For the past few months I have been creating a vegetable plot with a twist - I am growing both culinary and medicinal plants. Growing medicinal plants is very appealing to me as I love forming a relationship with them, as doing so gives me a deeper understanding of their uses. When I first started learning about herbal medicine I tried to draw as many plants as possible because it helped me to remember not only their properties and uses but their form and character. Since then I have grown some medicinal plants in containers in my back garden, and taken part in numerous small projects such as making herb wheels and plant identification walks.
I didn't want to just create a medicinal plot - although I am trained to use medicinal herbs to treat a wide variety of ailments, eating a healthy diet also plays an essential role in health. Vegetables form an essential part of this diet - providing us with a range of vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and soluble fibre, and gardening is a good way to exercise and reduce stress (providing things grow!). So as you can see a medicinal and culinary plot was just waiting to happen.
So to backtrack a bit - my first job was to turn over the soil. I then left the plot over winter and started sowing in spring.
In November I planted Garlic (Allium sativum) in a raised bed. I simply bought a bulb of garlic and split it into its individual cloves. These were then planted flat end downwards, 2 inches deep and 6 inches apart. I planted my garlic in November as it needs a substantial period of cold weather to grow well. I wanted to plant garlic as I use it so much in cooking but also it can also be used to treat infections of the nose, throat and chest.
Garlic is also a source of selenium which is often deficient in todays modern diet. Selenium is a power free radical scavenger and antioxidant.
When using garlic for it's anti-microbial properties it is best to eat raw (I like to eat it on buttered toast!) and the cloves must be chopped or crushed. Chopping or crushing the clove mixes alliin with allinase to produce allicin (diallyl thiosulfinate) which is anti-bacterial and antihyperlipidemic. Garlic is also an expectorant meaning that it will loosen mucous in chest infections making it easier for the body to expell.
In early spring I prepared the ground by digging in some well-rotted manure. The ground was then raked and paths were laid.
During March and April I sowed my seeds - some went straight into the ground, whilst others were sown in seed/module trays before being placed in a glasshouse to germinate.
Amongst some of the seeds sown were marigold. The marigolds used in herbal medicine are Calendula officinalis (not to be confused with Tagetes - French Marigolds). Calendula flowers have a wide variety of actions including anti-inflammatory, vulnerary, immune stimulant, anti-fungal and lymphatic.
As an immune tonic and lymphatic it may be used to treat swollen stagnant lymph glands (not active inflammation)
An an anti-inflammatory it may be used by medical herbalists alongside other herbs in the treatment of peptic ulcers (gastric and duodenal) and diverticultis. Externally the anti-infalmmatory actions make it useful for nappy rash, eczema, cuts and dermatitis.
During April I made pea support using canes and branches, and planted lavender, sage, lettuce and onions.
Veda West BA BSc MNIMH