The Pacific Northwest (PNW) is a gardeners Paradise. There is no excuse not to try growing some beautiful and healthful herbs of your own. Herbs are aromatic, they taste great, and on top of it all there are some genuine health benefits to take advantage of. Having a yard is not a requirement for herb gardening. A sunlit window and a few pots will suffice.
Initially it may seem like a lot of work – especially when there are always herbs at the grocery store – but there are some major benefits to growing them yourself. Firstly, the monetary aspect must not be overlooked. A great deal of money will be saved when herbs are no longer purchased at the store.
Secondly, having fresh herbs available whenever desired is quite the luxury. They undoubtedly contribute something special to every meal. Not only is it an easy way to boost the nutrient value of any concoction, it’s also wonderful exercise creating and tending to the garden. There is something incredibly therapeutic about getting extra fresh air or spending quality time with plants. Gardening has the ability to meaningfully assist with the built up stress that accompanies daily life. “The sights and scents that abound in an herb garden delight the senses and revitalize the soul” (Svedi, 2014).
The quote ‘Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food’ by Hippocrates is incredibly relevant here. Herbs have an innate ability to work synergistically with the human body to heal its ailments. Adding more of them to any diet is going to result in positive health changes.
Below are some recommendations on which herbs I believe do well in a PNW climate, as well as some suggestions on specific plants I feel would be incredibly beneficial to incorporate into anyone’s diet.
Garlic (Allium sativum):
Garlic is one of the most powerful and useful herbs there is, never mind the fact that they are delicious. Remarkably, garlic can fight bacteria, viruses, and parasites. In the gastro-intestinal tract it not only supports the proliferation of healthy bacteria, it also attacks pathogenic bacteria and parasites. Externally it can be used to treat ringworm and threadworm. Energetically garlic is very warming, making it very useful during the wet and cold months we experience on the west coast.
For a significant yield this herb would need to be planted in a garden bed outside, but it would still be a fun experiment to plant a bulb or two inside just for the sake of it. Garlic should be planted in February or March for a harvest in August or September.
Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis):
There is no one who dislikes drinking a calming cup of tea. Chamomile is gentle enough for any age and has numerous health benefits. The nervous and digestive system is soothed by this herb. Due to its high levels of calcium and magnesium “it is helpful for dealing with muscle tension, headaches, bellyaches, flatulence, colic, insomnia, and achiness due to colds and flu” (Svedi, 2014). Chamomile has powerful anti-inflammatory properties as well. Considering we all suffer with these symptoms from time to time this herb would undeniably be put to good use.
These adorable little white flowers should be harvested on a dry morning after they have fully bloomed.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale):
Now I know what you are thinking – ‘dandelions are pesky weeds!’ I am pleased to inform that they happen to be a powerful medicine, and it is quite evident the abundance found here already. They are best used for “supporting the digestive system because dandelion is a digestive bitter that induces bile flow, cleans the hepatic system, helps with gallstones, gastritis, gout, urinary tract infections, bladder stones, kidney stones, and flatulence” (Svedi, 2014). I have been led to believe that the milk found in the stem of this flower effectively treats warts. The aboriginals of the Saanich area have been using it for this purpose for a countless number of years.
Dandelion is ready for harvesting when it first appears in the spring. This is the best time to do it. Dandelion tea is a common way to ingest and enjoy it. The greens are great steamed or tossed in salads as well.
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiac):
The ‘mother’ in this herbs name is not unwarranted. It has so many beneficial qualities to assist women during difficult and uncomfortable times. “…[I]t tones the uterus, brings on delayed menses, lessens afterbirth and menstrual pain, soothes the storms of menopause, and helps maintain emotional balance” (Svedi, 2014). This herb is not only useful for women, it has some very useful properties for the men out there as well. Motherwort does wonders for the circulatory system. “It can help to strengthen and normalize the heart, reduce palpitations, and lower blood pressure” (Svedi, 2014).
Motherwort is rather versatile; it likes sunny spots best, but can also thrive in partial shade. The flowers and leaves are to be harvested when the flower is in full bloom.
Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica):
Yes I am talking about those nasty plants that sting and leave nasty rashes on the skin. As it turns out they aren’t so bad after all. Nettles have an incredible nutrient density, and they can be prepared and eaten in many delicious ways. Nettles lose their sting as soon as they are dried or cooked, so one need not be concerned about that. Best of all this herb is very easy to find in Victoria’s climate so it would not be difficult to transplant a few of the stalks (being careful not to get stung). “Some of the disorders that nettles can heal are: bladder stones, sinusitis, hyper and hypothyroidism, fever, bronchitis, infections, and eczema” (Svedi, 2014). The list really goes on and on for this plant; it would be a wise addition to any garden.
I hope that these five herbs were appealing, but if not maybe it was inspiration enough to invoke a little curiosity about the potential of having an herb garden. It is important to recognize the special relationship mankind once had with plants; the ability to trust in the healing capabilities of our co-evolutionary friends without the use of scientific equipment reducing them to their microscopic parts. There is no better way to start rebuilding those relationships than working with and learning the plants again. A connection will never be established with a plastic container full of herbs that you bought for $3.99. The seeds need to be planted, the sprouts need to be nurtured, and you need to watch them grow. The experience will be particularly rewarding. Good luck, and happy gardening!
Svedi, R. (2014). Your medicinal garden: Ten herbs to plant this spring. Retrieved April 16, 2014 from: http://homestead.org/KarynSweet/MedicinalGarden/MedicinalGarden.htm