I enjoy learning to recognize each plant in every stage of its life. From the time it is a tiny seed, through germination and into full maturity, a plant shares a lot about itself. Getting to know an herb in this manner is an intimate experience. It is like getting to know a new friend well. Which other plants does it like to be near? How much water does it like? What kinds of insects and animals are drawn to that herb? How does it smell? How long does it bloom? What does it taste like? It is a joy to me to get my hands down into the soil with all of its rich diversity, or to simply sit in my garden and watch how busy it is, in its own delicate way. In my gardens, I have sunny areas and shady places. Over the years, I have watched plants choose their own favorite spots in the garden by self seeding in different areas. It is obvious, for instance, which plants prefer more sun.
By growing medicinal plants, we also have our natural medicine chests right at our fingertips. Did your child get stung by a bee? There is some plantain growing right over there. For me there is something really healing about making and using herbal medicines from plants I have grown myself. Those plants grow right where my family and I grow. I feel this makes them uniquely healing for us and those in our area. It isn’t just the healing properties of the plant, it is the relationship, the whole experience which adds to my well-being. Time spent outdoors with my garden nurtures my soul and helps me reconnect to the earth. Are you inspired yet to try growing some herbs yourself? Figuring out where to put your garden and creating good soil are the first steps to having a magnificent herb garden.
Location: Choosing a good location for your garden is essential to overall success. Here are some things to think about when deciding where to put your garden.
Sun: All plants need sun, but some need more that others. In my yard, I have numerous gardens that range from full sun to deep shade. This lets me create lots of mini ecosystems for different plant species (and those that love them) to thrive.
Soil Components: Soil is the basic foundation of any garden. Once established, I prefer to try to disturb the soil as little as possible. I believe this allows the complicated ecosystem of bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms, as well as insects, worms, animals and plants to create their own balance. I only disturb the soil carefully when weeding or gathering plants.
Soil type is determined by the ratio of humus and mineral composition:
Soil pH: Some herbs prefer more acidic soil while others prefer their soil to be more alkaline. It is good to know the acidity of your soil and the preferences of the herb before you plant. You can do this yourself and get some idea of your soil pH with this home test.
Compost: To me, composting is a joy. It is the best form or recycling because it doesn’t have to leave your own yard. I love taking our scraps and watching them turn into rich and nourishing soil: magic! Adding spent herbs to the compost pile completes the full cycle of life, death and rebirth in the herb garden. Every spring, before the plants emerge, I shovel compost and sprinkle it over many parts of my garden, avoiding seedlings and those herbs that do better with nutrient poor soil such as yarrow and lavender.
Even if you don’t have a lot of space, a small garden can be richly rewarding. I am always amazed at how densely my herbs grow together. Many medicinal plants are beautiful and very low maintenance. Perennial herbs will grow year after year and often reseed themselves. A few examples of easy to grow herbs include echinacea, lavender, yarrow, bee balm, peppermint (always plant it in a big pot!) and valerian. Now get out there, friends, and go plant a garden!
© 2014 Elaine Sheff, Clinical Herbalist
Elaine Sheff has been studying medicinal plants since 1987. A Clinical Herbalist, she is a graduate of both the Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies and the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine. She is passionate about the inherent healing connection between people and plants. Elaine has a longstanding clinical practice providing herbal consultations for individuals with health concerns. A best selling author, Elaine teaches herb classes throughout the United States and is the co-founder of Meadowsweet Herbs. She is a certified instructor of Natural Family Planning, a safe, effective birth control method used to avoid or achieve pregnancy. You can often find Elaine in her garden, homeschooling her children, or cooking some delicious gluten-free meal