It's my favorite time of year when the pulsing energy is palpable. The songbirds are returning, the light of the sun is sticking around a bit longer, and new growth is pushing its way through the newly thawed soil. It's Aries season baby! Aries season brings the energy of action, ignition, and enthusiasm. What you have been dreaming and planning for throughout the dark and cold winter months, feels like it can come to fruition. It’s time to birth what you have been gestating. Astrologically speaking, this is the new year, which makes more sense in my mind - since last spring, we have sprouted and expanded, grown and bloomed in the summer months, then in autumn we reap and harvest the benefits of what we planted, and then in the fall, what’s no longer needed can wither and be released. Throughout the winter months, we have been patiently waiting and resting - getting ready for this expansive and fast-moving time of year.
As we metaphorically nurture our seeds of dreams and hopes, we gardeners are also getting ready to plant our outdoor sanctuaries. This brings me to what inspired me to write today. Many seasoned and aspiring gardeners immediately think of vegetables and cooking herbs in their garden, but I want to inspire you to plant some medicinal herbs. I tried my hand at vegetable gardening...and I'll be honest, I kind of failed at that. Vegetables are so needy! I must say that I felt much more achieved when I veered towards medicinal herbs. AND… growing your own medicine is pretty freaking magical.
So, here are my favorite herbs to grow and how they can become your greatest allies in health.
Why make friends with chamomile? (Matricaria chamomilla)
This is where many herbalists will tell you ‘what it’s good for’ and I will get to that, but I find it really healing to simply become acquainted with these magical plants. It is great to learn the medicinal properties of the plants, but it is so fulfilling to plant seeds, watch them grow, see how the flower expresses itself, smell the aroma, taste the flower, and perhaps whisper or sing to them. OK, you don’t have to do that for them to grow obviously, but what I’m trying to relay here is that it is a beautiful practice to create a relationship with your medicine. By doing this, you are also becoming more connected to the ground beneath you - the Earth that so lovingly supports you. This practice in itself is medicine.
So, to answer the question, how can chamomile offer you healing? First and foremost, chamomile is what we herbalists refer to as a nervine. Nervines have the most affinity for calming the nervous system. It has been long known that chamomile tea will calm frazzled nerves and help you put a busy day behind you and relax. But what I really love about chamomile more than any other nervine, is it also has an affinity for the digestive tract. Chamomile helps alleviate gas, calm a cramping tummy, and will reduce inflammation in the gut tissue. There is an undeniable connection between the brain and the gut. Often times stress and anxiety will cause digestive symptoms like cramping and bloating. Chamomile is your friend! It will calm the nerves and target the issues in the gut at the same time and is gentle enough to be used with young children. Seriously one of my favorite herbs.
There are two types of chamomile that you may find. German chamomile and Roman chamomile. German chamomile is an annual that wins the award for most blooms in a season and seeds so readily that it will often replant itself. Roman chamomile is a perennial and will stay lower to the ground so many gardeners use it as ground cover or creeping plant. You can use either species as an underplant in your veggie or herb garden. Medicinally speaking, they are pretty interchangeable. I prefer the taste and smell of German chamomile and I let it go to seed at the end of the growing season so that I have some babies pop up the next spring!
Chamomile likes full sun or partial shade and will become drought tolerant as it matures. It’s a fast grower no matter where you plant, but note that it will grow much faster in full sun, although the delicate blooms may roast on a hot day. You want to harvest the flowers when the petals are wide open and you will get such a lovely yield.
Sidenote: You may be wondering how to dry the flowers and herbs that you harvest. Find a dark, cool place with good airflow. You may have to set up a fan to ensure proper airflow. Lay the flowers out on a tray or baking sheet and let them dry out COMPLETELY. If you jar them with even a teensy bit of water left, they will mold and that is sad. If your drying area is too hot and dry, they will lose their color and potency. It takes several days to a week, depending on where you live and how much moisture is in the air.
Why befriend Calendula? (Calendula officinalis)
Any followers of mine would of course know that calendula is on this list. This is another one of my greatest allies and is SO easy to grow. Calendula, also known as Pot Marigold (different from the garden variety marigold) is an annual, but like chamomile, seeds itself and will continue popping up as long as you let the last blooms go to seed. Sometimes I have to plant new seeds as squirrels and rabbits carry many away. Calendula loves full sun, which makes sense when you see the amazing vibrant orange-yellow these petals display, and will bloom profusely as long as you deadhead them. Calendula blooms and blooms and blooms (which is where the most healing constituents are found)….oftentimes slightly beyond when many other plants have returned their energy to the soil and have browned and withered.
Mmmm…why calendula you ask? My first reason is - because she's beautiful and reminds me of the sun! But, I’m guessing you are inquiring about the medicinal properties. Calendula is one of the best tissue healers there is. This is why I choose to use it in my Mmm Like Butta nourishing body butter. It has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties which help with healing wounds but also has been shown to enhance tissue growth. This can be applied to the gut tissue as well, which is why I add this to just about all of my clients’ gut-healing teas. Calendula also happens to be helpful for moving fluids through the liver and the lymphatic system. She’s pretty great, and essentially the reason that I went back to school to study clinical herbalism.
Why connect with Lemon Balm? (Melissa officinalis)
This is another favorite of mine. Can one have many favorites? Lemon balm grows in bounty and keeps giving year after year. It can be a little invasive in nature, so many gardeners like to plant lemon balm in containers. It’s a perennial that loves to be in full sun but does well in partial shade as well. I found a happy little corner in a mostly sunny area and to keep it from becoming invasive, I prune the flowers back so they don’t go to seed (as that’s how they spread). The medicinal properties are in the leaves and stems so harvesting is very easy. I harvest several times a summer, sprinkle some in a salad, dry some for teas, and make a tincture from the fresh herb. And the smell! Oh ma goodness, the smell is vibrant, lemony, and heart-filling.
Lemon balm is well known as a nervine. This is another powerhouse herb with multiple medicinal benefits, but gentle enough for young kids. Lemon balm calms anxiety, helps with insomnia, and can even help with depression. It helps with cramps and bloating, thus great for the digestive tract. Again, digestion and nerves are intimately intertwined, so any plant that has an affinity for both is a superstar. Let’s not forget that lemon balm is super tasty as a tea for pure enjoyment with a twist of relaxation.
Why be besties with Lavender? (Lavandula spp)
I mean, why not??? To be honest, my favorite part about growing lavender is that every time I pass it, I grab a handful of the tiny purple flowers and rub them in my hands to get a full-on aromatherapy session. No fancy equipment is needed to extract the essential oil. This plant is FULL of essential oils that are readily available. There are many varieties of lavender; english lavender, french lavender, fringed lavender, to name a few. They all contain high amounts of essential oils with slight variations in purple flowers and a modest difference in the fragrance. All lavender species are perennials and keep coming back bigger and bigger every year. This lovely plant likes full sun and once established becomes drought resistant. Most importantly, the bees LOVE lavender. We need bees to bee happy, so I am all about planting pollinator-friendly plants. It also makes for a great companion plant as deer typically avoid them due to the high content of essential oils. The best time to harvest the stalks of flowers is when the little purple flowers just begin to open.
Lavender is very popular and for good reason. It is also a nervine that offers instant calming for the mind, helps with insomnia, and is also well known to aid in nausea and vomiting. Lavender can be used in small amounts (seriously, a little goes a LONG way) in baking (lavender shortbread cookies…yum!), cooking, and makes a wonderful potpourri for drawers of clothes.
Gosh, there are so many more, but let’s start there. Planting these magical medicinal herbs has truly helped me closer to the seasons and tides of Gaia. I use these plants in making medicine, but I have also created a relationship with them.
***Please please, if you are pregnant, inquire with a doctor or herbalist about whether these plants are safe for you to ingest. It’s always safe to assume they are not unless told otherwise by a professional***
If you want to learn how to infuse your own oils (calendula infused oil is so amazing for the skin), click here https://youtu.be/SDLMCa1DhUc
To learn how to make a tincture https://www.instagram.com/tv/CDPSAqEFzDf/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link