On a sunny Labor Day morning, 485 Elm gardener Diana Baron took us on a walking, talking, touching, and tasting tour into some of the herbs growing at The Garden at 485 Elm.
Diana is a first-year student at the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism. She’s been learning about herbalism and wild foods for about four years, and has been enjoying getting to know Vermont’s native and invasive plants since moving here in January 2017.
The information below is what Diana discussed during our herb tour. It is not intended as medical advice. Always check with your medical provider before using medicinal substances.
We began in the intentionally planted and cultivated part of the garden. From this box bed, we’ve been enjoying dill, rosemary, cilantro, and parsley. Rosemary is very warming, including for fingers and toes. It clears the head and contains antioxidants. We grow other many herbs here, including oregano and thyme which originally were cultivated for use as food presrvatives, and are anti-microbial, anti-mucous, and delicious in tea and in so many foods.
Along with being delicious and aromatic, sage is drying, hot, anti-microbial, anti-mucous.
Growing within and outside the garden fence, we have plenty of lemon balm. It’s high in volatile oils. Lemon balm is anti-fungal, carminative (relieves gas), and is nervine, which means it can calm and uplift the spirits.
These California poppies were planted within the garden fence between other food crops. They provide beauty, attract pollinators, and, as a medicinal, help with pain relief and sleep.
We used to grow peppermint and other medicinal herbs within the garden fence. As you might guess, we still have plenty of mint coming up where other crops now grow. And there are fields of mint in the “Back 40.” Peppermint is carminative, which means it helps relieve flatulence. Peppermint tea is both stimulating and relaxing. Brewed too long it can get bitter, but then helps with digestion. Those seeking headache relief might take it internally and apply it as a compress. Peppermint is diaphoretic, i.e., causes perspiration. Some use it to help sweat off a fever, especially combined with yarrow and elderflower. It can be use topically for bug bites.
The flowers of thiis St. John’s wort (hypericum perforatum) look surprisingly good for this late in the season. While using St. John’s wort to treat depression has become a fad, it may relieve Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and stimulate vigor and appetite. Some find it eases symptoms of chronic pain, burns, bruises, and viruses such as shingles and herpes. It’s considered to restore nerves, be astringent, and help those with leaky gut. SJW can be taken internally or externally after infusing flowers in oil, though herbalists caution that it can cause photosensitivity (increased sunlight reactivity) and that it should not be used with the MAOI inhibitor class of drugs.
Marshmallow. The beautiful, healthy kind.
Our Mullein didn’t take off this year as it has in past years. One uses all parts of mullein plants. The flowers help earaches, the leaves help respiratory ailments and make coughs more productive, and the roots might improve prostate health.
Plantain grows all over the lawn. It can be brewed into tea or applied as a poultice. It’s vulnerary, which means it helps heal wounds.
Dandelions can overrun the lawn and garden walkways. Late summer is a good time to harvest their roots for food, and they’re sweeter than the spring leaves. Dandelions contain inulin, naturally occurring polysaccharides and prebiotics that feed beneficial gut bacteria.
Orange and yellow jewelweed is also called “Touch Me Not.” It is for topical use only. Its cooling properties may be used to treat poison ivy in a poultice. Some like to juice it, pour it into ice cube trays, and freeze it so it’s ready to use as needed.
Yarrow is a member of the aster/daisy family. It’s one of the safe plants with tiny white flowers, unlike others: Hemlock, goutweed, and Queen Anne’s lace. Yarrow’s bitter, aromatic leaves make a good tonic. It stimulates bile production which aids digestion, is anti-microbial, helps stop bleeding, and brews into a tea that helps break fever. Like rosemary, it’s a circulatory stimulant that sends heat to the body’s periphery. Some people dry yarrow into a powder to keep in a First Aid kit.
Prunella Vulgaris, a/k/a Self Heal, helps heal wounds and bruises.
Joe Pye weed, sometimes more elegantly called Queen of the Meadow, is harvested for its roots. They’re used to break up internal stones and gravel, treat gout, heal UTI, and generally move stuck stuff.
Bee balm (monarda) tastes like oregano, sometimes sweet, sometimes spicy. It’s a nervine, and there’s some debate as to whether it’s more stimulating or calming.
Kelly wears calendula, which is beautiful as well as delicious and healing when consumed.
We concluded our tour with Japanese knotweed, an invasive plant that we battle to contain lest it take over the property. In spring, it looks like asparagus and tastes like rhubarb. It’s high in resveratrol and oxalic acid. It can aid cardiovascular health. It’s an expectorant, styptic (stops bleeding),and can help with Lyme disease and Fibromyalgia Syndrome. Harvest the root in October instead of buying grapeseed.