Must-Grow Herbs for Wisconsin Gardeners

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By Jane Hawley Stevens

Some herbs are so easy to cultivate and have so many uses that there is no reason NOT to grow these beautiful entities of healing. Even if you’re taking a long vacation this summer, these plants would most likely be fine once established.

Growing these five herbs and using them, you will have a sensory-appealing apothecary within reach at all times. (That was one of the selling points of growing my own herbs: I can pick my own medicine, and it works great!) The other reason for this selection of must-grow herbs is simplicity; they’re all very easy to grow. The annuals re-seed (without getting out of control), so you probably won’t need to purchase seeds or a plant more than once. And the perennials are hardy and low-maintenance. You may notice that three of the five plants discussed here have officianalis in their latin names. This means that, when plants were named in the 1700s (mostly by Lineaus), these were THE official plants grown in monastic gardens for healing purposes.

CALENDULA (Calendula officinalis)
Beautiful and bright in the garden, calendula is more than just an effective vulnerary, meaning it promotes healing of topical skin problems from scrapes and bug bites to sunburn. This cooling, astringent, edible flower is also anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory. The Europeans called it “Pot Marigold” because it does well in containers placed in a sunny spot. Use fresh calendula flowers as a poultice or in an infusion. Also be sure to pick and dry them for winter use. Remember, the more often you pick, the more flowers your plants will produce. The same goes for ...

CHAMOMILE (Matricaria recutica)
Like calendula, chamomile is a re-seeding annual. Just one plant left to re-seed later in the season will provide years of healing! This is the tea I make for my kids when they’re suffering from any ailment because whatever it is, chamomile usually covers it. A delicious carminative useful for stomach aches, chamomile is also very calming. A less well-known virtue of this herb is its ability to help reduce infection.

LEMON BALM (Melissa officinalis)
A hardy perennial, this plant also needs continual harvests, as some complain that it re-seeds. (If you keep picking it, the insignificant flowers will not go to seed.) This plant is so close to my heart, I’d say it’s my signature herb. I love lemon balm because not only does it reduce stress, but it promotes joy. The delicious tea is carminative (stomach-soothing), anti-viral, anti-spasmodic, diaphoretic and sedative -- the virtues listed in herb books are almost endless! In my opinion, nervines like this one are so underutilized in this country. We all trust a plant beverage to wake us up ... why not turn to an herb like lemon balm for stress, anxiety and emotional trauma? Try it!

ECHINACEA (Echinacea pupurea or Echinacea pallida)
Both of these species are easy-to-grow perennials. You can collect the flowers and leaves in the summer. After a few years, when your clump is large, you can divide the root and harvest some of it as well. When drying the root for winter use, keep in mind that it dries better if chopped or run through a food processor first. We’ve all heard that echinacea is an effective immune system stimulant. It’s also anti- inflammatory and astringent, and it stimulates the production of new tissue.

SAGE (Salvia officinalis)
Sage’s root word means, “to heal,” so what better plant to put in your garden? Sage is a short-lived perennial, so it may need to be replanted every three years or so. The only trick to growing this herb is that it needs good drainage, so don’t plant it in a wet spot unless you raise it up with some organic matter. My first herbal remedy, sage took my sore throat away and prevented an ensuing cold. In addition to being strongly antiseptic, sage is also mildly bitter, meaning it promotes digestion. It is also gaining popularity as an antioxidant used for improving memory.

These herbs were chosen because of their many uses, their growability and their beauty. All of these plants are very easy to find at the Dane County Farmer’s Market or local nurseries (although calendula and chamomile are very easy to start from seed). Engage in your own healing through herb growing!

Visit Jane Hawley Stevens and Nature’s Acres Farm at her Open House this month! Experience an 130 acre organic farm nestled in the heart of the Baraboo bluffs, take free garden and woodland tours, and browse the wide selection of plants and products available for sale. The event takes place on Saturday, June 17th from noon until 4 pm (tours start at 12:30 and 2:30). The farm is located at E.8984 Weinke Road in North Freedom, WI. Feel free to call 608-522-4492 with questions.

Jane Hawley Stevens established Four Elements Herbals in the Baraboo bluffs of central Wisconsin in 1987. Over the years, her family farm specializing in healing herbs has expanded to supply organic dried herbs and hand-made body care products to stores throughout the country (including Community Pharmacy!) Herbalore is a regular column Jane contributes to several local newsletters, including CP's Infused. To learn more, visit the Four Elements Herbals website at: www.fourelementsherbals.com

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