Kim explores the garden for healing herbs, plants and flowers, and discovers a stunning array of health-enhancing goodies.
How many of us have stared at our gardens and cursed the devastating dandelion? It's a perennial weed in most people's minds with surely no ability to predict if he loves you or loves you not!
But this yellow, spiky weed actually doubles as a miniature medicine chest with scores of health benefits. Herbalists and apothecaries have been big fans for centuries (even those with gardens to tend). Juice squeezed from the roots has been used with remarkable effect to treat liver problems, plus it's a great tonic for the digestive and urinary systems. The leaves have a milder effect, but are packed with vitamins and have more iron than spinach. Young leaves, which are less bitter, can be picked for adding to your mixed green salads.
Nettles too are packed with minerals, especially iron, and can be picked young and cooked like spinach or added to soup. The juice of the roots and leaves has also been shown to possess powerful antihistamine properties, which can help treat allergic reactions such as asthma.
These days many people are turning to natural remedies and healthy eating as a way to itigate common illnesses such as cancer, strokes and arthritis. With a little TLC, your garden could soon be crammed with nearly everything you need for good health. And all that weeding and hoeing will keep you fit!
Many of the herbs we use today such as fennel, rosemary and thyme were brought over by the Romans, who depended on their healing powers and ability to maintain good health. Fennel is an excellent aid to digestion - its crushed seeds and foliage can be steeped in hot water for a refreshing herbal tea. Fennel tea has properties similar to the hormone oestrogen, and has been used for centuries to promote milk flow during breastfeeding.
Rosemary has a long history as a memory-enhancing herb and is a favourite among aromatherapists for treating depression, as well as stimulating the circulation. I throw some in whenever a chicken or lamb goes in the oven, and have even tasted a delicious rosemary sorbet. Thyme is one of the three aromatic herbs along with parsley and bay that make a bouquet garni, which can be added to stews and sauces.
Growing a selection of herbs, fruit, vegetables and flowers is dead easy, and even if you don't have a garden, most can be grown in containers.
Herbs that come from warmer climates, like fennel, tarragon and sage, thrive in conditions as close as possible to their natural habitat - so all you need is a well-drained, sheltered, sunny spot.
If your situation is more container than Kew Gardens, fennel, rosemary and thyme are ideal for growing in containers. You just need a soil-based compost, with a few handfuls of grit added for drainage. A quick trim after they flower will help keep plants compact and neat.
Power-packed vegetables include beetroot, one of my firm favourites. It's easy to grow - you sow it directly into the ground outdoors in early spring. The baby leaves can be added to salads, and larger leaves can be cooked like spinach - beetroot and orange soup is a delicious favourite in our house! Fresh, raw beetroot is also a powerful blood cleanser and tonic.
So next time you find yourself glaring at the humble dandelion, remember its many health benefits and clear some space for the healing plants.
Kim's top 5 medicinal plants
- Garlic cloves need a well-drained, sunny site. Plant in late autumn or early spring. Garlic is the king of all healing plants, believed to help illnesses ranging from cancer to gout.
- Apples help lower cholesterol, are great detoxifiers and live up to their reputation of keeping the doctor at bay! If you don't have a garden, small trees can be grown in containers.
- Beetroot can enhance immune resistance and is excellent for convalescing after an illness.
- Nettles have blood-purifying properties and are packed with minerals.
- Pumpkins are full of betacarotene that help protect us against cancer. The seeds can be dried and eaten, and are packed with protein and B-vitamins. Pumpkins need rich soil with plenty of well-rotted manure, sunshine and watering. A great growing project for you and the children!