The Garden Fairy
The beginning of 2013, as with all new seasons, has been filled with promises of better eating, more exercise, frequent journaling, and more letter writing. Somehow New Year’s resolutions seem to disappear so quickly, but this year I am determined to make my promises of better health last with a simple, long-term oriented trick: growing my own medicine!
It is incredible how easy it is to grow a medicine cabinet full of goodness, even in a small urban garden. So far this year I have made a hand salve, body soap, chap stick, and a host of teas from herbs grown in my tiny backyard. Easy, organic, and a lot cheaper than buying products already made. I used skin-calming herbs such as calendula, lavender, and chamomile, and healing herbs such as plantain, oregano, and rosemary. I paid a visit to my favorite herb store (Blue Nile on Georgia Avenue) for shea butter, essential oil, and beeswax, and in a few hours and with the help of YouTube had crafted a host of products for myself and loved ones.
The best thing about herbs is that they are often some of the easiest plants to grow. Perennials like rosemary, lavender, mint, and oregano will grow exponentially each year, with very little attention or care (you may need to control them so they don’t take over your garden). Many herbs can grow on windowsills and don’t even need a full day’s sunlight. Herbs can be harvested fresh or dried for use during the winter. Those harvested for their leaves are the fastest and most efficient way to use a small space.
You can gain the healing powers of herbs such as motherwort, nettles, or chickweed through teas and tinctures. A Google search of herbal remedies can lead to overwhelming and conflicting information, so if you are new to the herbal world, start simply with cooking herbs. Growing them is crazily easy and saves money almost immediately. At Old City green we sell all sorts of culinary herb seedlings for about three dollars, not much more than a bunch would be at the grocery store. With a little water and sunlight you’ll be using them recipe after recipe. Adding your own culinary herbs to cooking often enhances the medicinal properties over old, store-bought dried herbs.
Culinary herbs have some surprising properties. Rosemary is an astringent, oregano is antibacterial, and thyme is antiseptic. One home remedy for deep coughs is to simmer fresh or dried oregano in a shallow skillet of water and breathe the steam deeply to loosen phlegm. You can obtain the medicinal properties of herbs by making infused oils, simmering them for a few hours in olive oil, then using the oil in culinary recipes or topical concoctions. A great book that uses fresh herbs in delicious recipes is “Nourishing Traditions” by Sally Fallon. If you are looking for help as you dive into the herb world, here are some good local places to start:
Herb plants and gardening supplies: Old City green (925 Rhode Island Ave. NW)
Dried herbs, shea butter, cocoa butter, and “concocting” supplies: Blue Nile (2826 Georgia Ave. NW)
Herbal consultations and products: Tricia McCauley, leafyhead.com
Herbal CSA and plant walks: Little Red Bird Botanicals, http://redbirdbotanicals.wordpress.com/
A window box full of herbs and a pot of healthy, homemade soup is a great way to follow up on New Year’s promises!
Sarah McLaughlin is a manager at Old City green and a children's gardening teacher whose loves include worms, sungold tomatoes, kitchen experiments, and hiking.