Growing Medicinal Herbs
Most Herbs Are Easy To Grow
If you want them to thrive, they need appropriate soil, light, temperature, water and amendments such as compost and minerals. However, many of them can live in some harsh environments and need less care than food plants.
In this photo you will note there are herbalists playing music in the herb garden. The herbs love the attention. These happy people in this photo had gathered to watch the hummingbird moths visit the Evening primrose flowers after attending herb classes all day.
The most important thing that you have control of is your intention. This is the very essence of what you are planning to do. Why you are growing the herbs. Everything around you picks up your intention be it beneficial, or malevolent and this affects your environment. Plants as well as everything else in nature will pick up your intentions and react to them. A bountiful, and healing herb garden starts with the intention to create such an environment.
Besides intention, another important thing you have control over is the soil the plant grows in.
The soil, along with the air, the weather, and other plants, will affect the vitality, the flavor, and the strength of your herbs.
A well-drained, loamy soil is the type of soil we want for the majority of our herbs. If you don’t have such a soil, you can modify it with amendments. Nature is a process of recycling. Nutrients continually get recycled. In our gardens we take nutrients out in the form of food and medicine. If we do not replenish them with amendments our soil gets depleted. We need to feed our soil which in turn feeds the plants.
The best thing we can do to nurture our soil is to amend it with compost.
Your compost is best made with things from your own farm or yard. I will use mine as an example. The main part of my compost is bedding from my goats. This bedding has their urine and manure in it. I also use chicken manure from my chickens, that is mixed with sawdust from the bottom of their coop. I don’t get a lot of it as they are free range and only in their coop at night. Other additions are leaves from the many trees in my yard, garden and yard debris from weeding, kitchen food debris, entrails or other body parts from animals that have died or have been butchered. I layer these items. I do not dump huge amounts of leaves on the pile. I collect them over a period of months and layer them between weeds and animal bedding. I also make sure the compost stays moist enough but not so wet that the nitrogen is running out of the pile. This means I may need to use overhead watering or a cover on the pile depending on the weather.
If you do not have enough compost, you can spray compost tea around to try and help your plants. Spray it directly on the plants as well as on the ground around the plants. The tea needs to be made aerobically. If you are having trouble getting enough compost, I suggest you read the review of "Humanure, The Handbook, 4th edition" on this website.
My compost is largely my fertilizer. If more is needed, you can use such things as watered down urine, fish meal or other sources of natural nitrogen.
The best thing to do is test your soil for mineral content.
Kelp is a general all purpose source of minerals, especially microminerals. Be careful not to overuse it as there is a bit of sodium in it. It is too expensive for most folks to overuse.
Calcium is often added to soil in the Willamette valley where I live, as we have a lot of rain. The rain leaches the soil of calcium. Although as your soil is nurtured, and if you do not till, you will have less minerals leached out.
Different types of calcium
Lime is calcium carbonate - It will raise the pH of the soil, making it more basic
Gypsum is calcium and sulfur – It will not alter the pH of soil.
Dolomite is calcium and magnesium - It will raise the pH of soil
A slow acting source of lime/calcium.
Source of phosphorus. Leaves often get purplish coloration if there is not enough phosphorus.
Wood ash from your wood stove is a cheap source. Alfalfa is another source. Growing plants need adequate supplies of potassium to enable enzyme activity, photosynthesis and water movement. Potassium helps to build plants with solid stems, and stalks and good bud formation. It also promotes disease resistance and protects growing plants from effects of the cold.
Know the Type of Plant You Are Growing
Lives 1 season. Usually propagated by seed. They tend to do better in rich soil.
- Shepherd’s purse
- Blessed thistle
- Opium poppy
- Milk thistle
- Summer savory, borage, nasturtium
Lives 2 seasons to set seed then, usually, they die. Usually propagated by seed. Has a tap root to store energy for the 2nd season, sometimes roots are used at the end of the first season. Sometimes aerial parts are used the first year (sometimes second). Sometimes seed is used second year.
Lives many seasons, propagation by seed, root division, and cuttings. Plants die to ground in winter if it is cold enough and emerge again in spring.
- Ladies mantle
- Yerba mansa
- Greek oregano
- Lemon balm
- Uva ursi
- Wild yam
- California poppy
Small Woody Shrubs
Long lived perennials. Wood helps the plants survival. Propagate by cuttings, layering, seed.
- Winter savory
- Chaste tree
Large woody shrubs
Long lived perennials. Wood helps the plants survival. Propagate by cuttings, layering, seed, usually not by division.
- Siberian ginseng
- Cramp bark
Long Lived Perennials
Wood helps the plants survival. Propagate by cuttings, layering, seed, usually not by division. See, large woody shrubs above.
Long lived perennials. Propagate by seed or cuttings usually.
Herbs That Like The Shade/Partial Shade
Most herbs need sun or partial sun. Some herbs will be okay in shade as long as it is not continual.
- Lemon balm
- Sweet cicely
- Siberian ginseng
Look to understory shrubs, and trees to see which will like shade. Those living in the understory naturally, will do well in partial shade or a lot of shade. For instance Goldensea, Ginseng, and Black cohosh grow beneath deciduous trees and need about 80% shade to do their best. Other plants that like shade are Devil’s club, Spikenard and Blue cohosh.
Herbs That Like Wet Feet
Most herbs like their feet to dry out. Continual moisture usually produces rusts and rots. So be careful if you have a wet area. Only put bog and marsh loving plants in these areas. Drosera, pitcher plant, skunk cabbage are plants that like wetness. Devil’s club does well in partial wetness such as the base of a moist ravine or along a creek.
Top Pick List
My pick of medicinal herbs for you to grow in the Willamette Valley. I picked these for their ease of growing here as well as for how useful they are as a medicinal herb.
Annual, 12" apart, 24" high, rich soil, well drained, full sun/partial shade, sow seeds direct in the soil as soon as ground can be worked, in greenhouse 23 days from seed to transplant. Flowers are collected for medicine.
Perrenial, 12” on center, about three-four feet high, sow seed in fall, winter or very early spring , likes lime, likes full sun, voles like to eat the roots. The roots, flowers and seed are collected for medicine. Some folks use the leaves, but I only find them useful fresh for wasp stings.
Perennial, 15" space on center, deep fertile sandy loam is best, full sun, good drainage/dry, 400#/acre, harvest in fall or winter when mucilage is high, higher in dry soil. The flowers, roots and leaves are collected for medicine. Especially the flowers and roots.
Perennial, start from piece of root, get Siberian if you don’t want it to seed, will grow anywhere in any kind of condition. But best in loamy well fed soil. The roots and aerial parts are used as medicine – mostly externally.
Loamy well fed soil, need soil to be loose enough to grow good bulbs, need to add compost, needs steady water but not water logged. Stop watering before harvest to dry it out. Bulbs are used as medicine.
Perrenial, 5# seed/acre - 6-12" spacing, any soil but better medicine in poor soil, pH 4.5-7, full sun. Aerial parts – flowers and leaves used as medicine.
Perennial, rhizomes, so start from digging up a clump or seed, will grow in a matt as has rhizomes, likes to be near running water, likes nitrogen and moisture, best dappled shade but okay with full sun. Aerial parts prior to flowering and the seed as well as the root are used as medicine.
Saint John’s Wort
Perennial, only grow in groups of other plants, start from seed, likes slightly acid soil, full sun, sow seed on sand/soil mix douse w H2O occasionally. Top 4-6 inches of flower buds and flowers used as medicine.
Perennial, start from seed, 4’ tall, 6 “ apart or more, moist, rich loam soil, ph of 6-7. Full sun to partial shade, 1 ton per acre. Roots used as medicine
Blueberry Or Huckleberry
Start from seed or cutting, likes acidic soil, shallow roots so needs plenty of water and use compost and mulch of sawdust each year, full sun to partial shade. Some huckleberries prefer shade. Leaves and fruit used as medicine.
Woody perennial, sow seed in clay and keep moist – geminates in 2nd or third year. Better to dig up small plants that are growing off a mother plant. Will grow in full sun or partial shade. Root bark and stem bark used as medicine.