Just about the same time I started getting into permaculture, I began developing an interest in the power of food as a preventative medicine. Permaculture appealed to me because it seemed obvious that the way we were cultivating our food with an overabundance of chemicals was destructive to the planet and to our own health. When it came to farming, doing what came naturally seemed, well, the natural solution. Letting food be my medicine paralleled this idea: We’ve become so accustomed to doping our bodies to ward off every cold or headache and boost our bodily systems that we’ve left ourselves in the same state as barren ground.
If the soil could be fixed by adding quality organic biomass, reinvigorating an entire ecosystem, then why couldn’t we do the same thing for our bodies, ecosystems in their own right? My wife Emma and I started watching documentaries like Food Matters and Simply Raw, reading books about herbal medicine and fermentation, and learning from people we were meeting through permaculture. We suddenly found ourselves thinking about enzymes, probiotics, gut flora, and antioxidants. We became fast fans of fresh herbs in every meal and including certain beneficial spices and veggies regularly. Undoubtedly, it felt right, and we felt better than ever.
What we found was that some of the most powerfully medicinal foods had been right at our fingertips all along. They were easy to grow, required little space (could work in pots, in fact), and naturally strengthened our immune systems, regulated blood sugar, steadied blood pressure, lubricated joints, prevented inflammation, helped our skin, and generally bettered our well-being. We adopted simple ways to include them in our meals throughout the day, and we started sharing our new dietary practice and home production methods. And, that felt right, too.
Very common, very potent, and very medicinal—garlic is nothing new on the medicinal scene. It’s even available in pill form these days, but when it’s so easy to grow, that just seems silly. What’s more, raw garlic is where the magic really happens. We’ve always grown our garlic as an annual, often as much for the sprouts as the bulbs, but I’ve recently discovered new (to me) techniques for growing it as a perennial, i.e. the permaculture way. While it can be grown in a pot, it’s also a great companion plant
Already something we used regularly to prevent motion sickness, ginger became a much larger feature in our everyday cooking. It pairs wonderfully with carrot anything, works well in oatmeal, and, with some citrus zests, adds a zip to rice. We also use it to make tea, again combined with a bit of orange or lime. But, by far, our favorite ginger practice has become fermenting ginger beer on a regular basis. It tastes great while providing both the medicinal benefits of ginger and probiotics. It’s a great shade-tolerant plant that works well in the tropics but can be grown indoors as a pot plant in more frigid locales.
Despite its proneness to staining all it touches golden, seemingly losing some of its luster, turmeric is perhaps the golden child of medicinal spices. Study after study has been published about this budding spice outperforming a host of prescription meds with regards to different cancers, blood problems, and brain diseases. It’s bitter but with a warm nutty flavor that suits accompanying many legumes and grains, as well as potatoes, or it can be made into a pretty serious tea. It also works as a topical medicine for inflammatory conditions. It’s another hot weather plant pleased enough to grow in a pot.
As travelers, oregano oil had long been something we carried with us as a sort of cure-all. Anytime we were feeling rundown, we’d gulp some juice or a shot of water with a couple of drops of oregano oil. It was far too strong to enjoy, but recommended by some good friends, it always seem to work. Of course, while not in the same concentrated form, oregano — the herb itself — has the same qualities as a plant and can be used for immune boosting, respiratory maintenance, and antioxidant-rich cancer combat. It’s also a versatile, perennial garden addition that makes a good companion to just about anything.
5. Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is just one of those plants that anywhere with a kitchen should have. In a word, when it comes to burns, it is the remedy. However, it can and should be used for much more than that. It works topically for everything from bug bites to rashes to conjunctivitis. Though the flavor can be hard to savor, it also works well internally, as a great cleanser and an immune system booster. Aloe vera is another easy pot plant that will multiply itself with hardly any attention paid to it.
Another herb that spans most growing zones, lavender is a great addition to the garden with a host of medicinal attributes. Aromatically, it is respected for providing calming effect that reduces stress, headaches, and depression. It can be used internally, though the essential oil does require caution, but due to its powerful flavor, it should be done so sparsely or as a tea.
It’s also great for baths, sock drawers, and pillows. Lavender grows easily (also in a pot) and doesn’t like to be watered so often.
7. St. John’s Wort
Seriously strong, so much so that it must be taken with precaution when patients are on other medications, such as birth control and cholesterol pills, St. John’s Wort is already widely known even amongst those who aren’t necessarily herbalists. It’s another anti-anxiety, anti-depressant plant that, taken internally, aids with everything from flu to gout to bronchial problems to diarrhea. As an ointment, it can help with burns and bruises, as well as sciatica and rheumatism. It grows easily, enough so to be considered a weed problem, which makes it easier to control when potted.
The bane of many a lawn care aficionado, dandelions, despite their weedy reputation, are a super useful plant for both the culinary delights and healthy dispositions. The whole thing is edible. The leaves, growing more bitter with size, works for a salad green, and the roots can be substituted for coffee. It’s great for the internal organs, especially the liver, and very helpful with digestive issues, amongst many other things. Growing it in pots helps to control the perennial self-seeder and harness all the goodness that it can offer.
For us, more than using herbal remedies as something to treat illnesses, though we do that also, we like to include things like this in our daily diet to prevent problems in the first place. This means regular intake as teas, infused cold drinks, culinary features, and raw seasoning sauces (including a bunch of medicinal plants, herbs and spices into a blended mix that we add to meals as if a condiment). The effects within the first month of doing this are absolutely noticeable, and now, when we are traveling a lot and unable to keep up the practice, the eventually letdown, too, becomes painfully obvious.
Feature Header: Oregano (Courtesy of cyclonbill)