As a garden enthusiast, I love growing all types of plants, but the plants that give me the most joy are herbs. It is astounding how many varieties there are and the many qualities they have and benefits they provide: i.e. culinary, medicinal and ornamental. For that reason, I think herbs should be included in every garden.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is one of the most well known herbs and has many uses both medicinally and culinary. The most notable are:
Genovese Basil – is traditionally used in pesto, caprese dishes and pizzas.
Large leaf Basil – has a strong fragrance and flavor. It is typically used to add flavor to Neapolitan dishes, meat, seafood, sauces, pasta and pestos.
Thai (Sweet) Basil – offers a subtle hint of anise flavor and is best used in Thai cuisine.
Lemon and Lime Basil – has a citrus flavor and is perfect for refreshing teas and other flavored drinks.
*Holy and Sweet Basil – has leaves that are the perfect additive for soothing baths.
*If you are pregnant and/or breastfeeding, do not use this herb. Holy basil has been known to slow the clotting of blood which can lead to dangerous bleeding. It is recommended you stop using holy basil 2 weeks before a surgery is scheduled. As with any new treatment, check with your healthcare provider before using.
All varieties of basil can be used in beauty treatments a to promote healthier skin or topically to treat insect bites and minor skin irritations. Basil tea can help boost the immune system. Basil plants can also benefit your home and garden as they deter fruit, house and white flies and pesky mosquitoes.
Beebalm (M. fistulosa and M. didyma) is a hardy and fragrant herb. Its fresh petals make for a vibrant and edible garnish in summer salads. The flowers can also be crystallized and added to sugar and used in baked goods such as cakes, cookies and scones. It can also be added to jellies, sorbets, marinades, syrups and honey. The petals and leaves can be dried and used to make a flavorful tea (citrus peels enhances it flavor).
Fresh leaves can be placed in small muslin bags and placed under running hot water for it’s aromatherapy qualities (bath and foot soak). An ointment can be made to help aid the healing process for burns, sores, various skin conditions and insect stings. Compresses can be made from bee balm tea and added to affected areas for it’s antibacterial and antiseptic qualities.
In the garden, red varieties of this plant provide a rich nectar source for hummingbirds. Bees are also quite fond of the pollen enriched flowers. It can also be used as a mosquito repellent.**
**Bee balm make cause skin sensitivity via the sun for some individuals if used as a insect repellent. Also those with thyroid issues and women who are pregnant and/or breastfeeding should not ingest bee balm internally. As with any new treatment, check with your healthcare provider before using.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis) – This happens to be one of the most versatile of all common herbs. You can add fresh petals to salads, butter and other dishes as a garnish to add a pop of color. Fresh calendula petals can also be used as a vibrant orange/yellow color substitute for saffron (a pricey spice used in most dishes such as authentic paella and bouillabaisse).
Calendula provides numerous medicinal qualities. ***The dried flower heads can be steeped in hot water to create calendula tea or infused with oil. The oil can be used in ointments, balms, poultices, and creams to create beauty treatments, (remove eye makeup) and topically which can help speed up the healing process of cuts, scrapes, bruises and insect bites. Skin conditions such as acne, eczema, sunburn, diaper rash, ring worms, dry skin, dandruff and even varicose veins can also be treated with this beneficial oil.
Drinking calendula tea can help treat and reduce fevers, urinary tract infections (UTI’s), and help with digestion problems. It can also help regulate menstrual cycles and pain derived from the cycles. Due to its anti inflammatory properties, calendula tea can be used as a gargle/rinse to help add the healing process of mouth irritations such as thrush, sore throats, canker sores and dental work.
For skin ailments such as burns, insect stings/bites, diaper rash and wounds, the tea can added to a compress (via cleans cotton balls or cloths). It will hep promote a quicker healing process and help prevent infections. It can be added to a sitz bath to help with discomfort from yeast infections, hemorrhoids, anal fissures and uterine cramps. Because of it’s anti-fungal qualities it can be used in foot baths to help treat athlete’s foot
In the home garden, calendula can be used to repel asparagus beetles and tomato worms. Animals can also benefit from calendula such as feed for chickens, or topically to help heal wounds and minor skin irritations in the form of compresses or rinses made from tea.
***If you are pregnant and/or breastfeeding, do not use this herb. People who are sensitive or allergic to members of the Asteraceae/Compositae family (marigolds, daisies, ragweed, chrysanthemums and others) should not use this herb. If combined with certain medications, it can cause drowsiness. Stop taking calendula at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery. Please check with your healthcare provider before taking this herb.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) – Is a favorite of cats and humans alike. The medicinal properties of catnip include the ability to help reduce stress and anxiety. A soothing tea made from dried tops and leaves, is sure to calm your mind and aid restless sleep. It also helps with menstrual pain, headaches, gout, sprains, arthritis, hemorrhoids eating disorders and an occasional upset stomach. Fresh tops can be used to create infused oils and used topically in extracts, tinctures and salves. Dried leaves and tops can be used in satchets and tinctures and also smoked to relieve certain respiratory problems and create an “en-lighted feeling”.
Catnip is used commercially in mosquito repellents but can be used also to deter deer Japanese beetles, aphids, weevils and squash bugs.
****If you are pregnant and/or breastfeeding, do not use this herb. It can stimulate the uterus and cause miscarriage. Women with P.I.D. (pelvic inflammatory disease) should also avoid using catnip as it can cause heavy menstrual flow. You should also avoid catnip two weeks before any planned surgery as it slows down the central nervous system with will cause sleepiness. Catnip should be used in moderation in tea and smoking. Please check with your healthcare provider before taking this herb.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) – Anise flavored and quite delicious, fresh fennel and dried fennel seeds are used in salads, side dishes, braised chicken/fish, soups and sauces.
Dried fennel seeds are crushed for oil and used in various medicines and flavoring agents for cosmetics. Fennel powder has been used to treat snake bites. Fennel oil mixed with various herbs can be used to create teas that help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, anemia, colic, digestive issues, respiratory problems, eye and bone health and appetite stimulation. Fennel oil can also be used topically to help manage wounds.
In the garden, fennel also works in companion planting as it helps deter aphids, slugs and snails.
*If you are pregnant and/or breastfeeding, or if you are sensitive or allergic to carrot, mugwort or celery, do not use this herb. Fennel may slow blood clotting and increase the risk of bleeding and bruising for people with bleeding disorders. Women who have conditions such as ovarian, uterine and breast cancer, fibroids in the uterus or endometrosis should not use fennel as it increases estrogen and can make the conditions worse.
Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) – This plant has beautiful blue flowers that can be used fresh (small quantities) as garnish in summer salads and broths. It can also be added to honey which helps accentuate food with delightful floral undertones. It is also used in liqueurs.
Dried hyssop leaves can be uses in potpourri sachets for the home. Dried hyssop can also be placed in muslin bags and steeped in bath water to stimulate relaxation by soothing the skin and inducing healing sweating. Hyssop tea (cooled) can also be used as a facial toner due to it’s astringent qualities. The tea also helps with digestion and respiratory conditions such as flatulence and asthma.
Hyssop oil is used in aromatherapy treatments (baths and and commercially in soaps, perfumes and other cosmetics. It can be used topically to help relieve pain from insect bites, rashes boils, cuts and bruises. Hyssop extract helps is used to help treat virulent skin diseases such as herpes simplex.
*If you are pregnant and/or breastfeeding do not use hyssop. It may cause uterine contractions or bleeding resulting in a miscarriage in pregnant women. Hyssop should not be given to children due to risk of convulsions. If you have a history of seizures, please do not take this herb as it can cause seizures or make them much worse.
Lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora)* – It produces citrus flavored leaves and flowering tops that are widely used in fish & chicken dishes, marinades, vinaigrette, pesto, jellies, jams, sugar, syrups, frozen desserts and baked goods. It is also used in herbal teas, cocktails, lemonades and can be made into a liqueur.
Lemon verbena is used in commercially in perfumes, herbal teas and alcoholic beverages. It can be used in potpourri and an addictive to homemade surface cleaner. It can also be used to help treat colds, fever, digestive problems and asthma. It can help with strengthening muscles, weight loss and helps relieve stress.
*If you are pregnant and/or breastfeeding, do not use verbena. It has been known to create skin irritations. Also, if taken in large amounts, it can irritate the kidneys or worsen kidney disease.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)* – A pungent culinary and medicinal herb, sage is used in baked goods, bread, pastas, salads, soups, sauces, salts, butters, infused oils, ice cream, infused water and other beverages.
There are many varieties of sage and most are used commercially in soaps and cosmetics and the oil is extracted for use in aromatherapy. It can help with digestive issues such as gas, heartburn and bloating. It can also help emotional and mental issues such as depression and Alzheimer’s disease, menstrual pain, hot flashes, and can help lower excessive perspiration, saliva, milk production and cholesterol.
Sage contains anti-bacterial qualities which can help with skin and oral problems such as swollen gums from gingivitis, inflamed sore throat and nasal passages/ Used in an ointment along with rhubarb (Rheum officinale and Rheum palmatum), it can help shorten the healing of cold sores .
In the home garden, sage can help deter cabbage moth,, carrot flies, ticks and even deer.
*If you are pregnant and/or breastfeeding, do not use sage. Women who have conditions such as ovarian, uterine and breast cancer, fibroids in the uterus or endometriosis should not use Spanish sage as it increases estrogen and can make the conditions worse. People wit diabetes should consult their healthcare provider for advice about the use of sage as it can lower blood sugar levels. Sage can also increase levels for people with high blood pressure and lower blood pressure for people with low blood pressure. Common sage (Salvia officinalis) contains large amounts of thujone, can trigger seizures. If you have a seizure disorder, don’t take sage in amounts higher than those typically found in food and consult with your healhcare provider. Common sage can also affect blood sugar levels so stop using sage 2 weeks before any planned surgery.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) – A member of the mint family., thyme is widely used in Mediterranean cuisine. It is also used to create flavorful stews, stocks, soups, oils and vegetable dishes. Often accompanied by its herbal companions sage and rosemary in marinades, thyme also perfectly compliments grilled seafood. It is also a key ingredient in spice blends such as bouquet garni and herbes de Provence.
Just like sage, their are many varieties of thyme. One variety in particular, red thyme, is used commercially in toothpaste, soaps and cosmetics. The oil from thyme is used in liniments to fight bacterial and fungal infections. It is used internally to help treat respiratory and digestive issues and certain skin conditions.
In the home garden, thyme can help deter cabbage loppers, cabbage maggots, corn ear worms, white flies, tomato horn worms and deer.
*When consumed in normal food amounts, thyme may be taken safely by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and children. However, larger doses are not recommended and as with all herbs, should be discussed with a health provider before use. Do not take thyme if you are allergic to oregano or other Lamiaceae species because you may also be allergic to thyme. Do not take thyme in large amounts if you have bleeding disorders because it slows the production of clotting.
Women who have conditions such as ovarian, uterine and breast cancer, fibroids in the uterus or endometriosis should not use thyme as it increases estrogen and can make the conditions worse. Thyme has been known to slow the clotting of blood which can lead to dangerous bleeding. It is recommended you stop using holy basil 2 weeks before a surgery is scheduled. As with any new treatment, check with your healthcare provider before using.
NOTE: The information in this post is for informational purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult your physician or other qualified health care provider regarding personal medical conditions, problems or concerns.