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Planting a Medicinal Garden This Spring

Thursday, March 26, 2015


Lavender is prized for its calming and relaxing properties.

The first official days of Spring have passed, and if you haven’t already, it is time to start planting your garden.  Portlanders are blessed to have a long planting and harvesting season, along with a plethora of incredible garden stores, homesteading groups, and classes to help you make the best use of your space. 

This year I challenge you to look at your garden as not only a place to grow an abundance of fresh vegetables, but as a place to grow some great medicine.

You likely already have some unintentional plants in your yard that can be used for medicinal purposes.  Reference last September’s “Backyard Medicine” article for information on using dandelion, lemon balm, hen and chicks, and red raspberry leaf to treat common ailments.  This post, however, is about intentionally planting a garden that is both edible and medicinal. 

The four plants discussed in this post have the benefit of being not only medicinal, but beneficial for your garden and great for culinary purposes.    


This plant smells incredible, and it is will help attract bees to your garden.  There is a host of reasons to plant fennel this year, and most of them have to do with your stomach:

This herb is a must-have in the kitchen (see these recipes) as it works equally well with sweet or savory dishes.  Fennel has a lovely mellow flavor if it is cooked or baked, but for the full potent flavor try using this herb raw.  You can add thin slices of fennel to salads or raw vegetable dishes for a bit of a bite, all the while aiding in your digestion. 

The tiny seeds of the plant have long been used to effectively treat digestive issues.  If you have gas or bloating after a meal, chewing on a few seeds may bring relief.  You can also use the seeds, leaves or root to make a post-meal tea to aid your digestion.

Note: fennel is thought to put out a chemical through its roots that can slow the growth of other plants around it, so plant it in a pot or at the edge of your garden for the best results.

Calendulas are beautiful blossoms are edible, and make a fun addition to any salad.

Calendula (Marigold)

These plants bring a pretty little pop of color to your mostly green vegetable patch, but you don’t need to plant them just to make the garden look good.

Calendula is thought to keep away some of the bugs that would otherwise feast on your hard-earned food.  They have long been planted alongside cabbage as a way to deter aphids and cabbage moths, and there have been a few recent studies suggesting that spraying a tea brewed from calendula on plants may be an effective insecticide. 

The beautiful blossoms are edible, and make a fun addition to any salad. 

The roots of the calendula plant partner with fungi that is present in your garden, and together they work to restore contaminated soil.  

Calendula is famously beneficial for your skin.  It has been used for hundreds of years to help with wound healing and skin inflammation/irritation.  It can be used for cuts and scrapes, acne, and chapped skin. 

It has the added property of being exceptionally gentle, so that it is often found in skincare lines created for babies.  Because of this, calendula is a go-to for many herbalists when it comes to children’s rashes.  You can put fresh or dried calendula flowers (which you can get in bulk at New Seasons if you didn’t grow any in your garden) in a tea bag and put it directly in the bath to treat and soothe any rash in children or adults.


This is a beautiful and fragrant herb that has long been used to scent skincare and household products. In addition, it is a favorite of bees, and has numerous culinary and medicinal benefits.  

If you haven’t yet tried baking or flavoring foods with lavender, that should be one of your goals this year.  Adding lavender flowers to shortbread cookies, lemon loaf, or steeping some lavender along with your Earl Grey tea are all simple ways to incorporate this flavorful herb.  A little goes a long way with lavender, so use sparingly.

Lavender is prized for its calming and relaxing properties.  For a simple relaxing massage oil, put 1/4 cup of lavender in a mason jar, cover (completely) with olive oil, seal and leave in a dark place for about 2 weeks.  Strain out the flowers, and massage — it is great to use on children for digestive issues/colic, and makes a nice relaxing massage oil for adults.  You can store this oil in a cool dark place for up to 6 months.  Throw it out if the oil smells rancid or feels tacky.

Lavender has been shown in at least preliminary studies to be beneficial for treating the following: alopecia related hair loss, anxiety, (topical) canker sores, various types of pain, eczema, depression, and migraines.

Note: Mexican lavender (L. stoechas), although popular in landscaping, is not appropriate for medicinal or culinary purposes.

A tea made with sage leaves can be an effective way to treat a sore throat.


This silvery-green leafed plant has a long history of being used in both culinary and medicinal arenas.  It is also purported to repel cabbage moths, carrot flies, bean beetles, and flea beetles (potatoes and sweet potatoes) when planted with each respective vegetable.  Here are some additional benefits of sage:

While most people think of sage in terms of flavoring for soups, stews or Thanksgiving stuffing, it is actually a versatile kitchen herb.  Try infusing some honey with sage for a wonderfully complex spread or sweetener for your tea.  Take advantage of the Oregon marionberry bounty by making some Marionberry-Sage Fruit Leather.

A tea made with sage leaves can be an effective way to treat a sore throat.  You can either drink the tea or gargle with it several times a day to soothe the inflamed mucous membranes.

Sage tea can also help to loosen phlegm in your upper respiratory tract, so it makes an all-around good herb to have on hand for colds.

A study published by the NCBI showed a sage and rhubarb cream to be as effective at treating topical herpes as was the prescription cream Zovirax.

The aforementioned herbs are some of my must-haves for any Portland garden.  They are all easy to grow, beneficial for the other plants in your garden, delicious, and provide really basic easy-to-use medicines for you and your family.  Happy gardening!


Erin Brockmeyer, LAc, is owner and acupuncturist at Solstice Natural Health in downtown Portland.  She creates custom health plans for patients to help them tackle their most complicated health concerns, including infertility, prenatal care, fibromyalgia, thyroid conditions and chronic and acute pain conditions.  Visit her website for more information and to download her free e-book 5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Health Today.


Related Slideshow: The 7 Best Health and Fitness Apps

Here is a list of some of the most obsession worthy health apps.

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MapMyRun is the number one selling running app for a reason:  it is easy to use, offers community support if you want it, and tracks and stores your exact routes for you.  If you are training for a race or a serious runner, users say that the extra perks in the upgraded paid version are well worth it. 

Made for iPhone, Android and Blackberry 

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MyFitnessPal seems to be the clear favorite amongst everyone polled.  It is helpful not only for the fitness tracking aspect, but everyone polled mentioned how much they loved the food/diet aspect as well. From carb counting for diabetics to recipe ideas to complement your fitness goals, users love this app. 

Made for iPhone and Android

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JeFit is another fitness app that has rave reviews.  It not only tracks progress for you, but offers a huge database of workouts.  While many apps offer community support, JeFit allows you to sync workouts with friends who use the app, offering a (real) virtual buddy system.

Made for iPhone and Android

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Strava gets the highest mark of all the cycling apps.  While it is also great for runners, the cyclers seem particularly inclined towards the fierce competition that can be ignited by this app.  You can track all of your rides via GPS, then you can compare your efforts to those logged by others in the community on the same stretch of road.  You can also join ongoing challenges that can net you great prizes (in addition to bragging rights). 

Made for iPhone and Android

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YogaStudio gets the top vote for Yoga apps.  It has a lengthy collection of full class-length videos available at your fingertips.  Unlike many other apps, this one also allows you to customize your own video yoga class.  All of the poses are done by qualified yoga instructors, and you can find classes suitable for all levels of yogis.

Made for iPhone only

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SimplyBeing meditation app offers the best of both worlds.  You can choose to run this app as a background for your meditation with soothing music or natural sounds that run for a set amount of time.  Conversely, for those of you who have trouble focusing during meditation, you can choose a soothing voice-guided meditation. 

Made for iPhone and Android

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Fooducate is an app all about educating people so that they make healthier food choices.  Although not perfect, this app is easy to use (you can even take pictures of bar codes to instantly find foods in their database).  It gives food a letter grade, tells you the pluses and minuses, and gives you better ranked alternatives.  You can also use it as a weight loss tool by tracking your daily calories. 

Made for iPhone and Android


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