23 April, 2009

The Dirt Pharmer

I, like most of you, am often a mess of common, niggling ailments. Migraines that sour my mood, sniffles that sap my energy, muscle aches that make the couch all too appealing, and who doesn't get a bout of insomnia now and again? In my small family of pill-poppers, we spend twenty or more dollars each month on treatments for each of these issues. We have pain killers, sleeping pills, allergy tablets, everything. Frankly, I'm sick of sick...sicker still of pills and expense. So, to the dirt I go. I decided it was time to grow a medicine cabinet in my own back yard.

Now, herbalism can be risky business. Certain bits, parts, and formulas can lead to all sorts of illnesses and even (scary music here) death. Upon deciding to embark on this herbal journey, I took up the books (well, okay, the net) and began researching. Given the choices, I decided to go with mostly herbs which have culinary uses as well as medicinal. The obvious reason is, if you can eat it in a soup, it probably won't kill you. A secondary reason was to save money on both the kitchen and pharmaceutical fronts. I've added a few other commonly used plants to the list and have come up with what I think will be a fairly handy variety of useful ingredients for infusions, tinctures, capsules, and poultices. Hang on tight. This is a long one!

Here's what we have growing:

Aloe: The sap of this succulent topically treats nearly any skin irritation or injury. It can also be taken internally, but that carries more risk.
Basil (sweet): Leaves, taken as an infusion or capsule, is good for digestive troubles and is also a mild relaxant.
Calendula (Marigold): Petals of this common flower, infused in water, may relieve stomach cramps, fever, and flu symptoms.
California Poppy: Root oil can be directly applied to achy teeth. A petal infusion is often used as a mild sleep aid and anti-anxiety tonic.
Coriander (Cilantro): Infusions from the leaves and stems are soothing and may aid in digestion. Ground seeds can be formed into oatmeal-mixed poultices for achy joints.
Dill: Leaves treat nausea and gas, and may aid in milk production for lactating mothers. Most often taken as an infusion, or as pure oil diluted in water.
Echinacea: Common herb for treating general cold and flu symptoms. Also a noted anti inflammatory. It can be infused, but has a slightly foul smell, so is general preferred in capsules.
Lavender: Very popular herb used for treating stress, anxiety, and insomnia when infused or used in a bath. The gentle oil can also be good for skin irritations.
Marjoram: Leaves can be used to aid with depression and digestive stress when taken as a tincture or infusion. Poultices may relieve swelling on tender joints. Oil can be used to treat toothache, and inhaling the steam from an infused bath can aid respiratory conditions.
Mints: Some people find the scent energizing, others find it relaxing. It is primarily used as a flavor softener for infusions of more pungent herbs, but can have some definite benefits for a queasy stomach, or as a skin bath, mouthwash, and the oils soothe tired muscles and joints. Spearmint is milder than Peppermint.
Oregano: Related to Marjoram, it treats many of the same symptoms, though it appears to have greater affect on aches and fevers than the other herb. Used as an infusion, gargle, or bath.
Parsley: An excellent general source of vitamins. A salad with only 1/2 cup of parsley contains over 50% of one's daily requirements of Vitamins A & C, and is also a good source of Folate and Iron. It packs a power-punching amount of Vitamin K, so be careful. It's also an excellent breath aid, a natural anti-inflammatory, and comes free on nearly every plate of food you eat at a restaurant.
Rosemary: Taken through infusion or by just inhaling the steam, this herb can help with headaches and depression, and as a mild expectorant.
Sage: Long used for spiritual practices, medical benefits can include treatment of mouth ulcers and sore throat, best used as a rinse or gargle. It can also be beneficial in compresses for cuts and scrapes.
Thyme: My favorite culinary herb, it may be helpful in relieving depression, stomachache, and respiratory symptoms. In a tincture or rub, it can help with fungal infections.

As soon as I can track down the seeds, there will also be Borage, Chamomile, Lemon Verbena or Lemon Balm, Feverfew, Skullcap, and Valerian.

I'm really looking forward the sights, smells, and usefulness of all these wonderful plants. Even if they don't work at all, the process of studying, growing, and blending these herbs is therapeutic all on its own.


greenfumb said...

That's really interesting, I have a lot of those things growing already. You do have to be careful with some of them though, can't remember why but I think Valerian is one to be careful with.

Also I have found tiger balm to be a great help with headaches. Not a herb I know but better than taking drugs.

Kelly the City Mouse said...

Valerian root can definately throw you for a loop. It's a power-packing sedative and stinks to high heaven. Luckily, I've used it off and on since high school and know my way around. There will be a giant warning, in bold print, if I post anything about homemade valerian capsules or (very stinky!) teas.

Ohhh tiger balm is the best. It saved my life when I had a badly pulled petoral muscle, last year. Good advice on the headache use!

Miss.Katie said...

I studied western herbalism for a year, it is a really amazing subject.

So much has now been said that pharmaceutical medicines and anti-biotics are what is creating these "suoer bugs" it makes sense to take a natural route.

Have you ever been to Marnis Herbals On cross road? she sometimes sells the more harder to find herbs along with all her tinctures etc

You have a very impressive list as it is tho!

Kelly the City Mouse said...

Katie: We dropped by Marni's last weekend, but she was closed :( We did a bit of window-peeking though and holy gawds does she have an amazing shop! I'm really hoping to grow everything, myself, and I don't think she sells seeds, but I will most likely see if she can hook me up with fillable capsules and other useful goodies.

Margo said...

I'm impressed! All I've managed so far is feverfew and valarian - never done anything with either but the valerian flowers were bee magnets!! They've all died down now as it's pretty chilly here. I have many of the culinary herbs but have never dabbled in the herbal med side of them. MUST read that herbal book I bought a few months ago :)

How about adding comfrey to your list - great in the garden (comfrey tea, chopped up as a green manure) and also good for bruises.

I've heard good things about Isabel Shiphards book How can I use herbs in my daily life too - it's on my wish list.

I have some german chamomile seeds if you want to do a swap?

Kelly the City Mouse said...

Margo: Hehe, let's hold off on the accolades until things actually germinate! I'm SO nervous that the recent chill will set back some of the seeds I potted. Fingers crossed!

I'd love to do a swap :) Just let me know what you want and I'll set some seed aside for you. And excellent idea on the comfrey. I hadn't thought of that one!

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