In nature, everything is in balance. So it makes sense that nature would provide food and medicine in the form of plants. If you walk down the aisle of the local nutrition center, you’ll see recognizable plant names in pill forms, such as ginkgo, goldenseal and turmeric. But many of these plants and herbs you can grow yourself and benefit from, whether that’s in your tea or on the dinner plate.
Note, that there is an overlap between leafy herbs, seeds that may be defined as spices and barks that fall into both categories above. For this discussion, we’ll refer to them all as herbs.
Turmeric and ginger
Turmeric has received a lot of attention in recent years as a superstar in the anti-inflammatory world. But it’s also credited with improving memory, preventing and slowing cancer development, boosting antioxidant activity and regulating blood pressure, among other things. Many people recognize it as the ingredient that gives yellow curry its color, but it’s much more than that.
Turmeric is a tropical plant that grows well outside in USDA planting zones eight and higher, with at least 10 months of frost-free weather. However, it can be grown just about anywhere indoors if it receives ample sun. Place in a planter that can be moved indoors and outdoors to take advantage of the sun and warmth throughout the seasons.
The core of the turmeric’s power is in the rhizome, a root system that looks like garlic (they are related). Both the above-ground leaves and the underground rhizomes are edible. Both can be dried into powder or used fresh.
Ginger is grown in the same way and is used to treat nausea, inflammation and pain. Plus, it may have the same effect as aspirin in some situations.
The entire mint family is easy to grow and offers a variety of health benefits. Peppermint, spearmint, lemon balm, skullcap, catnip, lavender, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, chia and vitex are all part of the family. Each is happy in pots or the ground but needs to be contained if you worry about spread. Peppermint and spearmint make an effective digestive aid when added to tea or other drinks, dried or eaten fresh.
On the other hand, skullcap, lavender and lemon balm offer calming effects through aromatherapy, as an ingredient in products or through ingestion. Many of them can also be made into essential oils. In the kitchen rosemary, sage, oregano, basil and thyme can be added to an array of foods including meats, vegetables, breads and even desserts. It may also be used to infuse cooking oils.
The active ingredient in rosemary is rosmarinic acid which is strongly associated with a decrease in allergy response and is effective for decongestion. Sage is credited with improving memory and possibly helping to slow the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Basil has been shown to reduce inflammation, is loaded with antioxidants and is believed to reduce diabetes and high blood pressure.
Dill, cumin and parsley
Sharing the same family traits, these herbs all offer antioxidant properties. Cumin is known for aiding with digestive woes, regulating blood sugar and benefiting patients with diabetes through insulation regulation. Plant seeds indoors early and move outdoors when temperatures reach a reliable 60 degrees. Plant in full sun or keep in pots so you can move plants around.
Dill is known for its contribution to heart health with flavonoids that reduce bad cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Dill is a hardy plant that can be grown in most regions and is forgiving of cold snaps.
Similarly, parsley is easy to grow from a seed, although it has a relatively low germination rate so grow more than you think you’ll need. It offers relief for fluid retention and freshens breath.
It’s a culinary delight as well as a healthy addition to the diet. There’s a reason it’s so prolific in restaurants and grocery stores. Cinnamon helps moderate blood sugar for a powerful anti-diabetic effect. It’s also known to reduce inflammation and lower cholesterol. Cinnamon is another tropical plant mostly grown outside the United States. However, it can be grown in pots inside the home as long as they get plenty of sunlight.
Chamomile has been used as a calming agent and sleep aid for centuries. Commonly dried for use in tea, it can also help soothe an upset stomach. It’s often used to treat anxiety and used in wound care. Chamomile seeds can be started indoors or sown directly into the soil. Note that the seeds need to remain moist until plants emerge above the surface.
Like most herbs, cilantro is associated with a host of benefits such as reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and seizure severity. It also is credited with increasing energy and promoting healthy hair and skin. Cilantro is a cool weather crop that does well in the spring. Left in the direct heat of summer, it will shoot up and become leggy, at which point it produces coriander seeds, which also offer health benefits.
And last but not least, Echinacea is a pretty flower and easy to grow in zones three through nine. Plant during cool weather in the spring or fall, provide well-drained soil as they don’t like wet feet and plant in full to partial sun. Echinacea is widely acclaimed as a treatment for colds, flu, infections and wounds.
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