Heirloom Gardener Blogs > The Practical Garden

What the Heck Am I Doing?

Lacey ThackerAs I’ve mentioned, when I was a teeny little toddler, my mother first became interested in herbs and plant-based supplements. As a result, my entire childhood was filled with learning about natural health and wellness. At this point, I’ve had nearly thirty years of experience with medicinal plants. It’s so ingrained in me I almost forget sometimes it’s not second nature to everyone else. I write this not to discourage you if you’re just beginning, but to encourage! The reality is, it’s going to take a little time to develop a working knowledge of medicinal plants, and that’s if you’re well and truly interested. If it’s a hobby you enjoy, you can just learn and learn, and then, when you need the information, you’ll have the knowledge. If you wait until you need it to learn anything, it will feel like a lot of work to find what you’re looking for. So, with that, I’ve written a brief getting-started guide below to give a little perspective on how medicinal plants fit into taking care of general health.


The first thing to realize, as you start learning more about medicinal plants, is that each one will typically have one of a couple of uses. The first use, as with Echinacea purpurea last week, is to boost the immune system to give the body a stronger chance of fighting illness on its own. In regard to the second use, some plants have anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and/or anti-fungal properties. These are reserved for acute situations. If you have a couple of each of these on hand — an immune booster and an anti-viral/fungal/bacterial — you’ll be well-prepared for most situations appropriate to handle for yourself.

Next, we have the specialists. While some specialist plants have more than one use, many of them have one area of use they are particularly famous for. Ginger, for example, is known by many to be useful in aiding in digestion, settling the stomach, and relieving gas. That’s not its exclusive use, but its primary use.

Cloves are another example of a specialist — the extract of the unopened flower bud can be topically applied on gums to address a sore tooth. That, again, is its primary use. Some other uses include using the extract in combination with ginger in a bit of water for nausea, and some report clove extract to be useful in killing internal parasites.

Now, this is where it can start getting complicated. Are you ready?

Just because two plants have the same specialization doesn’t always mean they would be of equivalent benefit in every situation. Secondary actions and the interaction between any combination of plants used should also be considered.

Finally, let’s think about the body holistically for a moment — why is it ill? Is it stress or overwork? Well, that can’t always be avoided, but it’s certainly a good idea to try. How’s your diet? What you’re eating (or not) can greatly impact health. And — arguably most important — how’s your elimination? If it’s not occurring daily, it would benefit your health to address that first. Naturally, the diet is an appropriate place to begin, which brings us back around to your lifestyle — do you see the cycle?

So, to end, a checklist:

• Have you addressed any factors under your control? (Including lifestyle, diet, and elimination?)
• Is your immune system weakened?
• Is there an acute situation that needs to be addressed?

Next time: I’ll discuss chickweed — where and how it grows, harvesting, and how to make it into a salve that can be used on a variety of cuts and scrapes — even on pets!