We often choose the plants in our yard for their beauty or edibility, but rarely do we think about their medicinal properties. Years ago folks relied on these plants to help them with every day ills, especially when they lived out in the country far from doctors and hospitals. Much of the medicine of these plants has been forgotten but almost every plant has some sort of medicine to offer us, even poison ivy is used in minute doses in homeopathic remedies!
Culinary herbs have been used throughout the centuries. For most people that simply means food flavoring but years ago this meant medicine! Many culinary herbs have antimicrobial properties and aid digestion in some way. They were used as an accompaniment to food to kill the pathogens when refrigeration was not available. Filling your yard with culinary herbs is a great start to your backyard pharmacy.
Although you can grow many types of basil in our part of Florida, African Blue Basil is a great choice. It’s one of the few basils that are perennial and will survive over the summer here. It’s a 2’ tall bushy plant with purplish leaves that the bees absolutely adore! It has high camphor content giving it anti-inflammatory properties that are useful for headache and stomach ache. It is also used for nausea, colds, and fever and has uplifting, anti-depressant properties. It is best eaten fresh but can also be crushed and applied externally to reduce inflammation and itching for bug bites, bee stings, and general healing. Thai Basil also grows well here along with many other culinary herbs. Some of the common northern herbs will need to be treated as annuals here as they can’t take the humid rainy summers but they are still worth growing.
Many grasses, vines, shrubs and trees also have medicinal properties. Lemon Grass is a beautiful 3-5’ grass with a wonderful fragrance. It is in the same genus as citronella grass, making it a great insect repellant. The essential oils are often extracted to use for this purpose. Cut it back in summer or fall to harvest and dry for tea. The lower tender parts of the leaves are minced and used in stir-fries or curries. Lemon grass is antimicrobial making it great for upset tummy, cold, fever and achy joints. It also relieves digestive tract spasms, pain, and reduces blood pressure. Lemon grass is great for lifting the spirits too, how could it not, with such a wonderful fragrance?
If you have a trellis, a good tree for climbing, or don’t mind a rambling vine, Passion Flower is another great medicinal plant to have in your yard. Since there are many varieties of Passion Flower, it is important to note that Passiflora incarnata or Maypop is the variety to grow for its medicinal properties. This purple flowered vine can spread around your yard once it gets established but if you plan to harvest it regularly, it won’t be a problem. The Gulf Fritillary Butterfly, among others, absolutely adore this plant and for the first couple years in my yard I could barely keep any leaves on it! So when you get enough to harvest, you can dry the leaves to make tea or make an extract with alcohol (tincture). Passion Flower is a great sedative. With all the stress in our lives these days we could all certainly use it! It helps calm the nerves if you have anxiety and it can be used as a sleep aid without that “hangover” feeling in the morning. It’s also a great antispasmodic useful for asthma, seizures, hysteria, nerve pain such as neuralgia and shingles. Not only is this plant great medicine, but it keeps your yard filled with butterflies. That’s happy medicine all in itself!
Loquat is a fairly common fruit tree in our area which produces wonderful small apricot like fruits in winter but did you know that the beautiful, large glossy leaves of this tree make a medicinal tea? The tea is good for promoting skin, respiratory, and intestinal health. High in antioxidants, it protects our cells from harmful toxins and supports the liver. It also helps with lung irritations and cough and although I haven’t tried it, it would probably be of help with the side effects of Red Tide. For skin irritations, the tea can be used as a wash or put in cream or salve and can be swished in the mouth for swollen gums.
These are just a few medicinal plants, but the list is endless! These plants can help empower us to take our health into our own hands, especially for some of our common ills. Next time you purchase a plant, do a search on the internet to see if it has any medicinal properties, you may be pleasantly surprised!
Linda is an herbalist and a landscape
designer. She and her husband Greg have transformed their Englewood yard using Permaculture techniques. They offer consultations, design services, and free monthly tours through their business: Love Your Yard. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org, 207-449-9012 or visit https://weloveyouryard.wixsite.com/swfl.