Landscaping: Easy-to-Grow Medicinal Plants

May 11, 2011 | Jordan Laio

Calendula.  dinny/stock.xchngMedicinal herbs have a rich tradition of use throughout human history. It is easy and enjoyable for the home gardener to grow her own medicinal herbs, whether on a windowsill or in the garden proper. Here are 4 medicinal herbs you can start growing right now and enjoy through the summer.

A word of caution: In rare cases, medicinal herbs may cause allergic reactions or may conflict with prescription medication. For preparations, dosages, and contraindications, do your own research about each herb and consult your medical practitioner. Also, the common uses listed are only some of the applications; there may be many others.

1. Echinacea (E. angustifolia, E. pallida, E. purpurea)

Common Uses

Echinacea (commonly called "coneflower") is a general immune system booster used to prevent and fight colds, sore throats, and sinus infections. It is also taken to combat  respiratory tract and lower urinary tract infections. It is used externally to heal skin abrasions and ulcerations.

Advice for Growing

Echinacea, a member of the sunflower family, is native to the North American plains. The plants grow from 18 inches to 5 feet tall and bear beautiful cone-shaped flowers which bloom from early to late summer. They are drought- and heat-tolerant and prefer poor to average, well-drained soil.

Growing from seed can be tricky and there's a chance they will not form flowers in the first season. If taking this route, plant seeds when there is still a possibility of light frost. Be patient as they can take a couple weeks to sprout. Otherwise, divide a mature plant and use the division. Once established, plants are perennial and will come back year after year. Water to help plants get established, but once established, water sparingly.  

2. Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)

Common Uses

The root and leaf are used externally to help heal cults and wounds. A comfrey tea is used to relieve coughs and is reputed to help with many kinds of healing, even of broken bones and fractures (although there is debate about the safety of using it internally).

Advice for Growing

Best grown in USDA hardiness zones 4-9, comfrey prefers full sun to partial shade. It is a perennial, originally from Europe, and grows strong in spring and summer. Though it is drought-tolerant, regular watering will help it thrive. Comfrey can be grown in soil types from sandy to clay, though it prefers rich organic soil and pH from 6.0-7.0.

If you plan to grow from seed, comfrey seed needs a winter chilling period and may not germinate for up to two years. Commoner ways to propagate are through root cuttings, young plants, or crowns. Plant root cuttings 2-8 inches deep, shallower in clay soil and deeper in sandy soil,. Space plants three feet apart. 

3. Calendula (C. officinalis)

Common Uses

Used externally on skin abrasions, minor burns, and wounds. Used internally for minor digestive irritation. Flowers are edible; try them to liven up the look of a green salad, for instance.

Advice for Growing

Native to the Mediterranean, calendula is now naturalized in the northeast and western United States. It grows from 1'-2' high and can produce flowers from mid-summer until late fall. Propagate with seeds in early spring. Plants will reseed themselves year after year. They prefer rich, well-drained soil but can tolerate less than average soils. Plant in full sun to partial shade.

4. Nettle (Urtica diocia, U. gracilis)

Common Uses

Nettle is used as a nutritive tea and is good for treating acidosis. It is also used for chronic bladder irritation and as a pain-reliever on painful or arthritic joints. The nutritious leaves are also eaten, cooked or steamed, similar to spinach. Nettle has been used to help nursing mothers produce milk.

Advice for Growing

Plants grow 2'-3' tall, doing well in various soil types. They generally prefer partial shade to full shade, but will also grow in full sun. Nettle can be difficult to start from seed and are more commonly propagated through root cuttings. Gardeners, beware: Once established, nettle will spread its roots and seeds and become quite a garden nuisance if not kept in check, similar to mint.

Jordan Laio writes for networx.com.

Updated December 9, 2018.

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