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super herbs, soils and growing herbs in pots  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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A customer, living in and apartment asked me weather he can grow comfrey in a pot. My answer was yes but I cannot say for sure how potent the comfrey would be, since it gets only the nutrients which are in that potting mix. That leads me to two questions:
1. How sensical is it to grow medicinal herbs in a pot, how likely will they be potent?
2. All these superherbs, say gotu kola, shisandra .... these herbs everyone wants. How potent will they be grown in my (or your)soil in my condition compared to "at home"? Are these herbs maybe only so potent because they thrive on special soil and these plants are good at mining certain things?
 
pollinator
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Location: Midlands, South Carolina Zone 7b/8a
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In my opinion any herb or other plant that you grow yourself is probably going to be better, more potent, more nutritious than a plant that you purchase at a local mainstream store.

No, it may not be as good as one grown by a local farmer in a permaculture setting, but if you don’t have access to those plants then your potted plants are the next best thing.

I personally have absolutely no talent for growing plants in containers and envy those who do.

 
gardener
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I believe it's absolutely possible to grow great herbs in a container. What's needed it quality, biologically active potting soil full of the minerals that plants need and use to manufacture the medicinal compounds which may make them "potent". I'd say it would be easy to do with a high quality potting soil, or even soil from ones own yard or garden, but in the case of your customer living in the apartment, Angelika, they may not have access to such soil, so a purchased potting soil may be necessary. Then it's just a matter of adding a few things such as kelp, or sea minerals in the form of unprocessed sea salt, or if one lives near the ocean, occasional waterings with sea water. That will make for some mineral rich potting soil. It may also be important to use a fertilizer, such as liquid fish, to provide adequate quantities of the ten or so major plant nutrients that include NPK. One might also consider a bacillus & mycorrhizal inoculant to ensure microbes are in the potting soil, as some manufacturers of potting soil steam sterilize their product.
 
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Location: Central Virginia USA
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It sounds like you are an herbalist or natural healer, and coming from australia the super herbs you mentioned are far different from what I would grow (or grows wild) around here.

Assuming exact soil requirements adjusted for the specific plant, a good appropriate microbe inoculation, and an appropriate full artificial sunlight cycle, temps etc.  They could probably grow reasonably active medicinals, but of course these would (in most all cases) be well inferior to the same herbs cultivated in a garden outside--which are inferior to the herbs gathered from a wild setting.

If someone is counting on a medicinal action to recover from serious illness I wouldn't recommend it, unless there was no alternative.

The comfrey you mentioned has specific chemical cycles, producing more of the (thought to be) toxic pyrolyzidine alkaloids during different parts of its cycle, but I couldn't say whether an indoor plant would go through those cycles or how pyrolizidine content might be different inside. Bigger leaves might be an indication of reduced toxicity.
 
gardener
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Angelika Maier wrote:A customer, living in and apartment asked me weather he can grow comfrey in a pot. My answer was yes but I cannot say for sure how potent the comfrey would be, since it gets only the nutrients which are in that potting mix. That leads me to two questions:
1. How sensical is it to grow medicinal herbs in a pot, how likely will they be potent?
2. All these superherbs, say gotu kola, shisandra .... these herbs everyone wants. How potent will they be grown in my (or your)soil in my condition compared to "at home"? Are these herbs maybe only so potent because they thrive on special soil and these plants are good at mining certain things?



Any plant (or tree) can be grown in a container and they will do fairly well as long as their nutrient, water and light intensity needs are met. 
Potency of medicinal herbs naturally varies when one of their needs is out of balance with the other needs, so it is probable that you can container grow medicinal herbs that are more potent than farmed or wild gathered.
I'd go so far as to say it would be pretty easy to quantitate the potency of container grown medicinal herbs, since you can control all the items that allow the plant to grow in potency.

Plant potency, regardless of what potency you are talking about has more to do with Nutrient quality and quantity, water availability and light intensity, duration and spectrum, than it has to do with where it is grown.
The where it grows would come into play for each of the previously mentioned portions of plant needs, but if you are growing one plant in a controlled environment and one in less than ideal conditions, it is easy to see which one has the best chance to be the most potent.

When you are growing medicinal herbs, the more controlled the environment is, the better the potency can be.

Redhawk
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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bob day wrote:
Assuming exact soil requirements adjusted for the specific plant, a good appropriate microbe inoculation, and an appropriate full artificial sunlight cycle, temps etc.  They could probably grow reasonably active medicinals, but of course these would (in most all cases) be well inferior to the same herbs cultivated in a garden outside--which are inferior to the herbs gathered from a wild setting.



I have to disagree with your assessment here bob, growing herbal medicine plants in a controlled environment will produce superior plant material over an outdoor garden or wild setting, because you can control every aspect of the plant growing environment.
 
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Location: catalonia spain
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This, for me is a very interesting topic.. I often wonder about the potency of cultivated medicinals.. I'm not so inline normally with  mainstream science (although I do see and respect it's perspective at times), mainly because of my experiences and connection to let's say a more 'spiritual' (I really don't like that word but it will sufice) way of being..

I don't think the subject at hand is whether medicinal herbs can reach their full potential when cultivated, rather than how they are cultivated.

Here is a nice little blog from a herbalist that kind of runs with my perspective on the matter.

Best

Marcus
 
gardener
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While I agree that a high quality plant can be grown in a container, or in a garden, I tend to think of wild plants as being more optimum; and here's why:  There are many reasons that we tend to mimic nature in our patterning of design in permaculture, and one of those is the synergy that is created when a biological community's elements act together. 

In natural settings, this synergy happens in and of itself; the system is whole and working as a ecological unit.  We can try to mimic these in our gardens, food forests, etc, but a herb that is growing in it's prime natural setting is bound to have the symbiotic relationships that potentize it's medicinal constituents to it's fullest.  This might be approximated in a potted plant, but I doubt very much that it will be surpassed without some very advanced and mature potting soil, and a pot large enough for some companion plants and their synergistic microbial communities.

I have to agree with Bob Day on this.

All that said, I do believe that growing medicinal herbs for your own use (I have a decent crop of garlic and echinacea), or for sale, is a good idea.  Growing a potted comfrey plant in good soil and harvesting the leaves for medicine such as a poultice, is bound to have a very desirable effect on a bruise, and there is no reason not to go forward with it assuming that a good soil mix (as James Freyr wrote about) is in the pot.  As an example of this, many people where I live grow Aloe Vera indoors (it wont survive the winter here), and use it regularly to heal burns (which happen a fair bit since people are always using wood stoves in the winter).  These plants may not be as good as the Aloe Vera plants that are in their natural setting in South Africa, or even in their introduced feral setting of the Southern USA and Mexico, but they do heal burns quite effectively. 
 
Angelika Maier
pollinator
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My point of view is practical: if you grow herbs in a container it is because you live in one of these rabbit cage appartements. You don't have access to real soil. What you do is getting a bag of potting mix from the nearest supermarket. You dont's have some buckets with soil amendments standing around and if you are lucky you have a little bokahi container. In a scenario like this I would rather grow some kitchen herbs an maybe some others like gotu kola because I am a compulsive grower, but I would go out in the weekends to forage.
 
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Location: Northern New Mexico, Latitude:35 degrees N, Elevation:6000'
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If you use a large enough pot you can create a living soil with multiple plants per pot.  You can even grow cover crops in the same pot and chop and drop.  Smart pots work better than plastic pots.  I think the smallest size I recall someone using was around 5 gallons, anything smaller and it was too difficult to get a living soil to establish itself.  I like using the bigger pots, 65 gallons, indoors to create a living soil.  I helped someone that finally upgraded to smart pots and went from sad trees in dinky 5 gallon plastic containers to 65 gallon smart pots.  The trees are very happy now, and I'm helping the person come to realize that the soil itself is alive and needs to be treated as such.  I gathered leaves from outside and mulched all the pots with it.  And I've been encouraging the owner to go in their yard and gather various mulches such as small twigs, grasses, small woodchips, and using cover crop seed to bring life to the soil.  They said, "maybe I could put some worms in those pots".  YES , they're starting to get it.

Having said all that...you will probably end up bringing in arthropods with all the mulch.  Maybe bake the mulch if you don't want to deal with that?  I just leave em, because it's a sign of healthy living soil.  You can use one of those plastic dishes you put under pots to catch water and it should help hold a lot of the crawling arthropods that get out of the pot, many of them will just crawl back into the pot because they can't climb the slippery plastic edges.  I haven't used those catch pans, but I've made something similar using plastic sheeting and the arthropods couldn't climb the plastic.  An idea I haven't tried, maybe applying a thin amount of oil around the rim of the uppermost portion of the plastic water catch pan would make it extra slippery so those arthropods can't get out.?
 
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