A guide to our favorite healing herbs

More and more people are interested in the natural health benefits of herbs. And growing healing herbs is a great way to save money and have fresh, fragrant and delicious herbs on hand when you need them.

Healing herbs can be grown indoors or out, in containers or in the garden. But there are a few important things to remember before you choose your herbs and get growing:

1) Pot them up anytime

Even in the dead of winter, you can grow healing herbs inside, both from seed or by transplanting them from your garden over winter. You’ll want to provide at least 6 hours of sun daily, especially for healing herbs you’ve transplanted into pots from the garden. And always follow your herb’s care instructions and/or ask an expert at the garden center for growing tips.

2) Give garden transplants time to acclimate

When moving your garden herbs indoors for the winter (perennial herbs like rosemary, lavender, lemon verbena, lemongrass, heliotrope and ginger), give them time to acclimate by placing them in a slightly shady spot outside for about a week. Before bringing them in, inspect the soil and foliage for insects and rinse away any offenders. Check the care tag for any special care instructions. For example, rosemary loves moisture but not waterlogged soil. Use a mister to keep the air humid and to ward off red spider mites.

3) Water with care

Most healing herbs like well-drained soil, but moisture needs depend on individual herb types, weather conditions and soil type. Check the care tag on your herb to determine watering frequency. Water slowly, adding enough to moisten the root zone at least 6 inches deep.

4) Use organic, slow-release fertilizer

Heavy doses of nutrients (especially nitrogen) will strip away the flavor and fragrance of your healing herbs. Organic fertilizers decompose slowly over time. Follow care tag instructions for how often to fertilize.

5) Pinch to grow an inch

To encourage tender, flavorful and fragrant new growth, regularly pinch 2-3 inches off the stem tips and pinch off flowers.

6) Prune perennial herbs in early spring

If you didn’t cut back perennials like lemon balm, mint and artemisia in fall, prune them back in spring by one-third or within 4 inches of the ground before new growth begins. This will keep them from getting woody or lanky.


Choosing Your Healing Herbs 

Now for the fun part. We’ve grouped healing herbs into categories that will help you make healthy, delicious, fragrant and healing choices.  As always, talk with your doctor before adding any herb to your diet, especially regarding any potential interactions with food, medications or health conditions.

Stress Relief Garden

Catnip (Nepta cataria): Highly aromatic minty plant with long lasting blooms. Best in full sun and dry soils. Benefits: Sedative, digestive aid, eases mood swings and tension, alleviates cramps and PMS symptoms. Safety: Generally considered safe. 

Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis/ aka Roman or English): Perennial ground cover. Native to southern and western Europe and the Mediterranean, plant grows as thick interlocking carpet that can be mowed. Benefits: Digestive, antispasmodic, sedative, sleep inducing, soothing and calming. Safety: Effects are cumulative, allow 3-4 weeks. Avoid taking with blood thinner, chamomile has some blood thinning properties.

German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita aka German): Annual self-seeding, native to Europe, Iran and Afghanistan. Grows just about anywhere. This plant can grow to two feet tall and flowers more profusely than Roman/English Chamomile. Benefits: Soothing, calming sedative, carminative, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, stimulates digestion. Safety: Effects are cumulative, allow 3-4 weeks. Avoid taking with blood thinner, chamomile has some blood thinning properties.

Cramp bark (Viburnum opulus): Deciduous bush. Native to North American boggy areas. Attractive heady-white flowers that bloom in spring. Full sun. Benefits: The tea of the bark alleviates cramps, muscle relaxant. Safety: Do not take during pregnancy, uterine stimulant.

Feverfew (Chrysanthemum parthenium): Herbaceous perennial. Hardy to -20 degrees F. Single white and yellow daisy-like flowers grow densely on upright bushes. The flowers look very similar to chamomile. Plant prefers well-drained soil and full to part sun. Grows to about two feet tall. Benefits: Anti-inflammatory, relieves headaches, menstrual cramps, arthritis, fever, and other aches and pains. Safety: People allergic to ragweed may be allergic to feverfew. Avoid during pregnancy. Avoid if on blood thinners.

Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia): Native to the Mediterranean, low-growing shrub with multiple stems topped with purple spiked flowers. Prefers well-drained soil. Benefits: Sedative, nervine, excellent for fatigue, headaches, nausea, antibacterial, wound healing. Safety: Avoid in early pregnancy. Never ingest lavender essential oil.

Lemonbalm (Melissa officinalis): Hardy to -30 degrees F. Classic medicinal herb in the mint family prefers full sun. Benefits: Calming and soothing, nervine, good for headaches, mild sedative, antibacterial and antiviral properties, digestive, wound healing, fights cold sores, excellent for insomnia, insect bites, and insect repellant. Fever reducing, considered gentle enough for babies and children. Safety: May increase sedative effect of barbiturates.

Meadowsweet (Filependula ulmaria): Herbaceous perennial, waist high bush with sweet smelling, golden flowers. Prefers moist soil and partial shade. Benefits: Anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving. Safety: Meadowsweet contains salicylin which is also found in aspirin, do not give to children. If you should not be taking aspirin you should not be using meadowsweet.

Motherwort (Leonarus cardiaca): Herbaceous perennial, mint family, hardy to -40 degrees F. Very small purple flowers occur in whorls. Be careful of tiny spikes on flowers. Benefits: Balances hormones, helps the heart beat more effectively, beneficial for anxiety and stress related disorders such as heart palpitations. Excellent for cramping of any type, PMS symptoms, headache, after-birth pain. Safety: Too much motherwort can cause diarrhea and stomach irritation. Do not take during pregnancy, uterine stimulant. Consult your doctor if you have a heart condition.

Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnate): Native to south and eastern US, hardy to 5 degrees F, flowers are large complex purple and white. Benefits: relaxing, sleep inducing, pain relieving, digestive, settles edgy nerves, relieves muscle tension, excellent for anxiety, good source of anti-oxidants, eases nausea and vomiting, lowers blood pressure. Safety: Do not take with alcohol, sedative or tranquilizers, MAO’s, do not during pregnancy or give to children.

Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora): herbaceous perennial, mint family, hardy to -40 degrees F. Prefers fertile soil, partial shade or full sun and likes plenty of water. Benefits: sedative, nervine, excellent for insomnia, relieves mood swings, anxiety and stress headaches. Safety: Do not take with other sedatives or alcohol.

Valerian Roots (Valeriana officinalis): Herbaceous perennial, hardy to -20 degrees F, prefers full sun to part shade and a moist soil. Flowers grow in white clusters, sweet smelling, root is medicinal. Benefits: Tranquilizing, calmative, excellent for restlessness, nervousness, lowers blood pressure. Most effective for people with chronic insomnia. Safety: When taken as directed, generally considered safe.

Healing herbs for beautiful skin: Lavender, chamomile, rose geranium, rose, comfrey, calendula, witch hazel, thyme, Echinacea, lemonbalm, peppermint and red clover can be used as topical masks to nourish, clear and calm skin.


Tea Garden

Bee Balm (Monarda didyma): Herbaceous perennial, scarlet flowered, highly aromatic and decorative, prefers partial shade to full sun and moist soil. Benefits: Enhances flavor of lemonade, hot or cold tea. Benefits: Digestive, carminative. Increases energy and stamina, rich in vitamin C, antioxidant. Safety: Generally considered safe.

Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis/ aka Roman or English): Perennial ground cover. Native to southern and western Europe and the Mediterranean, plant grows as thick interlocking carpet which can be mowed. Benefits: digestive, antispasmodic, sedative, sleep inducing, soothing and calming. Delightful apple scented tea. Safety: Effects are cumulative allow 3-4 weeks. Avoid taking with blood thinner, chamomile has some blood-thinning properties

Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia): Native to Mediterranean, low growing shrub with multiple stems topped with purple-spiked flowers. Prefers well-drained soil. Benefits: sedative, nervine, excellent for fatigue, headaches, nausea, antibacterial, wound healing. Safety: Avoid in early pregnancy. Never ingest lavender essential oil.

Lemonbalm (Melissa officinalis): Hardy to -30 degrees F. Classic medicinal herb in the mint family. Prefers full sun. Benefits: Calming and soothing, nervine, good for headaches, mild sedative, antibacterial and antiviral properties, digestive, wound healing, fights cold sores, excellent for insomnia, insect bites, insect repellant. Fever reducing, considered gentle enough for babies and children. Pleasantly lemon scented makes a delicious hot or cold tea. Safety: May increase sedative effect of barbiturates.

Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla): Deciduous, woody shrub with distinctive lemon fragrance. Best grown in container with loamy, moist soil. Winter in doors. Tiny lavender flowers in late summer to fall. Benefits: Fever reducing, digestive, carminative, aromatic. Makes a delicious lemon/lime flavored tea. Can also use on fish and poultry. Safety: Generally considered safe.

Peppermint (Mentha piperita): Cultivated worldwide. Probably one of the best-known flavors. Excellent tea herb, digestive, stimulating, fever reducing, carminative, kills micro-organisms that can cause food poisoning, relieves pain from sprains and strains, sore muscles, excellent for nausea and vomiting. Makes a wonderful hot or cold tea blend and will heighten the flavor of any tea. Safety: Avoid in high doses during pregnancy, otherwise a mild peppermint tea can be very helpful for morning sickness. Generally considered safe.

Sage (Salvia officinalis): Woody perennial, hardy to -30 degrees F. Prefers full sun. Benefits: Excellent antibacterial mouth wash, excellent sore throat tea and gargle, memory enhancing, antioxidant, astringent, indispensable spice. Safety: Sage is astringent and should be avoided by nursing women as it can dry up milk supply.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris): Native to the Mediterranean especially Greece. Long-lived evergreen perennial, hardy to 0 degrees F. Some Thyme plants can live up to 20 years. Plant prefers full sun, warm limy soil and moderate watering. Thyme tea acts as a potent antiseptic and expectorant. Thymol, a component of thyme oil, is an ingredient in Listerine due to its antiseptic properties. Thyme tea can help reduce headaches and soothe respiratory infections. Thyme tea compresses are excellent for bruising, swelling and sprains. Safety: Avoid if you have a duodenal ulcer. Do not take medicinal doses with thyroid problems or while pregnant.

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus): Tropical perennial, temperate annual. Native to southern India and New Guinea. Prefers a sunny moist place. Winter indoors. Popular ingredient in Thai food. Benefits: Anti-inflammatory, some antibacterial properties and aromatic. Safety: Generally considered safe in recommended doses.

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana): Tender herbaceous perennial in the temperate north and evergreen in the warmer southern climates, often grown as an annual. Native to Paraguay and Brazil, hardy to 10 degrees F. Plants thrive in rich garden soil, full sun to part shade, high temperatures and humidity as well as lots of water. Benefits: The dried leaf is used to sweeten teas and is 250 times sweeter than sugar. Medicinal Stevia has been used as a wound healer, a treatment for hypoglycemia and digestive aid. Safety: Generally considered safe.

Spearmint (Mentha spicata): Grows in all zones. Bright green, fine-toothed leaf and small purple flowers. Grows up to two feet. Benefits: Stimulating, awakening, carminative, digestive aid, mixes well with most tea herbs. Safety: See Peppermint.

Cold and flu tea:

  • 4 cups of water
  • 3 slices fresh ginger – warming, immune boosting, relieves nausea and headache
  • 6 fresh sage leaves
  • 2-3 fresh thyme sprigs
  • Fresh juice of ½ a lemon – vitamin C antibacterial
  • ½” cinnamon stick – warming digestive support, antimicrobial

Bring water to a boil. Remove from heat and add all ingredients. Steep for 5 to 15 minutes.
Strain and drink twice daily.


Liver Tonic Tea:

  • 4 cups water
  • 4 slices fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbsp dried or fresh chamomile flowers
  • 2 slices burdock root – liver support, blood cleanser
  • 1 piece dried or fresh dandelion root
  • 2 teaspoons fresh or dried mint

Bring water to a boil. Remove from heat and add all ingredients. Steep for 5 to 15 minutes.
Strain and drink twice daily.


Bedtime Relax Tea: 

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tsp dried 1Tbsp fresh chamomile flowers
  • 1 tsp dried 1Tbsp fresh lavender flowers
  • 1 tsp dried 1Tbsp fresh mint leaves
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp dried 1 Tbsp lemonbalm

Bring water to a boil. Remove from heat and add all ingredients. Steep for 5 to 15 minutes.
Strain and drink twice daily.


Culinary/Healing Garden 

Catnip (Nepta cataria):  Highly aromatic minty plant with long-lasting blooms. Best in full sun and dry soils. Benefits: Sedative, digestive aid, eases mood swings and tension, alleviates cramps and PMS symptoms. Considered safe for babies and children. Safety: Generally considered safe.

Oregano (Origanum vulgare): Mediterranean herb, prefer full sun and dryish soil, hardy to -20 degrees F. Flowers in small purple heady flowers. Benefits: Stimulant, carminative, fever reducing, diuretic, nervine, digestive, headache reducing, antibacterial, antiviral, expectorant, antispasmodic, excellent for coughs and colds, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, vermifuge. Safety: Generally considered safe.

Coriander aka Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum): Mediterranean herb that prefers full sun and deep, well-drained soil and plenty of moisture. Grows quickly. Trim back regularly for cilantro, otherwise it will go to seed quickly. The seeds are known as the spice coriander. Benefits: Aromatic, carminative, leaves are a rich source of vitamin C, vitamin A, niacin, calcium, phosphorus, potassium and iron. Excellent for upset stomach and nausea. The seed can relieve cramps, but too much can have a laxative effect. Good in cough and cold blends, stuffy nose and can be gargled for sore throat and toothache. Safety: Generally considered safe. 

Calendula (Calendula officinalis): Annual or short-lived perennial, prefers full sun. Works well in the garden as well as in containers. Benefits: Excellent antiseptic, healing agent that is perfect for salves, tinctures or infused in oil and applied directly to skin. Inhibits inflammation and speeds healing. Edible, can be added to cakes or salads. Helps to activate immune system by activating the body’s defense mechanisms. Antiviral, antibacterial, important skincare herb. Safety: Generally considered safe.

Angelica (Angelica archangelic): Biennial, native to temperate Europe, Siberia and the Himalayas. Cultivated worldwide in all temperate zones. Prefers part shade to full sun and rich moist poorly drained soil. Flowers yellow-green in second year, grows to about three feet tall. Protects the soil and surrounding plants. Benefits: Classic apothecary herb, bitter aromatic and carminative. Seed, stem and root considered medicinally active, excellent for sour stomach, colic, gas, warms the body and improves circulation, relieves spasms, excellent for sore muscles as well as cough or cold. Fever reducing. Safety: Do not take if pregnant or diabetic. May cause sun sensitivity.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum): Highly productive broad leaf plant prefers full sun, rich soil and plenty of water. Benefits: Good for the stomach, vermifuge, carminative, antimicrobial, antifungal, mild nervine, calming to the stomach and intestines, good for nervous tension headache, promotes blood circulation. Safety: Generally considered safe.

Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus): Native to Europe and North America, linear shaped leaves with greenish white flowers. Plant in full sun in a moderately drained soil. Benefits: Leaves contain vitamin A, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and iron. Stimulates appetite, settles upset stomach. Safety: Generally considered safe.

Bee balm: (Monarda didyma): Herbaceous perennial, scarlet flowered, highly aromatic and decorative, prefers partial shade to full sun and moist soil. Benefits: Enhances flavor of lemonade, hot or cold tea. Digestive, carminative. Safety: Generally considered safe.

Dill (Anethum graveolens): Annual, native to southern Europe, Iran and India, lacy foliage and nodding seed heads, prefers regular garden soil and full sun. Benefits: Leaves and seeds used, carminative, antibacterial, diuretic, has been shown in studies to have some cancer inhibiting substances. Detoxifying properties. Safety: Generally considered safe.

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum): Hardy to -25 degrees F prefers full sun, works well in container or garden. Benefits: Appetite stimulant, 22% protein, contains vitamin A, C, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin and phosphorus, great for indigestion, carminative, expectorant, antimicrobial and slightly laxative. Safety:  Be careful not to eat too much during pregnancy, it can stimulate the uterus.

Echinacea (E. angustifolia, A pallida, A paradoxa, A purpurea (native to the Midwest), A tennesseenis): All species are beautiful and interchangeably medicinal; hardiness varies depending on variety, prefers full sun and well drained soil and regular watering. Benefits: Boosts the immune system, treats colds, flus and infections, helps to speed wound healing, reduce inflammation making it great for acne, and other skin conditions, useful for ear infection. Use in tea, tincture, salve and poultice. Safety: considered non- toxic, but should not be taken over long periods of time. More effective in short, high doses. If you suffer from an autoimmune disease such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic infections or HIV/AIDS you should not take Echinacea. As with all medicinal healing herbs consult your doctor before taking.

Summer Savory (Sanureja hortensis): Annual, prefers full sun, can grow to two feet tall. Benefits: High in vitamin A, calcium, niacin, iron and potassium, carminative, antispasmodic, and expectorant, gargle tea for sore throat, astringent properties, fresh leaves rubbed onto an insect sting will relieve pain. Safety: Generally considered safe.

Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia): Native to the Mediterranean, low-growing shrub with multiple stems topped with purple spiked flowers. Prefers well-drained soil. Benefits: Sedative, nervine, excellent for fatigue, headaches, nausea, antibacterial, wound healing. Safety: Avoid in early pregnancy. Never ingest lavender essential oil.

Comfrey (Symphytum officinalis): Perennial, hardy to -15 degrees F, has beautiful blue dangling flowers and fuzzy leaves. Prefers full to part sun, rich, moist well-drained soil. Also does well in sandy soil if watered regularly. Benefits: Cell proliferation, anti-inflammatory, relieves pain, and speeds healing, wound healing, has been used to treat skin tags and warts, contains allantoin, a compound that helps stimulate cell growth. Excellent skin herb.  Safety: Comfrey can be taken internally, but it contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can have a negative effect on the liver. If you would like to take comfrey internally, do not take if you are taking antibiotics, antacids, cholesterol lowering medications, or any other medication that affects the liver. Best used externally.

Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis): Woody perennial native to the Mediterranean, hardy to -20 degrees F. Deep blue/purple blossoming bushes. Prefers full sun, normal garden soil and little water. Benefits: Mild antiviral, expectorant, good common cold tea, great for sore throat and painful cough, relieves muscle spasms. Safety: Generally considered safe. 

Nasturtium (tropaeolum majus): Annual, prefers full sun and well-drained soil. Benefits: Edible flower, showy and beautiful, high in vitamin C. Safety: Generally considered safe.

Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis): Wood perennial native to Mediterranean, hardy to 20 degrees F. Prefers full sun and dryish soil. Benefits: Stimulates circulation, antioxidant, antiseptic and antispasmodic. Safety: High doses of the herb can stimulate the uterus. 

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): Native to temperate zones worldwide. Hardy white and beautiful flower, prefers full sun and well drained soil. Benefits: Antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, great for stomach cramps, gastrointestinal problems, reduces muscle spasms, lowers fever and induces sweating, mild sedative, staunches blood flow in wounds. Safety: Can be a uterine stimulant so avoid when pregnant. Avoid during gall stone attacks as yarrow can stimulate the liver.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare): Herbaceous perennial native to central Europe, hardy to -30 degrees. Benefits: Aromatic, antiseptic, expectorant, antispasmodic, carminative, pain reducer, fever reducer, antimicrobial, stimulates milk production in nursing mothers, stimulates appetite, soothes digestive pain, hastens healing of muscle strains. Safety: Avoid medicinal doses when pregnant.

Minted Melon Salad: 

  • 1 @ 3lb ripe Cantaloupe
  • 1 @ 3-4lb Watermelon or honeydew
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • ¼ cup fresh mint leaves

Using a melon baller to scoop melon into a large bowl, or cut melon into bite sized squares. Pour orange and lemon juice over melon and toss well. Cover and refrigerate for 1-3 hours. To serve, add mint leaves to the melon and toss. Garnish with a little freshly ground pepper.


Aromatic Garden

Scented Garden: Sweet violet (Viola odorata), Beebalm (Monarda didyma), Hidocte Lavender (L angustifolia subcategory A hidcote), Mother of Thyme (thymus serphyllum), Lemon Thyme (Thymus citroiodorus), Scented Geranium (Pelargonium), Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), Catmint (Nepeta mussini), Garlic Chives (allium tuberosum), Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) and Rosemary.

Fruit Scented Mint Garden: (recommended as a container garden and also makes a great tea garden) Lemonbalm, apple mint, orange mint, pineapple mint, lemon mint, chocolate mint, pineapple sage, lemon basil, lemon geranium, lemon thyme, chamomile, lemon verbena, orange balsam thyme, lime geranium and lemongrass.

Aromatic Old Rose Garden: Albas (Celestial, Maiden’s blush), Bourbons (Boule de Neige, Louise Odier, Mme Isaac Pereire), Centifolias (De Meaux, Fantin Latour), Damasks (Celsinana, Mme Hardy), Gallicas (Charles de Mills, Tuscany), Moss (Common Moss, Shailer’s White Moss, Soupert et Notting), and Portlands (Comte de Chambord, The Portlands Rose).


Useful Weeds 

Dandelion: Root and leaf. Benefits: Excellent for liver, kidney, indigestion, diuretic, high in potassium.

Violet: Leaves and flowers. Benefits: Very high in vitamin C. Has traditionally been used in treating everything from coughs to cancer.

Red Clover: Flowering tops. When left to grow, clover will force out unwanted weed species, loosen topsoil and fix nitrogen into the soil. Benefits: Popular herb for women, blood purifier and excellent for skin, especially to calm acne.

Mullen: Leaves and flowers. Benefits: Popular respiratory remedy for coughs, bronchitis and asthma. Excellent for soar throat and ear ache especially when mixed with Garlic oil. Anti-inflammatory and wound healing. Mullen actually contains compounds that move phlegm out of the body.