Published first in the Silver City Daily Press Independent:
What do a garden and a medicine cabinet have in common? Herbs, of course!
Is it realistic for a homemaker to actually provide medicine to the household from the garden without a lot of trouble, mess, education, and maybe even danger? I think not. Let’s talk about it.
Let’s start with danger. Nearly everyone agrees, including medical researchers, that pharmaceuticals, used properly and improperly, contribute to one of the largest causes of death in the United States. Herbal remedies, on the other hand, have been working very well for thousands of years. Herbalist Monica Rude of Desert Women Botanicals explains that pharmaceuticals are pathology-oriented, whereas herbs are used more to promote health and support the body’s natural ability to heal itself. There’s always room for caution, of course, whether using manufactured or natural medicines, so some education is required whichever route your choose.
Harvesting herbs from your yard and making pure medicine in the kitchen can be a satisfying, cost-saving, and health-improving step.
Will it require a lot of effort? Herbalist Naava Kronenberg, of Bear Creek Herbs, told me last year that she first decided to grow herbs long ago after her vegetable gardening attempts in the desert had been discouraging. “Herbs are easy,” someone had told her, and she said she discovered that was true.
Herbs are often easy because they create their own pest-control with natural chemicals that also help protect us against our pests – bacteria, viruses, mold, etc. Herbs also tend to be drought-tolerant or thrive in a dry environment.
Best, many herbs are perennial, meaning you’ll put them in the ground one year and enjoy them for many years to come, a permanent part of your landscaping, requiring very little work.
Will I have to learn a lot? This depends on how much you want to know. To learn what you need about a single herb might take twenty minutes to compare a few different sources. Herb stores and thrift stores have books on the subject, and lots of information can also be found free online, of course. And many herbalists like Monica offer classes on how to dry and process herbs and then make tinctures. If you take one herb at a time, you can learn a lot over the course of your life, little by little.
Herbs that grow easily in Southwest gardens are often also quite beautiful – so easy and beautiful you’ll wonder why you didn’t plan to grow and use them long before now. And they also will provide you flowers throughout much of the year. Just remember to educate yourself on specific medicinal uses beyond this very brief introduction.
Below are some obvious favorites for the Southwest and a few of their uses to inspire you:
Lavender – one of the most useful, all-around herbs. Besides smelling lovely, it can be used in salves and tinctures to clear infections, and has many other uses including relaxation and anti-inflammation.
Catnip – for a relaxing tea to prepare for sleep.
Mint – for stomach ache or indigestion.
Rosemary – stimulates circulation and eases nerves.
Mugwort – strengthens digestion and the nervous system.
Lemon balm – calming stress relief.
Echinacea – combats flu and colds.
Holy Basil – for stress and anxiety.
Motherwort – heart calming.
Yarrow – heals wounds, stops bleeding, reduces fevers. It grows best in “poor soil” with lots of light – perfect in the Southwest!
Hyssop – gargle for sore throats and viral infections.
Comfrey – anti-inflammatory, and for skin wounds.
Yerba mansa – for colds and other infections. Will only grow “with its feet wet,” so I have mine in its original black bucket, sitting in the basin of a fountain.
Oregano – for infections and general tonic.
All these plants can give you multiple benefits (green, flowers, medicine, food for bees, etc.) for very little work on your part – the lazy gardener’s dream! Just take it little by little, one plant, one medicine at a time.