Posts Tagged ‘my garden


12 Medicinal Herbs I Grow and Use Often

Images left to right from top: comfrey leaf; thyme; dill flowers; dried hops flowers; St John’s wort flowers; potted kawakawa; broad-leaved plantain; yarrow flowers; yarrow leaves; lemon balm; feverfew; aloe vera; peppermint. 

There are masses of websites with info on medicinal herbs and quite frankly most of them are rubbish. Written by writers, not by doers they run of a list of ‘facts’, historical details, and an dizzying list of healing properties. What they don’t do is offer actual, real walk-out-into-the-garden-and-use details.

Here are a list of herbs I grow and use the most that don’t need a medical, herbal or botany degree to use or recognise. All have scientific backing. All are super easy. I’m not a herbalist, just a very keen gardener. I believe you should see a herbalist for the proper internal use of herbs (lots of active ingredients in plants can cause all sorts of issues).


I had monumental back and hip problems having a baby. My doctor suggested using comfrey poultices because my tailbone ached for months after. For me, it was a miracle cure. I scrunched up a couple of leaves, put them in a cloth and poured hot water of it and sat with it on the sore bit for 15 minutes a night. I was cured–could walk properly, carry my child and wasn’t constantly in pain. Sore knees, sprains, strains? Go find yourself some comfrey.


For sore throats and mouth ulcers I boil the jug and pick a handful of thyme, or use the dried thyme I’ve collected. I let the thyme steep for 30 minutes and add a spoonful of salt. Tastes much better than store bought alternatives and works just as well.


I collect the seeds of my dill each year and they’ve been a godsend with a windy baby. After the first couple of months I stopped using gripe water (active ingredient is dill), and made herbal teas with crushed dill seeds and gave her tiny sips.


I have a tin next to my bed of hops, rose petals and lavender. When I’m having trouble getting to sleep I open it up and waft away with the delicious scents.

St John’s wort

St John’s wort is mostly associated with depression, but that’s a whole medical aspect I’m not prepared to get into here. But looking at those brilliant sunshiney flowers will definitely lift your mood. I use St John’s wort for burns and bruises by making a tincture which you can read about here. Warning! Weed alert: grow St John’s wort in a container.


I battle winter colds with a kawakawa, lemongrass and ginger tea. Kawakawa is a native of New Zealand with a peppery bite. I collect and dry the ingredients and store them in an airtight container. I also chew on the leaves if I’ve got a toothache. Use the kawakawa leaves with lots of holes, the insects are showing you which leaves contain the most medicinal compounds.


Insects love to bite me. Luckily I have lots of plantain growing everywhere. I grab a leaf and rub the underside on bites and it takes the itch right out of it.


There tends to be lots of cut fingers in my household–bloody DIYers. Beautiful white yarrow grows as a weed in my garden and wrapping a furry green leaf around the afflicted digit stops the bleeding.

Lemon balm

Brewed into a tea, lemon balm is marvellous for headaches, anxiety or when friends arrive feeling a bit down. It’s also said to be helpful to drink if you have a coldsore. I haven’t had a chance to test that yet.


I used to eat a leaf a day to ward off migraines. They taste pretty awful so I’d roll them into a ball and cover them with honey or mashed potato or peanut butter or just about anything to cover the bitterness. This is a longterm strategy, it will take about a month of continual use before the active compounds start kicking in. I haven’t taken it while pregnant or breastfeeding and suggest you don’t either.

Aloe vera

Sunburn, skin irritations, after-waxing redness? Aloe vera is my summer go-to plant. Grab an aloe vera spear, slice off the spikes, slit in half and rub juicy, refreshing aloe vera innards all over the skin. Instantly cooling, really soothing.


Nausea is the mindkiller-when you’ve got it, it’s very hard to think of anything else. Use peppermint for a zesty herbal tea to ease the quease.


Saffron Harvest

Saffron makes me dream of exotic adventures in Arabia, Persia and India, but I’ve just had my very first saffron harvest a million miles away in little ol’ New Zealand. It won’t provide my yearly requirements, nor make me a fortune. But it may provide me with a winter’s supply of this spicy saffron drink to strengthen the body and warm the heart.

I tend to get all spicy at this time of year, adding exotic flavours to everything not only for great food but to summon their healing powers to keep me wholesome over the winter. Saffron is one of the very few of such ingredients I can grow in my own backyard. Should the end of civilisation arrive anytime soon please, please let me have enough stocks of cloves, pepper, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, turmeric, ginseng, dried pomegranate seeds. Oh and chocolate! There must be chocolate.

Spicy Saffron Elixir

Take a pinch of each of the following powdered spices and add them to a pot of black tea. Cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, pepper, cloves, nutmeg and saffron. Steep for 3 minutes. Strain and sweeten with honey or raw sugar.


We’ve Bean Harvesting

The last of the scarlet runner beans are in, with a large amount destined for the seed bank. I consider this year’s growing season a success. Easy to grow, healthy and vigorous plants that looked stunning against the house – dense lush green climbers with beautiful scarlet flowers.

As this was my first year growing these beauties, I’m completely new to cooking them. I planned to simply dry them and use in casseroles over the coming months. But being a tapas kind of girl this recipe over at courtesy of Andrea has intrigued me:

I cook them, cool them, then toss with minced raw garlic, olive oil, a little sea salt and some chopped fresh parsley or coriander. Then, eat like popcorn!

If they prove to be too tasty, seed stocks may be down next year ;)


Garlic Planted

Ya’know how they say plant garlic on the shortest day, harvest on the longest? Well, that’s never really worked for me. I always got such tiny, squiddly little bulbs that I simply couldn’t be bothered using them for cooking. Last year, when I left my bulbs in the ground longer, I got better results. And this year I’m planning for some decent-sized bulbs by getting them in early —  one whole month early.

This isn’t a very radical idea – I’ve heard lots of other gardeners I respect say the same thing lately. And all though today was drizzly and yuck, I got out there and planted my garlic.

I’m trialling three different types of heirloom garlic this year, which I’ve kindly been gifted by a friend. Two types of rocombole and kakanui – very exciting. I’m prepping an article now on the heirloom garlic in NZ – should be together by end of the week… please hold.

This is how I’ve planted my garlic

A couple of weeks ago I dug over the beds for my garlic, added some well-composted material and sprinkled in lime. I’ve made sure the spots were well-draining. I’ve planted the cloves about 12cm apart, pointy end up and covered them with about 4cm of soil.

I keep my garlic well-weeded, and well-fertilised right up into spring while the green tops are growing.

For a really good article on garlic planting, I thoroughly recommend Kath Irvine’s Edible Backyard piece.


My Artichokes are looking beautiful

I think when they’re perfectly ready I’ll make some of these for those near and dear who need them:

Artichoke and Hawthorn Bar for cholesterol

(Recipe from the BBC’s Grow Your Own Drugs – James Wong)

4 artichokes
1 litre water
475 g hawthorn berries
225 g sugar
1 cinnamon stick
Juice of 1 lime

1. Chop the artichokes, place in a saucepan, cover with the water and boil for 10 minutes, or until cooked. Remove from the heat, then leave to steep for 20 minutes. Strain into a bowl.

2. Heat the oven to 100C.

3. Place the artichoke infusion, hawthorn berries, sugar and cinnamon stick in a pan, and bring to the boil. Simmer gently for 15-20 minutes, or until the mixture is soft. Take out the cinnamon stick and blend in a liquidizer with the lime juice, then pour into greased, lined baking trays to a thickness of about 1 cm.

4. Dry in the heated oven for 2-3 hours.(Check after 2 hours; you want it to be chewy but not too tough.) Leave to cool,  slice into bite-sized pieces.

Please note: If high blood cholesterol is suspected, you must see a doctor. This recipe may be used in addition to, not as a substitute for, proper medical treatment. If you are on other heart medication you don’t eat hawthorn berries. The remedy is not suitable if you are diabetic.

Storage: Keep in greaseproof paper in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.


It should be renamed Hard Labour Weekend

I ache. My hands, my arms, my legs, my torso, my ass, my toenails  – they all hurt. I have so much dirt encrusted in my hands and face,  it may be mistaken for a tan when I return to work tomorrow. If I make it that far. I’ve fallen asleep on the couch the last two nights and been put to bed by 9.30pm.  But I’ve managed to get a heap done.

Everything is looking amazing. The raised beds are teeming with plantlife.  Seeds, seedlings and sprouts adorn nearly every surface of the house. And best of all we have a new forest garden…but more on that when I get my strength back. Roast chicken dinner with friends should help. And tomorrow it’s back to work, slowly.

Cavolo Nero, lettuce and sage

Cavolo nero, lettuce and purple sage all getting along really well

Happy globe artichokes mixed with verbenas, heliotrope and pretty blue flowers

Globe artichokes mixed with verbenas, heliotrope & pretty blue flowers

A couple of square metres of barley growing in an old vegetable bed

A couple of square metres of barley growing in an old vegetable bed

Chives, rocket, marigold and carrots living it up in the raised beds

Chives, rocket, marigolds, alyssum and carrots are living it up in the raised beds

The separate mesclun bed is about to give us the first crop. There are two on the way

Separate mesclun bed is about to give us the first crop - 2 more coming

I finally got the strawberries into their proper bed with some pyrethrum daisies

I finally got the strawberries into their proper bed with some pyrethrum daisies

A lot of green leafy things are coming out of the main vege bed with garlic at the end

A lot of green leafy things are coming out of the main vege bed with garlic at the end


Am I just providing safe-harbour to an enemy?

Cytisus scoparius 'Lilac Time'I couldn’t help but bring it home. It’s just so pretty!

Cytisus ‘Lilac time’ (Cytisus scoparius) is an evergreen shrub with very small leaves. Lilac-pink pea flowers adorn the bush in spring. I bought it in full-flower. It dazzled me with its charms. I failed to notice that it was in fact, a broom.

There are some good things to say about broom. They’re drought-tolerant and colonise disturbed and poorer soils, improving the soil; broom is leguminous, part of the Fabaceae family, and nitrogen-fixing. Broom stops erosion on hillsides. It’s a great food source for butterfly larvae. The flowers can be eaten in a salad. Don’t forget the prettiness!

On the very big downside, New Zealand has major problems with broom and its close cousin gorse (Ulex). Stock won’t eat it and it shades out pasture. It produces up to 30,000 seeds per square metre, every year. It outgrows saplings, effectively destroying crops of plantation trees and therefore is a major burden to the forestry industry. Apparently, only Pinus radiata can grow fast enough to compete with broom and tolerate the harsh herbicide treatments needed to treat sites infested with it. (I have major issues with Pinus radiata…but that’s a whole other post). So yeah, major problem for New Zealand. We’ve even started bringing in biological control agents to try to counter the spread.

So despite the fact that my pretty little shrub’s cousins are terrorising the country, I’ve provided a safe and loving home for this little one. He’ll only last for about 5 years. I will be watching it carefully though and chopping it back regularly to stop it seeding. I’ve planted it next to an outdoor seat framed by pittoporums, at the front of the house. Having it where I can see it every day, I’ll remember to keep it inline and not allow it to open up another invasion-front.

A note on New Zealand broom

New Zealand has a genus of its own broom called Carmichaelia. They are in the same Fabaceae family as the European species, but far-distant cousins.  There are about 20 varieties.

Am I just providing safe-harbour to an enemy? Pretty vs Plague – let me know your thoughts…

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