The wonders of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) can be exhaustive. In our blog posts over the month, we’ve discussed many things, from whether swimming in cold water is advisable to how to eat parsley correctly.
Traditional Chinese medicine and natural remedies can be very effective but most of us spend our time nowadays cooped up in offices or classrooms and not in big, open gardens where we can do a lot of harvesting. So how do we maximise that little garden that we have that comes in the form of a backyard or a balcony garden, and what herbs can we grow?
Lemon Balm: Also called Melissa, this relative of mint looks very similar to its cousin, but with a distinct citrus smell when crushed. It’s a gentle sedative, meaning that you can have it daily if you need a little help getting to sleep. In my experience it grows like wildfire, and you’ll need to trim the stems regularly if it looks like it’s bolting (growing long stems with fewer leaves) – that should keep it thick and bushy. Steep a handful in a pot of boiled water for five to ten minutes, then enjoy a cup or two with a slice of lemon before bed. The herb loses its potency when dried, but the fresh herb can be tinctured to preserve its medicinal properties.
Chamomile: The term Chamomile actually refers to a range of different daisy-like plants, which are a member of the Asteraceae family. There are many different species of chamomile, the two most commonly being German chamomile (Marticaria recutita) and Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). They have been used since ancient times for their calming and anti-inflammatory properties, and each offer their own additional health benefits. Fill a jar with the flowers and cover with sweet almond oil. After a few weeks, strain it off and you have an anti-inflammatory oil that is wonderful on sunburn and rashes, and is gentle enough for kids and babies. If you want a stronger herb, or if eczema is your concern, grow marigold instead. Want a hot tip? Plant your marigold next to your tomatoes to ward off pests.
Brahmi: For those of us for whom sleep is not the concern, but never seem to have energy during the day, here’s the herb you need. Devote a whole pot to this one, because it’s a creeper. Brahmi is one of the herbs used in Ayurveda to enhance focus and concentration, and it lifts mood with frequent use. I pick the leaves and add it to my green tea each morning.
Peppermint: Like most of the mint family, peppermint grows easily and should be kept in its own pot to stop it from suffocating everything else. The oils are most potent when grown in full sun, so if you have a sunny space, this is the herb to put there. It likes lots of water and good drainage. Pick the leaves and make a strong tea whenever you have tummy troubles.
Horseradish: Horseradish has been used internally as a condiment, GI stimulant, diuretic, and a vermifuge, and externally for sciatica and facial neuralgia. However, there are no clinical trials to support any therapeutic use for horseradish. Animal data suggest potential antibacterial and hypotensive effects.
Unlike other herbs, horseradish takes a while to cultivate, because it’s the root that’s of use. It’s fantastic to blast congested sinuses due to allergies or a cold. Like peppermint it likes full sun. Plant a root cutting in spring or autumn, cover in mulch, and water once a week. Apart from that you can pretty much forget about it; horseradish is very hardy and will keep on doing its thing until you’re ready to harvest it. I find the best way to use it is food as medicine. Pop it in to a soup or dressing and watch the magic happen!