Home grown medicinal herbs
Updated: May 25
I freely admit that herbs and herbal medicine are a bit of a passion for me! I started growing herbs in my 20s and found that they are easy to grow, fragrant and great to have on hand for cooking.
I think herbs also look beautiful in the garden mixed in with other plants and flowering perennials. I've never had a dedicated herb garden, I just pop the plants in the garden anywhere they look good and seem happy.
We have moved house a few times over the last 30 years, most recently was last year with our move to the northern beaches of Sydney. Establishing a herb garden in a new home is always a priority for me. I love the flavour of fresh herbs in my cooking and the convenience and cost effectiveness of having them growing near the kitchen. Many herbs are suitable for growing in pots if you don't have a garden.
My obsession with herbs prompted me to study a Bachelor of Health Science in herbal medicine and nutrition. These days I find joy in passing on the knowledge of how to use herbs as everyday medicine.
What makes herbs medicinal?
Herbs and herbal medicine have been used for centuries to heal the sick and prevent illness. Plants contain many chemicals in their roots, stems, leaves, flowers and seeds. Some of these chemicals are made by the plant to keep them safe from attack by insects, animals, the roots of other plants, or pathogens in the soil. Other chemicals are intended to attract pollinators.
When we eat the herbs we benefit from these chemicals (or phytonutrients), as well as the many vitamins and minerals contained in the plant. Despite a lot of disinformation about the effectiveness of herbal medicine, there are now many scientific studies to back up their efficacy in treating illness.
Many of the medicines and drugs we use commonly today were originally derived from plants; such as aspirin, metformin for diabetes, morphine for pain, digitalis for cardiac arrhythmia's, and of course our favourite drug, caffeine.
Herbs can keep us safe from colds and flu
Herbs were traditionally used to preserve foods before we had refrigeration. Well known herbs such as thyme, oregano, sage and garlic are naturally anti-microbial and fight bacteria and/or viruses. When we eat these herbs regularly they can help to keep us well and free from illness.
Traditionally some of these herbs were made into a tea, or infusion, to drink at the first sign of a sore throat, often sweetened with honey. Or they were used throughout winter in food and home made herbal remedies to prevent illness. Today we can benefit from using herbs in the same way.
Antimicrobial herbs are easy to grow in a garden or in a pot and great to have on hand for cooking. When winter comes I turn to chicken soup and make sure it's packed with herbs and spices. Ginger and chilli can both be added to soups to assist with circulation in winter.
Herbs for digestive health
Other easily grown culinary herbs are excellent for helping to calm the digestive system and support gut health. Herbs such as lemon balm, chamomile, sage, caraway, peppermint, dill seed, fennel and ginger have been used traditionally to soothe digestive problems.
In many cultures fennel, dill and caraway seeds are added to the cooking process to aid digestion, especially for meals that contain a lot of fat or protein. You can make a tea by steeping some of these seeds in boiling water for 20 minutes and then straining before drinking.
Many herbs and spices contain polyphenols which stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive system. If you haven't heard about the microbiome and gut dybiosis, you can read more about it here.
Herbs for sleep, calming anxiety and relaxation
Chamomile flowers, and lemon balm leaves can be made into a calming tea to drink before bed or any time you are feeling anxious. Lemon balm and chamomile have chemicals that naturally calm us and support healthy nervous system function.
The tea can be made from fresh or dried herbs. If using fresh herbs, you will need approximately 3 tablespoons of herbs for a cup of boiling water. Steep for about 5 minutes before straining and drinking.
Lavender is another important herbal medicine used to support people with anxiety. You can try picking lavender and putting it into a warm bath for a soothing aroma.
Many herbs are beneficial eaten daily to prevent the diseases of old age. Rosemary is of particular benefit as it stimulates the circulation, improves memory, improves blood glucose uptake into muscle, improves insulin resistance and is beneficial for people with metabolic syndrome.
I love the herb sage as a preventative against many of the diseases of old age, including dementia. You might like to read my blog about sage for perimenopause and midlife health.
It's all in the dose
Herbs used in cooking can be thought of as an everyday medicine for prevention of disease.
When herbs are made into a tea and consumed regularly throughout the day, they are being used as a medicine to treat a particular health problem such as a cold, an upset stomach or to reduce hot flushes in menopause.
When I prescribe herbs to someone in my clinic it's usually in the form of a herbal extract, or tincture. You can read more about herbal medicine here. I love to assist people to become well by incorporating herbal medicines into their routines.
Herbs are not usually needed long term in the same way that pharmaceutical medications are. I would usually work with someone for 1 to 6 months and also support them by recommending dietary changes.
If you would like to know more about how to support your health with herbs, please explore the information on the rest of my website. I would love to see you in my clinic to help for a consultation to help you work out which herbs are best for you.
Hi! I'm Simone Jeffries. I am a naturopath, nutritionist, herbalist and certified wellness coach. I am also a foodie and an advocate for a whole food diet.
The information in this blog is from my Bachelor of Health Science degree, experience from working with women in my clinic, and continuing research.
This blog is for information only and not intended to take the place of medical advice. Please seek assistance for any medical concerns.