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These 5 Herbs Are Super Stars
In the world of medicinal gardening, there are five superstar herbs: Echinacea, chamomile, yarrow, lemon balm and peppermint.
These five beauties are used to treat a host of common ailments, such as:
• Colds and flu • Inflammation • Minor cuts • Infections • Pain • Muscle spasms • Anxiety • Indigestion
The easy-to-grow and easy-to-use herbs prove you don’t have to be a skilled gardener or a trained pharmacist to reap their benefits.
Known as purple coneflower, and native to North America, echinacea was first used as a medicinal herb by the Plains Indians.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the plant was widely touted as a blood purifier and general cure-all. But with the introduction of synthetic drugs in the 1920’s, it fell into disuse.
It’s now experiencing a resurgence in popularity. Echinacea products are among the top-selling herbs in health food stores.
Grow Your Own
Echinacea seeds germinate readily (within 10 to 20 days), and plants can be easily propagated by dividing the roots. Be sure to plant in well-drained garden soil. Although the species is a prairie flower, it will tolerate up to half shade. It’s also remarkably drought-resistant.
Echinacea has been proven to strengthen the immune system against viral and bacterial invaders. It’s widely used to fight infections, especially the common cold, the flu, and other upper respiratory ailments.
For centuries, people have used chamomile tea as a gentle sleep aid, as well as to ease digestion and relieve colic in infants.
The ancient Egyptians first used it as a cure for fever. The crushed chamomile flowers were also rubbed on the skin as a cosmetic. And it was the main ingredient in the embalming oil used to preserve deceased pharaohs.
Grow Your Own
The dried or fresh flowers of two types of chamomile are used to make the tea: German and Roman. Both are easily grown from seed. The daisy-like flowers usually appear within six weeks of planting. Chamomile thrives in cooler climates with well-drained sandy loam.
In addition to its use as a digestive aid and cure for insomnia, chamomile tea is also used to wash wounds and sores. In fact, medical authorities of 26 countries approve it to treat inflammation, infection, colic, muscle spasms and tension.
To make chamomile tea, simply pour one cup boiling water over one heaping teaspoon of dried flowers. Cover and steep for 10 minutes, then strain into a cup.
Another member of the aster family, yarrow is known to many as a perennial that grows wild along roadsides and in meadows.
The plant’s generic name, Achillea, comes from the legend that Achilles used a poultice of the plant to stop the bleeding of his soldiers’ wounds during the Trojan War. It was used by ancient Europeans in the same way.
Scientists have since discovered that an alkaloid called “achilleine” is responsible for staunching blood flow. (One of yarrow’s common names is “staunchweed.”)
Grow Your Own
Yarrow requires virtually no care. It’s essentially pest-free and winter-hardy in Zones 3 through 9. These herbs will grow to about 3 feet tall and produce clusters of tiny blooms in white, pink or yellow. (Hybrid varieties produce brighter colors, including red.)
Plants are easy to grow from seed, or may be propagated by dividing the roots in the spring or fall. Although yarrow adapts well to many soil types, it thrives in moderately rich soil in full sun.
Crushed leaves and flowers can be applied directly to a wound to stop bleeding (after washing the wound). In addition to achilleine, yarrow contains more than 120 other chemical components. Some of these have been shown to reduce inflammation and muscle spasms, and relieve pain.
To make a yarrow tea, pour one cup of boiling water over one to two teaspoons of the dried herb. Cover and steep for 10 to 15 minutes.
(Note: Yarrow is not considered toxic, but some people may have an allergic reaction to it.)
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Lemon balm has been popular among herbalists for 2,000 years. A member of the mint family, it’s high in essential oil content. Although native to the Mediterranean climates around the world, these lemon-scented herbs have been widely naturalized in North America. Their aromatic white flowers are highly attractive to bees.
Traditionally, lemon balm has been used to reduce fevers, calm the digestive system, relieve spasms and overcome insomnia.
Grow Your Own
Lemon balm is easy to grow from seeds sown in the spring or early fall, and is hardy in Zones 4 through 9. A fertile, moist soil is ideal. Lemon balm prefers a cool habitat; if grown in full sun, it will wilt during hot, dry spells. It can be invasive, so you may wish to prune off the flowering tops before they go to seed.
Because of its calming effects, lemon balm has been used to treat anxiety, insomnia and restlessness, as well as Alzheimer’s disease and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Research has confirmed its ability to calm anxiety, relieve spasms, and inhibit the growth of fungi and bacteria. It also has anti-inflammatory properties.
Lemon balm is more effective when used fresh or freshly dried. Harvest it just as the plant comes into bloom. (It will lose much of its scent when dried.) The fresh leaves can be used to make hot or iced tea. Pour a cup of boiling water over a small handful of fresh leaves (or 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried leaves) and cover. Steep for 10 minutes.
What we know as peppermint is actually a hybrid between spearmint and water mint. Peppermint leaf tea has traditionally been used to treat insomnia, indigestion, nervous tension, cramps, diarrhea and nausea. In fact, the world’s oldest surviving medical text mentions mint as a stomach aid.
Grow Your Own
Peppermint herbs can be invasive, so you may want to grow them in a container. The plant’s stalks will grow upward almost as fast as its runners spread outward.
While it can’t be grown from seed, you can easily propagate it by dividing the roots. If placed in moist but well-drained soil and full sun, peppermint will thrive on neglect.
Herbalists recommend drinking a cup of peppermint tea up to three times a day to aid digestion. To make this delicious tea, pour a cup of boiling water over 2 teaspoons of fresh leaves or 1 teaspoon of crushed, dried leaves. Cover and steep for 10 minutes.