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Grow Your Own Medicinal Garden
Helpful tips. From Seed to Bottle.
Know your herbs before you start.
It’s always wise to know what you’re growing and why. Pick up a couple books on growing and using medicinal herbs to help you choose the best plants for your health and wellness. Always consult your doctor before combining herbal supplements with prescription drugs.
Begin by building raised beds and fill with organic potting soil. Frame beds with recycled plastic boards, wood, stone or simply mound soil up. A 10-by-10-foot area will grow a lot of plants.
Mix composted manure and peat moss into the soil at a rate of 1 part manure and 1 part peat moss to 4 parts potting soil. Continue to work in manure around plants every year in spring, but don't overdo it.
To new beds, add 1/8 part glacial rock dust (available at some garden centers and nurseries) for micronutrients and minerals. Add additional rock dust every two to three years.
Establish pH at 6.5 to 6.8. Use an inexpensive pH monitor to check soil acidity. If it's low, add ground limestone (also called agricultural lime; don't use dolomite lime) to neutralize. Use the amount recommended on the package. Check pH annually and adjust with lime
In the beginning and every four years or so, add rock phosphate to bring up phosphorus levels and improve plant vigor. Use twice as much as lime, which has rate instructions on the package.
Start building a bed this year and plant next spring. Sow a crop of green manure this winter: annual rye grass, clovers, Australian field peas and crown vetch are all good candidates. The cover crop is a rich source of nitrogen. Come spring, turn it under, wait two weeks and plant. Add lime when you till in the cover crop to minimize the chance of nitrogen burn.
Once established, herbs require very little care.
Don't overwater; you want roots to penetrate deep in search of water so they'll come in contact with more nutrients. Slightly water-stressed plants are stronger.
Harvest in early flower stage.
Cut just what you need, leaving enough of the plant to regenerate (at least 4 to 6 inches). After harvesting, dry herbs at a steady, consistent rate. They should dry within 48 hours for best quality. Drying options: A food dehydrator is a great option; lay them on shelves made of screens in a dark closet; or hang them in a dark closet at low heat (but don't use a rubber band to hold stems together; loosely bundled herbs dry more consistently); or lay them out on brown paper bags in a dark closet. Don't use the attic or garage, where it may get damp and be subject to fluctuating temperatures and moisture.
Once dry, package herbs in quart jars with a tight lid. Break up the whole plant just small enough to fit in the jar; the larger you leave the herb the slower it breaks down. Most important: make sure you label the jar with the date. If you have space, store jars in the freezer, which can extend the life and potency by at least six months. Otherwise, keep them away from heat and light. Many dried herbs have a shelf life of three years. Ideally, you should replenish dried herbs each season. Herbs will not mold if dried completely before storing.
1-2 FEET TALL
hairy silver gray foliage, white flowers
2-4 FEET TALL
light purple flowers
(St. John's Wort)
dark pink flowers
pale yellow flowers
4-6 FEET TALL
white or pink flowers
pale lilac-pink flowers
silver-gray foliage, yellow flower
bright yellow flowers