Growing your own medicine in the garden

Growing your own medicine in the garden

The garden path

Whether in a herbal garden or on a vegetable patch: plants can help you heal

Whether in a herbal garden or on a vegetable patch: plants can help you heal

If you don’t make time for wellness, illness will take time for you – so the saying goes. Luckily, gardens offer so much in terms of health and wellbeing. From nutritious nibbles to homemade herbal remedies, plants provide a trove of botanical treasures just waiting to be found.

How many of us have wished there was a way to bottle up the sights and scents of the spring for a later date. A well-stocked garden can make that wish come true. Build on the foundations of a good herb garden by investing in staple patio plants like lavender, rosemary and sage.  These versatile shrubs will work hard not only in the garden, but also in your home.

The soothing scent and delicate taste of lavender have led to its use in the management of anxiety and as an aid for the digestive system.  Their buds can be used to make a simple infused oil for external use throughout the year.  

Snip off enough stalks, with buds still unopened, to fill a medium size heatproof bowl.  Cover buds and stems with approximately 1 litre of cold-pressed oil, such as almond or walnut oil.  Simmer the bowl over a pan of boiling water for roughly 2-3 hours. Strain the cooled contents through a sieve into dark sterilised, airtight storage bottles. Use the oil the bath or rub directly into painful joints and aching muscles after a hard day’s work in the garden.

Lavender fields

Once you have perfected the art, you can use it with any number of edible herbs or flowers. Take care of your lavender plants by giving them a light prune in early spring and late autumn to prevent unruly bushes.

Statement shrub

The evergreen rosemary shrub may prevent degenerative diseases and slow down ageing.  Who wouldn’t want a piece of that? An effective way to take a daily dose is as a tisane or tea. Cut one or two fresh sprigs from the bush and place inside a teapot of hot water. Leave to steep for approximately 5 minutes or 10 for a stronger taste. For a Mediterranean native, rosemary is a hardy shrub, though it fares best in a sheltered position on well-drained soil in full sun.

With aromatic velvet textured leaves and clouds of violet blue flowers, sage – another evergreen – is a statement shrub.  Sage has long been used to treat minor cuts, mouth ulcers and inflamed gums due to its antiseptic and astringent properties. Make a simple mouthwash from the plant by adding a good handful of fresh leaves to boiling water. Simmer for 10 minutes and let cool.  Strain the liquid through a sieve into a sterilised bottle and use as you would a conventional mouthwash. Sage grows best on well-drained soil in a sunny position and can be harvested all year around.

Seeds such as beetroot, Brussels sprouts, carrot, cauliflowers, cabbage, leeks, radish, peas (opt for hardy dwarf varieties like Kelvedon Wonder) and parsnips are good to sow now!  Get them directly into the ground outside as per the advice on your seed packet. But keep one eye on the weather, for an inevitable cold snap is due before April is out.


Leek syrup

The humble leek has long been used as a restorative remedy. Highly nutritious and full of vitamins and minerals, like other members of the Allium family – onions and garlic – they have a reputation for warding off sore throats, colds and chest infections. Make a simple cough syrup by roughly chopping 3 leeks and cooking in a litre of water until soft. Use a sieve or muslin cloth to extract the juice into a sterilised jar and add to this a teaspoon of honey.  Store in a refrigerator for no more than a month. Take 3 to 6 times a day as required. Leeks, like parsnips, require patience, but sown now they can be harvested from November to March. To increase the length of the white stem, ‘earth up’ little hills of soil around them throughout the summer months.

Cauliflowers, spinach, radish and Brussels sprouts fall into the family of vegetables known as brassicas. Brassicas, like most cruciferous veggies, are high in vitamin K and antioxidants. These antioxidants are thought to neutralise the free radicals that damage cells, exposing them to cancer and arthritis. If you like your greens, but their high sulphur content gives you gas, adding spices, like cumin and coriander when cooking, can help.

Sow summer cauliflowers, like Snow Crown, now for harvesting later in the season and start Brussels sprouts indoors or under cover for planting out between May and early June. These crops need space to grow!  One Brussels sprouts plant can yield around 2-3 lb of vegetables as I found out to my peril last year. Juicing your greens offers a good solution to use high yields for maximum nutrition. Adding sweet fruits like pear or apple to a juice of Brussels sprouts will ensure it’s a palate pleaser.

Don’t discard vegetable leaves – most of these can be used in one form or another. Radish leaf tea is an easy way to use their often discarded tops.  50g of fresh washed leaves infused in 1 pint of boiling water will make a tea to help clear toxins from your system. Keep sowing radish every couple of weeks, as you would lettuce, for fresh crops 4-6 weeks later.

Herbal medicines can be harmful if not used correctly. If you’re consulting your doctor or pharmacist, or are about to undergo surgery, always make sure you mention any herbal medicines you’re taking.

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