Angelica

Angelica archangelica

Parts Used: Root, leaves, stems, and fruit

Precautions: Angelica is a strong emmenagogue, meaning it increases blood flow in and to the pelvic area and uterus, even causing menstruation. It should not be used during pregnancy. It contains high levels of coumarin, a fragrant organic compound with blood-thinning properties, and can cause an adverse interaction with anticoagulant drugs.

Identifying/Growing: Angelica grows wild in fields and meadows throughout the world’s temperate zones, particularly along streams and rivers. It prefers fairly shady areas, where you’ll find it growing to a height of 3 to 6 feet. Clusters of small creamy yellow or greenish flowers emerge in late June to July and emit a lovely aroma. You can grow angelica in a spot with partial shade to full sun. Moist, well-drained soil is ideal, as is proximity to a water feature. Place your plants at least 12 inches apart after germination, and harvest them when they are fully mature. Angelica is a biennial plant; planting it successively year after year will ensure that you get a harvest every year.

 

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Arnica

Arnica Montana

Arnica is a beautiful alpine herb that offers such strong anti-inflammatory properties that it is well known even outside herbal medicine circles. While arnica creams and oils are convenient, the whole herb is also readily available online.

Parts Used: Flowers

Precautions: Do not use in open or bleeding wounds. Long-term use can cause skin irritation.

Identifying/Growing: Also known as mountain arnica, this aromatic herb can be found growing in alpine meadows. It features aromatic toothed leaves and bright yellow to orange blossoms with daisy-like florets on stalks that average 1 to 2 feet high. Arnica prefers full sun but will tolerate a little shade. If you decide to grow this herb, you’ll need patience since the seeds can take between 1 month and 2 years to germinate. You can either sow the seeds outside in late summer and hope for the best, or sow them in large pots indoors; they germinate at a temperature of about 55°F. Once the arnica begins to grow, it will flower and spread via roots and self-seeding. If you cut the plants back after they flower, you’ll often receive a second bloom. Keep your arnica healthy by dividing the plants at the roots every 3 years, in either spring or autumn.

 

Basil

Ocimum basilicum

Most people are familiar with basil’s ability to impart delicious flavor to food; its sweet scent is also unmistakable. But not everyone knows that there are many different varieties of basil, each with antibacterial properties and stomach-settling abilities. A little crushed fresh basil takes the itch out of an insect bite, too.

Parts Used: Leaves

Precautions: Do not use during pregnancy.

Identifying/Growing: You probably won’t find basil growing wild, but you can usually find it in the produce department at your local supermarket. Since fresh basil is strongest, and since the plant is very easy to grow, this is one herb that you may want to consider cultivating even if you lack a green thumb. Basil thrives in the garden or grows just as happily in a pot on a sunny windowsill. It needs lots of light and prefers full sun. It also needs to be watered frequently so the soil stays moist. Harvesting the uppermost leaves will encourage growth and prevent the plant from going to seed.

Black Cohosh

Cimicifuga racemosa

Black cohosh contains isoflavones, compounds that mimic the activity of estrogen. Useful for menopause symptoms, including vaginal dryness, hot flashes, and mild depression, black cohosh also offers anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving benefits. As a cold and flu remedy, it helps quiet coughs while easing discomfort.

Parts Used: Root

Precautions: Do not use during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Black cohosh causes gastric discomfort in some individuals; stop using it if this occurs.

Identifying/Growing: Black cohosh is indigenous to the eastern half of North America, preferring the edges of fields and open woodlands. With oval-shaped leaves, erect stems that grow to 3 feet or taller, and white flowers on slender spikes, it gets its name from the blackish color of its rootstock. Black cohosh seeds should be planted in indoor containers in fall and kept in a warm, dry place, preferably one that receives full sunlight. When the plants emerge, water them weekly and keep them indoors until the danger of frost is over. Transplant your black cohosh to a location that receives morning sun but offers afternoon shade. Fertilize the area with well-rotted compost before transplanting and repeat each spring. Water the plants three times per week during dry weather, or even more frequently if you notice that they are beginning to wilt.

Blue vervain

Verbena hastata, Verbena officinalis

Blue vervain relaxes the nervous system and offers reliable pain relief, especially when it is used in poultices for rheumatism, joint pain, and neuralgia. In tea, the leaves help ease headache, bladder discomfort, and sore throat. Try blue vervain tea next time you need an expectorant for chest congestion or bronchitis.

Parts Used: Leaves

Precautions: Do not use during pregnancy.

Identifying/Growing: Blue vervain can be found growing wild in meadows, waste places, and along roadsides throughout most of North America and Europe. Lance-shaped leaves with rough, toothy edges are arranged on stems averaging 3 to 7 feet, and little purplish blue flowers emerge from slender spikes located at the top of the plant. This lovely herb is easy to grow. Blue vervain needs light to germinate, so simply sow the seeds and water them without covering them with soil. Be sure to keep the seeds moist until they germinate. For stronger remedies, pick the herbs before they flower and dry them right away. Allow some of your blue vervain to flower and go to seed if you’d like a steady supply year after year; it self-seeds and will come back each spring.

Catnip

Nepeta cataria

Almost everyone is familiar with catnip, which is an essential treat for our feline friends. Despite its tendency to bring out a cat’s playful side, this lovely herb does the opposite in most people, promoting relaxation with none of the unpleasant side effects that accompany pharmaceutical sedatives.

Parts Used: Leaves and flowering tops

Precautions: Do not use during pregnancy.

Identifying/Growing: Catnip can sometimes be found growing wild, usually along roadsides. Its heart-shaped leaves have a soft, minty scent, and are greyish-green with a downy coating. White flowers with lavender-colored spots adorn the upper portion of the plant. Catnip is a very pretty addition to the garden. Like other members of the mint family, it is easy to grow and has a tendency to spread if you let it. Start the seeds indoors in spring and transplant young seedlings after the danger of frost, placing them in a sunny, well-drained area. Protect your catnip plants from eager felines by covering them with a lid made of chicken wire. You can harvest the leaves and flowers throughout the season, year after year.

Chamomile

Matricaria recutita

Gentle yet effective, chamomile offers antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Its ability to soothe the nervous system makes it indispensable in calming and bedtime tea blends, and it offers antispasmodic activity that makes it ideal for treating tense, aching muscles. Next time you are stressed, sore, or sleepless, give chamomile a try.

Parts Used: Flowers

Precautions: Chamomile contains high levels of coumarin and can adversely interact with blood thinners. It can also cause problems for people who are allergic to ragweed.

Identifying/Growing: Chamomile is native to Europe but is very easy to grow in most places. Its small, daisy-like flowers have white petals and raised yellow centers, and its leaves have a fine, feathery appearance. Easy to grow from seed, it makes a beautiful border in the garden and self-seeds year after year. Cut or pick the flowers when they are in full bloom, and expect to enjoy at least two cuttings each summer.

 

Chickweed

Stellaria media

Chickweed is among the most common wild herbs and can be found growing throughout most of the world. You can use fresh chickweed to make soothing poultices for treating rashes, irritated skin, and minor burns, and the juice helps ease itching. Beyond its usefulness as a medicinal remedy, chickweed makes a tasty addition to spring salads.

Parts Used: Leaves and flowers

Precautions: Chickweed can have a laxative effect when eaten in large quantities. Be careful not to wildcraft in areas where fertilizer, pesticide, or herbicide has been applied.

Identifying/Growing: You can probably find chickweed growing in your lawn, and it can be found in woods and meadows, too. This hardy little plant grows year-round in many places, fading only when temperatures are below freezing, and quickly reemerging with the slightest hint of warmth. It features tiny white flowers and oval leaves that emerge from low, slender stems averaging 4 to 6 inches long. Many people try to eradicate chickweed from their lawns, often unsuccessfully. You can encourage it to grow by raking a spot for it, wetting the soil, and spreading the seeds approximately ½ inch apart. Cover the area with a light layer of topsoil, mist it with water, and then leave it undisturbed until the plants establish themselves. Your chickweed will self-seed, and requires nothing in terms of maintenance.

 

Comfrey

Symphytum officinale

Comfrey’s Latin name is rooted in the Greek word sympho, meaning “to make grow together.” This refers to its traditional use in speeding the healing of fractures. The plant’s ability to alleviate pain and inflammation is also legendary; it works well on cuts, scrapes, insect bites, burns, and rashes, too.

Parts Used: Leaves and roots

Precautions: Comfrey contains natural insect-repelling pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can be carcinogenic and cause liver damage when the plant is overused internally. Infants and children are most susceptible; use your best judgment when determining whether to take comfrey internally or to reserve it for external use.

Identifying/Growing: An herbaceous perennial, comfrey is native to Europe but is easy to grow in partial shade throughout temperate to warm climates. Mature plants attain impressive sizes of 3 to 6 feet high and 2 to 4 feet wide. Comfrey’s tiny hanging clusters of pink, violet, or cream-colored flowers rise up from coarse, hairy stems that bear large leaves. The herb is so large that you might think it’s a shrub; however, the stems never become woody, and the entire plant dies back in winter. Comfrey can be grown from seed, but it’s far easier to cultivate via root cuttings, which should be planted horizontally at a depth of about 3 inches and spaced approximately 3 feet apart. It thrives in rich, organic soil with plenty of nitrogen. Composting annually will help you get the best possible harvest. You can cut and dry the leaves anytime after the plants reach a height of 2 feet.

Dandelion

Taraxacum officinale

Dandelion is often thought of as an invasive weed, but its ability to detoxify the liver and help stop indigestion, bloating, and constipation makes it a valuable addition to your garden. While the root offers medicinal properties, the greens make an iron-rich addition to salads, and the fragrant yellow flowers provide pollinators with a good source of nectar.

Parts Used: Roots and sap

Precautions: Dandelions are generally considered safe, but ensure that the ones you harvest have not been exposed to herbicide or pesticide.

Identifying/Growing: Long, toothy leaves and fluffy, bright yellow flowers make the dandelion easy to identify. You can encourage dandelions to populate your lawn and garden by skipping herbicides. When harvesting roots and other plant parts, be sure to leave a few plants behind and let them go to seed so that you’ll have plenty of dandelions next year.