How to Have a Healthy Garden
There’s something kind of magical about gardening. It burns calories without feeling like exercise, sates our desire to create and nurture something, and even the most die-hard vegetable haters can be charmed into eating a tomato or a pepper if they see the plant it came from.
Even more than magic behind it, gardening has science. Many of the plants that we can grow in the D.C. area have great health benefits in addition to tasting, smelling or looking great. While I’m not a doctor, and I don’t advocate eating just anything you find growing out of the ground, with a little research it’s easy to grow a nice herbal. A good herb garden will get you through minor headaches, stomach aches and various other ouchies that would send you for the medicine cabinet instead of the doctor’s office.
Remember: no matter how good your home cures may make you feel, never avoid or ignore the advice of medical professionals when symptoms persist or your gut tells you otherwise.
Here are a few plants that any wise woman can love for the beginning gardener’s herbal.
So many of us already have this plant in our home and don’t even consider its uses! Aloe vera is a super common, great indoor or outdoor plant, and the leaves give a lovely Southwest feel to your decorating. It loves full sun and water, but even for beginning gardeners, aloe is a hard plant to kill.
Aloe vera is already a common skin care ingredient and is probably already in some of the products you use. To get the benefits of aloe straight from the source, break open one of the long leaves and apply the gel inside to dry, reddened or sunburned skin.
I’ll admit it – when I potted my mint plants I had summertime mint juleps on the brain, but mint is a great medicinal herb! If you’re a beginning gardener worry not – mint is hard to kill. It likes water and it doesn’t need full sun. Mint is a rambunctious little plant, however, and will stop at nothing to take over your garden. Make sure you plant it in a pot, even if it’s in the ground!
Like a peppermint after a meal, mint is great for soothing the stomach. Crush the fresh leaves lightly in a tea ball or metal strainer and pour hot water over them for a perfect tummy-taming tea. For a decongestant steam mist, hang your head over the boiling water and mint leaves and drape a towel over your head. Breathe in and let the minty coolness work its magic.
A great case of “exactly what it says on the tin,” Vicks plant is also known as Swedish Ivy. Vicks plant tends to be the more descriptive name, as when the plant’s leaves are crushed they emit a strong odor with similar properties to Vicks Vap-O-Rub.
Vicks plant is extremely hardy and can be grown in hanging baskets, indoor pots or outdoors. To extract the plant’s benefits, crush the leaves in a small jar of petroleum jelly and rub on the chest until warm and fragrant.
Lavender is common in bath products and body lotions for its “soothing aromatherapy” properties, and with good reason. The lavender plant has been scientifically studied for its ability to alleviate sleep disturbances and has made meaningful impact on those studies. In World War I, pure lavender oil was used in the treatment of wounds for its antiseptic properties.
Lavender is not only a great stress reliever in aromatherapy, a lavender wash made by steeping the leaves in hot water like a tea can be a great anti-acne and redness face wash. If your skin reacts to stress anything like mine, this is great news!
To grow lavender, make sure you give it full sun and well-drained soil. Dampness will kill lavender quicker than drought! While lavender can grow into beautiful hedges, it’s unlikely to do so in the humidity of D.C., so enjoy your lavender in a pretty pot with soil that doesn’t remain too moist.
While it’s a bit late to start these from seed, your local farmer’s market or nursery will likely sell already-happy and healthy plants that just need a little love and repotting. Enjoy your new position as the proud owner of the neighborhood’s prettiest first-aid kit!