Relaxing with aromatic teas or enjoying
body care products from herbs you’ve grown and dried yourself is
both therapeutic and satisfying. Preparing herbal remedies is also a
wonderful way to become better acquainted with your plants—their
fragrances and textures, when and how to harvest them, and what
happens when they’re cooked or blended with other ingredients.
It’s worth remembering, particularly if you have a small garden,
that many familiar culinary herbs and garden flowers also contain
gentle healing properties—multi-purpose plants make the best use of
space! Since I’m generally pretty cautious about using herbal
medicine, I feel most comfortable with culinary herbs like sage,
marjoram, thyme, and rosemary. Even if I never made anything from
them, I wouldn’t be without the following decorative herbs in my
garden: lavender, echinacea, calendula, feverfew, chamomile, yarrow,
roses, and my favorite—deep maroon black hollyhocks.
If you enjoy reading books about herbs and herbal remedies, you’ll
soon notice that they all give widely varying instructions on how to
harvest, dry, or prepare basic recipes. Once you start
experimenting, you’ll develop a feel for what works based on your
herbs, the equipment you use, and your personal preferences.
Of course, even if you grow your herbs organically, do not use them
as a substitute for medical care when you are sick. That’s why I’ve
included only remedies for relaxation and helping the symptoms of
minor discomforts; even these can cause allergies in a small number
of people. I’m glad that modern and herbal medicine seem to be
merging, or at least paying more attention to each other in recent
years: there is an increasing amount of literature about how to use
herbs safely and how they interact with medicines, supplements and
Echinacea Purpurea, "Starlight"
Miniature "Angel Wings"
Hollyhock, "Black Watchman"
Fennel, Smokey Bronze"
To purchase these and other Renee's Garden Seeds,
Try these great recipes from
To make herbal tea, pour boiling water over about 1 tablespoon of fresh
or 2 teaspoons of dried herbs per 6 oz of water. Allow the tea to steep
for 5 to 10 minutes in a covered teapot or stainless steel pot. Strain
and serve with lemon or honey if desired. For flavor that requires no
sweetening, I often blend in leaves of lemon verbena, cinnamon basil, or
anise hyssop. When the weather is damp and I feel a cold coming on, I
prepare hot lemonade instead of boiling water and add my favorite herbs
and spices such as ginger, cinnamon or clove.
Since teas on the weak side often produce quite noticeable effects,
there’s no need to make an extra strong brew. Overdosing on even the
most benign herbs can be harmful, so it’s a good idea to limit your
intake of herbal tea to 2 or 3 cups per day. If you’re pregnant,
nursing, on medication or have any serious illness, ask your doctor
before drinking any herbal teas.
Here are some time tested herbal teas:
Thyme and Mint: To help relieve congestion during a cold
Sage and Hyssop: To soothe sore throats
Hollyhock Flowers: To coat the throat for laryngitis or dry coughs
Lemon Balm: To calm the nerves when you can’t sleep
Chamomile: To relax body and mind, or help with indigestion
Fennel Seed: This is a folk remedy to increase mothers’ milk. I’m not
sure whether it was the fennel or the hot liquid in the tea that helped,
but I found it to be quite warming and invigorating while I was nursing
Treat your entire body to the same herbs you enjoy in tea by taking an
herbal bath. Nothing quite calms the spirit like sitting in a soothing
pineapple-scented chamomile bath, for example. The following two methods
for preparing herbal baths both work well.
Method 1: This method is particularly good for fresh herbs. First, make
an extra-strong tea by pouring 4 cups of boiling water over 1 1/4 cups
of fresh herbs. Steep the tea with the lid on for 20 minutes. Strain the
herbs through a fine strainer (lined with cheesecloth for very fine
herbs such as chamomile flowers) and pour it into the bathtub. Test the
temperature before you climb in--the water shouldn’t be much hotter than
your body temperature, because a too-hot bath is dehydrating and slows
your circulation. Soak in your bath for 15-20 minutes.
Method 2: This method, which works surprisingly well, is best for gifts,
for wintertime when no fresh herbs are available, or when you want to
jump in the tub right away! Make herbal bath teabags by packing 1 ¼ cup
of dried herbs into a piece of muslin or cut-off foot of a clean nylon
stocking. Tie the bundle closed with a string long enough to hang it
from your faucet while the tub fills. Let the bag steep for a few
minutes, then climb in and squeeze out the bag several times to release
more herbal essences. Try this with freshly dried lavender buds for a
blue-green colored perfumed bath that is truly luxuriant!
Herbal Massage Oils
Making the most potent herbal massage oils requires patience—a virtue I
do not possess! If you have time, simply fill a jar with dried herbs,
fill to the top with olive oil, and let the mixture infuse in the sun
for 2 weeks. Strain the herbs out, add more herbs, and let sit for
another 2 weeks. In the following recipe, which yields a milder, but
usable oil in a much shorter time, dried herbs are heated with oil in a
double boiler over low heat for 2 to 5 hours.
Herbal infused oils sometimes get moldy due to moisture in the herbs or
containers. For this reason, it’s best for beginners to use dried rather
than fresh herbs, and avoid taking oils internally. Make sure your
bottles and lids are dry before filling them, and label your bottles to
remind yourself when the oil was made. I usually make small batches that
get used before spoilage occurs.
This recipe is for rosemary massage oil, which is great for relieving
gardeners’ tired muscles. Feel free to use another herb such as
marjoram, or a combination, such as chamomile/calendula.
2 cups dried rosemary leaves
2 and 1/4 cups olive oil
2 Vitamin E gel capsules
Heat herbs and oil in a double boiler over low heat for 2 to 5 hours.
Set the timer every half hour and check to make sure that there is
enough water in the bottom of the double boiler and that the oil isn’t
getting too hot—the object is only to warm, but not cook or fry the
herbs! The longer you let it warm, the more the oil will smell like
rosemary rather than like olive oil. The oil will not noticeably change
color, as it does with some other herbs.
Turn off the heat, and pour the oil through a strainer lined with
cheesecloth into a completely dry, sterile, dark glass bottle--squeeze
the cheesecloth to release all the oil. (Funnel it into a completely dry
sterile dark glass bottle and a) Add the liquid from the 2 Vitamin E
capsules (a natural preservative). Cover and close the lid tightly when
the oil has cooled completely. Store in a cool dry place away from
A jar of homemade calendula salve to soothe chapped hands makes a
wonderful gift for both male and female gardening friends! My recipe
calls for twice as much beeswax as most do because I prefer a firmer,
less oily product. Other herbs often found in salves include comfrey,
plantain, lemon balm and rose petals. You can also add 2 to 3 drops of
essential oil for fragrance at the end .
1 cup dried calendula petals
1 cup olive oil
2 Vitamin E capsules
½ cup chopped beeswax
Note: I used a sheet of beeswax that a friend who rolls candles gave me;
it’s very easy to break apart. Herb stores and some natural food stores
sell grated beeswax. Beeswax is flammable so use caution that it doesn’t
spill onto your heating element!
Make an infused calendula oil with the calendula, olive oil and Vitamin
E by heating the calendula and oil in a double boiler over low heat for
2 to 3 hours. Remove from heat and add liquid from Vitamin E capsules.
Melt the beeswax: use a double boiler. (I used an uncovered glass
espresso carafe with a handle in a wider, low saucepan of water, which
worked well, too.) Bring the water to a boil—the beeswax turns liquid in
several minutes. Add the calendula oil. Remove from heat and add 2 to 3
drops of essential oil if desired—the mild calendula-honey fragrance
doesn’t need improvement, but you might enjoy scenting your salve with
lavender or rose. Fill the liquid into small, dry, sterile glass jars
and seal when cool and hardened.
For further reading:
Complete Guide to Safe Herbs, by Chris D. Meletis and the editors of
Natural Health Magazine, DK, 2002 (discusses safety and hazards of many
commonly used herbs)
Herbal Remedy Gardens: 38 Plans for your Health and Well-Being, by Dorie
Byers, Storey Books, 1999 (recipes, tips and small herb garden plans)
Park’s Success with Herbs,by Gertrude B. Foster and Rosemary F. Louden,
Geo. W. Park Seed Co., Inc., 1980 (excellent growing, harvesting and
Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal: A Guide to Living Life with Energy,
Health and Vitality, by Rosemary Gladstar, Storey Books, 2001 (recipes
and inspiration from an experienced herbalist)