How many of us have grown herbs in our gardens, whether in containers or in the ground, and not known what to “do” with them? Have you ever wanted to make an herbal product from scratch using what you’ve grown, but don’t know where to begin? Or are unsure of which part of the plant to harvest? Do you think to yourself, “Where do I even begin? Oh forget it, I’ll just buy the dried herb from the apothecary” does this sound familiar?
These questions stump both the beginning gardener and the experienced herbalist. “From seed to pharmacy” is a popular tagline we see all over the internet, which leaves many of us with the burning question: “Where do I begin?” The answer is simple: You start where you are! There are several questions to ask yourself in order to get your bearings and determine how to proceed. How much garden space do I have to work with? Should I grow in containers? What is my budget? How much time do I have to commit to making sure my plants are well taken care of? Figuring out space, budget, and time is a necessary measure.
Growing your herbs in containers is a great space saver, and if you find yourself frequently moving you can take your herb buddies with you. Think Calendula and herbs in the Lamiaceae family (Mints, Oregano, Lavender, Basil, etc.). Herbs such as Comfrey, Lemon Balm, Plantain and Mints are easy to dig right out of a friend’s garden and transplant, either into a container or the ground. This is a great way to start your medicinal herb garden on a budget.
Another way to begin is at the end: what herbal products are you excited to make? For instance, many facial serums use Wild Rose, which is a popular and native garden plant in Colorado. Rosa damascena has traditionally been used in products such as Rose petal liqueurs and Rose waters, and for modern uses in facial serums where Rose hips are extracted for their precious volatile oils, carotenoids, flavonoids and vitamin C. Beginning with an herbal product you’d like to make can inspire your next plant relationship.
Choosing polycrest herbs (herbs with multiple uses) can help narrow down an ambitious list. A good example is Calendula officinalis, also known as Pot Marigold. Calendula is most commonly used externally, as an ointment or oil for burns, bruises, and injuries, while internally as a tea Calendula is used as a warming alterative for healing GI tissue. You can make many different medicines from growing a single herb.
There are plenty of other considerations to research and to learn by trial and error after you plunder a friend’s garden for your favorite botanicals and start making herbal holiday gifts from home. But for now you are off to a great start. Observation will be your greatest teacher, so be patient and present.
Tierra, Michael. Planetary Herbology. Lotus Press. 1992.
Stewart, Amy. The Drunken Botanist. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 2013.
For further information regarding cultivating, growing, and making botanical medicine, join me for my class on Friday, April 14th, 6-8 pm. Located at Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism in Boulder. $15 suggested donation.