Medicinal plant gardens (Storey Books, 1999), by master gardener Dorie Byers, gives even beginners a chance to grow a lush herb garden. With over 30 sample garden plans for any space, and the know-how for caring for 25 herbal remedies, anyone can be prepared to treat and prevent specific health needs. In this excerpt from the introduction, familiarize yourself with the many and varied benefits of growing an herb garden.
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The importance of herbs
Herbs were extremely important before clinics or hospitals. Doctors weren’t available to everyone back then either, and drugs as we know them today were non-existent. Common people used parts of plants to treat different diseases and dried the most useful herbs to store and use during the winter months. There was little formal research other than trial and error, with results being passed on by word of mouth. Printed herbaria, texts that gave information about the use of herbs, for the general population were not available until the 17th century. It’s interesting to me that recent research on plants has shown that many of these plants do contain substances that help treat some of the same diseases. Our ancestors were on the right track!
Warning: imported herbs
Many herbs are imported from countries with less stringent purity standards. When purchasing imported dried herbs, keep in mind that they can be adulterated with a number of substances, such as pesticides, insects, and other plants.
Grow an herb garden and reap the benefits of fresh herbs
Nowadays, many grocery stores sell fresh herbs and health food stores sell dried herbs in bulk. You’re probably wondering, “Why should I bother growing my own herbs?” “
One of the reasons is to be assured of the freshness of your herbal supply. Those “fresh” herbs that you find packaged in the produce aisle were picked an unknown time ago. How cool are they really? When you go to your herb garden and cut parsley, it doesn’t languish on a shelf, losing its freshness. Also, keep in mind that buying any amount of fresh herbs is much less economical than growing and harvesting your own supply as needed.
When you buy fresh herbs, there is always the possibility that some have been exposed to natural and unnatural contaminants. Many purchased herbs are not available in organic form. If you grow your own organically, however, you know that the pollutants affecting you have been minimized.
The same principle applies to dried herbs. Most loose dried herbs come packaged in plastic bags and have been exposed to air, light and high temperatures for an unknown amount of time. All of these factors can cause them to lose their potency. But harvesting, drying and storage give you control over these processes.
I’m not saying you have to grow all your herbs; it is not a practical notion. Even I can’t grow all the herbs I use. Research your sources of herbs. Talk to some health food store owners about their choices for a reliable and safe supply of herbs. I find that a lot of these people try to maintain some sort of standard for the herbs they carry. Plus, growing your own herb garden will tell you what they look like, what they look like, and how they taste. This will become your “insurance policy” when you have to buy herbs in bulk: if it doesn’t smell or taste like the weed you know, then you are probably not getting what you pay for. .
Growing herbaceous plants from seeds can save you more on your wallet. For the price of a common herbaceous plant at the nursery, you can buy a packet of seeds and start many plants to use yourself, give away, or sell. You will have the double bonus of saving money and enjoying a new crop of herbs.
Growing your own herb garden can have another benefit: it can increase populations of plants threatened with extinction because they are destroyed and / or overexploited in the wild.
As herbs are used more and more by an increasing number of people, there will certainly be shortages in the years to come. These can affect both a plant’s supplies that you find useful and the quality. As you practice growing herbs, you might want to try some that are overused. These take a little more patience to grow but are well worth it for anyone who respects the potential of these plants.
Almost anyone can grow herbs. You can grow them large or small, depending on the space you have. You don’t need large areas to grow herbs; small plots or containers can give you an adequate harvest. In addition, most herbs can adapt to many types of climate and soil.
Choosing which herbs to grow
Read the descriptions of the herbs in this book and choose the ones that seem to meet your needs. There may be one or two in particular that will help you and your family be healthier.
Don’t be afraid to grow an herb that is unfamiliar to you. I discovered herbs that I would not do without while experimenting. Of course, some plants just won’t thrive no matter what you do. Some can be invasive; you will have to dig them up. It’s all part of the process of learning how to grow herbs.
Growing herbs for profit
If you already have an herb garden that meets your needs and you have the space, a greenhouse and the energy to grow, grow some herbs for sale. You don’t need a nursery or a store for this. Farmers’ markets will rent you space to sell your plants, as will some festivals. Check with local stores and health food stores to see if they will order plants for you. Talk to these traders early – they frequently look for plant sources around the first of the year. Try to grow unique varieties or plants that are at risk of disappearing, such as ginseng or goldenseal. Keep in mind that the sale of herbaceous plants may require a zoning exemption for your property. Check with your local authorities.
Another way to profit from herbs is cash crops. Many restaurants use fresh herbs and look for a reliable supply. There is also a large market for drugs such as goldenseal and ginseng. These plants in particular are lost through overexploitation in nature; Not only would you be doing yourself a favor by cultivating them, but you would also be protecting their very existence.
For ideas and information on growing herbs for profit, check out the International Herb Association or the Herb Growing and Marketing Network. United Plant Savers can provide special information on endangered herbs and how to grow them.
Ready to start your herb garden? For simple garden plans from Medicinal plant gardens, read Medicinal Herb Garden: Colds and Flu.
Extract of Medicinal plant gardens (c) Dorie Byers, illustrations by Beverly Duncan, used with permission from Storey Publishing. Buy this book in our shop: Medicinal plant gardens.
Originally published: February 11, 2014