Perennial Medicine

Some of the simplest gardens and walkways of Portland are stung with efficacious medicine. While gardeners obsess over fussy and esoteric cultivars, simple, powerful medicine is being overlooked.

Healing in your own backyard

In actuality, many medicinal plants have the ability to unite our personal health with the health of our ecosystems. For instance, the flowers of Rosemary, Calendula and Echinacea attract pollinators and/or beneficial insects. While skin-salve herbs like Comfrey enrich garden soil. Other medicines deepen our senses of locality or resource, uniting native habitats with resource management. It’s a unique kind of stewardship, as remedies like Echinacea, Arnica, and Oregon Grape are “At-Risk” according United Plant Savers – largely due to uneducated and/or unethical foraging practices. Growing your own herbs avoids the veiled and hard to trace market of wild-crafting, consider it one way to tend to the wild.

Below is a list of perennials that are useful to have in your home pantry. Many have an affinity for a part of the body or body system, and I find many to work with the seasons – to which I mean they interact with and often repair common seasonal imbalances. I’ve included the Latin name for each plant, as some of the species have been cultivated for ornamental use and their efficacious qualities are less researched and known. And, of course, take the information below as an introduction – do your own research and consult your practitioner where you have questions:

Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea):

A famed immune-booster, Echinacea is used to ward off seasonal colds and to clear the lymph. Personally I’ve found Echinacea purpurea easiest to grow, and the plant favors sun and slightly alkaline soil. All parts of Echinacea can be harvested for medicine – just make sure to do according to season (leaf and flower in spring and summer and root in the 2nd or 3rd year after the leaves have died back in fall).

Nettles (Urtica dioica):

Mineral-rich, these weedy perennials are known to sting and to nourish. Grown in shaded and wooded areas, often by streams, Nettles are rich with nutrients like calcium and magnesium, iron and potassium. With an affinity to the kidneys, Nettles can be a part of your adrenal support and help flush out toxins from the body.

Flower and vegetable gardes infront of the house
Oregon Grape Root (Mahonia spp.):

Berberine-rich, Oregon Grape Root is often incorporated into digestive bitters and works as a liver-support. It’s also a strong anti-microbial, making it an important first-aid medicine. A Native of Oregon, Oregon Grape has grown in popularity over the years, and mass-harvesting has threatened wild populations — all the more reason to grow it yourself.

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata):

The mesmeric flowers and leaves of Passionflower work to calm anxiety and relieve insomnia. Plants prefer full sun and warmth, mulch around the roots at winter time.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus offinicalis):

In Portland, Rosemary can seem redundant. There’s good reason for this. As lung, medicine, heart medicine, brain medicine, Rosemary is a gentle support to many imbalances. Working to open the lungs and boost memory, this volatile-oil rich plant is a low-maintenance evergreen, and drought-tolerant once established.

As for rosemary, I let it run all over my garden walls, not only because my bees love it but because it is the herb sacred to remembrance and to friendship, whence a sprig of it hath a dumb language.

Sir Thomas More

Thyme (Thymus spp.):

Thyme is another benign, yet powerful medicine. Antimicrobial and antiseptic in nature, I use Thyme to support my immune system through winter-colds and smoky-filled days, appreciating the herb’s ability to open and clear the respiratory system. Grow in sunny-area with well-draining soils. I also use Thyme to work out minor digestive upsets.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium):

Known for its wound-healing abilities, Yarrow works as an amazing skin-healer. Use fresh as a poultice to stop bleeding or to reduce the pain of a sting. And, whether using the plant internally or externally, Yarrow has the ability to reduce inflammation, improve circulation and work as an antiseptic. Yarrow enjoys full-sun, spreads wildly, and is somewhat drought-tolerant.

As you design and amend your medicinal herb garden, know that there are some great resources in Oregon’s for sourcing plants. Naomi’s and the People’s Co-Op often have a good supply of locally-grown herb starts. And Pacific Botanicals, Strictly Medicinal, or Mountain Rose Herbs are great for seeds and less-common plant starts.

Wishing you health,