Have a small garden patch? Consider growing medicinal herbs you can also use in cooking.
Creating space for medicinal herbs in your garden patch can be beneficial in many ways. Most medicinal herbs, like thyme, oregano, and rosemary, can be used in culinary recipes. Many medicinal herbs also flower and are helpful to pollinators (I can’t even tell you how many bees I saw on my flowering oregano and thyme last summer). Some herbs are perennial, so you don’t have to worry about replanting and it’s wonderfully convenient to pick fresh herbs and make medicinal tea or tinctures whenever you need to.
Here are some herbs that fit in a small area of your garden patch, double as culinary herbs, and do well in our growing zone:
Calendula officinalis is an annual, sometimes short-lived perennial flowering plant. It can be sowed directly into the soil after the frost is gone; planted 6 inches apart in 0.5 inches of soil. Germination starts within a week and flowers appear seven weeks later. These herbs are easy to take care of; cut the flowers to help them grow. The flowers can be used in oils and balms to help with muscle spasms and skin disorders and are antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory. You can steep 2 teaspoons of the flower to make tea or an herbal wash. Harvest the flower heads and dry them in a cool, dark spot for months of use.
Matricaria chamomilla is a perennial that can grow in partial shade. I’ve had better success starting my flowers at home and planting the starts after the last frost. Space each plant 8 inches apart. Like Calendula, cutting the flower heads allows the plants to thrive. Chamomile tea is great for calming nerves and can be used as a poultice to help with mild rashes and eczema. Harvest flower heads and dry, then store in an airtight jar.
Menta is invasive but a great herb to have on hand. All the different mint varieties are great, so deciding which ones to grow depends on your tastes (I prefer apple mint and spearmint). You can sow seeds in partial sun after the first frost. Mint is great for digestion issues. Steep fresh leaves for tea.
Thymus vulgaris is a wonderful perennial herb. I usually start them from cuttings instead of seeds and plant them in the center of the garden bed to insulate its roots from the cold. It also needs well-drained soil. If your thyme dies, it is most likely from root rot. I like to use thyme when I have a bad cold and need movement in my lungs. I’ll steep a huge chunk of thyme in a pot and cover my head with a towel to inhale the vapors, and then I’ll take the same pot and pour it in my bathtub and steep myself!
I love yarrow, also known as Achillea millefolium. It’s a beautiful plant, and you can use its leaves and flowers for medicinal purposes. It’s an herbaceous perennial that thrives best in sun and well-drained soil (it does not like to be kept wet). Start your seeds indoors six weeks before the last frost and plant 12 inches apart on wet soil, barely covering the seeds. It will germinate around 15 days. I have heard some of my foraging friends chew yarrow leaves to relieve a tooth or gum ache. You can make a spit poultice with the flowers and leaves to apply on bleeding wounds or use in a sitz bath to help with menstrual cramps. I make a salve with mine, filling up a jar with yarrow flower heads and leaves, pouring olive oil to the top, and sealing with a lid. I leave the jar out in the sun for six weeks to infuse and strain afterward. You can use the oil or go further by melting beeswax and stirring in the yarrow oil.
Melissa officinalis is a perennial from the mint family, but unlike its rooty cousin, lemon balm can quickly spread by seed. It’s an easy herb to grow, and although it likes full sun, I have planted lemon balm in partial shade, and it did just fine. You can propagate leaves/stems or broadcast seeds after the last frost. It needs light to germinate, so you don’t need to cover the seeds with soil. It likes partial shade and well-drained soil. Honeybees go crazy for the flowers. You can use lemon balm tea for digestion, sleep, and stress aid.
All these herbs can be used in cooking, either in soups and salads, or added to rubs and marinades. You can easily plant these herbs together in your garden box and utilize areas that have shade. I find it comforting that, when something is ailing me, I can just pop by my garden and harvest a few things to make me feel better.
Tricia Gray is an Issaquah Highlands community garden ambassador, and an Issaquah Highlands resident. Photo provided by Tricia.
Interested in having your own community garden patch? Visit the Community Garden page to learn more.