Herbs for health and happiness!Dill (Anethum graveolens). An enthusiastic plant in most environments, dill can reach at least shoulder-high, with large, bright-yellow flower heads. Its ferny leaves and feathery flowers make it a pretty garden filler in any setting, but it is a healing herb. Dill has been used throughout the ages as a remedy for babies’ colic, but it is also a calming herb that settles digestion even in adults and helps promote a calm sleep. Dill seed essential oil is antibacterial and is easy to use by putting a drop into a baby's belly button and massaging the tummy clockwise. Chewing a few seeds after a meal will freshen your breath while it helps your digestion.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare). Fennel is a cousin to ferny dill, a large, lovely plant that easily can reach a height of 5 feet. All parts of fennel are edible and provide a mild licorice or anise flavor. It has been used medicinally for thousands of years to freshen breath, aid digestion, soothe colic, balance the appetite, and relieve bloating and gas. It can also help relieve coughs and sore throats when gargled. In many parts of North America, it grows wild and weedy; it’s fond of full sun and doesn’t need rich soil. Note: Fennel also is a favorite food of the swallowtail butterfly. If you see a tiger-striped green and black caterpillar on your fennel, for the sake of the butterfly, let the caterpillar be. Fennel essential oil is used to help balance blood sugar for Type 2 diabetes formulas (mix with Coriander and Dill in capsules - and rub Cypress on the feet to help circulation).
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita or Chamaemelum nobile). Happy-go-lucky chamomile flowers have graced home gardens for centuries and its apple-scented tea has worked for generations to calm the nervous system and soothe digestion, particularly in children. The two major varieties are German (M. recutita, formerly M. chamomilla) and Roman or English (C. nobile). Though they have different growing habits (German is taller, with less dense foliage; Roman hugs the ground and makes a pretty, aromatic groundcover), their medicinal applications are practically interchangeable. In the garden, chamomile tends to bolt quickly and shrivel in intense summer sun. Germany’s herbal regulatory body, called the Commission E, has approved chamomile for relieving digestive spasms and inflammation. It eases bloating and indigestion after meals, can ease heartburn, and is a useful remedy for mouth ulcers and canker sores. It has been shown to enhance the healing of skin, to help prevent infection and has been used since ancient times to wash wounds and sores—a practice now once-again recognized by science. Note: Those with intense ragweed allergies should introduce chamomile slowly, as the two plants are relatives. Essential oil of Chamomile is very anti-inflammatory, and helpful when rubbed onto any areas of inflammation and soreness - plus it is very calming when a drop is rubbed onto the temples or back of the neck.
Lemon Balm or Melissa (Melissa officinalis). A favorite of bees everywhere (Melissa is Greek for “bee”), Lemon balm has been popular among herbalists for thousands of years and is a utility herb that’s good in so many ways, that it’s a challenge to categorize. It is a member of the aggressive-growing mint family, so grow it in an enclosed space. This aromatic healer is high in essential oil content and is used to reduce fevers and treat colds, to calm the digestive tract, to relieve spasms related to cramps and headaches, and to overcome insomnia. It improves mood and mental performance and is approved by Commission E as an effective treatment for cold sores. Lemon balm will wilt in the hot sun and likes to sprawl in more shady spots. It is an excellent herb for the home gardener because it is best used fresh due to its volatile oils’ tendency to dry quickly once it’s picked. As an essential oil it is mostly used for emotional uplift.
Peppermint (Mentha xpiperita). Peppermint has been cultivated for thousands of years, though the mint we use today is a relative newcomer, according to herb expert and author Steven Foster. It’s easy to grow from cuttings (not seeds), and any little bit of runner with a node will produce a new plant - spreading voraciously. Plant in an enclosed area Versatile peppermint is used for indigestion, irritable bowels, colds and coughs, muscle aches and tension headaches. Peppermint's essential oil contains substances that relieve muscle spasms and inhibit the growth of bacteria and viruses (this is very tested!). Menthol is its primary constituent, giving this hardy perennial its signature scent and unmistakable flavor. Dry peppermint leaves throughout the growing season and you’ll have an aromatic, uplifting and digestion-settling tea all winter.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis). Calendula is a cheerful flower that adds yellow color to your garden - plus gives you medicinal skin and tissue healing properties! It is a wonderful emollient herb that is used in lotions, salves and ointments for chapped skin, dermatitis, minor cuts and burns, insect bites, diaper rash and even hemorrhoids. Popularly known as “pot marigold,” calendula grows into handsome bunches of leaves topped by simple daisy-like flowers in tones ranging from yellow and gold to deep orange. Calendula grows from seed and likes sun. It requires loose soil, but doesn’t need it heavily fertilized or rich. It’s a perfect plant to grow in containers and will self-sow in your garden. Note: Do not confuse calendula with the common garden marigold, genus Tagetes. Calendula flowers are edible and have very little scent; Tagetes have a stronger scent and are inedible and medicinally impotent.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium). Yarrow is a member of the Aster family and is known throughout the Northern Hemisphere as a perennial weed that grows alongside roadsides, meadows and “wastelands.” It grows best in higher altitudes. The genus name Achillea is taken from the legend that Achilles made a poultice of the plant to stanch his soldiers’ wounds during the Trojan War. Achilles was onto something: Yarrow contains an alkaloid that actually does stop the flow of blood. The plant also contains more than 120 other components, some of which calm muscle spasms, reduce pain, ease digestion, calm anxiety and reduce inflammation. Yarrow is an easy plant for beginners, requiring no care and remaining pest-free and winter-hardy in Zones 3 through 9. It’s a pretty, ferny plant in the garden, with clusters of tiny white, ivory or pale pink flowers that bloom from early summer into early fall. For minor cuts, wash the wound thoroughly (yarrow isn’t antiseptic), then crush some leaves in the palm of your hand and apply to the cut to stop the bleeding. Note: Try yarrow on a small spot of skin first, as some people experience an intense allergic reaction to it.
Lavender (Lavandula spp.). Lavender is the MOTHER herb - nurturing, gentle and healing. Its essential oil complements and enhances any blend. The Lavender plant's needs are simple: It wants alkaline soil, several hours of hot sunlight a day and dry feet—meaning keep its soil well-drained and don’t overwater it. If you meet these criteria and work with your local nurseries or regional online sources, you’ll find plenty of lavender options that will grow in your area. You can use the fragrant essential oil of English lavender (L. angustifolia) in do-it-yourself lotions, salves, balms, soaps and vinegars. Its uses in aromatherapy for calming and relaxation are well-documented, as are its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, known since ancient times. It is licensed in Germany as a standard medicinal tea for sleep disorders and nervous stomach, according to the American Botanical Council (ABC). And bearing in mind the 2012 International Herb of the Year, you might find extra motivation: Lavender and roses were made for each other. Note: Mexican lavender (L. stoechas), commonly used in landscaping, is not appropriate for medicine or cooking.
Aloe (Aloe vera). If all of the plants alleged to be Cleopatra’s beauty secret were laid end to end, they would reach from here to the Nile. However, in the case of the spiky succulent aloe vera, the odds are good that the femme pharaoh actually did include this skin-nourishing herb in her regimen. The fleshy, lance-leaved plant has been cultivated for its medicinal effects since long before Cleopatra’s reign and is known to be good for sunburn, minor burns and insect bites (no word on its effectiveness against the bite of an asp). The gooey gel found in its leaves soothes irritated skin and eases topical pain, as well as providing antibacterial protection, and its soothing juice has been shown to be effective in treating psoriasis. Aloe is wonderful in lemonade, and can be blended with ice and honey to make a tummy-and intestinal-soothing drink. Though many “aloe vera” products can be found on supermarket and pharmacy shelves, many of these products have as much or more water, fruit juice and preservative as herb. Since the plant is so easy to grow, it makes more sense just to pot up a few and break off a leaf as needed. (Unless you live in a warm and relatively dry climate, aloes do better in pots so you can transfer them into the house when the cold weather hits.)
Sage (Salvia officinalis). The genus name Salvia derives from the Latin salvere (“to be saved”), which gives a good idea of the esteem in which sage has been held over the millennia as a curative herb. Versatile and easy to grow, sage is beautiful in the garden, tasty in the kitchen and a stalwart in the medicine cabinet. With antibiotic and antiseptic properties, it has been prized in treating inflammation in the mouth or throat, including gingivitis and canker sores. Commission E approves sage as a standard medicinal tea for gastrointestinal issues and night sweats, as well as a topical rinse for inflammation. A number of herbalists use sage in their prescriptions for those hallmarks of menopause, hot flashes and night sweats. A perennial that’s best grown from starts, sage likes full sun and doesn’t like to get its feet wet, so make sure the soil is well-drained and not too heavy. For canker sores, or sore throat and tonsils, make a tea with 2 teaspoons dried sage leaves (more if you use fresh leaves), 1 cup boiling water and a dash of salt.
The following plant requires more cold, but is worth trying to grow in Arizona low altitudes in case there is a colder winter:
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea, E. angustifolia, E. pallida). Many echinacea species are attractive in the garden, but E. purpurea, E. angustifolia and E. pallida are the coneflowers generally recognized as most potent for medicinal use. A member of the aster family, echinacea grows throughout North America. The Plains Indians used the common prairie species of coneflower (E. angustifolia) as medicine more than any other plant. A large body of research (sometimes contradictory) can be found relating to Echinacea's usefulness in preventing colds and flu. Less ambiguous is its role in helping reduce the length and severity of these common illnesses, as well as its role as supportive therapy for lower urinary tract infections, poorly healing wounds and chronic ulcerations. While most references suggest using Echinacea root for medicinal use, many herbalists recommend making a tea of the fresh or dried flowers of E. purpurea, which contain chemical constituents similar to those of the root. Plants and seeds of E. purpurea are widely available from nurseries and seed houses. The seeds germinate readily, or plants can be easily propagated by dividing the roots. This species does well in any well-drained garden soil, will tolerate up to half shade and is remarkably drought-resistant. On the other hand, Foster says, plants and seeds of E. angustifolia are harder to find, and the seeds germinate much less readily.