Updated: Aug 27
Many people grow their own as well as foraging for herbs, in addition to buying dried herbs and herbal products that can’t be easily grown or found in their native country. The advantages of growing your own herbs are that you can have exactly the herbs you want, and you can grow them in the quantities you need. There may be native plants which you simply can’t find in your locality or, not the numbers that would allow you to ethically harvest them. You might also want to try your hand at growing herbs which aren’t natives.
The advantages of foraging for plants are that it cost you nothing and that nature does all the hard work! No digging, raking, watering or weeding required. Finding healing plants in the wild also offers a greater connection to them, because you see them in their natural environment, and some find this teaches them more about the plant and what it can do. Both endeavors give you plenty of fresh air, exercise, and a feeling of achievement and fulfillment, not to mention offering you a valuable learning exercise.
The fact that many of our wonderful healing herbs are considered weeds, should give you plenty of optimism when it comes to your ability to grow herbs! Even if you’re a complete novice, you’re very likely to be able to grow herbs, as many of them are renowned for growing anywhere and surviving in the most challenging environments.
But in this blog, rather than letting you leave it to chance, we’ll give you some sensible tips on how to optimize the chances of your herbs thriving and recommend herbs that might suit your space.
If you don’t have a great deal of space, there are still plenty of herbs that will grow and serve you very well, because they produce generous (but more compact) harvest. These herbs include:
· Lady’s Mantle
· Californian Poppy
· Lemon Balm
· Wood Betony
If your garden isn’t suitable for digging flower beds or installing a raised bed, pots might be a good option for you. The following herbs are suitable for growing in pots:
Large Gardens or Allotments
If you have more space in your garden, not only can you grow the plants listed above, you can also consider bringing in herbs that spread a little more. The following herbs require a little more space to thrive:
· German Chamomile
· Wild Oats
· St. John’s Wort
· Milk Thistle
· Golden Seal
· Poke Root
· Passion Flower (you’ll need something for it to climb up)
· Hops (you’ll need something for it to climb up)
In a larger garden or allotment, you might want to try your hand at growing a medicinal tree. You’ll need to carefully research whether the tree you’re interested in will flourish in your climate and locality. Herbalist have been known to successfully grow and harvest from the following medicinal trees:
· Cramp Bark
· Black Haw
· Wild Cherry
· Slippery Elm
In both small and larger gardens, pots and containers can also be useful for growing those plants that you plan to harvest for their roots. Such plants include Dandelion, Burdock, Elecampane, Golden Seal, Poke, Valerian, Horseradish, Echinacea, Angelica, Yellow Dock, and Nettle. It makes for a really simple, convenient root harvest if it's contained in a pot. When you dig up roots in the soil, it can take a lot of hard work digging around the root or root ball, and the root may have branched off at odd angles due to obstacles in its path, such as rocks.
Soil Considerations – Choosing the right soil
For the novice gardener, this is perhaps one of the most confusing aspects of gardening.
A plant needs the ideal balance of nutrients in the soil for it to survive. Plants need about 15 nutrients from the soil to survive, including nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, Sulphur, iron, Manganese, boron, copper, molybdenum, zinc, sodium, and chlorine.
The quantities of these elements found in the soil are primarily dependent upon the type of rock from which that soil was created. For example, limestone and chalk soils are naturally very high in calcium, while granite soils are often rich in a variety of elements.
While a soil might contain all the elements a plant requires to survive, the elements might not be available to the plant, usually because the pH of the soil. So, you could have prepared your soils as best as you could and ensured all the elements are present, but if the pH is not right, your plant won’t be able to use the elements and might not thrive.
You can actually measure the pH of your soil relatively easily by purchasing pH testing strips. Strongly acidic soil will have pH below 4.5, a moderately acidic soil will have a pH between 5.6-5.5, a slightly acidic soil will have a pH between 5.6-6.5, a neutral soil will have a pH of 6.6-7.5, and finally an alkaline soil will have a pH of 7.5 and higher. Most soils will be either neutral or slightly acidic.
Most plants flourish in a soil where the pH is around 6.5, as this is the point at which most of the elements can be take up as nutrients for the plant. You may, therefore, need to adjust the pH of your soil, but this is easily done.
To raise the pH of your soil – make it more alkaline – you can add lime and use alkaline fertilizers, such as bone meal, nitro-chalk, and basic slag.
To lower the pH of your soil – make it more acidic – you can add a nitrogenous feed of sulphate, of ammonia, and of yellow Sulphur (also known as flowers of Sulphur).
Once you’re happy your pH is right, and you begin growing your plants, you might start spotting signs that there is an issue with the balance of elements within the soil. Plants, like humans, are very good at letting you know when they are nutritionally off balance. Below, you can see the common symptoms of deficiency in some of the vital plant nutrients:
· Potassium deficiencies may present as yellowing of the leaves which starts at the margins and moves toward the center. Lowered leaves may appear mottled and brown at their tips. To add potassium to your soil, consider wood ash and rock potash
· Calcium deficiencies may present as withered leaf margins and tips, or as young leaves with hooked tips. Either the terminal buds or the roots may be dying, or indeed be dead.
· Nitrogen deficiencies may present as a uniform loss of color across the leaves, with the oldest leaves the first to fade. To add nitrogen to your soil, consider manure, blood meal, fish meal, nitrate, and Chilean potash.
· Phosphorous deficiencies may present as stunted growth. The leaves may be much darker than normal and lower leaves may even appear purple in places. Necrosis may occur. To add phosphorous to your soil, consider bone meal, fish meal, and rock phosphates.
· Iron deficiencies may present as yellowed leaves (though the veins remain green). To add iron to your soil, consider seaweed.
· Sulphur deficiencies may present as pale green leaves with dead spots. The veins may appear lighter than the rest of the leaf.
· Boron deficiencies may present as brittle stems and petioles, with the bases of younger leaves breaking.
· Manganese deficiencies may present as many dead spots scattered across the surface of young leaves, while the veins remain green. To add manganese to your soil, consider seaweed.
By spotting these signs and deficiencies, you can choose the right element to add back into the soil. Once you’ve nurtured any seeds to seedlings or purchased herb plants, a well-prepared, pH appropriate and nutrient balanced soil is all you need. You simply then need to plant them, giving consideration as to how much space they will need, and how tall herbs might grow (you don’t want to overshadow herbs that need plenty of sunlight with a giant like angelica or a spreader like St. John’s Wort). Then all you can do is water them as needed, weed their locality to prevent competition for soil nutrients and water (you now might well end up using your weeds as remedies), and keep an eye out for any signs of deficiencies or disease.