It’s that time of year when harvest is closed and the dark and cold outside foster rejuvenation of mind and body. It’s a time to find quiet, catch up on reading, pick up the knitting needles (or scrapbooking…or whatever…) again and take advantage of more hours to sleep. For me, it’s also a time to reassess what I need in my pantry and restock with foods that are fresh from the season. Whatever I was unable to grow myself (quite a lot, but that’s a different story) I try to purchase in bulk: boxes of fruit and nuts and pastured butter, half a grassfed cow, a full pig, dozens of salmon. It is nice to be prepared for those days (weeks?) of cold and snow and to know I don’t *have* to run to the store for every little thing. And other things like trays of soap curing in the basement feels good, too.
It’s also a good time to address the herbs and remedies and teas I have on hand. If someone in my family gets a sore throat, I don’t want to be wishing I had the right remedy on hand at that moment. That being said, I’ve learned I don’t have to keep EVERY little herb on hand. At one time I had easily hundreds of different herbs to use, but it was unnecessary. Most herbs have multiple uses, so you don’t need a whole bunch.
I now consider three basic things in deciding which herbs to keep on hand.
1. What is the purpose of it?
Do I want to keep a particular herb for seasoning foods? For treating coughs? For making a salve with? For soothing a fever? It is good to also start backwards: what do I think I am likely to be facing and how can I prepare a natural remedy for it? For example, at one point, I’ll probably have a child with a tummy ache. How do I want to treat that?
2. Does it grow nearby?
I really think there is something to finding and using the herbs that naturally grow nearby. Sure, I could use an herb that grows in the dry Southwest desert, but wouldn’t it make more sense to find one that grows near me in the wet Pacific Northwest? Never mind the sustainability of doing so (picking it right outside my door versus having it flown in by jet), but it just seems that plants that grow in the same environment as where I am living will marry better with my body.
3. Is it at all a part of my heritage?
This may just cancel out reason number two, but is the herb at all connected with my heritage, my genetic makeup, my DNA? For example, my mother is from the Meditteranean. Now I know that I’ll never grow red ripe tomatoes here for more than a week (if that), but oregano, thyme and rosemary are constant companions for me. True, these grow well in my garden (if not natively), but even if I were in the freezing Midwest, my body would just crave the herbs from that region from whence part of my family came.
Of course, all of those reasons can be thrown out the window and you can choose to use whatever you like!
Here are the herbs I personally consider must-haves for myself and my own family. From these I make salves, tinctures, teas and seasonings.
GARLIC….without a doubt, this is the one herb I would not want to be without. I consider it practically a cure-all! I use it for many, many ailments, and it is something that I grow every year. I use it liberally in cooking and even eat it raw. If you come to my house with a sore throat, expect me to give you a clove and encourage you to eat it!
PLANTAIN…grows everywhere around here. It is awesome for bug bites! I use it in my salve.
YARROW…also grows here and is a wonderful all around herb for use both internally and externally.
CALENDULA…works so well for face and beauty products. I grow this easy flower in my garden and it reseeds every year on its own (love that!). I like to steep the petals in oil as a base for any facial products I make. Furthermore, because it is excellent for the skin, I also use this in salves. And, it’s beautiful in salads, completely edible.
GINGER, SLIPPERY ELM, PEPPERMINT…all excellent for digestive woes. Peppermint is also wonderful for fevers. I grow peppermint in my garden, buy ginger from the store, and mail order the slippery elm. I’ve used slippery elm for my dairy goats as well.
THYME, OREGANO, ROSEMARY…used in my cooking on an almost daily basis.. All are grown in my garden. They are excellent for respiratory woes and are anti-bacterial for starters. Furthermore, not only do they make my food taste better, they make my food BE better.
COMFREY, ARNICA, ALOE….used externally and excellent for wounds, burns and bumps!
ELDERBERRY…a native plant here and wonderful in supporting the immune system in whatever ails it. ECHINACEA is also good but in my opinion can definitely be overused. Sometimes it actually makes people feel worse, especially if they have thyroid issues. I prefer to use elderberry.
Those are my favorites! I still need to make my year’s supply of salve and facial products, but I have my own harvests dried and ready for me to use. I do use homeopathic remedies and essential oils as well.
Do you have any favorites or must haves? Be sure to visit my friend Jasmine at Ponder the Path for more ideas on keeping an herbal medicine pantry.