Growing medicinal plants gives you instant access to hundreds of beneficial phytochemicals that can help with inflammation, stress, immunity, and even memory. Whether you have a large rural garden or a small urban balcony, you can effectively cultivate your own pharmacy — or “farmacy” — to counter minor ailments when they crop up.
Although modern medicine excels in trauma management, it usually ignores the power of herbs, plants, and nutrition when it comes to chronic disease and minor complaints. Instead, doctors are quick to prescribe patented pills to address health issues, an act that feeds a billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry in the United States alone.
There are tens of thousands of herbs to choose from, each offering its own unique cocktail of molecules. Whereas modern medicine largely operates within the scope of targeting a single receptor with a single molecule, raw herbs introduce hundreds of compounds into the body.
Research into a phenomenon known as the entourage effects suggests that phytochemicals within medicinal plants work together in a synergistic manner and that isolating them may reduce the overall efficacy of a particular herb.
No matter if you’re a seasoned cultivator or eager beginner, introducing these five plant species into your garden will serve as an easy way to include some powerful phytochemicals into your diet.
Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum) belongs to the same family as cucumbers and melons. Known as the “immortality herb”, the plant has a 500-year history of use within Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The species contains over 100 saponins which significantly reduced blood triglycerides and cholesterol — factors associated with cardiovascular disease. These molecules also show potential in reducing the invasion and migration of cancer cells.
In human trials, jiaogulan saponins reduced BMI and insulin in patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. The researchers recommend them as an adjunct treatment alongside dietary changes.
You can germinate gynostemma from seeds or start things off by purchasing seedlings. Place plants in well-draining soil in a sunny spot. Once established, this low maintenance herb can grow up to 25 feet. Keep plants in small containers to limit their size if necessary.
Hops belongs to the Cannabaceae family alongside its relative cannabis. While cannabis makes terpenes within glandular trichomes, hops manufacture them in specialized lupulin glands. The plant produces an array of beneficial terpenes, and many of them display therapeutic action.
The terpene myrcene demonstrates the ability to slow down the degeneration associated with osteoarthritis. The molecule also induces a state of relaxtion — humans have placed dried hops in their pillowcases to promote sleep for hundreds of years. Myrcene may also ramp up levels of key antioxidants such as glutathione and superoxide dismutase.
Grow hops in a soil rich in organic matter. The vines will climb up any trellis provided. Allow it to soar up large poles or strings, or keep it contained to a few canes if you have limited space.
Rosemary holds the status of a cannabimimetic plant. This common culinary herb contains the dietary cannabinoid beta-caryophyllene, a molecule that binds directly to the CB2 receptor of the endocannabinoid system.
Researchers believe the CB2 receptor site may provide an effective therapeutic target in the treatment of pain, inflammation, atherosclerosis, and osteoporosis. It plays a fundamental role in modulating inflammatory and neuropathic pain responses, and beta-caryophyllene shows great promise in reducing pain and neuroinflammationthrough this pathway.
Growing rosemary also enables you to cultivate a potential COVID-19 therapuetic in your garden. Not only do the anti-inflammatory properties help to regulate the body’s immune response, but the herb may offer protective effects against the virus. Rosemary also contains the terpene cineole that soothes the lungs, relieves congestion, and reduces coughing.
Purchase a rosemary plant from your local nursery. This versatile evergreen will remain full and productive all year round. Move your plant into a big container or garden bed to produce a large bush-like specimen.
Passionflower is easily one of the most beautiful plants on Earth. As well as producing visually stunning flowers, this herbaceous vine manufactures phytochemicals that soothe the nervous system and reduce anxiety.
A human trial published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics tested passionflower extract against oxazepam in a sample of 36 patients with a generalized anxiety disorder and concluded, “Passiflora extract is an effective drug for the management of generalized anxiety disorder.”
Grow passionflower in well-draining soil in a spot that receives full sun or partial shade. Place pots next to a fence or trellis to allow the vine to climb and spread freely. Training passionflower over an archway adds a particularly ethereal aesthetic to a garden.
Echinacea produces an array of compounds that regulate skin health and bolster immunity. Alkylamides derived from the plant are known to interface with the endocannabinoid system. This physiological system helps to maintain homeostasis within the skin by regulating proliferation, growth, differentiation, and apoptosis.
Echinacea alkylamides may help to treat atopic eczema by activating CB2 receptors in the skin. The molecules help to suppress the release of inflammatory proteins and restore the epidermal lipid barrier.
Sow echinacea seeds indoors in early spring for flowers during the first growing season. Once the risk of frost passes, transplant them into garden beds alongside other herbs as a source of pollen for bees.
Making Tinctures And Teas
After harvesting these herbs, dry them out in the sun or use a dehydrator. To make tea, simply place a teaspoon of each into a strainer and add to warm water to create a medicinal herbal infusion.
Tinctures serve as an effective way to concentrate the potency of these medicinal plants. Coarsely chop your dried herbs and place them in a mason jar. Cover the material with 80-proof alcohol at a herb:alcohol ratio of 1:4. Such strong alcohol helps to absorb all of the beneficial phytochemicals, including those that aren’t water-soluble.
Seal the jar and let it sit for 8 weeks. Shake the jar once every few days to agitate the preparation. When ready, strain into a dropper bottle for easy administration.
Luke Sumpter is a freelance journalist that specializes in health, wellness, and alternative therapies. Currently, he’s working on a dissertation exploring the emerging role of the endocannabinoid system in orthopaedic medicine.