One of the most rewarding feelings on the world is watching the process of a plant growing. The sprout peaking its head through the soil, it growing, being transplanted, bushing out and thriving. Even more rewarding is going to that plant time and time again to harvest medicines to add into your meals, drinks or to specifically use to make a tea or decoction.
While the list is endless when it comes to the medicinal plants you can grow in your gardens, this is a simple compilation of four plants and roots which are pretty common to find, plant and use ( and can even thrive in pots for those living in apartments ).
Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum)
Tulsi, Holy Basil or Perennial Basil is one of the easiest and abundant plants to grow. It has been revered as a holy plant in Hinduism and holds a strong standing in the Ayurvedic medicinal practice. There are two different variants - the green coloured Lakshmi tulsi and the purple hued Krishna tulsi. This humble adaptogen has medicinal benefits which include boosting immunity, fighting fevers, treating bacterial and viral infections. It’s medicinal benefits are caused by its highly unique essential oil composition which contain eugenol, camphor, flavonoids, nerol and terpenes – which have been studied for the treatment of acne, heart disease, lung issues (such as respiratory disease and asthma) and as an anti-inflammatory. It has additionally been used to protect the kidneys, relieve headaches, aid dental care and for its anti-cancer properties.
Rich soil, good drainage, regular watering and plenty light (thrives in direct sunlight but can be put in partial sunlight too – minimum of 4-6 hours of sunlight).
Does not like frost – definitely is a summer loving plant however can be brought indoors in the winter to keep protected from the cold.
The easiest way to begin growing Tulsi, is to either start by taking a cutting from a healthy mother plant or to take a strong stalk from a store bought bunch - which has some leaves on it. From here you can either plant it directly into a small pot or put it in a small glass vase (to allow roots to shoot before planting it in the pot), in indirect sunlight. New shoots should from in 4-6 weeks. From there you can repot it or put it in the soil. When planting it in soil make sure that it has spent some time outdoors in the pot to get it used to the elements.
One can begin harvesting around 40 days from germinations or when it stands 1 ft tall. Remember in the beginning it is best to harvest small amounts to promote more growth, when doing so pinch off the tops of the leaves where you will see a joining of 4/6 leaves. One can also pinch off the flowers to use them medicinally or save them for seeds. Once harvested you can use the leaves fresh or dry them out in the sunlight, a dehydrator or on a very low setting in the oven, you can put them in an airtight jar where they will last for 1 year if dried correctly.
Cancerbush (Lessertia frutescens)
Classified as the only true indigenous tonic or adaptogen in South Africa, this amazing plant deserves higher recognition in the world due to its long list of medicinal benefits - enjoying a long history of use by all cultures in southern Africa. Traditional uses for this amazing plant include the treatment of depression and anxiety, asthma and bronchitis, kidney infections, moderate hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome and more recently as a treatment for both HIV/Aids and cancer. The therapeutic properties .of Cancerbush are based on its ability to help the human body mobilise its own immunologic and physiologic resources to help combat diseases and fight mental and emotional stress. Flavonoids isolated have shown many health-protecting effects, including anticancer, antiviral, anti-osteoporotic and anti-cardiovascular activity. They have also been found to possess anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic anti-microbial, chemo-protective, and antioxidant effects which substantiate Cancerbush's use in traditional medicine.
Tolerates all soil types, is a fast growing shrub, enjoys the full sun – needs average water and is drought tolerant.
Flowers appear in spring to mid-summer and are pollenated by sunbirds.
If you are based in the Western Cape, up the west coast as far as Namibia, into the western Karoo and beginning of the Eastern Cape you may be able to find this remarkable medicine in the wild, in which case you can (with awareness and gratitude), harvest a small shoot with some of the roots – try not to take the whole plant as it is important to promote natural growth. Once taken home you can place it in a small glass vase and within two weeks there should be some new root growth. From there replant into the earth or a pot and allow to grow. Alternatively one can grow from seed – we love the website www.seedsforafrica.co.za they have an amazing selection of indigenous herbs and medicinals.
One can harvest the leaves once the plant is well established in the soil and is thriving. Harvest small amounts of leaves a the beginning and more as it grows to promote growth. Once harvested one can dry the leaves in the same methods as above mentioned and a tea can be made or it can be added to soups, stocks and broths – warning to those who have not tasted it before, it has a very bitter taste so ensure that the flavour profiles of your food can complement that or overshadow the taste.
Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica)
Asiatic pennywort or Spadeleaf is cherished in both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicinal practices – and for good reason. Gotu Kola is a weed, meaning that it grows rampantly without much effort or maintenance. Some of the first observations and use of it was in Sri Lanka, where locals observed that elephants ate it – becoming synonymous with the symbol of longevity. It is a tri-doshic Ayurvedic medicine, meaning that it caters to all body types in order to bring balance. It is notably used in the treatment of dis-ease in the mind - Alzheimer’s, mental fatigue, anxiety, depression, memory loss, insomnia, as well as improving circulation, aiding wound healing and detoxification. Cognitive enhancing properties in it increase neuronal growth due to the activation of a group of proteins known as MAPKs – these cause a growth factor for neurons called Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor. This amazing longevity herb also alters the release of anti-inflammatory signalling molecules from immune cells known as IL-1β which help with chronic circulation issues.
Can grow in any soil type so long as conditions are never dry.
Works well as a ground cover near water in dark, shaded areas.
In warm climates it grows very quickly and can take over a lot of space so if this is a concern keep it in a pot.
If Gotu Kola is not present in your garden (make sure before you rule transplanting it as an option) your next best bet is to grow from seed. Place the seeds in light soil in a pot and keep consistently moist until the shoots have begin to sprout. Once the sprouts have their first ‘real’ leaves they can be transplanted into the garden. Ensure that before you plant outside you leave the seedlings to face the elements to ‘harden off’ (acclimatise).
Once it has established itself well you can harvest as you like, pick off the leaves by pinching them off the stalks – as usual be sparing at the beginning so as not to over harvest. Then you can add to salads, pestos, soups , anything you like – or dry in the same methods as above and store in an airtight container for up to a year.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
This is definitely one of my all-time favourite medicines – which is often overlooked and taken for granted. It is a flowering plant, however its root is what is used medicinally and the part which we all know well. This rhizome can be dried, powdered, made into oil etc. in order to be used medicinally. Most of the health benefits in ginger are due to the active constituent called gingerol- however It also is rich in vitamins, minerals and nutrients. It additionally as numerous anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant compounds in it such as pantothenic acid, beta-carotene, capsaicin, curcumin, caffeic acid, and salicylate. It has been studied and used expensively for relieving nausea, headaches, treating colds and flus, aiding digestion, preventing stomach ulcers, reducing arthritis pain, treating asthma, protecting the liver, containing anti-cancer effects, improving cognition, relieving muscular pain, preventing menstrual cramps, boosting heart health, controlling diabetes, preventing infections, detoxifying the lymphatic system, treating diarrhoea, aiding skin issues and balancing hormones.
Needs rich soil which can hold moisture, however has free draining to prevent water logging.
A good compost goes a long way with this medicine to ensure that the root swells up and has enough nutrients to grow.
Plant in late winter/ early spring with plenty light but no direct sun and is protected from wind.
GROWING FROM ANOTHER ROOT
This is the preferred way to grow ginger – either get a root from a friend who has it planted or just buy from the shops. From here you want to let the root soak overnight – this will allow for any growth retardants to come off (in the case of store bought). Then look for the ‘eyes’ or growth buds which look like little points coming off of each nodule, these are what will expand to create more ginger plants. Cut or break the root into small pieces with a few buds on each piece and place the root 5cm under the soil with the buds facing upwards. Be sure that the ginger gets a lot of moisture in it’s growing time, and to those living in humid climates you will get a very fruitful harvest – to those in colder and dryer climates consider keeping it indoors.
Whithin four months of growth one can push the soil a bit to the side and you will see the new rhizomes forming – this is what is known as green ginger which is still very beneficial to the system however does have less flavour than the mature ginger. The best time to harvest is once all the leaves have died down which can take up to 10 months in some climates – you can now take up all the plants and save some of the rhizomes for the next planting. You can shred it, dice it and use fresh or sundry/ dehydrate it for teas or to make into a powder.
There are various other plants which are easy to grow and are both beautiful and beneficial to have in the garden – lavender, aloe, dandelion, olive trees, chamomile, rosemary, oregano, num nums, ashwagandha – these are all medicinal plants which we take for granted and probably have had in our gardens as kids without a second thought.
We hope that this inspires you to take some time to plant your own seeds, find those special medicines which you want to work with to aid your health and healing process.
Sending blessings of radiant health
Herb garden : https://za.pinterest.com/pin/193443746464079390/