How to Start a Medicinal Herb Garden
The other night, I started to feel that telltale tickle in the throat, & the beginnings of a cough coming on. As pretty much everyone I know is sick right now, with everything from terrible cases of the flu to pneumonia: I decided to make a big batch of homemade chicken soup. Even though it’s snowing here in Oregon, I still wandered out to my raised bed garden to see if there was any rosemary & thyme that had survived the frost. And lo & behold….I found both! Here, we’ll discover “How to Start a Medicinal Herb Garden,” even during the winter, & even indoors.
And in case you’re wondering if I got sick: the answer is, after eating some chicken soup & getting a great night’s sleep: I woke up the next day feeling fine, with no cough. Whether it was the herbs or the sleep, or just plain luck…who’s to say?!
“Let food be thy medicine, & medicine be thy food.”
– Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine
Overview of Medicinal Herbs
- Basil: Basil has antibacterial properties, & helps fight inflammation in the body ~ by way of the essential oils found in its leaf, which include: eugenol, linalool, and citronellol. Due to its anti-inflammatory effects, it can help lower the risk of diseases such as arthritis, heart disease, & various bowel issues. It boosts digestion & aids in skin health, & contains Vitamins A, K, Iron, & Calcium.
- Coriander: Coriander acts as a diuretic, & can help flush the system of excess sodium, which in turn may reduce blood pressure. Research also shows that it can help reduce “Bad LDL” cholesterol in the body. It contains Vitamins A & C, & possesses anti-bacterial & anti-fungal properties.
- Dandelion: Dandelion root is a well-known liver detoxifier, & is a popular ingredient in “Detox” teas. Additionally, it has anti-bacterial properties, & assists the detoxification of the gallbladder ~ as well as the function of the kidneys. Because of all this, it provides a hearty boost to the immune system.
- Echinacea: Echinacea is a booster of the immune system, & often found in natural cold formulas. Many studies have shown that it can relieve pain & reduce inflammation in the body. And because of its anti-viral properties, it’s often used to treat colds, flus, & sore throats.
- Lavender: When many people think of sleep ~ they think of lavender. Long viewed as a calming herb, it’s used to assist with insomnia, anxiety, & depression. It has antiseptic & anti-inflammatory properties, & some use it in healing baths for joint & muscle pain.
- Mint: Mint has long been used as a treatment for minor stomach ailments, such as “queasy” stomachs, or digestive upset. It helps calm the digestive tract, & has even been shown to help with breast-feeding pain, cold symptoms, & bad breath. (Tip: If you’re growing it in your garden ~ it can take over!! Mine overtook an entire raised bed; best to grow in a solitary pot.)
- Rosemary: Not only does it taste good with chicken, but rosemary has been clinically proven as anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-apoptotic (preventive of cell death), anti-tumorigenic (counteracts the formation of tumors), anti-nociceptive (counteractive of pain), and with neuroprotective (protects nerve cells against damage) properties. WOW! Rosemary packs a heavy medicinal punch, to say the least. It’s also said to improve brain health, memory, & mood.
- Thyme: The active ingredients in thyme, which include thymol & carvacrol, have anti-inflammatory, respiratory, & neurological benefits. Thyme helps treat epilespy, coughs, & depression; & it contains an abundance of Vitamin C, potassium, & manganese ~ which is associated with bone health.
Though all these various herbs have benefits: Rosemary may pack the most punch in terms of its extremely powerful health benefits.
Step-by-Step: How to Start an Herb Garden
1) Where are You Going to Place Your Herb Garden?
First off, you need to decide where to place your herb garden: indoors or outdoors? You’ll need a sunny spot, as most herbs need at least 4-6 hours of daily sunshine to grow. Depending on the season, this decision should be easily made: most herbs (except hearty guys like thyme) won’t survive freezing temperatures ~ so if you’ve got snow on the ground, you’ll want to grow your herbs indoors until you can move them outside. If you live in a temperate year-round zone, such as Southern California, for instance: you should be able to grow herbs outdoors all year-round.
2) What Type of Container(s) Will You Put Your Herbs in?
In my outdoor garden, I’ve got herbs growing in all kinds of raised beds. But since you’ll be accessing them often, I suggest growing herbs in a taller raised bed. Not only is this easier on the back ~ but herbs are smaller than most shrubs, & can easily get forgotten about or overshadowed by larger neighbors. For instance, I’m growing onions behind a “Rose of Sharon” shrub, & she grew about four feet this year! Thus, my onions are now totally hidden (& not getting much sun), & I forgot about them for most of the season.
For herb-growing outside, choose the sunniest location close to the house that you A) Won’t forget about, & B) Can access easily year-round. If it’s a tall bed: even better ~ this will keep it away from most pests & critters. If you’re growing mint: give it its own pot, as she can get unwieldy & overrun everything around her!
If you’re growing herbs inside, you’ve got choices: you can use a lot of small, single pots (this can be difficult to water). Or, you could choose a larger container that holds several herbs together (easier to water). OR, if you don’t have a green thumb & tend to kill whatever plants you buy: consider getting a hydroponic growing system that will self-water itself. This costs a little more upfront: but if you tend to kill things, this is the way to go.
3) How are You Going to Water Your Herb Garden?
This is something you’ll need to think about before you even buy your herbs, as it will make or break your success. If you’re starting your herbs from seeds: the watering is crucial. Not enough = they’ll never grow. TOO much = they won’t grow either.
I’ve got many herbs growing outside, & at this point: they’re all on drip irrigation, using just the smallest drip. This ensures they’ll never be overwatered. If you’re self-watering & have a string of 90-degree summer days ~ your herbs will likely dry up even if you only miss a few days of watering. I had a handful of herbs not on irrigation, & they never germinated; my watering was too sporadic. So if you’re growing herbs outside, get them on some kind of automatic watering system, for the best success: especially in the full sun.
If you’re growing herbs inside: you should be able to water them less. But this gets tricky, particularly if multiple people are watering them! Make it one person’s job to water them three days a week or so. But if you absolutely can’t remember to water: invest in some type of hydroponic self-watering system, as mentioned above. You can also buy terra cotta spikes that self-water your plants (I use when I’m on vacation & they really work). You simply stick them in the soil, fill the spike with water, & it will slowly “drip” the water out over time, to keep the soil evenly moist.
They work quite brilliantly, & you should only have to fill up the spikes 1-2 times/week.
4) BUY Your Seeds & Get Growing!
Now that all the hard stuff is out of the way, you’ve got the fun part of actually buying your seeds ~ or picking them out from your local nursery. If buying seeds online, I’d look for a Non-GMO, heirloom variety that’s made in the USA, like these seeds.
If you have kids: get them involved in the growing process, as it’s a great learning opportunity.
How to Grow a Medicinal Herb Garden
For more gardening inspo, take a look at Joanna Gaines’ spectacular Texas garden (which includes herbs), or create your own “Backyard She Shed,” to create a year-round home for your plants.
Read Next: How to Create a French Country Garden
I’ve long been wanting to plant a medicinal herb garden, but just haven’t gotten around to it. I love how you’ve specified the benefits of each herb – that makes me want to get growing! My question is, have you ever tried growing herbs in a hanging garden/fabric with pockets that you can hang on a fence, or something to that effect? Just curious how that might work.
Hi Sandra, thanks for your comment & question! I know how overwhelming starting any garden project can be: you don’t want to invest money in something & then either forget about it, or forget to water & end up losing your plants & money! So far, I have NOT tried growing herbs in a “hanging garden.” But I do LOVE that look, & would love to try it someday. I’ve even purchased a fabric hanging container, but I see two potential big problems with it: 1) There’s no drainage, which is never a good thing for plants. I’d probably need to cut a hole in the fabric, but I’m not sure if that would just create a mess of dirt; & 2) There’s no irrigation system, meaning you’d need to self-water it frequently in order for the plants to survive ~ which can also be problematic. I try to get everything in my yard on irrigation, & then I never need to worry about hand-watering. An alternative to the hanging garden could be a self-watering window box…that could be a great spot for growing herbs, & then you only need to fill the water-well about 1-2X per week. I just ordered some on Amazon & I’m going to give it a try! Hope all that helps : )