Starting a medicinal herb garden may be easier than you think. With a few selected herbs and a bit of planning this is a garden that will give you joy for years to come. Most herbs, including many of the medicinal herbs are relatively care-free once they are planted and begin to settle in to their new home.
The first step in planning your new garden is to decide where it will be, and then to draw a basic outline of your garden on paper. Then you must group your plants into their respective groups. For example, Perennials should always be grown together, as should Biennials and Annuals. In the long run this will help you remember where your plants are and avoid accidentally digging one up.
Let’s begin by taking a look at some of the choices you will have in medicinal herbs.
Agrimony – Agrimonia Eupatoria is a perennial herb to zone 6 that will grow two to five feet. This herb prefers light well-drained soil, and is easily propagated in early spring by seed or division of older plants. It is susceptible to powdery mildew however. The dried foliage is the part of the plant used in medicine.
Aloe – Aloe Vera is a succulent evergreen perennial to zone 10. It will grow up to a foot tall. It prefers to be grown in light sandy or gravelly soil with very good drainage. Propagation is done by removing the baby offsets from the parent plant and this plant may be propagated any time of the year. Aloes are susceptible to mealybugs. The leaf may be peeled or the inner mucilage extracted and is commonly used for burns. Aloe juice is also commonly drank for a general tonic and is a bowel regulator.
Angelica – Angelica Archangelica is a perennial herb that reached five to eight feet and is hardy to zone 4. The best soil for this plant is a cool, moist, slightly acidic soil, and propagation is easiest done by sowing seeds in the spring. It is susceptible to crown rot and aphids. The roots, seeds, and leaves of this plant are used medicinally. It is an expectorant for colds and coughs as well as being used to treat kidney disorders and as an aid to the digestive system. For a good stimulator or expectorant, add three tablespoons of Angelica to one cup of boiling water, cover and steep for ten minutes.* Terra Viva Organics is proud to provide Organic Angelica Seed
Anise– Pimpinella Anisum is an annual herb that will reach up to two feet, and prefers to grow in sandy well-drained soil. Propagation of this plant is easiest done by seed and it is rarely bothered by pests or diseases. The leaves and seeds of this plant are used for medicinal purposes. Commonly used in the treatment of colds and flu, Anise is a fever reducer and a digestive aid.
Arnica – Arnica Montana is a perennial herb to zone 6 and will grow to two feet. This plant prefers dry, sandy acid soil with humus that is well drained. Propagation is done by sowing seeds indoors in early spring or by dividing older plants later in spring. Aphids can be a problem. The dried flowers and roots of this plant are used for external medicinal purposes.
There are many medicinal herbs out there to help you plant the perfect medicinal garden. We will be taking a more in-depth look at these herbs in upcoming issues. Please keep in mind that while using herbal products for health care, serious or prolonged illness should be attended to by a licensed doctor.
Sheri Ann Richerson– Garden Writer
*Taken from “Jude’s Herbal Home Remedies,” by Jude C. Williams, M.H.
I originally started doing this to avoid gophers. I got my hands on four plastic 50-gallon barrels. I drilled drain holes in them, set them up on blocks and planted spuds in them. Here’s how: Cut up potatoes which have started to sprout, leaving an eye or more on each piece. Dry these out for two days in a cool, dry room. This deters wet rot. Then plant in a shallow layer of soil and compost in the bottom of the barrel. As the potatoes grow up, add more soil and compost.
After they reach the top of the barrel, I plant a couple of bush beans in each barrel. This is a companion planting technique. The beans protect the potatoes against the Colorado potato beetle, and the potatoes
protect the beans against the Mexican bean beetle. Horseradish is also good for the potato and distasteful to pests. But do not co-plant with onions or garlic. As soon as the potatoes flower you can find little spuds in the soil. “Thieve” early potatoes by scratching away the soil and picking out the spuds. Replace the soil. Remember how many you took this way when you’re calculating your yield.
When the whole plant dies back, kick over the barrel for a bountiful harvest. I have two barrels of red potatoes, one of white russet, and one of Yukon gold. Toss the dried potato vines on your compost heap. They contain lots of potash. Potatoes can be left in the dirt as long as it is dry and not too warm (but don’t let the sun “green” them). If they are muddy, toss them in a bucket of water and let the mud slough off.
Most of the yield will be little finger- and marble-sized pieces with only a few medium and large-sized spuds per plant. These little ones are yummy, however, and the best way to eat them is to quick-fry them in a skillet.
Phil Heiple has been gardening since the mid-seventies. He has experimented with numerous organic techniques including intensive beds, companion planting, and container gardening. He has posted his experiences in a series of award-winning web pages called “Gardening as an Anarchist Plot.” at http://www.rain.org/~philfear/garden.html
No-till gardening is a way to garden without tilling. It allows your soil to stabilize and maintain a healthy biodiversity. Tilling disrupts your soil’s natural patterns and can cause erosion, loss of organic matter, and soil compression.
You can transform your tilled garden into a no-till garden simply by marking off garden beds. You don’t have to raise these beds. Leave enough room around them for your paths. Then, walk in your paths, and stay out of your garden beds. It helps if you have edging around your beds to keep grass out of the beds. I use rocks as an edging material.
If you are just starting a garden, you can place cardboard or at least ten sheets of newspaper directly over your grass and cover with mulch. Then cut holes in the paper, dig a hole in the soil and place your plant directly into this hole. The grass will be smothered under the mulch and break down, providing a source of nutrients for your plant. The paper prevents the grass from growing up through the mulch. If you want to plant seeds, dig out the grass and roots and fill the area with compost or soil and plant your seeds.
The following season, you can plant your transplants and your seeds in your beds without tilling. You can add amendments to the surface under a mulch or add them to the hole in which you are planting. The soil creatures will mix the amendments into your soil. In the fall, you can use a cover crop, cover the soil with leaves, or plant a winter crop like turnips or kale. Just don’t leave your soil bare.
Controlling weeds with no-till is easy. I spend less than one hour/week controlling weeds – including laying mulch. I have so few weeds, I simply pull them as I’m doing other garden activities.
Place your plants close together. This shades out the weeds. Generally place your plants the minimum distance needed in a row, but use this distance in all directions. So if your peppers need to be placed 12-18″ apart in rows 3′ apart, place your plants 12″ apart. You’ll have 4 plants in 4 sq ft.
Use mulch. I can’t emphasize this enough. Mulch smothers weeds while feeding your plants. Luckily, no-till gardens use less mulch because of the small growing area. The time you spend laying mulch once is much less than the time you’d spend pulling weeds all summer.
Because you now have permanent paths, the grass seeds and roots found in your paths won’t be spread to your garden beds. Tilling paths with grass and weeds spreads the weed seeds and weed root pieces throughout your garden. By skipping the tilling, you skip spreading many weeds to your garden beds. Any unwanted seeds that land on your mulch will have a harder time germinating, and you can easily pull up the seedlings.
Deborah Turton is an organic gardener and writer who’s worked with a variety of environmental groups.