South America, Australia, New Zealand and Eastern Asia, St. John’s wort is a plant with yellow, star-shaped flowers and is most commonly used to treat depression and similar conditions, such as anxiety, exhaustion, loss of appetite and insomnia. Additionally, its extracts have been traditionally used to cure a wide range of medical conditions including heart palpitations, moodiness, symptoms of menopause, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and many more. St. John’s wort may cause life-threatening side effects when used in prescription drugs, herbs, or supplements. As a result, France has banned the use of St. John’s wort in products and other countries like Japan, the United Kingdom, and Canada use warning labels on products containing St. John’s wort.
Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Native to Asia and Africa, sweet basil has a strong fragrance due to the essential oils in its leaves. Traditionally, sweet basil has been used for centuries in culinary preparation to enhance both flavor and odor. Medicinally, basil tea has antiseptic properties and may relax the intestinal system, which relieves stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. If applied externally, basil oil will relax muscles, and, if used in massage oils, help draw out poison from bug bites. Sweet basil also serves as a sedative to treat anxiety and mood disorders. Make sure to grow in full sun during the summer in rich, well-drained soil. Easily propagated by seed, basil may be grown indoors and transplanted or sown directly outdoors after the danger of frost has passed. Keep flower buds pinched off plants to encourage a longer season of harvest, or consider sowing basil at staggered times successively throughout the season. In recent years, basil downy mildew has become a serious fungal pathogen attacking sweet basil leaves. Typically blown into a grown area on wind currents during the summer months, basil downy mildew spores germinate on the underside of the leaves causing a fuzzy grey appearance under the leaf’s surface. On the topside of the leaf, yellowing or bronzing may be visible as the pathogen damages leaf cells. Bicarbonate sprays are moderately effective, but good airflow is the best defense.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
A member of the mint family of flowering plants, Lamiaceae, thyme is an evergreen herb commonly found in North America, with origins in the southern Mediterranean. Its name is derived from the Greek 'thumos', which means 'smoke', in reference to the herb's use in ancient Greek ritual sacrifices. Thyme is also a powerful detoxifying agent, making it one of many liver detox foods. What’s more, the herb is a great immune system booster that encourages white blood cell formation while increasing resistance to foreign organisms. With cold and flu season upon us, adding thyme-based formulas to your medicine cabinet is a great idea.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
Native to Europe and Western Asia, valerian is now naturalized in the United States. Valerian has long been used to promote sleep, relaxation and sedation. The strongest preparations come from fresh, washed roots, and when taken internally, the roots may be prepared as teas, extracts or capsules that are non-habit forming. As a mood modifier, valerian effectively treats anxiety and nervous disorders, and has even been used to treat “shell shock” in soldiers returning from WWI. Its flowers are sweet smelling and showy, and were once used in the fragrance industry. Valerian plants are large, growing well in moist rich soils in sun or part shade. Sow seeds in the spring or propagate by crown divisions. Under optimal conditions, valerian may spread in the garden through self-seeding.