I’ve always had a bit of a green thumb. Growing up on a farm, I was forever digging up the back yard to plant my favourite veggies. But as I worked my way through my degree and my interest in herbal medicine grew, those veggies had to make a little room for my new babies: therapeutic herbs. The tomatoes had to make room for the echinacea, and my peas found themselves sharing living space with brahmi.
It wasn’t long before I found myself without any space. I was certainly not on the farm anymore, and my front yard was becoming some kind of urban jungle, with visitors having to wade through swathes of greenery just to get to my front door.
All this got me thinking about how to grow a therapeutic garden in limited space. Let’s face it: most of us have small backyards, or maybe only a balcony. So how can we maximise that space and grow a few select herbs – ones that have multiple medicinal actions – that can easily be turned in to remedies for ourselves and our families?
I put together a list of some of my favourites. Buy (or build) a few small planter boxes, or to hang a few pots over the rails of the balcony, and start growing your own home pharmacy!
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.
Chamomile: A handful of chamomile flowers added to your lemon balm tea will bolster its action, but the real reason I’ve included it here is its use in skin health. 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 bubs. 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 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 takes a while to cultivate, as it’s the root you’ll want to 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!
This article provides general information and is not intended to constitute advice. All care is taken to ensure information is accurate and relevant. Please see your Practitioner for health treatments and advice.
About Reece Carter
Reece Carter is a qualified Naturopath and holds a Bachelor of Health Science (Naturopathy). As a renowned herbalist, Reece has earned himself the nickname "herb-nerd" in the wellness community, and his writing has been featured in the Australian Women's Weekly, Women's Fitness Magazine, and Sporteluxe, as well as on countless blogs.
Naturopath Anita Pierantozzi built on her degree with two postgraduate qualifications that helped her enter the conventional medicine industry, landing the highly coveted role of Senior Medical Education Officer at Redcliffe Hospital.