We are lucky enough to live in an area of the country where several medicinal herbs are native to our region and can be found growing wildly all around us. But what medicinal herbs, native or otherwise, grow well here in the Blue Ridge Mountains? The answer is … countless. So let’s start with some common kitchen herbs that can be prepared for medicinal use without a lot of legwork for the beginning gardener and aspiring herbalist. Medicinal plants have been used for thousands of years as remedies for common ailments. Fortunately, you don’t have to empty your savings account stocking up on already-prepared herbal remedies to begin reaping the benefits. You can create a veritable apothecary shop in your own backyard. What could be more convenient than simply walking outside when you need a natural remedy for a stomachache, bee sting, a headache or anxiety?
So where can you go in the Asheville area to get the herbs you need to begin growing your own medicine? Start by asking your friends what they have growing in their yard, and you might find that they will be more than willing to share. Herbs can be started from seed, but this late in the season you may prefer to buy plant starts so that you can reap the benefits of your herb garden right away. This time of year, grocery stores such as Greenlife Grocery, Earth Fare and Katuah Market often have a variety of herbal starts out front to choose from. Local companies that offer naturally grown herbal starts include Wildwood Herbal, Useful Plants Nursery and Appalachian Seeds Farm and Nursery. Local farmers markets will often feature at least one farmer or vendor selling herbal starts.
Even if you do not have a large area to work with, all of the following herbs can also be grown in containers. Consider starting with just a few of the following suggestions and growing from there.
Pain relief — Oregano, rosemary and thyme not only taste scrumptious on Italian fare, but they also all have pain relieving properties. These three herbs contain anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and analgesic compounds. To reap some of the benefits, munch on the leaves, add to your favorite dish or brew one or a combination of the three into a tea. Plantain, yes the same weed that you may have spent countless hours trying to eradicate, is invaluable when it comes to bee stings or bug bites. Simply pluck a leaf, chew it up into a poultice, or grind up with a bit of water, and place directly on the skin to relieve pain.
Digestion — Peppermint does very well in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and when consumed after a meal, either in leaf form or in a tea, peppermint helps to improve digestion. Sage helps to relieve gas and bloating and is used to stimulate the appetite. Basil helps to calm stomach upset, and the leaves can be eaten fresh off the stalk, added to a smoothie or brewed into a tea.
Immune system strengthening — Echinacea is well-known for its immune-boosting properties. Leaves from blooming echinacea flowers can be eaten directly off the plant or tossed in a salad. Garlic boosts the immune system and is a natural antibiotic, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. The health benefits of garlic are no secret and are too numerous to name here. Nettles are abundant in the Blue Ridge Mountains, are rich in various vitamins and minerals, and are used to boost overall immunity. Nettle tea brewed with local honey and served over ice makes a refreshing summer beverage that may help keep allergy symptoms at bay. Nettles lose their sting once cooked and can be steamed with other greens or made into tea or tincture.
Emotional Health — Motherwort and lemon balm are members of the mint family. They are both very hardy and spread easily, so keep these herbs contained if you do not want them to take over your entire garden. Motherwort has been used for centuries to help people recover from emotional unbalance, namely anxiety and depression. Make into a tincture or dry into a tea. Lemon balm can be eaten freely, made into a tea or the leaves can even be added to a warm bath to help relieve tension. Chamomile helps relieve tension and calm the nerves. Fresh lavender can be placed beside the pillow to help relieve insomnia.
For more information on medicinal herbs and plants, try contacting Useful Plants Nursery in Black Mountain, 669-6517, Appalachian Seeds Farm and Nursery in Asheville, 400-7014.