Whether winter or summer, you can have fresh, healing plants year-round. You don't have to have a lot of space or even a green thumb.
While most herbs are considered culinary, many have incredible medicinal properties that range from pain relief to relaxation.
What You'll Need
The beauty of a small garden is that you can use your imagination. The sky's the limit on how creative you can get with your garden. Don't limit yourself -- go ahead and bust out the Bedazzler. Truly make it yours.
A Home For Your Healing Garden
What you choose to grow in your garden is completely up to you. Depending on whether you want it indoors or out, you'll need to take materials into consideration.
For instance, dark metal containers may not be the best choice for an outdoor garden, as they can absorb and retain heat, damaging the roots of your plants. Conversely, you may not want to use untreated wood in humid climates as it can absorb moisture and disintegrate.
It's also important to consider how large you want your garden to be. A good rule of thumb would be about 6”x6” for each plant. A depth of around 6” - 8” minimum will allow for a healthy root system to take hold.
In their book, How To Window Box: Small Space Plants to Grow Indoors or Out, Chantal Aida Gordon and Ryan Benoit encourage people to also consider portability of their container gardens. This is especially important if you live in a region that will require you to move your garden indoors during the winter months.
Here are a few fun ideas for housing your perfect indoor/outdoor healing garden:
- A traditional wooden planter box. It may sound boring, but when you use your creativity to make it your own, the sky's the limit! You can build them yourself from simple plans or purchase them pre-made.
- An old stockpot. It sounds crazy, but it's easy to get a hold of old stockpots at thrift stores or garage sales. The beauty of these are the built-in handles so they're simple to move and arrange. You can leave them as-is or spray paint them to match your decor or your personality.
- Galvanized feed tubs. A farm and ranch supply can be a great place to find a wide variety of galvanized containers to transform into planters. From small round pans to larger troughs, you can capture that rustic farmhouse look.
To ensure healthy root systems, your planters should have good drainage. If they don't already have drainage built in, drill holes in the bottom using the appropriate drill bit (there are bits available for every material, from ceramic to metal to wood -- follow instructions and always wear eye protection when using a drill).
Your Dirt Should Be Clean
Your plants will only be as nourishing or healing as the soil you grow them in. A good-quality organic potting soil mix is an ideal choice. It keeps you from having to a) handle soil with toxic fertilizers and b) consume or use herbs grown in chemical-saturated soil. Most garden centers and even some big box stores now offer organic potting soil options.
The beauty of most herbs is that they can flourish in a standard all-around potting mix. You won't need to add anything to the soil (such as sand or loam) to provide a good growing medium.
Nourish Your Plants So They Can Nourish You
Plants grown in containers have finite access to nutrients. To keep them from depleting their soil or coming up short on certain nutrients, use a good organic fertilizer. There are several on the market that are formulated for all-around use, meaning they'll support a wide variety of functions.
If you know you'll be growing only herbs whose leaves will be used, a fertilizer with a higher nitrogen content will support green, leafy growth. On the other hand, if you're hoping for a profusion of blossoms, such as you might want from lavender, a fertilizer with higher phosphorus will help support the plants.
Choosing Your Healing Herbs
Nearly every plant on the planet has some medicinal benefit. There are some, however, that are powerhouses of healing.
If you're truly serious about cultivating a wide variety of healing herbs for issues such as inflammation, pain, skincare or other health issues, there are numerous resources available to help you choose even more to add to your collection.
The following is just the tip of the iceberg!
Holy Basil (Tulsi)
In Thailand, holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) is used in a wide variety of foods, including soups and stir-fry dishes.
One thing you may not know is that it's also an incredibly useful medicinal herb. This adaptogen (assists the body in adapting to stress and regulating systems) has been shown to have promising effects in supporting cancer patients and a wide variety of other issues, including chronic back pain.
How to grow it: Holy basil loves sunshine. If you're planning on growing it indoors, be sure to place it next to a window where it will receive plenty of direct light. It also appreciates rich soil and receiving regular watering. Read this article for more specifics on the needs of tulsi.
There is nothing quite like fresh turmeric for both medicinal and culinary uses. This native of the Indian subcontinents grows well indoors or out with the proper care.
You've probably heard a lot about turmeric lately, and for good reason. Turmeric contains curcumin, a strong antioxidant. It fights excess inflammation while supporting the immune system. Studies have shown turmeric to be more effective than many non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) on the market in fighting chronic pain.
How to grow it: Turmeric likes rich soil. Consider using a larger planter, as it will grow quite large (think parlor palm). You can source organic root at most natural food stores in the fresh produce section.
You know those fresh, citrusy undertones you find in a lot of Thai foods? They don't come from citrus fruit at all, but rather a plant aptly named lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus). Lemongrass has become a popular garden staple in many parts of the world, with the majority being cultivated in Asia and Central and South America.
This astringent herb is showing great promise in clinical studies as an antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory. The latter is the most impressive; with the number of NSAIDs (both over-the-counter and prescription) that cause serious side effects, natural alternatives should be considered for chronic pain and inflammation.
How to grow it: While you can grow your lemongrass from the fresh stalks you purchase at the store, it's much easier to buy established plants that are already rooted. This also ensures you get the variety you want -- it's not always specified which type you're buying in the produce aisle.
Lemongrass likes full sun and regular watering. Because it's such a rapidly-growing plant, give it a nitrogen-rich, organic fertilizer (follow the package directions) to ensure it doesn't become nutrient-deficient.
Because lemongrass thrives in the tropics, if you live in any hardiness zone (in the US) below 9a you'll need to bring it indoors during the winter months.
People the world over have an ongoing love affair with peppermint. From personal hygiene products such as toothpaste, soaps, and lotions, to candy, tea and even liqueur, there are very few things that peppermint can't found in.
Peppermint is one of many varieties of plants in the mint family. The ancient Egyptians were the first to use peppermint as a remedy for indigestion; it was likely used fairly regularly, as fisikh, a holiday favorite, has been doling out hearty cases of gastric disruption (including botulism) since time began.
There are literally hundreds of documented uses for peppermint; the most common of these include pain relief (in the form of menthol, a mint derivative), stomach cramps, PMS relief, nausea, bloating, and inflammation.
How to grow it: Peppermint grows like a weed in nearly any climate, from partial shade to full sun, making it incredibly easy to cultivate. It's well-suited to container gardening, as it can become invasive in garden beds.
It appreciates rich, well-drained soil and after the first year is usually ready to be divided out and shared with friends.
It would be a shame to leave Aloe (Aloe barbadensis) out of this mix, even though it's not an “herb” by the strictest definition. Nonetheless, it deserves recognition for it's amazing topical properties.
Aloe can be used for a wide variety of skin complaints, from sunburn and rashes to helping heal wounds and minimize scarring. It's perhaps one of the easiest herbs to use -- simply cut an outer leaf from the plant, split it open and use the gelatinous innards directly on your skin.
It's anti-inflammatory properties make it an excellent choice to combine with other ingredients, to encourage swelling reduction.
How to grow it: Aloe is a fairly simple plant to grow. A succulent, it is forgiving if you forget to water it for a few days.
Aloe vera likes well-drained soil (a succulent mix is ideal, if you can find it) and lots of indirect light. It sunburns easily in direct sun, so is usually happier on a porch or a window sill.
Aloe vera doesn't withstand cold well, so definitely needs to be brought into the house if you're growing it outside during the summer.
Note: Aloes come in many different varieties. The medicinal type is Aloe barbadensis, not to be confused with the more decorative varieties that don't boast the healing gel.
Other Healing Plants to Consider
The sheer number of herbs that can thrive in containers is astounding. The five above make up a very small fraction of your options for growing medicinal herbs right in your own yard or window. Here is a list of more herbs that do well in containers.
- Cayenne pepper
- Lemon balm
A Word on Lighting
Some parts of the world are blessed with adequate sunlight to grow healthy plants year-round. In other areas, the winter months may prove too long and dark for even the hardiest plants.
There are a wide number of grow lights now available on the market, from high-end LED setups to more traditional halogen or fluorescent versions. Depending on what you want and can afford, there are literally hundreds of options.
This short but sweet guide will help you get a handle on what you may need for your particular plant choices and budget.
The best part of creating your own healing herb garden is that there aren't any rules (except those imposed by the plants themselves via their growing conditions preferences). You can make it completely yours, lending itself to healing not just your body, but your soul, as well.