We have been growing kitchen herbs for years now, both in the main veggie garden, and in a container herb garden. It is one of my favorite parts of gardening. I love how the herb plants put off delicious smells as I brush past them in the garden. And harvesting them is an amazing aroma-therapy experience for me. We use a lot fresh throughout the summer, and then dry the extra for use throughout the winter. I love to see bunches of herbs hanging to dry.
I have also been using herbal medicine on my family for many years now. But for the most part I haven’t grown those herbs, I have purchased them dried and then made them into teas, tinctures, poultices, steams, soaks, and salves. The reason I haven’t grown them much is that not many of the ones I am familiar with will grow in our climate. I do wild forage for a few medicinal herbs that grow here, which is nice. But for the most part I purchase them.
In an effort to be more self-sustaining, and more frugal, I decided to change that. It is high-time I learn what medicinal herbs grow in this climate, and which ones I can cultivate too. I started by getting some books through inter-library loan. I am already learning a lot, and also still have oh-so-much to learn.
The first thing I found fascinating is an explanation for the reason there isn’t a lot of literature about the medicinal herbs that grow in the Rockies (and the west). According to Michael Moore, in his book Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West, at the same time westward expansion was happening, medicine was turning away from herbs and pharmaceuticals were gaining popularity with doctors. Because of this, there wasn’t as much research done into medicinal herbs that grew in the west and at high altitudes, and few people sought out the Native American’s knowledge on the subject. So there is a lot more information out there about medicinal herbs that grow in the eastern third of the US.
But, thankfully, I have found a few good books on the subject. And I bought a kit of seeds that is put out by Seeds Trust that are considered High Altitude Friendly. So I am starting my own medicinal herb garden, as well as learning about how to forage more wild medicinal herbs in our area.
I decided to use the new gardening space I will have where the old onion/garlic patch was. Since we are putting apple trees there we will be fencing the area in and thus it is giving me more deer and elk proof gardening space. It is near the front driveway, and since many medicinal herbs put on very pretty flowers I thought it would not only be useful, but also a nice decorative touch to that area.
We will be starting with the 7 herbs that came in my seed pack from Seeds Trust: Echinacea, Desert Parsley, Mountain Mint, Red Clover, Yarrow, Pennyroyal, and Valerian. The Echinacea and the Desert Parsley both need a cold stratification time, so they are currently in soil in the refrigerator. And most of the others will be started indoors in the coming weeks. Apparently many of the medicinal herbs can be a bit finicky to get going – but once established they will come back year after year. So I expect this to be an interesting adventure full of successes and failures and tons of learning – I am looking forward to it.