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Andre Smith

4 tips for growing a medicinal herb garden

4 tips for growing a medicinal herb garden

Herbal medicine predates Medicare and the entire contemporary medical system. Here in Australia, native plant-based medicines historically included tea tree oil and eucalyptus oil. Contemporary clinical research confirms the medicinal value of these remedies; researchers have determined that tea tree oil has antiseptic properties and is able to fight bacterial infections. Eucalyptus oil offers a range of health benefits, but it is most remarkable for demonstrating anti-cancer properties.  

People from countless other countries have also cultivated medicinal gardens. In India, herbal medicine is an important component of the 5,000-year old Ayurvedic medical tradition. Traditional Chinese medicine also integrates herbal remedies in significant numbers.

We’re fortunate to have Medicare available to us here in Australia. With the abundant availability of quality medical care, it might seem that a medicinal garden isn’t a necessity. However, herbal medicine can be useful for preventing chronic diseases and helping you avoid visits to your GP in the first place. For that reason alone, it’s worth growing a medicinal garden.

If you think you might enjoy cultivating a medicinal herb garden, we offer the following 4 tips for your consideration:

1. Choose whether to plant your herbs in pots or garden soil

You can plant your medicinal herbs directly into the soil in your garden. However, you can also consider growing your herbs in pots or containers. There are multiple reasons you might want to do so.

One example: Mint is an herb you might want to cultivate in your garden for a variety of reasons. It’s an effective remedy for the pain caused by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which afflicts up to 20 percent of the population. It’s also a delicious and refreshing herb to use for cooking, garnishing and making tea.

Yet, as useful as mint is, it can be obnoxious in the garden. It is so easy to grow that it is likely to outgrow the space you allot to it. It poses a danger to your other, more restrained plants as it multiplies and takes over your garden. One excellent solution is to plant your mint in pots, which keeps it confined in exactly the space you want it.

It’s also useful to plant your herbs in pots if you want the ability to move them from place to place. Perhaps your garden is either too sunny or too shady. On scorching hot days, it can be useful to have the option of moving your plants indoors if they show signs of wilting. It’s also lovely to be able to move a few pots inside to the kitchen counter when your herbs are ready to be harvested.

So, when you plan your medicinal herb garden, keep in mind that you can plant your herbs in either pots or directly in the ground -- or in whichever combination of the two would make sense given your unique garden site and situation.

2. Find a sunny location for your sunlight-loving herbs

Most herbs thrive in sunlight. In particular, basil, rosemary, chives and dill tend to prefer sunny spaces. Some herbs such as cilantro and mint will grow adequately in partial shade or even indoors if given a sunny windowsill. For most herbs, full sunlight is better; so it’s ideal to look for a sunny spot in the garden to plant your herbs.

3. Ensure good soil drainage

Herbs need well-draining soil to thrive. If you plant them in pots, ensure the pots have drainage holes in the bottom so excess water can escape. If you plant them in the garden, check for a spot that provides efficient drainage after rainstorms and regular watering. It’s ideal if water drains out of the soil within 30 minutes to 4 hours of rain or watering. If it drains faster, you’ll have to work harder to ensure your herbs get adequate water.

If it drains more slowly, you’re likely to experience serious problems. Root rot is often a problem for plants growing in poorly drained soil. In that case, it’s better to avoid planting in that location unless you take steps to improve the drainage.

One solution is to add organic matter to your soil. Another is to build raised garden beds filled with a mixture of high-quality soil and compost. You could also choose to avoid this issue by planting your herbs in pots.

4. Know your annuals versus perennials

When you decide what to plant where, do be conscious of the life cycles of each of your herbs. Some herbs are annuals, which means that they won’t typically live for longer than a year before needing to be re-planted. Other herbs are perennials, which means they will live longer than 2 years under ideal conditions. They might seem to die back in the wintertime, but when spring arrives, you’ll typically find that they grow on their own without you having to re-plant them.

It’s important to be conscious of this when you initially plan your garden and plant your seeds. If you plan to practice crop rotation or companion planting, you’ll have to pay particularly careful attention to the life cycles of the plants you intend to plant. You might wish to allocate one section of your garden, specifically, to perennials.

This gets tricky, because you also need to consider plants’ water needs in addition to their life cycles when you choose where to plant them in your garden. For example, you’ll want to avoid planting aloe vera too close to your chives. Both are perennials, but the chive plants need much more water than the aloe plants do. If you give your chives sufficient water, you risk flooding the aloe plants.

Want even more pro-quality tips on starting a medicinal herb garden? If so, you’re likely to enjoy taking horticulture courses. These courses will teach you a variety of different tips, techniques and methods on growing every useful kind of plant, including medicinal herbs, culinary herbs, fruits, vegetables, flowers, trees and shrubs.

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