Here are 12 common and exceptionally useful herbs that no garden should be without. I value each of these herbs as essential for my garden apothecary, for basic first aid, treating simple ailments, as well as for their culinary or edible uses.
Some of these plants, gardeners consider weeds, while others are planted and nurtured for their culinary and other uses. Each of these plants has a long ethnobotanic history that you may find interesting to explore further.
Please note the information provided regarding the traditional uses of these plants must not be interpreted as medical advice.
Aloe Vera Aloe vera has numerous applications as a healing herb, the gel is best known for healing burns and sunburn. Use with Teatree oil for acne and boils. Can help alleviate insect bites. I like to keep a large potted Aloe plant just outside the kitchen door, handy for use.
Basil Ocimum basilicum Sweet basil is an excellent digestive and helps alleviate nausea, as well as being great in pasta sauce and pesto. Basil tea with a slice of ginger will help settle digestive upsets.
Calendula Calendula officinalis A gentle yet exceptionally effective healing herb for cuts, sores, bruises, burns, grazes, skin irritations, rashes, nappy rash and bedsores. Fresh or dried flowers can be made into a herb tea or tisane for use as a wash, and for making an infused oil and healing ointments. The oil or ointment is also good for healing cracked skin in hands and feet. Petals can be added fresh to salads.
Chamomile Matricaria recutita (syn. M. chamomilla) German Chamomile is a traditional herb tea for indigestion, calming and gentle sedative. Chamomile tea (tisane) can be cooled and used as an external wash to soothe skin irritations, for sore eyes and alleviate conjunctivitis.
Chickweed Stellaria media Common garden weed is a healing herb for cuts and sores, especially soothing for eye irritations and conjunctivitis. Eye wash: make a tisane with the fresh herb, strain well and let cool before use. Use an eye bath or soak a cotton wool ball to gently wash sore eyes. Chickweed can also be used to make a healing ointment. The plant is an excellent green feed and herbal tonic for poultry, hence the name Chickweed.
Comfrey Symphytum officinale a traditional healing herb used externally for cuts, sores, bruises and sprains as poultice or ointment. Has many other uses in the garden for mulch and composting. It does contain an alkaloid that effects the liver, thus external application only is recommended.
Dandelion Taraxacum officinale Dandelion leaves are an important bitter green to add to salads as a liver tonic. Try shredding them fine and mix through a garden salad. Roots can be dried and roasted as herbal coffee
Mints Mentha spp. Peppermint, Garden (Common Mint), and Spearmint, are all excellent digestives plus other healing properties and uses for personal hygiene.
Plantain Plantago officinalis this common weed has a long history of use as a first aid plant for cuts as it is antiseptic and styptic–it’s slows or stops bleeding. You can make a quick poultice by bruising (or chewing) a fresh leaf and apply it straight to a cut. Young leaves can also be eaten as a vegetable green and in salads.
Sage Salvia officinalis Common garden sage is renowned for its antiseptic and styptic properties. Make a fresh poultice or ointment for cuts to help stop bleeding. The ointment is reputed to help heal cold sores. Sage is also good for teeth and oral hygiene, and said to help whiten teeth. Finely ground dried sage can be mixed with Bicarbonate of soda to use as a tooth powder.
Turmeric Curcuma longa there is a revival of interest and new research into this traditional Asian herb, long popular as a dried powder spice for curries. The fresh root, pounded or finely grated, is used in Indonesia for treating tropical ulcers, ulcerous wounds and boils. To make turmeric ‘water’ or tea, add 1 litre of boiling water to 2 teaspoons of dried turmeric powder or 2 tablespoons of grated fresh turmeric root. This can be used as a healing skin wash, herb tea or for cooking delicious turmeric rice.
Thyme Thymus officinalis the common garden thyme has numerous medicinal properties, and is particularly good for coughs and sore throats. Gargle and swallow or slowly sip a warm thyme tea or tisane with some honey and lemon juice for sore throats.
Precaution Many herbs (in fact most plants) contain alkaloids and toxic constituents which when taken in excess can result in contraindications. Reputable herbals recommend limiting internal consumption to max 2 cups of herbal tea per day for any single herb, including ‘safe’ ones like peppermint & chamomile.
This information states traditional uses of herbs and should not be interpreted as medical advice.