Want to relieve pain, cure an infection, get a good night's sleep--or even slow
aging (and who doesn't)? You can do all this and more simply by tapping the
healing powers of some very common garden plants. In many cases, natural
remedies made from easy-to-grow plants work just as well as costly
pharmaceuticals. And it's easy to prepare these herbal compresses, teas and
infusions, as we'll soon explain. Here are 10 top herbs and the conditions
Cures cuts and scrapes. Commission E, an expert committee that advises the
German government about medicinal herbs, endorses calendula (Calendula
officinalis) for reducing inflammation and healing wounds. Calendula is
antibacterial, antiviral and immune-stimulating; the flowers are used
externally in infusions, ointments and tinctures. To make a wash to
treat cuts, pour a cup of boiling water over a teaspoon of dry petals and
step for 10 minutes. Then soak a clean cloth in the liquid and apply
it as a compress on the wound. Calendula may be even more effective in
creams. You can buy commercial skin treatment products containing calendula.
...fights aging. The Chinese and Koreans have revered ginseng root as the
Fountain of Youth for centuries, believing it tones the skin and muscles,
helps improve appetite and digestion and restores depleted sexual energy.
Here on this continent, ginseng is slowly gaining supporters. One big
booster is Andrew Weil, M.D., herb advocate, professor at the University of
Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson and author of Natural Health, Natural
Medicine. Dr. Weil frequently recommends ginseng to help strengthen people
weakened by old age or chronic illness....boosts energy. Commission E, the
group of scientists that advises the German government about herbs,
endorses ginseng "as a tonic to combat feelings of lassitude and debility,
lack of energy and ability to concentrate, and during convalescence." The
suggested daily dose is about 1 teaspoon of chopped, dried root steeped in
a cup of boiling water to make a tea.
Clinical studies indicate that ginseng improves athletic performance,
although it takes up to a month of regular use to notice this herb's
benefits. Ginseng also stimulates the immune system, an effect that's been
repeatedly confirmed in experiments with animals. Revered in Asia for
thousands of years as an energy-boosting tonic, ginseng is used by Russian
cosmonauts and Asian Olympic athletes as an "adaptogen," an herb that
increases general resistance to all types of stress. So, ginseng boosts
stress resistance in addition to reducing fatigue and improving alertness,
coordination, memory and stress-coping abilities.
...repels insects. Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is used mainly as a culinary
seasoning in this country, but elsewhere (particularly in India) it is used
extensively in medicine. Indians and Africans rub the leaves on their skin
as an insect repellent.
...wastes warts. This aromatic herb contains many antiviral compounds. One
widely practiced folk remedy for warts involves rubbing crushed basil
leaves on the growths. If you have a wart, you can apply fresh crushed
basil leaves to the wart and cover it with a bandage, then reapply the
leaves and change the dressing daily for five to seven days.
...beats bad breath. Bright green parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is a rich
source of the green plant pigment, chlorophyll, which is a powerful breath
freshener. Munch some parsley after meals, after drinking coffee or after
eating or drinking anything that might cause malodorous breath.
...treats kidney stones. Parsley root is a diuretic (it helps increase
urine flow) that helps prevent and treat kidney stones.
...relieves burns. Aloe (Aloe vera aka A. barbadensis) has been used to treat
burns and other wounds since ancient times. But it's not just a folk
remedy. Many studies have shown that the gel obtained by slitting open the
succulent's fat, leathery leaves relieves burns, including burns caused by
radiation treatments for cancer.
Aloe increases the amount of blood flowing to areas of burned tissue,
which brings more of the body's healing resources to the area where they're
needed. Aloe also contains enzymes that relieve pain, reduce inflammation
and decrease redness and swelling. In addition, aloe gel has antibacterial
and antifungal properties, which might help prevent burns from getting
infected. Aloe belongs in every kitchen, the place where most household
burns occur. It's a first-choice herb for burns.
...soothes sunburn. The inner gel of the aloe leaf has been shown to speed the
healing of radiation-induced burns. African healers even recommend aloe gel
as a sunscreen to prevent sunburn. You can scoop the gel directly from
split leaves or buy commercially prepared gel at a health food store or
Apply aloe gel after showering, then reapply it a few more times each day
until the pain has subsided.
Fennel can ease asthma. The Greeks treat asthma and other respiratory ailments
with fennel tea. Fennel contains a helpful chemical that helps loosen
bronchial secretions: Fennel seeds can contain as much as 8,800 parts per
million of this compound (alpha-pinene). You could mix up a pretty good
asthma tea by trying 2 teaspoons of crushed seeds per cup of boiling water.
Garlic can help fight fungal infections. Its believed that garlic (Allium sativum) is
among our best antiseptics in general and antifungals in particular, closely
rivaling teatree oil. At the Banaras Hindu University in India, scientists
working with garlic compounds showed that one of its chemical constituents,
ajoene, was almost as effective against mildew fungus as several
pharmaceutical antifungals. Several other studies have shown similar
Clinical trials have also yielded impressive results. Among people taking 25
milliliters (5 to 6 teaspoons) of garlic extract a day, their blood serum
exhibited significant antifungal activity against several common fungi,
including Candida albicans, which causes yeast infections.
Garlic extract is even more potent when applied externally,research and
experience has shown that it boosts the antifungal effectiveness of
pharmaceutical antifungal drugs. Simply liquefy raw garlic in a blender and
use a cotton ball or clean cloth to apply it directly to the affected area
three times a day.
...relieves insect bites and stings. Garlic contains enzymes that break down
chemical substances known as prostaglandins that the body releases in
response to pain. Interestingly enough, garlic works both internally and
externally. You can make a poultice and apply it directly to insect bites
and stings. You can also get a measure of relief by eating garlic.
...stops sinusitis. Garlic is a potent broad-spectrum antibiotic. Many
studies have confirmed garlic's antibiotic activity, most recently a study
of people with AIDS who took the herb to ward off all sorts of
opportunistic infections, including sinusitis.
Take capsules if you like, but its better to peel and chop whole garlic
cloves and use them as food.
Chamomile can help you resist gingivitis. Most herbalists consider chamomile
(Matricaria recutita) to be an effective gargle or mouthwash for treating gingivitis.
That's because chamomile flowers contain several anti-inflammatory and
In addition to treating gum disease, you can use chamomile to help prevent it.
Try brewing a strong chamomile tea using 2 to 3 teaspoons of herb per cup
of boiling water. Steep for 10 minutes, strain and drink after meals. Or
use it as a mouthwash. Ethnodentists caution that chamomile may cause
allergies, because it's kin to ragweed. But in my experience, that is very
rare. If you do notice an allergic reaction--itching or any discomfort--
...remedies insomnia. Chamomile tea has been used as a bedtime beverage for
centuries. Although its reputed sedative effect was not scientifically
proven until this decade, the folklore was right. Apigenin has proven to be
one of the effective sedative compounds in chamomile. Try a cup at bedtime--
it is a pleasant-tasting tea that you'll probably enjoy.
...heals sties. Chamomile has eyelike flowers resembling miniature daisies,
so it's not surprising that traditional herbalists suggested eye baths with
chamomile for sties. Ancient herbalists used to base many of their
treatments on the physical resemblance that plants bore to parts of the
body. But--surprise--modern scientific herbalists have found that chamomile
really helps heal sties. Medical herbalists suggest using hot compresses
made with chamomile tea.
9. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm tames cold sores. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) has been proven to
have some effect on viruses in the herpes family that cause cold sores,
according to many herbalists and researchers. In one study of 116 people
with herpes sores, a lemon balm cream healed the sores substantially better
than an inactive cream (a placebo) did.
One European anti-herpes product contains 700 milligrams of lemon balm leaf
extract per gram of cream-based ointment. It has been shown to shorten the
healing time of herpes sores by several days. You can achieve a similar
effect, according to many herbalists using a tea made with 2 teaspoons of
dried leaf per cup of boiling water. Apply the tea directly to the rash
with a cotton pad several times daily.
...battles insomnia. Lemon balm is endorsed as both a sedative and stomach
soother by many herbalists. The sedative action is attributed largely to a
group of chemicals in the plant called terpenes. Its suggested trying a tea
made with 2 to 4 teaspoons of dried herb per cup of boiling water.
...alleviates a headache. This herb can also be helpful in treating
migraine, according many. The recommended dose is a tea made with 1 to 2
teaspoons of dried herb per cup of boiling water and steeped until
Honeysuckle (Lonicera Japonica) is a vigorous vine that loves to climb. It has
hollow, hairy stems and loves to grow naturally deep in a forest. For many
centuries, honeysuckle has been used to alleviate respiratory conditions
and has been found to act as a natural antibiotic. It can improve sore
throats, reduce the effects of food poisoning, lower fevers, assist urinary
tract conditions and acts as a diuretic to rid the body of excess fluids.
Peppermint settles indigestion. Most herbalists have a special regard for the ability
of peppermint (Mentha X piperita) to relieve indigestion. Herbalists also
endorse peppermint tea for treating indigestion.
Peppermint tea works well, but most herbalists believe mint juleps, will
work even better. Most of the oils in peppermint and other mints are
relatively insoluble in water. As a result, mint tea doesn't contain much
of the plant's stomach-soothing constituents. It does contain enough to
make it effective, but a peppermint tincture, which is made with alcohol,
contains more. If you want something more potent than peppermint tea and
don't want to drink a mint julep, you can buy a tincture instead and use it
according to the package directions.
It can reduce sinusitis. In Lesotho, Africa, people push crushed mint
leaves up their nostrils to deliver the antiseptic oil to infected sinuses.
Many use it to relieve sinusitis. Try a peppermint poultice: Mash some
leaves, moisten them with water, then place some on your chest (do not use
this technique on infants).
WANT TO GROW YOUR OWN MEDICINE CHEST?
Like most herbs, the ones mentioned here are fairly easy to grow and they can thrive
in a wide range of conditions. Here are some basics to get you started.
CALENDULA (POT MARIGOLD): Scatter seed of this fast-growing, cool-season
annual in early spring (and again in late summer for fall blooms in milder
climates). It can even be grown in pots on a cool bright windowsill during
the winter. The plants produce bright orange or yellow flowers on 12 to 18
GINSENG: This slow-growing plant is for the more patient gardener--it takes
five or six years to get good sized roots! Although one species of ginseng
is native to Appalachian forests, we encourage you to buy seed or roots
from a reputable source because wild populations of the plant are
dwindling. Ginseng favors north and east facing slopes with well-drained,
humus-rich, shaded soil. The supplier can provide more growing tips for
BASIL: Basils are easy to grow from seeds or transplants. Do not plant
them out in the garden until all danger of frost has passed and the soil is warm.
PARSLEY: To speed germination, soak parsley seeds overnight and rinse
several times before planting in flats or directly in the garden. Or start
with some six-packs of transplants, available at most garden centers in
ALOE: This tender perennial makes a terrific houseplant, thriving in
dim indoor light and with infrequent watering.
FENNEL: Fennel is a four-star standout--edible, ornamental, medicinal and the
flowers attract beneficial insects. The plants grow 4 to 5 feet tall, with
feathery edible foliage and umbrella-shaped seed heads. Be sure to harvest
the seeds before they fall to the ground, as fennel is a vigorous self-
seeder if left to its own devices.
GARLIC: In fall, plant the individual cloves 6 inches apart and several inches
deep. Harvest your crop the following summer when the leaves begin to turn
brown. Try a patch in your flowerbeds, where the spiky leaves complement
CHAMOMILE: For medicinal purposes you can grow either the annual
German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) or perennial Roman chamomile
(Chamaemelum nobile). Annual chamomile grows best from seeds sown
directly in the garden in early spring, producing small white daisies on 2
foot high bushes. The perennial type is also easy to start from seed,
producing low spreading plants with very frilly, bright green
LEMON BALM: This attractive perennial with foot high mounds of rich green
leaves thrives in sun or part shade and is easily grown from seeds or
transplants. Cut it back hard when it starts to flower, both to maintain a
compact shape and to prevent self-seeding, which could produce much more
balm than you can use.
PEPPERMINT: This spreading plant is almost too easy to grow, as its long
runners will invade an entire bed if you let them. To control it, plant
your peppermint in a large pot sunk into the ground, and cut back the
runners each spring. For best flavor, always start with a transplant of
true peppermint, Mentha X piperita.