With winter at our doorsteps…
Did you know there are plants you can grow to help with health and well-being during the holidays? How easy is to grow culinary/medicinal plants in your conservatory?
EXTREMELY! Here are four of my favorites with a special advanced exotic bonus.
ALOE VERA is a plant with a long, illustrious past. It doesn’t have the moniker of miracle cure for nothing; even the U.S. MILITARY studied and stockpiled it for RADIATION BURNS! No household should be without this AFRICAN NATIVE which once grew on an island Alexander the Great seized to keep the plant exclusively for his troops’ medicinal needs.
While it has multiple HEALING USES, the most well-known is its ability to heal burns quickly and its efficacy is astounding. If you’ve just pulled out the Christmas feast and managed to singe yourself in the process, just snip off a small length of a leaf and rub the sticky gel onto your wound. If it’s severe, multiple applications over an hour will pull the pain from any burn.
Aloe, being a succulent, is an EASY PLANT TO GROW. It is very forgiving. However, SUN, an occasional weak FEEDING, a high-quality succulent POTTING MIX, and regular WATERING (allow to go only just dry between waterings and let drain thoroughly) will keep the leaves plump and ready to serve you. If it outgrows its space, you can always divide out the ‘mother’ plant and keep however many ‘pups’ you want.
Our next MUST-HAVE was revered by the ANCIENT GREEKS and is known as LEMON BALM, or Melissa officinalis. Being another workhorse in the HERBALIST CABINET, this MEDITERRANEAN NATIVE was also beloved by notables such as WILLLIAM SHAKESPHERE and THOMAS JEFFERSON. It not only has ANTIVIRAL properties, but for centuries has been said to CHEER the mind. So in the dark days of winter, whether you’re having a little bout of SAD or feel a cold or flu coming on, just go out to the greenhouse and snip some stems off your Lemon Balm plant and MAKE TEA (allow it to steep for at least 5 minutes).
Outside, it’s a perennial in the mint family; inside, just keep WATERING and snipping to MAINTAIN SIZE AND SHAPE, giving the OCCASIONAL LIGHT FEEDING. You don’t want to let the soil get too dry, but also likes to be relatively well-drained. The LEMONY SCENT that comes from just brushing against it will put a smile on your face in the dead of winter. It’s easy to dry for tea—but there’s NOTHING LIKE the fresh thing with a little honey to chase winter ‘blahs’ away.
Virtually all kitchens contain a jar of thyme for yummy, savory flavoring; but this herb has also been a major part of medicinal history. Thymus vulgaris, containing powerfully antiseptic thymol volatile oil, is also well-known as a great expectorant and is used in COUGH and SORE THROAT medicines. Just two teaspoons of Thyme leaves steeped for 10 minutes in a cup of boiled water.
Written about since ancient times, Thyme is a wild, pretty little plant and has been used for all kinds of ailments. It needs WELL-DRAINED SOIL and CONSISTENT WATERING—however, it doesn’t like to be too moist for too long. To keep it from getting ratty-looking, or from ‘walking away’ from its pot, TRIM IT REGULARLY. If everyone’s staying healthy, just dry the leaves and store them for use in your favorite French culinary dish.
Lastly, for the slightly more ADVANCED medicinal/culinary herb grower, is Illicium verum, aka STAR ANISE. This fragrant, smallish evergreen tree, originally from SOUTHEAST ASIA, bears a fruit that has REMARKABLE MEDICINAL PROPERTIES, but is also beloved as an ASIAN COOKING SPICE. Once having been classified in the Magnolia family, Illicium verum’s pre-ripe fruit is commercially harvested for its Shikimic acid, which is the main ingredient used in the flu medicine, Tamiflu.
Not only does the spice TASTE GREAT in food and LOOK GORGEOUS as decoration, but also makes a GREAT TEA! Again, the minute you’re sensing the flu or cold coming on, take a couple of your dried star anise, make a tea and sip comfortably. If space in your GREENHOUSE is limited, it’s also possible to buy bags of the whole spice at Asian grocers. Should you be enticed to grow the tree, be very sure that you’re getting the exact species Illicium verum, as there is a separate Japanese species which is toxic. Being a ZONE 8 PLANT, it should do just fine in a more NORTHERNLY GREENHOUSE, again with consistent watering and regular feeding.
Happy Holidays to all from Dea Schofield and Tanglewood!
Don’t forget to get that Aloe vera for the hectic cooks out there!