As spring draws closer, several people have asked me for advice on what herbs to grow in their gardens. Specifically, they want to know my top 10 or 12 suggestions - what I would consider to be essential herbs to have on hand.
I resisted for a while, because that is not the way I do things. I recommend people make a list of their common health concerns, and anything they may be particularly worried about in the future, and plant herbs specific to their own health needs. Furthermore, I source so many herbs in the wild that several of my essential herbs are not grown in the garden. Mullein and Plantain are examples of herbs that I have never tried to grow. They are so common and abundant growing wild that I simply collect all I need each season. So, I decided to reach out to some friends for help.
As many of my readers know, I have been involved with The Grow Network for several years. I write for them sometimes and I am a moderator on the Grow Network Forum.
The Grow Network's owner, Marjory Wildcraft, the staff, all the moderators and several regulars who interact on the forums have become good friends. They have encouraged me in my books, articles and podcast, and helped me in innumerable ways.
This group of helpful and friendly folks includes several professional herbalists. It was only natural that I would pose this question and see what suggestions folks in different parts of the world, with unique suggestions, would offer.
Torey, in western Canada, commented:
Wow, this is really area-specific as to what I would grow in my garden. I don't usually grow things that are abundant enough to harvest in the wild. I am very blessed to live in an area with so many medicinals at hand. So that changes my perspective a bit on what I would choose to grow in the garden. And it depends on your growing season, too.
So for me the list would go as follows:
Calendula (Calendula officinalis). Comfrey aka Knitbone (Symphytum officinalis). Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum). Elecampane (Inula helenium). Gentian (Gentiana lutea). Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), a wild species grows in my area but not enough to consider wildcrafting. California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica). Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana). Garlic (Allium sativum). Marshmallow (Althea officinalis). Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis). Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca).
Well, that's 12. There are so many other culinary herbs that one shouldn't be without that are also highly medicinal. Parsley, Thyme, Rosemary, Oregano, Sage, Mints.
Arnica and St. John's Wort are two I wouldn't be without but they grow fairly prolifically in the wild here.
I have some others, too, but they are not considered safe, except for use by very experienced herbalists.
Laurie in zone 3, Canadian Prairies reminds us:
Sometimes the common "weeds" should just be left alone in your garden. I'm a big fan of foraged medicinal herbs.
Plantain is top for me, chickweed is next in line.
I like to also think of my heritage chickens and herbs that can be beneficial to them, so in addition to some of the above herbs, that would take in Thyme, Holy Basil/Basil, Sage, Oregano, Chilis & Garlic.
Of course, there are more, but I had better stop as you’ve already got a "bakers dozen" from me.
Jodie, in Australia, wrote:
I’m going to list a few that are easy to grow in my area & produce lots of plant material. Comfrey, Calendula, Ginger, Garlic, Turmeric, Dandelion, Rosemary, Lemon Balm, Chillies, Parsley, Sage, Mint & Thyme. St. John's Wort doesn’t grow in my area but I always have it in my herbal supplies.
Marjstratton, in western Washington in zone 8b, weighed in:
What I grow is Calendula, (well, it grows itself!). I have Thyme, Basil, and Oregano on a sunny windowsill. In the garden besides the calendula, I have had Rosemary, Comfrey and Motherwort growing for several years. Of the garden ones, I use the rosemary and calendula the most. Oh, and of course, garlic. It always seems more of a basic food than an herb. Most everything else, I gather from the wild or my fields (or the grocery store).
Mary Linda Bittle, in Missouri (zone 5b), offered:
A hawthorn tree, and wild rose hedge would be excellent, but here are my 12., based on what I like to have on hand:
Elderberry, Comfrey, Calendula, St. John's Wort, Elecampane, Motherwort, Lavender, Parsley, Lemon balm, Peppermint, Marshmallow, and Chamomile.
I consider the culinary herbs as second tier since you can get them at the grocery store if you need them fast. I grow parsley for blood pressure issues, and don't really use it otherwise. Rosemary, Thyme, Basil, and Sage are always in my garden.
Dandelion and Plantain grow all over the place here.
Nicksamanda11 (region unknown) tells us:
I like these 12: Lemon Balm, Catnip, Sheep Sorrel, Yarrow, Comfrey, Oregano, Thyme, Horsetail, Bee Balm, Rosemary, Lavender, Lamb's Quarters
Jolanta in Austria had several suggestions:
I grow many more than 12, but I try to prioritise:
Raspberry and Blackberry. For fruit and mainly for leaves. I collect a lot as they are basis for most of my herbal mixtures. The leaves are used as house tea for ages. Also, Rosemary, Sage, Savory, Oregano, Thyme, Calendula, Horseradish, Catnip, Lemon balm, Dill/Caraway/Fennel, All kinds of mints
Oh, there are many more. I cannot imagine not having Lime blossoms, St. John’s wort, Dandelions and Stinging Nettles, Ground Elder, Elderflower.....
While we do see some patterns emerging, it is also true that each person’s list is very individual. So, what would be my top 12? Well, I have allergic asthma, so mine will be weighted a bit in that direction.
I’ll start with a couple of lung herbs…. Assuming I can wild harvest Mullein and Cherry Bark, I would grow Elecampane and Thyme, and maybe Licorice and Angelica.
For allergies, I wild harvest Ragweed and Mimosa blossoms, so I would grow Stinging Nettles as I never seem to find enough in the wild - I consume a lot of nettles as food and medicinal herbs.
For colds, a good, strong Mint, Sage and a member of the Wormwood Family as an antiviral, sourcing Boneset, Joe Pye Weed and Dandelion in the wild.
For injuries, Comfrey, Arnica and Saint John’s Wort.
For pain and sleep, Valerian, Skullcap, Bugleweed (and Coleus as a bonus).
As you can see, it really depends on the individual. For instance, someone who has inflammatory conditions of the bladder and intestines may with to grow Canada Fleabane, Dandelion, Chamomile, Mallow and Goldenrod, if they cannot find it wild in their area or are a bit older and unable to hike much. A woman of childbearing years may wish to grow specific women’s herbs, as might one who is menopausal or post menopausal. One who has kids will definitely want to grow some Garlic for earaches and infections.
With all this in mind, perhaps we have, at least, given enough direction to give you a start. Please join us on the forum if you have questions, and we will be glad to help as best we can and are legally able. The Grow Network is all about growing food and medicinal herbs, so don’t be a stranger! In the immortal words of Cousin Minnie Pearl, “Somebody say howdy to me” … We’ll all howdy ya back!
The information on this site is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or condition. Nothing on this site has been evaluated or approved by the FDA. I am not a doctor. The US government does not recognize the practice of herbal medicine and their is no governing body regulating herbalists. Therefore, I'm just a guy who studies herbs. I am not offering any advice. I won't even claim that anything I write is accurate or true! I can tell you what herbs have "traditionally been used for." I can tell you my own experience and if I believe an herb helped me. I cannot, nor would I tell you to do the same. If you use any herb I, or anyone else, mentions you are treating yourself. You take full responsibility for your health. Humans are individuals and no two are identical. What works for me may not work for you. You may have an allergy, sensitivity or underlying condition that no one else shares and you don't even know about. Be careful with your health. By continuing to read my blog you agree to be responsible for yourself, do your own research, make your own choices and not to blame me for anything, ever.
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