I look upon my garden as a sanctuary; a place I visit every single day to pick something or just to enjoy the beautiful flowers. In my greenhouse, I have salads all year round but here I recommend some unusual salads and herbs even for winter vitamins and taste.
Everybody knows Lavender as a flower loved by bees, which also helps to ease muscle aches in a bath with lavender oil added and it is common knowledge that garlic has many benefits including lowering cholesterol.
However, many of my plants listed below can be used for medicinal purposes as well, and besides being beautiful to look at, some make excellent herb oils, infusions and dried herbs. These are loved by not only me but also a range of flying insects including bees, hoverflies, and butterflies.
In these tough economic times, read on to see if you can seed any of these in your garden or a balcony pot. They will give you some ideas on unusual tastes to plant for the summer this year!
Lovage (Levisticum officinale)
This herb is an old English cottage garden favourite that has somewhat fallen out of use in the recipe books but it has a delicious taste if added to fresh green salads. Historically, in traditional cottage garden medicine, it was used as a blood purifier and to ease kidney stones.
Current scientific testing reveals that it is a diuretic, an anti-inflammatory, and contains vitamins B and C. It also acts as an anti-histamine relieving itching. In the middle ages, it was used to ease menstrual pain too, as well as ease the symptoms of menopause so this is a must-have for your garden.
How to use Lovage:
- Eat the leaves raw or add a few to fried eggs, omelettes and soups.
- Make Lovage oil by adding fresh leaves to a carrier oil and leave for 3 weeks or so in a shady place, and then strain out the leaves. A few drops can be dropped onto cotton wool to ease itching.
- Make an infusion of fresh or dried leaves to help cope with period pain or night sweats, at either end of the menstrual cycle.
- Dry the leaves by placing them on a wire tray in a hot greenhouse (no moisture though!) or oven and use them to make infusions or dry in cooking.
How to look after Lovage:
The whole plant dies back naturally in the winter so don’t worry. Just dig up some of the roots and pot them on into a frost-free area and plant them back outside when spring arrives the following year. The piece you leave behind in the soil often survives the UK winter in the South East where I live but in frosty areas, you might want to add a mulch of leaves. In any case, it is safest to bring a piece of roots potted up in a pot indoors or into a warmer greenhouse so it does not get frostbitten. New leaves show again as the spring warms up the soil and after that, dig up the root and divide it into smaller sections to revive it.
Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petitolata)
Although it is regarded as invasive in parts of the US, here in the UK, this cheerful herb provides green foliage with a garlic taste, packed with goodness in the cold winter months. It is a biennial herb, meaning that it starts to grow from seed in year 1 and then flowers and goes to seed in year 2.
In the spring of its second year, it rewards you with a tall plant topped with bunches of dainty, white flowers, which will go to seed if you don’t prune them.
You can eat the leaves fresh in salads or sandwiches, or cooked lightly like spinach and the roots make an excellent sauce (similar to horseradish without the bite). So you can have Garlic Mustard pesto and Wasabi root sauce all in this one plant!
What to use it for:
- As food. Nutritionally the leaves are full of vitamins A, several of the Bs, C and E as well as many vital trace nutrients including calcium, copper, iron, manganese, potassium and selenium so these leaves pack a punch!
- In the past Garlic Mustard leaves were applied directly to ulcers on legs, bruises and wounds because its antiseptic leaves were known to speed healing.
- If the whole plant is boiled, it makes a yellow dye which can be used as a natural dye to colour fabric.
- A word of caution! If fed to either animals or chickens (even if they love it!) the meat or the eggs may taste a little strange, taking on the garlic flavour of this herb so keep it away from egg layers unless you fancy garlic eggs.
How to look after Garlic Mustard:
This plant can be prevented from spreading far and wide f you know about its growing cycle. Always have a year 1 plant growing and then allow just 1 or 2 plants to go to seed in year 2; otherwise, it will self-seed all over your garden. That’s not bad if you like the taste but for some, it is an invasive weed and in the US they hold regular let’s dig up the garlic mustard field trips! Save a few plants and let them go to seed but remove the rest. They are easily pulled from the ground in spring, roots and all. Make pesto with whatever you pull and introduce friends to the taste.
Borage (Borago officinalis)
This flower is one of the bees’ favourites in my garden and what I love about it is the amazing vibrant, blue colour of the flowers when they arrive in Spring. They have a really unusual star-shaped, pink, cross on the reverse of the electric blue flowers but where I saw it first is what makes it so fabulous for me.
I was at Chelsea Flower Show my first time and I ordered some Pimm’s. Decorating the top of my drink were several blue flowers of Borage. That’s right! This flower adored by pollinators is also edible for humans and can be made into a cocktail flower for Pimm’s, champagne, or even a wedding toast.
These edible flowers are loved by bees. So this one is included for this reason alone and the bees will thank you for allowing this one to grow.
How to use it:
- Add the flowers to drinks for children’s parties and celebratory events for adults.
- Add flowers to salads and desserts or as cake decorations.
- Borage flowers are prescribed by herbalists as a mild sedative, for depression and to lower fevers. Historically they were used for “blood purification” which nowadays is due to adrenal insufficiency.
- If you know somebody with a beehive, introduce your borage flower bed to the bees. It gives the honey a particular flavour so make Borage honey!
How to look after Borage:
Sow seeds in rich soil initially but set up a net to contain them if you do not want the plant to spread everywhere. This plant rarely needs to be grown again if you plant one because they spread like crazy all over the garden.
The shrub can grow quite wide and may need to be moved after a time due to the size. If you are adding some flowers to drinks, then that’s fine but if you want to contain it, then use a net fence and prune the flower heads before they go to seed. Dig up any extra offsets and give them as presents. The bees will love the extra pollen.
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)
The leaves of this plant have a peculiar taste, which is not to everybody’s liking. It smells somewhat like camphor but its medicinal effect used to be described as one to lower a fever, hence the name. However, it is also known to reduce the likelihood and severity of migraine so this plant is a must for anybody who suffers from blinding headaches.
How to use it:
- Use the leaves by chewing a few every day, if you like the taste. The effect over a continuous period of time is to reduce the likelihood of migraines and I have several friends who swear by this!
- If you don’t like the taste, then dry some leaves and use these as an infusion if a headache happens. Rest for a few hours and it usually relieves any fever and also the headache.
- The plant was used against pain from rheumatism by eating leaves or making a tonic of leaves infused in oil and taken now and then.
- Although we do not have a tradition of using Feverfew in cooking, Adele Nozedar in “The Hedgerow handbook” has a recipe for feverfew cake which she discovered in Italy. She uses a handful of leaves added to the cake mixture.
- Add the flowers to bouquets in summer vases to promote that smell in the house, particularly if you tend to get migraines.
How to look after Feverfew:
Buy seeds from a reputable seed grower or ask a friend who has plants to donate one. They are not difficult to grow and once established, you need to make sure they stay in the area you want them to. They are hardy in the UK except in Scotland and high, mountainous areas so bring it indoors if you live in a colder area just to make sure.
Passionflower (Passiflora caerulea)
If you recognise this flower, it is what becomes a passion fruit, and it climbs many garden trellises in Europe. The flower was used by Spanish monks to discuss the passion of Christ because parts of the flower were said to resemble the crown of thorns, the 12 apostles and so on. For late autumn fruit, it is delicious and you can pick it direct from the plant so no carbon miles to worry about!
What is it used for:
- In health food shops, passionflower extracts are used to aid insomnia or anxiety connected with sleeping disorders. It is also prescribed by herbalists for menopausal symptoms like hot flushes and nighttime sweating.
- Historical use records its use when applied topically to the skin for burns. It is also reputed to hydrate the skin because it contains lycopene, which moisturises dry skin and heals skin wounds.
- Passionflowers can be made into infusions.
- Take 10 drops per day with a cup of water in Passionflower tincture or as prescribed by your herbalist.
- Passionflower seed oil is full of omega 6 linoleic acid which can ease acne skin issues.
- High blood pressure (hypertension) is said to be reduced by the use of Passionflower but be very careful if you are on prescribed medication as Passionflower can interact with other medication and your blood pressure can drop dangerously low. Make sure you tell your herbalist about any prescription drugs you take when they are prescribing any medication.
How to look after Passionflower:
Passionflower is a climber and it wraps itself around any other plant nearby and grows very tall indeed. If you want to grow it in a pot make sure it is large and sold and maybe weighed down with some stones because some plants grow as tall as 5-6 (16-20 feet). Give it full sun and water it well in dry weather. Make sure you provide some support for it to climb.
Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)
This herb is found in ponds but if you are lucky enough to be able to find fresh watercress, you are in for another unique salad ingredient that is packed with goodness! The plants are gorgeous in water; they spread far and their white roots trail through the water and eventually their white flowers form. It is best to pick leaves often or this herb may spread all over the pond but it filters the pond and keeps it safe for fish as well as providing you with food. In the US it is considered a weed but here in my poly-tunnel pond, it grows well right through the winter.
These leaves are full of vitamins A, and C and this is a vegetable which can survive many parts of the winter in the UK so for me, it is a constant salad. We always use fresh watercress for Christmas lunch as a salad base for prawn cocktail or fried cheese or egg starters.
What it is used for:
- Eating, first of all! Watercress salad and watercress soup are UK favourites and I adore it on top of scrambled eggs too.
- Studies show that regular consumption may lower blood cholesterol and there are current studies examining its effect on keeping your heart healthy too.
How to look after watercress:
Plant seeds in pots of compost and allow the roots to develop, then place them directly in the water in a pond or stream. You may want to contain it from running away if it is in a moving stream by placing it in a large wire basket.
When it flowers, collect the seed heads and start again. In an established pond or stream, this is rarely necessary as Mother Nature spreads the seeds to start again.
Wild rocket (Diplotaxis tenuifolia)
This is an attractive shrub in any garden, with a tall stem up to 2 feet (60 cm) when it flowers. The leaves are pretty with a scalloped edging and they grow well in areas without regular watering. They are also hardy so this plant deserves a place in your garden. The leaves contain vitamins A, C, and K as well as plentiful supplies of calcium, potassium and some iron. The peppery, unique taste is fantastic to add a zing when added to your salads.
It is believed to detoxify the liver and the spleen due to its high levels of antioxidants and traditionally, it was also used to reduce swelling and to clean wounds. It has gorgeous flowers too – in shades from creamy to yellow-coloured bunches of 4 petalled, cross-shaped flower heads, which bees adore in late Spring.
These flower heads turn into seed heads that you can save as seeds to grow on all summer long. In Kent, I sow a patch in late August on my allotment and also in the greenhouse and it grows happily providing me with fresh greens right throughout the winter.
How to use it:
- Add fresh leaves to salads all year long. This is a hardy herb.
- Use ointment made from the leaves on swelling and also for wound cleaning.
- The herb is said to help prevent constipation, and aid the management of diabetes and it is said to be an excellent cough medicine.
How to look after Wild Rocket:
Collect the seed heads when they form and plant them again either directly into the soil or compost. Give it rich deep soil in the sunshine for the best leaves. Keep it damp for germination and after that, just allow it to grow and water it occasionally. The leaves can be picked as soon as there are at least 6-8 leaves but never pick the whole plant or it will die. It may need a stake as it grows taller or it will happily lean against other taller plants.
It has a very long deep root, which you can see if you dig one up after the plant dies and with this, Wild Rocket can extract nutrients from deep in the soil. When the seed heads form, they tend to self-seed so if you want to confine them to one part of your garden, collect the pointed seed heads when they turn brown and save them for when you want to plant them.
Many of the plants we grow in our gardens were also used to treat medical ailments historically. This list of my 7 favorites could have included many more but hopefully, it has given you some ideas for plants that may be used for any medical problems you have.
Your local health food shop can show you the supplements, teas, and tinctures available so use this as research for what to plant in your garden. If you have any fantastic medical plants we have not mentioned, do let us know. Enjoy the journey!
- Watercress: Health Benefits, Nutrients per Serving, Preparation Information, and More (webmd.com) .