As winter approaches and we must all endure the mediocrity months till Christmas, only dulled further by the flu and fevers autumn promises, Floral and Hardy present to you a list of our top ten, easy to grow herbal and medicinal remedies that can be cultivated as part of a vibrant and interesting planting scheme by even the most amateur gardener.
So, without further ado, we can begin with Achillea millefolium, more commonly known as ‘Devil’s Nettle’ or common ‘Yarrow’ - this herbaceous perennial, as well as being an attractive garden plant, is also one of the most versatile on our list. It is named for the mythological Greek hero Achilles whose armies were reputed to carry it into battle due to its potency for stemming and clotting blood from wounds. For us mere mortals, dried achillea leaves can be used to make a tea to help ward off winter colds and flu - add one teaspoon of the leaves to boiling water, strain and drink up to three cups a day. The essential dark blue oil rendered from the flowers (for external use only) acts as an anti-inflammatory oil used to relieve joint pain and when applied to the chest will also help fight colds and flu. When combined with water it will also form an anti-histemic wash for eczema. In fact, recent research findings have revealed that the plant contains at least 25 different beneficial chemicals which stimulate important immune-boosting cells helping to destroy infectious bugs. The plants are easy to grow and should be planted in sun, 30-40cms apart in well drained soil. Dead-head regularly to prolong flowering.
Sufferer of headaches? Running low on paracetamol? Next on our list Chrysanthemum parthenium, acts as an effective inhibitor of serotonin thus stemming the inflammation of blood vessels within the brain that contribute to the onset of headaches. The secondary function of the aptly named 'Feverfew', deriving from the Latin febrifugia translating to ‘fever reducer’, is self explanatory. It has been used over the centuries to aid digestion and also, due, to its high levels of melatonin (the psychoactive compound also released by cannabis and LSD), Feverfew can act as a subconscious stimulant. Only use the dried leaves to make a tea, as the fresh ones can cause skin irritation and mouth ulcers. An infusion can even be used to soak swollen feet! This pretty little number with daisy-like flowers and citrus scented leaves, thrives in full sun growing conditions, spaced at 40-45cms.
For ease of cultivation Calendula certainly earns a place on our list; the other, more prominent reason being its application as an anti-inflammatory and also an anti-viral remedy. It has been used to treat skin conditions such as eczema, burns and boils and abcesses, as well as stomach ulcers, sore throats and menstrual cramps. As a tea taken 3 times per day it can also relieve conjunctivitis. To make calendula tea simply pour 200 ml of boiling water over 1-2 teaspoons of calendula flowers and let sit for 15 minutes. This colourful annual, better known as the ‘Marigold’ performs best in well drained, sunny environments and can be sown directly where it is to flower in spring, also timing it wonderfully for use of the petals in salads during summertime.

By now most of us will be familiar with the phenomenon known as S.A.D. or Seasonal Affective Disorder, a form of depression attributed to the transition between summer and winter weather and climate conditions, to shortening days and less sunlight. No longer need you be at the psychological mercy of the elements, thanks to the resilient Hypericum perforatum, or ‘St. John's Wort’. Even the look of its bright yellow flowers is cheerful! Among its medicinal applications, it acts as an anti-depressant, without many of the side effects of other chemical treaments, and is also helpful in managing the symptoms of menopause. Pick the flower buds with some leaf just as the first flower in the cluster is about to open, allow to dry out and then steep 4-5 teaspoons in 500ml boiled water and drink 100ml 2 or 3 times a day.
It is easy to grow in almost any soil, just keep slightly shaded for floral longevity.

For the insomniacs among you we now introduce Valeriana officinalis or ‘Valerian’. Acting as a substitute for the benzodiazepane agent, it provides a natural sedative and a remedy for bouts of anxiety and excitability, perfect for both you and the persistent youth who are determined to convince you Christmas starts at 4am! If you can get past the stinky socks smell of the roots, make a tea to treat anxiety, or alternatively steep the dried or fresh leaves in boiling water to make an infusion to ease insomnia. You can even use the dried leaves to fill a pillow for your cat to sleep on – they love it! Growing anywhere from damp sites to rocky soil, it makes a pretty addition to any garden. For best results you should trim newly flowering heads to encourage the growth of new roots and expect a perennial third generation flowering around mid autumn.

Now as we all know, a healthy winter is dependant on an effective immune system which is why the next entry on the list is primarily an immunostimulator. Echinacea angustifolia aka ‘Coneflower’, a showy daisy-like perennial contains, most prominently within the roots, echinacoside- a phenol compound from which can be rendered raw Echinacea - a general medicine first employed by native Americans. Early settlers observed them chewing on the roots of the plant to combat illness and rubbing the macerated plant on their skin to heal wounds and snake bites. Echinacea tea, prepared by pour 1 cup of boiling water over either 1/4 cup of fresh plant material (roots, stems, leaves and flowers), or 2 teaspoons of dried, covering, steeping for 5 minutes, and straining, can be used to help treat coughs, colds, sore throats, ear and urinary tract infections and to alleviate pain from arthritis. Add a little lemon and honey when treating a cold as they too help boost the immune system. Interestingly, Echinacea is also repellant to mosquitoes and house flies – another good reason to grow them! Avoid clay soils when growing this species as it will thrive best in hot, well-drained conditions, with some initial watering to help establishment.

The versatility of ‘Comfrey’ is perhaps unmatched on our short list. As well as being grown as a fertiliser, Symphytum officinale has long been employed in healing broken bones and sprains, arthiritis, burns, insect bites, bedsores, acne and other skin conditions. The effective compound is a repair stimulant known as allantoin. Its use internally is no longer recommended as it can lead to liver damage, but to make Comfrey oil just chop stems, leaves and flowers and place in a jar, cover with olive oil, seal and leave for 3 -4 weeks. It can then be used to rub into affected areas. Be careful when harvesting as the hairy stems and leaves can sometimes irritate the skin. Comfrey will grow in most soils but is nitrogen hungry so should be mulched with well-rotted manure or good compost every year. As with Valerian, the first flowering should be trimmed back to encourage further growth of stems, however contrastingly this herb requires a well weeded plot with plenty (at least 60-90cms) of space between each plant.

Ice - it's nobody’s friend in winter, treacherous and cold and too often the cause of painful sprains and bruises, but that's where Arnica montana comes in - a perennial grass native to Northern Europe and America proven to increase the blood flow to such affected areas and thus speed recovery. A hardy species, Arnica has been known to thrive among the woodlands and meadows of temperate climates. Grow it if you can replicate those conditions with part shade and well-drained, acid soil. Dead-head regularly to encourage further blooming.It is best utilized when harvested for its roots' rhizomes at the beginning of autumn once the leaves have died down, although the dried flowers can also be used. Prepare a tincture by adding 2 or 3 tablespoons of crushed flowers to about 2 cups of alcohol and allowing to steep for two weeks. (Dried, powdered root can be used in the same proportions).Dilute a teaspoon of the tincture into one cup of warm water to use on bruises and sprains. Alternatively, grind 2 tbsps. of dried flowers and add to 8 tbsps. of melted petroleum jelly.

‘Horehound’ is a small shrubby perennial primarily used as a companion plant to stimulate the growth of the tomato plant, but Marrubium vulgare also acts as a cough soother when rendered to a syrup, indeed it has a root beer-like taste and is often used to flavour commercial throat lozenges. As a tea, made by pouring boiling water on the fresh or dried leaves, 1 oz. of herb per pint, it will treat the common cold and asthma. A wineglassful may be taken three or four times a day and, finally, should the sweets supply run prematurely dry this Christmas, just boil the leaves down until the juice is extracted, then add sugar before boiling again, until it becomes thick enough in consistency to pour into a paper cake cases to be cut into squares when cool. Voila! Herbal remedy and candy in one! It thrives under most conditions in poor, dry soil and can be cultivated from seeds sown in 9 inch spaces, from cuttings or most commonly through root division.

Finally, and perhaps most familiarly, we have Lavandula, or ‘Lavander’ which is a beautiful, fragrant shrub used for centuries as an aid to sleep. Simply harvesting the flowers, drying them and placing them in a pillow will waft you off to sleep in no time. Essential oils produced from the flowers are also a natural antiseptic and can be used to dab directly onto cuts and bites. Grow Lavender in a sunny position in well-drained soil and ensure you trim them over once flowering has finished to keep its shape.

N.B. As with all drugs, it is essential to speak to your doctor or a knowledgeable practitioner before commencing any treatment, especially if you are pregnant or taking other medicines.

Author's Bio: 

Written by Joshua Ellison of Floral and Hardy Gardens, Specialising in Garden Design London