There are many plants offering health benefits that can be easily grown in your back garden. From chewing leaves of the feverfew plant to ease a migraine to adding lemon balm to your tea to relieve anxiety — here are five medicinal plants you can start growing right away.
You might be familiar with basil as a herb for adding flavour to your favourite dish. But, it has other properties too. One of its value is its ability to fight free radical damage and slow down the effects of ageing. It does this by reducing oxidative stress through two flavonoid antioxidants — orientin and vicinage. Make pesto with it or add it to your favourite Italian dish to reap the benefits.
How can you grow basil in your back garden? Start by sowing seeds of the basil plant indoors from late February to mid-summer. The best way to do this is to fill a small plant pot (3in) with seed compost, firm down and sow the seeds over the top. Unlike other plants, where you may sow more seeds than you need due to some being lost at germination, you should only plant a few more than you need as most will begin to grow. Cover with a thin layer of vermiculite, water and place in a propagator. For those without a propagator, cover the pot with a freezer bag and secure with an elastic band.
When the seedlings begin to grow and are large enough to handle, place them in their own pot with multi-purpose compost. Basil doesn’t deal well in colder weather, so make sure that you only place it outdoors when any chance of frost is gone.
Some people choose to grow feverfew for its aesthetics in the garden, as it’s a delicate white flower — similar to a daisy. Others, however, grow the plant to take advantage of its medicinal properties. Feverfew has been found to reduce the pain of headaches and migraines. This is due to its active ingredients, which prevent platelets (small cells in the blood) from building up in capillaries and blood vessels. A build-up of these can often be the cause of headaches. You can pick the leaves and eat them however you like — add them to a salad or consume them on their own.
The feverfew grows in a small bush at around 20 inches high and can spread quickly if you don’t remove the flowers promptly. Sow the seeds either between February and May or between August and October. It’s possible to sow directly into a sun-exposed bed during warmer weather or in seed trays. Provide the seeds with plenty of water but do not make them too wet.
The lemon balm plant is quite a common garden plant that can spread quite rapidly. It’s tolerant of a range of conditions and isn’t affected by many pests and diseases. Many appreciate the essential oils of the lemon balm for its ability to ease anxiety. It does this through increasing GABA in the brain, which produces a sedative and calming effect to help reduce anxious feelings. You can add it to smoothies or use dried leaves for tea.
The plant doesn’t flower and looks similar to a mint plant with deeply wrinkled leaves. You can start by planting the seeds indoors and keeping water levels low. Once the seedlings grow large enough to handle, take them outside to plant in the garden. Choose a spot where they can be protected from the sun at its peak, as it grows best in a cooler part of the garden.
Thyme is another medicinal herb that you’ve probably used in cooking. But did you know that the herb has many medicinal properties too? The essential oils of thyme (obtained from the leaves) can also be used as a natural cough medicine and have been found to alleviate symptoms of acute bronchitis. It is also a good source of vitamins A and C — helping to boost your immune system. Dry out the leaves to make a beneficial thyme tea.
Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to grow thyme from seed due to slow and uneven germination. Instead, buy the plant after germination or take cuttings from a friend. You should plant cuttings indoors 6 to 10 weeks before the spring frost and take them outdoors around 2 to 3 weeks before the last frost. These plants prefer well-drained soil and are sure to keep them well-trimmed.
Another member of the mint family is sage, which you’re probably most familiar with around Christmas when it accompanies the turkey in many households. A drink made from sage has been called ‘thinker’s tea’ due to its ability to enhance mental clarity and improve memory. It has also been found to ease depression.
Sage can grow in any area of the garden, but supposedly, the leaves taste a lot better when they have been grown under a lot of sunlight. Therefore, if you are planting indoors, place the pot next to a window that receives a lot of light. Similar to thyme, it’s best to plant sage plants from cuttings. The plant does not need a lot of water, so wait until the soil is dry before watering.
These are only five of many medicinal plants that you can grow in your back garden. If you decide to start taking one of these plants as a supplement, do thorough research. If you are pregnant, check with your GP that it is safe to consume some of these plants too as they do have side effects. Happy planting!
This article was created by Suttons, online retailers of vegetable seeds.