Top Ten Medicinal Herbs

Walk into almost any shop, and you’ll find herbs used in an amazing variety of products: soaps, candles, teas, potpourris, medicines, and bath oils.

It’s easy for a newcomer to the herb business to get overwhelmed by all the choices. You can focus on just growing herbal plants, making herbal products or decorations, growing herbs for the fresh-cut market, drying herbs for use in valued-added products or selling to the wholesale and bulk herb buyers – the list goes on! It’s important for newcomers to find a niche that fits both their experience level, skills and the local market.

Starting a herb nursery can be a wonderful way for novices to turn their love of plants and gardening into cash, using potted plants as your special “niche” and selling outside your front door or at a local farmers market.

The secret to making good money with a  herb nursery is to specialise in high demand popular plants (‘cash crop’) that can be container grown to save space, time and water.

Below is a draft extract from an eBook I am writing, titled: Profitable Herbs: An Introductory Guide to Growing the Top Twenty Culinary & Medicinal Herbs on a Market Scale

CALENDULA (Calendula officinalis)

Apparently King Henry VIII’s cooks often used calendula flowers to season his meals as he loved rich and colourful food. Hence the nickname “pot marigold”. Calendula is often used in skin preparations, and also for digestive concerns. Calendula promotes cellular healing and also has antiseptic, antimicrobial and antiviral activity.

The flowers can easily be made into tinctures, ointments and salves, or used as a foot or body soak. To improve its potency as a medicinal herb, grow varieties with a high resin content, such as “Resina” or “Erfurter Orangefarbige” – which produces larger, high yielding dense flowers.

This strikingly beautiful plant is one that is great to showcase! People and pollinators will flock to its lovely colour and sunny disposition.

This is one of the easiest medicinal herbs to grow. The flowers are harvested before the plant starts putting energy into seed making, maximizing the resin content.

CATNIP (Nepeta cataria)

This pet favorite acts as a stimulant on cats, but as a soothing sedative for people. In addition, it can provide pain and stress relief and help with cold and flu symptoms.

Catnip is a member of the mint family and contain volatile oils, sterols, acids and tannins. Native to Europe, Asia and Africa, the plant was brought to North America by settlers; nowadays, the plant is popular in herb gardens and grows widely as a weed.

Catnip is considered to be non-addictive and completely harmless to cats.

Catnip is used in medicinal tinctures, salves and foot soaks. It’s also a popular ingredient in ‘dream pillows’. 

CHAMOMILE (Matricaria recutita)

We can thank Peter Rabbit for cultivating a love of chamomile in generations of parents and children alike. As the story indicates, chamomile is a tasty nervine and has a calming effect on both the nervous and digestive systems. The fresh picked flowers make a soothing tea, which aids sleep.

German chamomile is the variety to grow, producing harvestable flowers in just over two months. It’s easy to grow, and fast to produce a saleable potted plant. You’ll have better luck with early plantings, as it tends to bolt in the hot summer.

ECHINACEA (Echinacea augustifolia, Echinacea purpurea)

This is a high demand herb that sells well as a potted plant. It stimulates the immune system, and is often used for colds and flu, respiratory and skin conditions. Specifically it increases the macrophage T-cell activity and helps boost the immune response at the onset of infection. Although the whole plant – roots, leaves and flowers – are typically used in crafting herbal products, the flowers and leaves are more commonly used.

This is fortunate for beginner growers, as the flowers and leaves can be harvested in the first and second year, while the roots take longer to mature. Echinacea augustifolia is the native plant that has traditionally been harvested in the wild.

LAVENDER (Lavender augustifolia)

Lavender has been called the “Swiss army knife” of herbs because it has so many uses. At any given market of health food store you can easily find lavender in soaps, sachets, essential oils, lotions, salves, extracts, teas, decorative weavings, baked goods, flavourings, body powders, and bath salts.

Everyone loves the fragrant flowers, but not everyone knows that the leaves, stems and flowers are all medicinally useful for skin care, women’s and children’s health, nervous system conditions and pain relief: reducing anxiety, promoting relaxation and restoring a sense of well-being. The essential oil extracted from lavender is one of the top ten in the perfume industry, and anyone with a plant or two at home can easily use the same essential oil simply by making an infusion or tincture.

Lavender is also widely used for foot soaks, bath soaks and for sleep/dream pillows.

The essential oil is also good to use directly on insect bites and stings to reduce inflammation and pain.

LEMON BALM (Melissa officinalis)

This popular herb is vigorous and easy to grow. Paracelsus, ‘sold balm to kings as an elixir of life and as a safeguard against early senility, while Avicenna, a doctor in 10th-century Syria, proclaimed that the herb “maketh the heart merry and strengtheneth the vitall spirits”.

The strongly scented leaves and flowers (full of volatile oils) make a popular tea, that is beneficial to the digestive tract, and boosts the immune system – being an old remedy for feverish colds. It’s also considered a great stress reducer: calming the nervous system and aiding restful sleep.

The dried leaves of lemon balm are perfect for ‘dream pillows’. Trimming the plant back after flowering will encourage vigorous leafy growth.

LEMON VERBENA (Aloysia triphylla)

Like lemon (or bee) balm this herb has leaves which emit a strong lemon aroma. Indeed, it is reputed to have the most intensive aroma of all the ‘lemon’ herbs. The leaves of this popular herb, which contain an abundance of volatile oils, make a wonderful, refreshing tea (particularly when combined with mint).

For maximum potency and flavour, harvest the leaves just before using them whenever possible. The leaves can also be dried for future tea making.

Lemon verbena tea is used for calming, as a digestive aid and as a sleep aid. It is best propagated from softwood stem cuttings rather than from seed. Buy a plant or two, then take cuttings from the new softwood. Use a rooting hormone, and stick the cuttings in potting compost to propagate new plants.

It is a tender plant, so make sure it has protection in colder weather.

PEPPERMINT (Mentha aquatica x M. spicata)

The savour smell of the water Mint rejoiceth the heart of man for which cause they strowe it in chambers and places of recreation, pleasur, and repose, and where feasts and banquets are made. John Gerard, The Herball; or, Generall Historie of Plantes (1597)

Peppermint is a hybrid between mentha aquatica and M. spicata. Peppermint has been in existence for a long time – dried leaves were found in Egyptian pyramids dating from around 1000 BCE. In was highly valued by the Greeks and Romans, but only became popular in Western Europe in the 18th century, when it was first ‘discovered’, in Hertfordshire. It’s flavour soon became so popular that it was widely cultivated.

Peppermint’s chief therapeutic value lies in its ability to relieve wind, flatulence, bloating and colic, though it has many other applications. Propagated from seed and harvest just before it flowers, in dry sunny weather.

MILK THISTLE (Silybum marianum)

Milk (or Marian) thistle has been used in Europe as a remedy for depression and liver problems for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

It has characteristic white veins in it’s leaves, which have given rise to the folklore that Our Lady’s milk leaked into the leaves when she was feeding the infant Christ.

Recent research has confirmed traditional knowledge, proving that the herb has a remarkable ability to protect the liver from damage resulting from alcoholic and other types of poisoning. Today, milk thistle is widely used in the West for the treatment of a range of liver conditions.

Milk thistle prefers a sunny position and self-seeds readily. The flowerheads are picked in full bloom in early summer and the seeds are collected in late summer.

DANDELION (Taraxacum officinale)

Known principally as a weed, dandelion has an astonishing range of health benefits. In Western folk medicine, the leaves, which can be eaten in salads, have long been used as a diuretic. They were recommended in the works of Arab physicians in the 11th century, and in a herbal written by the physicians of Myddfai in Wales in the 13th century.

The root, which has a shorter history of medicinal use, is anticarcinogenic and good for the liver.

As recently as the 1930’s, teams of root-diggers in East Anglia made a living from foraging wild dandelion root.

Propagated from seed. Young leaves can be picked in the spring for use in tonic salads. The root of 2-year-old plants is unearthed in autumn.

ST JOHN’S WORT (Hypericum perforatum)

So then about her brow

They bound Hypericum, whose potent leaves

Have sovereign power o’er all the sullen fits

And cheerless fancies that besiege the mind;

Banishing ever, to their native night,

Dark thoughts, and causing to spring up within

The heart distress’d a glow of gladdening hope,

And rainbow visions of kind destiny.

Alfred Lear Huxford, quoted Anne Pratt, Wild Flowers (1898)

Mention St. John’s wort, and most folks immediately think “herbal antidepressant.” But in addition to its mood altering abilities, St John’s wort is valued for immune support, cold and flu prevention and – as a healing salve – a skin treatment and topical analgesic for muscular aches.

The healing ingredient in St. John’s wort, hypericin, is found in the flowering tops and not other parts of the plant. Wait until the plant is in full bloom before harvesting to get the full healing benefits.

STEVIA (Stevia rebaudiana)

The leaves and flowers of this herb are very sweet, which is why stevia is widely used as a sweetener. Even though it’s calorie-free, the plant extract can taste 200 times sweeter than the same amount of granulated table sugar. A little goes a long way.

It’s also been used to heal cuts and wounds with less scarring, improve digestion, help with skin conditions such as acne, eczema and dermatitis, reduce plaque and inhibit tooth decay and even reduce the desire for alcohol. No wonder stevia is such a popular herb!

It’s been used as a sweetener by Native Americans for centuries and is naturally grown in Brazil and Paraguay, where it has been used for hundreds of years.

As Stevia is a heat-loving plant, growers will need to protect it from colder temperatures.

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