Some of us just can’t cook anything without managing to burn ourselves. Then there are those of us who have cemented our acquaintance with more sidewalks than we can remember. After all, even the most stable human beings have been known to take a fall from time to time. So without any ado whatsoever, here are some of the best medicinal plants and herbs for klutzes (and the rest of you people) to grow in the garden.
This plant (Aloe vera) is a popular one for self-preservation purposes. If the words “I don’t need sunscreen, I tan.” sound familiar then you probably have encountered this perennial before. Aloe is known to avid cooks and over-enthusiastic sunbathers for cooling singed flesh. It is also useful in keeping cuts and burns from scarring up. Even Cleopatra was said to attribute her lovely skin to aloe, but now it’s not only queens who can afford to have these plants in their yard. If you plan on growing it, keep in mind that aloe likes well-drained, slightly dry soil and benefits from a gravel mulch. It also has to be brought indoors when the temperature dips below about 50 degrees. Aloe is one of the most popular medicinal plants out there.
This tall, feathery plant (Achillea millefolium) makes a good cut flower in both senses of the word. It has been used for treating wounds so long ago that Achilles himself is said to have employed it, though clearly not on his heel. The flowers can be used to stop minor bleeding but they generally work best on small cuts and other abrasions. Yarrow is also a good choice for floral arrangements. The herb comes in many different colors so you’re sure to find one that blends well with the rest of your garden décor. (Or one that clashes horribly. It’s your choice, after all.)
These plants (Eucalyptus species) are very popular with the koala bears of Australia. They are so fond of eucalyptus, it is said that they will drop out of their trees and viciously attack anyone who dares pick their favorite food. No seriously, that’s just an urban legend, but you never know. It might be a bit like raiding the chocolate stash of someone that’s already stressed out. Anyway, eucalyptus is especially good for head colds. The dried or fresh leaves can tossed in steam baths to promote healthy breathing. The downside to eucalyptus is that if it is not vigorously and repeatedly trimmed, it can quickly grow to be a monstrously large plant. It also sucks up tons of water out of the landscape, which is a good thing in malaria ridden areas but not so great in places where it’s considered invasive.
Known in the Middle Ages as knit-bone, this plant (Symphytum officinale) can be used to reduce bruises and also makes a great mulch for tomatoes. A poultice, tincture, or infusion of this plant can applied to bumps and bruises to minimize swelling. However, medicines containing comfrey should only be used on unbroken skin. Growing the plant is relatively easy. Comfrey likes slightly moist soil and will form clumps all over the yard in a fashion similar to horseradish if it is not grown in containers.
Other Medicinal Herbs and Gardening Tips
The sore throat remedy of choice for years has been horehound (Marrubium vulgare). This herb can be made into a lozenge in the same method one would use to make hard candy. A good and simple recipe can be found here. But anyone who is sure that just one more little thin mint cookie will cause them to explode might want to try peppermint (Mentha x piperita) tea instead. It’s an excellent remedy for the indigestion that comes from eating too much food. The sad truth of growing up is learning that sometimes all-you-can-eat buffets are not your friends.
Like peppermint tea, ginger (Zingiber officinale) is also good for nausea. It’s recommended for those with motion sickness, morning sickness, and the ever popular “Oh my God! I have to get on an airplane!” syndrome. Not that I would know anything about that at all (cue laugh track). While I understand the principles of aerodynamics, it still doesn’t seem logical that something as big and heavy as an airplane is able to fly when I know from repeated, disastrous childhood experiments that I can’t. The greatest irony is my father is an airplane mechanic. Or perhaps that’s the reason for my fear.
Meanwhile, those of you that seem to serve as a local blood bank for your native mosquito populace should get some lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus) for your garden. You have to crush the leaves and rub them on your skin to keep the bugs at bay, but even putting a few pots around the yard is said to deter the vampire bugs. If that doesn’t work, basil (Ocimum basilicum), lavender (Lavandula species), and thyme (Thymus species) are said to be good at temporarily relieving the pain of insect bites. Though I have about 5 lemon thymes in my yard, I personally go for the heavy-duty Benadryl cream. Then again I once won a tube of it as the prize for having the most bug bites by the time camp got over.
**Please note that I’m not a doctor and the information here is for informative purposes only. Also readers should be aware that comfrey, aloe, yarrow, eucalyptus, and some types of lavender are inedible.