By Barbara Walsh – For thousands of years man has studied and used a healing herbs list. Physicians during the ancient times were expected to study and know the medicinal values of each herb. Healers gathered these beneficial plants from the wild, experimented with their uses, and have passed on to us what they discovered. Today I will share my favorite healing herbs, including German chamomile plant, calendula, purple coneflower and the mint family.
Throughout the past 20 years, the use of herbal remedies has experienced a revival. People have sought the simpler, cheaper and more natural way to better health. I became interested in herbs and their medicinal uses about two years ago. The more I read about the topic, the more I realized that the herbs that serve us best grow in our own backyards. That’s when I decided to grow my own herbs to make teas and medicines. Not only have these herbal teas and medicines been of great benefit to my own family, they have also become a small source of income and have been used for bartering for goods and services.
Because of the large amount of information available on healing herbs, it would be impossible for me to even begin to scratch the surface in an article of this length. Instead, I would like to mention some of the herbs that we grow ourselves and use in our family.
German Chamomile Plant
A very common herb grown for tea is German chamomile plant (matricaria recutita). The word “chamomile” comes from the Greek, Karnai, meaning “on the ground,” and “melon,” meaning “apple,” for ground apple. When you walk on this herb or brush against it, the chamomile plant produces a wonderful apple-like odor. Tea prepared from the flowers is believed to be a moderate sedative. It may also soothe indigestion, colic, fever, and restlessness in children. A strong chamomile tea (two to three teaspoons of herb per cup of boiling water) can be used as a gargle or mouthwash for treating gingivitis. German chamomile plant self sows, so you only need to plant this chamomile plant once and let it go to seed at the end of the season.
The herb that I use to make an all-purpose salve is called Calendula (Calendula officinalis). It is also known as “holigold,” “Mary’s Gold,” or simply “pot marigold.” Do not confuse it with any of the more common marigold species grown as ornamentals. The word officinalis in its botanical name indicates that calendula was once recognized as having medicinal qualities. In fact, it was probably one of the earliest herbs used in the Mediterranean region. Calendula can be used to make salves, infused oils, and compresses that serve as home remedies for bug bites and stings, bruises, scrapes, burns, diaper rash and sunburn. Calendula is believed to be antibacterial. A delicate tea can be made from the petals. It is rich in phosphorus and vitamin C. This herb is an annual and is grown very easily from seed.
Another one of the herbs that we grow is mint, specifically spearmint (Mentha cardiaca), applemint (Mentha suaveolens), and peppermint plant (Mentha piperita). In the Ebers papyrus, the world’s oldest surviving medical text, mint is mentioned as a stomach soother. The use and value of mint spread from Egypt to Palestine where it was even used to pay taxes. Not in Luke 11:39 when Jesus scolds the Pharisees: “You pay tithes of mint and rue…but have no care for justice and the love of God.” The use of mint to soothe indigestion can be further traced through the centuries up to today’s us of an after-dinner mint!
We harvest the mint leaves, dry them, and use them to make a hot or cold tea. Only one teaspoon of the dried herb is used per cup of boiling water. If the fresh herb is used, you must double the amount of herb.
Purple Coneflower Plant
Another plant that we grow for its medicinal value is Echinacea, commonly known as Purple Coneflower. This native Nebraska wildflower is often called “The Immune Herb.” The Plains Indians used Echinacea for sore throats, fevers, smallpox, and rattlesnake bites. Today, it is believed that this herb’s roots stimulate the immune system and help the body fight sickness and infection.
We use Echinacea in a tincture, or herbal extract, form. A tincture is a concentrated liquid form of medicine made by steeping fresh or dried herbs in a solvent, typically alcohol. Drops of this tincture may be added to tea, herbal tea, or unsweetened fruit juice. The tincture may also be placed directly under the tongue.
In the past, my husband has easily gotten bad colds, bronchitis, and occasionally, pneumonia. After I read about Echinacea’s ability to boost a person’s immune system, I started putting some of the tincture in my husband’s morning cup of tea. He did not get a cold at all during this past winter. My oldest daughter has trouble with hay fever and allergies. A nurse had told me once that anyone with allergies always has a weakened immune system. Now when my daughter feels a tightening in her chest from allergy symptoms, she fixes a cup of herbal tea and adds Echinacea tincture. This natural treatment greatly relieves her allergy symptoms and seems to have improved her general health. No more sleepy days after taking over-the-counter allergy medication!
It is important to use herbs with care, just as you do with any medicine. Never use an herb that you cannot positively identify. If you have individual health concerns or chronic warning symptoms, please seek the advice of your doctor. We don’t intend to stop going to the doctor or using prescription medicines. However, since we have started using herbs, we have not had to seek medical treatment for any of the common illnesses, such as colds or the flu.
Do you grow German chamomile plant, calendula, purple coneflower or anything in the mint family?
Originally published in Countryside March/April 2001 and regularly vetted for accuracy.