Five Easy to Grow Additions for your Medicinal Garden
Stress relief seems to be on everyone’s to do list these days. Keeping your stress level in check is now considered the single most important thing a person can do toward maintaining good health, yet the average person in the United States seems to be suffering from way too much daily stress. Each season here at Crimson Sage Nursery we ship more nervine and adaptogenic herbs known for stress relief and relaxation than any other type of plant! Our society is running on rampant stress, overwork, too much caffeine and very little opportunity to deeply relax or unplug from phones and computers. Yet there are several herbs which can really help you to relax deeply, sleep deeply, and truly nourish your nervous system so that when you do have the opportunity to take a break or sleep in on a weekend your body can actually relax as well, instead of that nervous energy keeping you up half the night stressing over things at work or details you did not attend to on your to do list and just feeling totally overwhelmed! The sad fact is life can be stressful but at the same time there are specific medicinal herbs that can truly help us cope in a healthier way with the general stress we encounter on a daily basis!
Of course the first step is always getting outside and developing a relationship with the individual plant through growing it! Gardening and putting your hands in the soil, visiting your growing plants on a daily basis, and tending them through the four seasons allows you to slow down in the garden and feel the connection with these healing plants and the planet we live on. Time outdoors in the sun or wind or rain is part of who we are as humans and leaving the screens behind to be in nature, nourishing and observing your plants, will do wonders for anybody’s stress level!! The deep relationship you can develop with the plants you grow yourself is often overlooked when studying herbal medicine and yet, in my mind, that relationship with the actual plant is the crucial first step in using plants for healing!
The following Herbs are all quite straight forward to grow, thrive in many different climates and soil types and are powerful but very safe herbs for the nervous system and stress relief.
1. Skullcap (scutellaria laterifolia)
This sweet low growing plant is easy to grow and if given enough water will, in time, spread over a large area. Skullcap prefers partial shade or areas with morning sun only! Hot afternoon sun is not it’s preferred location. It has square stems similar to a mint but is not terribly aromatic and is far less invasive than Mints are. The plants will bloom their delicate light blue flowers and are ready to harvest just as the flowers begin to open. All aerial parts of the plants can be tinctured or used as a tea, fresh or dried. Skullcap is a great tonic nervine that can be used daily during the day without causing drowsiness and soothes the nervous system in all areas including the gut where many people tend to carry their stress. Skullcap also grows very well in containers! This hardy perennial is one I grew successfully in an area that dipped down to -20o
F on occasion and although they need water in summer, they can handle higher temperatures if grown in partial shade. We sell several types of Skullcap. This is the one used most commonly in European herbalism. We also offer the Pontica Skullcap from Turkey which is used as a nervine tea as well. In addition we offer Barbat Skullcap and Baical Skullcap, both used in Chinese Medicine which approaches the use of Skullcaps quite differently. You can order here:
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)
Barbat Skullcap (Scutellaria barbata)
Pontica Skullcap (Scutellaria pontica)
Baical Skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis)
2. Vervain or Blue Vervain (Verbena officinalis and Verbena hastata respectively)
Another pair of super hardy easy-to-grow perennials with powerful medicine for easing the overactive mind, a common stress induced affliction. While attempting to sleep or relax your mind is going 100 miles-an-hour, replaying things that you should have done or still need to do- worry and anxiety driven thoughts just keep replaying no matter how hard you try to relax. Vervains are used specifically for this type of pattern and are very helpful in deeply relaxing the body and quieting the mind. Best used in the evening as it does make you a bit mellow. If I take too much, I can be a little groggy in the morning but refreshed from a deep uninterrupted slumber. Official Vervain is a bit lower growing with sweet little lavender/white flowers that bloom about 2 feet tall. Blue Vervain is quite a bit showier with stems that can reach 5 feet in good soil with showy small spikes of rich blue flowers. Both types of Vervain are covered in bees and pollinators during flowering. All aerial parts of the plant are used, usually in Tincture form as the tea is very very bitter! Very easy plant to grow that competes well with weeds and will naturalize if allowed to set seed. I never travel without my Vervain tincture. A very hardy perennial you can buy here:
Vervain (Verbena officinalis)
Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)
3. Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)
Motherwort is considered a heart tonic. While its actions are more centered on the heart, Motherwort has an uncanny ability to calm the whole person and provides a sense of “I can handle this and stay calm” even in the most trying situations. Motherwort has a history of use by mothers juggling the incredible feat and overwhelm of raising and caring for children and family- often working a whole other job as well!! Most people find Motherwort can be taken daily like a tonic herb unless they struggle with a serious thyroid disorder (Motherwort can be mildly suppressant to the thyroid in large quantities). The plant grows and reseeds readily forming a lovely rosette of leaves and sending up flowering stalks that can be 5 feet tall with woolly whitish/pink flowers covered with bees and all sorts of pollinators. Motherwort can handle partial or full sun. It likes some water, but is quite drought tolerant! Again, all aerial parts of the plant are cut just as it begins to bloom and used as a tincture due to its unusually strong and bitter flavor as a tea. A very hardy perennial! You can buy here:
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)
4. Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Such a fragrant and pleasant plant, Lemon Balm is another easy to grow perennial with a gentle tonic quality for daily use. As a nervine, it was often written about in old European herbals as the herb which “gladdens the heart.” The delicious lemon fragrance and taste will brighten your day and the herb actually acts as a mild sedative calming the nervous system of anxiety and general stress from over-stimulation, making it an excellent choice for children. I have used it as a fresh leaf tea and as a glycerite (non-alcohol-based tincture) which children love! The plant starts as a pretty rosette of shiny textured leaves and sends up flowering stalks to 3 feet with very subtle blooms. The aerial parts are harvested just as the flowers start to open and I usually tincture the fresh plant in glycerin, alcohol or vinegar. The dried leaves are really not that exciting as a tea since a lot of the volatile oils seem to get lost even when dried properly. Making fresh Lemon Balm tea over ice is a delicious way to calm down during the overly busy days of early summer! The leaves can be chopped fresh, and children love picking and eating them. Where I live in Northernmost California, Lemon Balm has gotten a bad rap as being horribly invasive and yes, if you do not harvest your plant and allow it to go to seed, you will no doubt have them throughout your yard as I do. They really do not actually take over, and you can always dig up the volunteers and gift them to your friends! A very hardy perennial you can buy here:
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
5. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
The roots of this plant are one of my favorite herbs for handling the chronic day to day stress which takes a toll on us. It can be grown as an annual, planted in the Spring after frost danger is past. It is related to the tomato plant and enjoys similar treatment in the garden setting, including full hot sun, reasonably fertile soil and occasional watering. Once established, Ashwagandha is quite drought-tolerant and the roots can be harvested late in the Fall once the leaves and tops die back. In addition, you can also harvest a large crop of seeds from the tops in late summer for your next crop! Ashwagandha is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine as a tonic herb to aid general exhaustion and low libido. Ashwagandha is an excellent adaptogen and has a very gentle action on the nervous system to enhance the body’s ability to cope with daily stress. When taken everyday, I have noticed, over time, a distinct sense of calm in how I handle stressful situations that normally may have frazzled me! Even though this plant comes from a far-away continent, I think it is a very viable herb to grow in your own garden here in North America. Ashwagandha has an important role in our modern world building long term resilience and enabling us to better handle the ongoing stress of day to day life! You can purchase here:
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
I really hope these plants can find a home in your gardens and help you all to nourish yourselves in these stressful times. Wishing you all many peaceful moments relaxing with the plants!!
Any Information we share here is not intended as Medical advice but rather is based on historical uses and my own personal experiences with these herbs!! We are all very different human beings and it is expected that you take responsibility to thoroughly research any botanical medicine you take internally or externally and consult an experienced herbalist or other knowledgable practitioner if you feel the need for more guidance.