By Faye Sakellaridis
This carefully selected list of top medicinal garden herbs will inspire you to create a medicinal herb garden uniquely crafted just for you.
Juliet Blankespoor provides an in-depth explanation of each herb — where does it grow best and what does it treat? Her attention to detail will spark your imagination about what your own garden might look like!
In an ideal world, we would each have our personal list of top ten garden herbs, tailored to our particular climate and health concerns. My hope is that the information below inspires you, as jumping board of sorts, in creating your own unique dream medicinal herb garden. I chose each plant based on its ease of cultivation and medicinal usefulness and versatility.
Calendula (Pot Marigold)
Calendula officinalis, Asteraceae. Calendula is one of the most familiar and beloved herbs, earning our affection with its cheerful golden flowers. The “petals” are edible and the whole flower is an important medicinal herb in treating skin conditions. Calendula is found in topical ointments, salves and creams. This flower holds an interesting claim to fame—it is the herb most likely to be found in diaper rash ointments and creams. I plant calendula close to my front porch so I can enjoy the blooms, and watch the hum of pollinator activity all summer long.
The sunshiny yellow-orange flowers are an edible garnish for salads, cakes, and soups. The flowers are also incorporated into oils and salves for healing wounds, rashes, burns, and dry skin. Calendula flowers are used internally in teas, tinctures, and broths as an anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, lymphagogue (stimulates the lymphatic system), emmenagogue (stimulates the menses), and digestive anti-inflammatory. It is one of my favorite remedies, along with meadowsweet and licorice, for GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) and peptic ulcers.
Calendula officinalis flower
Calendula prefers full sun and average garden soil. It is easily grown from seed—direct sow or start early in pots; the seedlings are somewhat cold tolerant. Calendula does well as a container plant, hence the common name “pot marigold.” Plant 10-14’’ apart; grows to 18’’ tall. Calendula’s sticky flowers must be picked every two to three days to ensure a longer flowering season. Calendula will usually self-sow unless you mulch heavily. It is typically grown as an annual, but can be cultivated as a short-lived perennial in warmer climes (Zone 8-10). For more details on growing and enjoying calendula, please visit my article here.
Calendula ice cubes and calendula garnish
Leonurus cardiaca, Lamiaceae. Motherwort is one of the easiest herbs to grow and is a highly versatile medicinal. It is one of my favorite remedies for anxiety and stress. It is taken as a tincture or tea to lessen pain, such as: headaches, menstrual cramps, and muscle sprains and aches. I will add that motherwort is quite bitter, so I often recommend it as a tincture over a tea. It is many women’s ally in menopause for easing hot flashes and hormonal- induced irritability. Motherwort is also used in childbirth to help strengthen contractions; it is the only herb I used giving birth to my daughter! Finally, motherwort fully lives up to its name in helping to increase parental patience. Many mothers find that motherwort softens the edginess brought on by sleep deprivation, endless laundry and dishes, and uppity wee folk.
Motherwort is a short-lived herbaceous perennial, plant in full sun to part shade. Hardy to Zone 4. Plant 18-24 inches apart; grows 3 to 5’ tall. The seeds can be stratified (placed in damp sand in the refrigerator) for two weeks before planting, and will generally germinate in one week if placed in a warm spot, such as a greenhouse or sunny window. In cooler climates, it can take over and become quite weedy, so you may want to plant it where it can do its thing without stepping on anyone’s toes. Motherwort easily transplants; consider asking a neighboring herbalist if you can dig up any extra plants.