What if you could soothe a sore throat or a headache with the snip of a scissors? Plant some herbs indoors now, before fall sets in, and you could have a winter's worth of folksy remedies.
Many medicinal plants, especially herbs, grow well indoors, says Amy Jeanroy, who runs a greenhouse business near her Ravenna, Neb., home, and writes and teaches about medicinal herbs. She recommends starting with these five: thyme, chamomile, mint, lemon balm and sage.
Each works well as a tea: Grow, cut and dry them for use throughout the year, or use fresh herbs. To brew a tea, add 1 teaspoon of dried — or 3 teaspoons of fresh — herbs to 1 cup of boiled water; steep several minutes, then remove the herbs.
All five herbs aid digestion, says herbalist Christina Blume, who has taught medicinal and other herb-related classes at the Denver Botanic Gardens.
RELATED: Herbs To Reduce Stress
Panax Ginseng (Asian Ginseng)
Panax ginseng is perhaps one of the most studied medicinal herbs in the world -- and might be one of the most widely used. It's used to promote a <a href="http://nccam.nih.gov/health/asianginseng/ataglance.htm" target="_hplink">sense of well-being</a> and endurance, as an <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22335772" target="_hplink">anti-depressant,</a> for <a href="http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/1000.html" target="_hplink">memory </a>and<a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20737519" target="_hplink"> calmness, for energy</a> (it's one of the ingredients in most energy drinks)... and even as an aphrodisiac! Panax Ginseng has been used in China for more than 5,000 years -- and in 300 A.D., the Chinese demand for Ginseng was one of the drivers of the creation of international trade!
Rhodiola -- also called "golden root" -- is <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22228617" target="_hplink">used mostly to treat </a><a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20378318" target="_hplink">stress,</a> <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21601431" target="_hplink">depression</a> and fatigue, and is also believed to increase <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21036578" target="_hplink">mental performance.</a> Used for centuries in Asia and Scandinavia, Rhodiola is still relatively new to the Western market, but its popularity is growing, in large part because of what an incredibly versatile -- and relatively inexpensive -- herb it is. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/55368994@N06/6062957780/" target="_hplink">Scott Loarie</a></em>
Holy Basil (a cousin of the garden-variety "sweet basil" you use in your pasta sauce) comes from the lowlands of India. It's called "holy" because it is believed by Hindus to be the avatar for the goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealthy, wisdom, and light. Holy Basil has a wide variety of uses, stemming back thousands of years. Within the tradition of Ayurvedic medicine, <a href="http://www.queenofherbs.com/html/stress_disorders.html" target="_hplink">it is used to</a> <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17922070" target="_hplink">alleviate stress</a>, headaches, colds, digestive problems and <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20509321" target="_hplink">inflammation</a>. Recent studies have also shown that it's also a powerful antioxidant and may even be able to reduce blood glucose levels and cholesterol.
Ashwangandha is one of the premier restorative herbs in Ayurvedic medicine. It is known to help stabilize mood and support optimal physical and <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11194174" target="_hplink">emotional well-being.</a> It is also known to improve memory and focus and endurance. It is believed to <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16846833" target="_hplink">reduce the effects of stress</a> on the body.
He Shou Wu
He shou wu is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as a tonic to slow down the aging process. It is a restorative herb, calming to the nervous system, and has also been shown to <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21419834" target="_hplink">promote hair growth</a>, alleviate insomnia, and may aid with <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20951128" target="_hplink">learning and memory</a>. The herb is named after a Chinese man, He Shou Wu, who was old, impotent, and an alcoholic. He fell asleep in the forest one day, drunk, and woke beneath two, beautiful, intertwining herbs. He interpreted it as a sign, ground up the root of the vines and took it. According to legend, after doing so, he became possessed by incredible vitality, grew back a full head of thick hair, developed a strong, youthful physique and soon married and fathered several children. <em>Photo by <a href="http://www.nutraherbalsolutions.com/Herb Garden, Guangxi, China.htm" target="_hplink">nutraherbalsolutions.com</a></em>
Long used in traditional Chinese medicine, the schizandra berry has a <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18515024" target="_hplink">wide variety of uses</a>: It promotes liver function, supports the immune system, relieves anxiety, increases energy, and it can improve mental clarity. It's sometimes called the "five flavors berry," because it tastes sour, bitter, sweet, salty and acrid all at once. <em>Photo by <a href="http://www.greendragonsuperfoods.com/" target="_hplink">Green Dragon Superfoods</a></em>
Traditional Chinese medicine uses reishi to "calm the spirit." Reishi, (literally "supernatural" mushrooms) have been used for more than 2,000 years, making them perhaps the oldest mushroom to be used medicinally. They can be helpful to reduce anxiety, alleviate insomnia, combat fatigue, and lower blood pressure. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/frankenstoen/3732807582/" target="_hplink">frankenstoen</a></em>
"A lot of herbs that people already cook with are herbs that have medicinal qualities," adds Jeanroy. "It doesn't necessarily mean it's kicking the flu for you. It helps you."
Physician Andrew Weil maintains a list of healthful herbs and their uses at his website, DrWeil.com.
Consult a doctor before trying to treat a health problem with herbs, Jeanroy says.
She treats her five children with herbs such as chamomile. "It helps with the crankiness the kids get when they're feverish," she says.
Thyme, Jeanroy says, can soothe a throat sore from coughing, and Blume touts its anti-viral properties.
"I always drink thyme tea when I fly," says Blume, "because you're re-breathing all that air that everyone's breathing And (the tea) tastes good."
Mint — especially peppermint — is a home remedy for an upset stomach. And it can mask the strong or bitter taste of some other herbs, such as sage, which can soothe mouth sores and bleeding gums after dental work, says Jeanroy.
Lemon balm can be drunk as a tea to counter headaches, added to other medicinal teas to mask an unpleasant taste, or steeped stronger to make a topical, antiseptic cleanser for a skinned knee or itchy bug bite, she says.
"If there's one herb that does tons of great stuff, lemon balm is it," says Jeanroy.
Medicinal gardens are centuries old; modern ones date back to the apothecary gardens of the Italian Renaissance during the 16th century, says Teresa Mazikowski, a staff gardener who spearheaded the Buffalo and Erie County (N.Y.) Botanical Gardens' indoor medicinal garden last October.
Botanical gardens grew out of these early medicinal gardens.
The indoor medicinal garden that Mazikowski tends goes beyond common herbs. It was planted with public education in mind, she says, and includes rare and tropical plants, as well. "The idea is to teach people how to keep themselves healthy so they don't have to take drugs" when they're sick, Mazikowski says.
The D'Youville College School of Pharmacy, and Mercy Hospital, both in Buffalo, collaborated with the city's Botanical Gardens to launch the medicinal garden with plants that show promise in pharmaceutical research, Mazikowski says, including turmeric, Pacific yew, cayenne pepper and ginseng.
Her own indoor garden includes oregano, mint, parsley, sage, lemon balm, lemon verbena, catmint and chives.
Start with a small indoor garden, Mazikowski suggests, and know that the plants aren't likely to last longer than 18 months.
Use a large, clean pot filled with sterile potting soil. Sow seeds or use small starter plants, which often are inexpensive this time of year.
Unless you have a spot that gets six hours or more of sunlight, you'll need to invest in grow lights, says Jeanroy. Buy inexpensive, full-spectrum light bulbs, sold at home improvement stores, which you can pop into a table or floor lamp. Your plants will need 14 to 16 hours of this artificial light daily.
Plants grow best if the daytime indoor temperature is between 70 and 75 degrees, Jeanroy says, and the nighttime temperature about 10 degrees cooler.
Make sure there's a drainage hole in the pot, and don't over-water. Soggy soil can lead to mildew, mould and pest problems.
Take care of your indoor herb garden, and it'll return the favour. "I don't know if it stems from surrounding myself with plants or spending so much time with them, but the whole process — you're pinching back herbs that smell good and heating the water (for tea) — I think that's part of the healing," says Jeanroy.