With a little know-how, you can have a pharmacopeia growing just outside your door. Here are some easy medicinal plants that may already be growing in your yard.
1. Lemon Balm
Trouble sleeping? Try lemon balm tea. I stumbled across a mention of this soothing brew at the beginning of the season, and am now encouraging new lemon balm volunteers all over my yard to keep me in tea. Lemon balm is thought to promote sleep by alleviating anxiety and encouraging relaxation. (It’s also an antiviral and may help headaches and other ailments. And rubbed on your skin, it’s supposed to help keep insects at bay, though I haven’t had much luck with this).
To make sleep-promoting tea, I collect a small bowl of fresh leaves and steep them in a large teapot of boiling water, making enough for two large mugs (or two nights’ worth of tea). I drink a mug a couple hours before bed, and it seems to help me sleep more soundly.
The farm I belong to grows it, too, so I’ve been harvesting some there as well and drying it for winter. Lemon balm is a less aggressive member of the mint family, so it will spread some, but it is far easier to eradicate if you want to (though I don’t know why you would). It’s a perennial, so plant some now and enjoy it for years. You can probably find someone near you willing to give you a little starter clump.
Mint is a well-known tea ingredient for soothing upset stomachs. In addition to common mint, there are some beautiful and unusual varieties to try, including apple mint, ginger mint, and pineapple mint (though I have found them less reliably hardy in our extreme winters than the standard peppermint and common mint, also less aggressive spreaders). Again, it shouldn’t be hard to find someone growing mint who would be happy to give you starter plants. But be careful — mint will try to take over, so plant somewhere you don’t mind it outcompeting everything else or plant it in a buried container.
Lavender is a gorgeous landscape plant with flowers that can be used in tea, cooking, or as fragrant additions to a relaxing bath or sachet. The scent has been shown to improve sleep quality, so keep a little bouquet or dish of dried lavender by your bedside, and you may find you sleep better.
A number of common weeds also have medicinal uses. What a great excuse not to spend your free time weeding (like you needed one)!
Jewelweed can help with insect bites, so we let ours run rampant along the side of the house and grab some when kids get those sad red welts in mosquito season. Just squeeze some liquid from the succulent stem and apply to the bite repeatedly for about 15 minutes. Can also help with poison ivy and other skin irritations.
Plantain can also be made into a poultice to help with insect bites and skin irritations. It’s also edible, but not that delicious.
Yarrow can be used topically or made into tea that may help with digestive issues and cramps. (Note that its ability to relax muscles may be a problem in pregnancy, so skip it if you are pregnant. Also avoid it if you have ragweed allergies. Yarrow is native in much of the country, and is a drought-tolerant hardy perennial that supports pollinators. You might find volunteers in your yard, or if not, you probably have a neighbor who will be happy to divide some for you.
Clover flowers can be made into a tea thought to help with circulation as well as respiratory and skin problems. It is also a source of isoflavones, and research suggests it may help with menopause symptoms. This write-up from the University of Maryland Medical Center has more details. Clover is also a wonderful nitrogen-fixer for your soil, so encourage it wherever you find it and skip the fertilizer.
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