Since prehistoric times, plants have been used in medicine as a way to treat and prevent illnesses. Today, plants are used in modern medicine as well as herbal remedies worldwide, utilising what can be grown to boost physical and mental health.
Of course, before using plants as remedies, it’s best to do research and check that they are suitable. For any advice, contact your GP for further details and support.
The daisy-like flowers are pretty and purposeful because they contain essential oils and antioxidants. These make them popular for use in herbal remedies to help with inflammation, insomnia, as well as hay-fever and muscle spasms.
To grow your own, plant in a warm, sunny spot. Although there are a few different types of chamomiles to grow which all tolerate slightly different conditions.
Chamaemelum nobile (English or garden chamomile) has dark leaves that have a wonderful aroma, joined by dainty white flowers through summer. They grow up to 30cm, making them perfect for ground cover, or even as an alternative to a traditional lawn.
In late winter or early spring, sow the seeds in pots, then transplant them once they are large enough to be handled. When the risk of frost has passed, harden them off before planting them out.
Alternatively, buy young plants which can be planted any time of year, but spring or autumn is best. Once planted, keep the soil moist to make the most of the flowers and apply a feed through growing season.
The flowers can be harvested at any point through the summer. To make chamomile tea, it’s only the flowers that you need, not the stems or leaves. Spread them somewhere warm to allow them to dry out, then they can be stored. Use one teaspoon of the dried flowers per cup of chamomile tea, adding a bit of honey for extra sweetness.
Bacipa monnieri (brahmi or waterhyssop)
This plant has been used in traditional Indian medicine for centuries, to help with reducing anxiety, improving memory performance, and even treating epilepsy. Studies have shown that it can help to reduce anxiety and stress and generally boost brain function.
Bacopa is a creeping perennial, low growing to about 15cm tall.
It grows best in partial shade or full sun, and as long as it gets the moisture it needs it can thrive in a wide range of soils. As the common name suggests, it can be grown in water, where the foliage spreads on the surface to form floating mats with its bright green leaves and fleshy stems.
The small flowers that bloom are pale blue or white.
The leaves are edible and have been used because of their health benefits and therapeutic properties. Juice can be extracted from the stems and leaves, before being powdered and used as an ingredient in drinks and syrups – but it usually needs sweetening before eating.
Echinacea (purple coneflower)
This is a popular herb that has been used for it’s healing properties by Native Americans and is now a popular over-the-counter remedy for common colds, flues, inflammation, and migraines.
There are 9 species in the group, but three are used for their herbal properties: Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea pallida.
From these plants, the roots and upper parts of the plants are used in teas, tablets, and extracts.
Grow Echinacea purpurea in a deep, well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. They’ll flower from summer to autumn on tall, upright stems, with flower heads of around 12cm across.
When harvesting, the top part of the plant are used for herbal teas. Harvest these from the second year of growth by cutting the stem at the lowest leaves, then strip the leaves and flower head, laying them to dry. They can then be stored until you want to make tea.
Roots can be harvested when the plant is 2-3 years old using a garden fork. The roots can be shaken off, rinsed in water, then patted dry. Use a clean pair of scissors to chop the roots into pieces to be used in tinctures or stored. The roots can be used to make tea too, leaving them to simmer for about 10 minutes in a pint of hot water.
Hypericum perforatum (St John’s wort)
Next is a herbal remedy that has been used to treat mental health problems for hundreds of years. Now it’s an over-the-counter remedy that’s used to treat anxiety, sleep problems, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) as well as mild or moderate depression.
It is commonly used as a herbal alternative to anti-depressants.
Some studies have shown that it may cause fewer side effects than anti-depressant drugs.
When growing, the plant prefers a moist but well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade where it can grow up to 1m tall. In summer, small vibrant yellow flowers bloom.
St John’s wort is best used fresh to make home remedies. Fresh flowers can be picked, or the top section of the plant can be cut off around June or July when the plant is in full flower. Use 2-3 teaspoons of fresh flowers in hot water, brew for about 4 minutes and you have a lemony flavoured tea.
Tanacetum parthenium (feverfew)
Traditionally, feverfew was used to deal with fevers, hence its name coming from the Latin word febrifugia which means ‘fever reducer’. The plant has also been used as a treatment for migraines.
In the garden, this plant likes a well-drained soil with plenty of sun.
It’s hardy and grows up to 50cm, with white and yellow flowers through summer. When harvesting the leaves, don’t take more than 1/3 of the plant so there is enough to regrow. The leaves should be laid flat to dry, then stored.
It has been said that chewing a leaf at the first symptoms of PMS or migraines appear can ease them. The leaves can be brewed as a tea, tincture, or homemade insect repellent.
Many plants are used in modern medicine as well as in traditional herbal remedies worldwide. Before using any of the above plants, be sure to check with your GP.
David Domoney is a Chartered Horticulturalist, Broadcaster, and Author. David has worked with a number of the UK’s leading garden retailers as a plant buyer and strategic consultant. With more than 30 years experience, in horticulture, David is as passionate about plants now as he was when he bought his first plant at a village fete.
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