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Planting for the Planet

Conscious Eating

Planting for the Planet

Seven Herbs to Grow, Eat and Heal

by April Thompson

Growing herbs at home has myriad benefits, enhancing health, boosting flavor and saving money while supporting local ecosystems. Home growing not only provides fresh herbs for cooking needs, but also offers access to easy and affordable natural remedies that can soothe common ailments.

“There is nothing like having your own fresh herbs in home-cooked meals. You can also dry and prep your own herbs for winter. Herbs retain more fragrance and vibrant color when you dry and process your own,” says Nadine Clopton, an herbalist who serves as regenerative education program manager for Rodale Institute.

Clopton likes to grow medicinal herbs like holy basil, as well as culinary herbs like rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano and basil, which serve as both nutrition and medicine. “They have minerals, vitamins and antioxidants, and are deeply supportive of different systems in the body,” says Clopton, who maintains a small deck herb garden in her Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, apartment.

A home herb garden boasts multiple environmental benefits, reducing our carbon footprint by eliminating the miles most herbs travel to reach the local grocery store, and eliminating pesticide use, if grown organically. Herbs are also great for attracting pollinators like bees, birds and butterflies to support a balanced and healthy ecosystem.

Great Herbs to Grow, Eat and Heal

“Rosemary is a multifaceted herb high in calcium,” says Linda Conroy, an herbalist, farmer and herb educator in Albion, Wisconsin. She uses it in topical lotions for pain relief, makes rosemary-infused salt for a flavor-booster and incorporates this pungent herb into her homemade feta cheese. Rosemary has been shown to enhance cognition and memory. It is also a natural mosquito repellant, making it a great addition to summer patios.

Sage is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and as a natural treatment for sore throats and coughs. “This easy-to-grow perennial also helps attract pollinators,” says Conroy.

Dandelion is an excellent detoxifier that
can help cleanse the liver and promote healthy digestion. “Every part of the dandelion is edible; it’s really a powerful, supportive herb. There are so many herbs like dandelion that grow wild around us, asking for our awareness and acknowledgment,” Clopton remarks.

Thyme has powerful antimicrobial properties that can help fend off bacterial infections. “It’s also anti-spasmodic and a natural expectorant, making it an excellent addition to cough remedies, which can save money compared to over-the-counter treatments,” Conroy advises.

Lemon balm is a natural stress reducer that can help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. “I love growing lemon balm and holy basil together,” says Clopton. “They act like a natural mosquito repellent, in addition to all their medicinal and culinary benefits.”

Chamomile is an essential herb for relaxation and digestion. Regular consumption of chamomile tea can help reduce anxiety and promote restful sleep. Conroy also uses this herb for topical applications like lotions, body washes, foot baths and even eyewashes to soothe sore, irritated eyes.

Garlic has antibacterial and antiviral properties that can help fight infections. The bulb is also known to reduce blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels. “Garlic, chives and other plants in the allium family are all important immune-system boosters,” says Conroy.

Getting Started

For first-time growers, an herb garden may sound intimidating, but with patience and care, it can flourish even in small, indoor spaces. Conroy recommends trying chives, as they are easy to sprout and thrive in a box or pot. She also suggests starting by growing just one herb at a time.

While Conroy grows her herbs from seed in her own greenhouse, it is perfectly acceptable to buy plants that already have a head start. Clopton suggests plants like lemon balm because it is easy to root from a cutting. She also recommends supplementing soil with organic compost to give plants an extra boost, and making sure growing containers have good drainage.

Adding herbs to an outdoor garden or indoor space is an easy way to shrink our carbon footprint and support pollinators for the good of the planet, all the while saving on groceries. Start small with an herb garden and enjoy the numerous health and other benefits herbs offer.

April Thompson is a Washington, D.C., freelance writer covering food, travel, sustainability and spirituality topics. Learn more at AprilWrites.com.

Photo credits: Marilyna from Getty Images Pro / CanvaPro

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