My healing garden
One of the reasons I garden is to feel better. By surrounding myself with beauty, engaging in moderate exercise and inhaling plenty of fresh air I am drawn into a euphoric state that comforts me. However, gardening can also be a source of frustration. My battle with feverfew is a good example.
When I moved into my lovely home with a readymade garden I knew nothing about gardening. Since I couldn’t distinguish between a flower and a weed I nurtured everything, including feverfew. Feverfew appears innocent enough. It has some nice greenery and small flowers that resemble daisies, but it only took one season for me to realize that it will take over your garden! I have spent the past two summers ripping it out but it is winning. I can’t get rid of it. Now I find in researching this article on healing plants and herbs that feverfew is one of those plants that is actually good for us.
Feverfew, a member of the sunflower family, has been used for centuries in European folk medicine as a remedy for headaches, arthritis and fevers. In fact, its name comes from a Latin word meaning “fever reducer.” According to an article published by the University of Maryland Medical Center a survey of 270 people with migraines in Great Britain found that more than 70 percent of them felt much better after taking an average of 2 to 3 fresh feverfew leaves daily. Several human studies have used feverfew for migraine prevention and treatment.
Garlic, flax and aloe vera all have medicinal uses dating back centuries and like feverfew, we can grow them at home.
Ancient ancestors used garlic to increase virility. It has also been used to treat everything from indigestion and snakebites to depression. Beneficial chemicals found in garlic are ajoene (prevents clogging of the arteries) and allicin (a chemical that has anti-tumor and anti-cancer properties). Garlic appears to help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. “For maximum benefit, you need to have about three medium cloves of garlic per day. Dry garlic or garlic left out too long, lose their healthy benefits,” says Suzanna Zick, N.D., M.P.H., a naturopathic physician and research investigator at the University of Michigan Health System, Department of Family Medicine.
Plant garlic in the fall and it will begin growing in spring. It should be harvested when the tops droop over and dry out. Dig up the bulbs and let them cure outdoors for a few days before storing.
Another ancient herb with modern health benefits is flax. Linen made from the flax plant was a critical element in the ancient Egyptian mummification process and flax seed oil was used in embalming. Flax seed oil contains high amounts of antioxidants and it is rich in omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. People consume flaxseeds and flaxseed oil hoping to lower cholesterol levels, prevent arthritis, reduce the likelihood of heart disease and relieve dry eyes.
Aloe vera was also used in ancient Egypt in the embalming process. Modern day uses of aloe vera include treatment of constipation, minor burns, canker sores, psoriasis, and wounds. It has also been used to lower blood sugar for people with type-2 diabetes. More traditional uses include sunburn relief and reducing the pain of insect bites.
Aloe vera is a succulent that is easy to grow indoors in a potting mix designed for succulents. It requires six hours of sunlight per day.
There are a number of herbs, easily grown in our region, that are beneficial to our health. Common herbs like oregano, rosemary, parsley and garlic can replace salt and bring out natural flavors in a meal. Rosemary, one of nature’s most powerful antioxidants, is thought to help with memory and may even have cancer-prevention properties. Basil, oregano and rosemary can help fight colds and chronic cough is sometimes treated with a thyme tea. Stomach aches may be soothed with ginger. Ginger contains gingerols, which decreases oxidative products in the digestive tract that cause nausea. The key is to eat real ginger and not things flavored artificially.
A University of Maryland Medical Center article warns that “although the use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease they can contain components that trigger side effects and adversely interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a health care provider qualified in the field of botanical medicine.”
Michelle Pearson is an OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer.