From the Farmer and Herbalist to the City Dweller: Why You Should Grow Your Own Medicine Cabinet
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I didn’t stumble upon the healing properties of plants—and growing them yourself— in the most obvious way you would think.
At first, my interest in growing plants was all about food: our crumbling food system, our need for more farmers and food growers, and—ultimately—our need to protect our food, health, and autonomy by growing food ourselves to ensure that it’s healthy (yes, even in the city).
It definitely isn’t news these days that the healthiest food comes in the form of fresh, homegrown fruits and vegetables—and specificlaly vegetables you can grow yourself.
But as it turns out, there’s a lot more to ensuring your health than growing your own food.
Don’t Just Grow Your Own Food: Grow Your Own Medicine
Homegrown foods have a higher likelihood of being more nutritious than any other type of food in the long run.
These vegetables and plants are at the very foundation of our health. When you think about it, they really are medicine, in a way.
I learned all about this a decade ago, which spurred me to become a farmer. Then I learned about growing herbs—for both culinary use and for healing—in addition to vegetables, and I felt like I blew a whole new story wide open.
Amidst my post-college travels learning about farming, I made the strange and unlikely jump: from farmer to herbalist. Today, I’ve managed to fashion myself into both, and so can you.
The ability to grow your own plants for both healthy food and medicine—or both food and medicine in one, if you really think about it—is empowering.
It saves money, doctor’s visits, and could even shape the way we view healthcare in the future.
But most importantly: just because you live in a house or small apartment with very little money doesn’t mean this is something out of reach to you.
The fact is: it is.
If you can grow food in your domicile, you can certainly grow herbs. Together, these form the most preventive health medicine cabinet you could possibly have at your disposal.
Seeing the Connection: Plants as Healers, Whether Vegetables or Herbs
Why should you grow your own medicinal or culinary—or both medicinal and culinary—herbs in the first place? Isn’t that something reserved for New Age hippies, bloggers, witchy mamas, or maybe even your grandmother?
My answer is best put as a story. I was in Ecuador during my organic agricultural internship when I was first struck by the world of herbalism.
I had an injured and infected foot. It was hard for me to walk.
I was also in a foreign, tropical country where a non-native’s susceptibility to infections was astronomically dangerous.
To continue to grow the healthy, nutritious food I was so hell-bent on learning about, I was told by locals I must rely on a completely different kind of plant.
They pointed just a few steps away from where I helped cultivate rows of healthy potatoes to a tall, uncultivated plant with broad leaves—a plant called matico.
Vegetables and Medicinal Herbs: Different Plants, Similar Purposes
Two very different plants, potatoes and matico.
But they both have a couple things in common: they can strengthen health and, as I learned, could possibly save your life.
I was instructed to use a medicinal preparation of matico’s leaves to fight this infection and still be able to walk between planted rows to get work done and continue my education—maybe even to keep my foot altogether, and ultimately protect my well-being.
The nearest hospital wasn’t for miles. There was no local pharmacy, no local clinic, no antibiotics: only plants and the native knowledge of the locals at my disposal.
Years later, I still have my foot—and all because of a plant. I also found out later, to my shock, that matico isn’t as exotic as I thought. In fact, it’s very closely related to both black pepper and kava kava, both cultivated relatives that are—you guessed it—grown and produced by farmers.
It was in making this connection between nutritious and medicinal plants—and plants of all kinds, for that matter—that I decided to be an herbalist too, and not just a farmer.
Growing Medicinal Herbs: Why Do It? Is it Really Worth it?
So, why grow medicinal plants, you might again ask?
Of course, my story above is extreme. If you think you might lose a foot, definitely wise up and go to a hospital if you can—take advantage of the fact that you’re not in the middle of a South American rainforest.
And yet, living in the city— relying only on your apartment or home— can sure feel like surviving in a jungle these days.
So here’s my short answer: you should grow medicinal plants to be smart, self-sufficient, frugal, and because it’s also just a no-brainer.
I’ll risk sounding rude here: especially in an urban setting and with little money, you’d be dumb not to.
Ultimately, growing plants saves you money and possibly your health in the long run. Sure, you can also purchase medicinal in supplement form, but these extracts and capsules can be costly also—and, in some cases, less reliable.
If you’re not worried about losing a foot perse, there’s a lot more beyond foot-saving that herbs do. Some examples are:
- Improving digestion
- Soothing sunburns
- Alleviating stress (or even anxiety and depression)
- Protecting infected cuts
- Pain relief
A lot of them make your food taste better as a bonus, too.
By the way, if you’re already growing vegetables or even fruits in your house or apartment: congratulations!
You’ve already got your own preventive medicine cabinet. Growing herbs will just expand it even more. In the process, you might save yourself a lot of money on doctor’s visits and depending on costly over-the-counter drugs.
You may also pick up an enjoyable hobby in the meantime that beautifies your home or apartment in the process, too. So why wouldn’t it hurt?
Culinary and Medicinal Herbs: What Can I Grow? What’s Possible?
Of course, the theory of anything becomes a lot more complicated when put into practice.
Newcomers to growing herbs (or even growing in general) might ask: is growing medicinal and culinary herbs indoors difficult?
In truth, some herbs with healing potential are not any different—or more difficult— to grow than anything else indoors.
If you’re wanting to break new ground and give growing medicinal herbs a try, here are the best to get your feet wet with (and your hands dirty with) for starters.
- Aloe Vera. May need more sun than most others on this list, but otherwise requires very little water or much else. Leaves from aloe plants can be removed and the gel used for cuts, burns, sunburns, rashes, and wounds.
- Gingerroot is incredibly easy to grow indoors from a living rhizome. It also doesn’t need a lot of light as a canopy plant. It’s great for cramps, stomachaches, nausea, and boosting the immune system when dealing with colds. It also tastes great.
- Lemon Balm. Great for culinary and medicinal uses. It also doesn’t need a lot of sunlight or water. Harvest sprigs to flavor meals that call for mint or lemon verbena. Or, make a tea from it for stomachaches or bouts of stress, anxiety, or depression.
- Spearmint and peppermint are easy to grow indoors with low light in containers. They’re great for bellyaches and can also calm nerves a bit. Mint’s flavors are a must-have for teas and various dishes. A fresh leaf on a cut reduces risk of infection.
- Take a bite or a sprig of this culinary herb to freshen breath or when you have a stomachache. It is also known to help with seasonal allergies. It’s easy to grow in low light and doesn’t ask much of you and is also a delicious seasoning.
- This squat little mint-like plant doesn’t demand much space, or even too much light or water for that matter. It makes for an adorable ornament on a kitchen window. Thyme is also an excellent herb for immunity and the symptoms of colds and flu.
Keep in mind that the cultivation and use of herbs for health shouldn’t replace common-sense mainstream health care or prescription medications. Talk to your doctor about using herbs, of if using herbs for health would be right for you.
If you’re truly intrigued by growing herbs, don’t feel like you need to stop at this list.
There’s plenty of others you can grow indoors, and which may also be enjoyably tackled by the more advanced or expert indoor grower.
Happy growing—and, ultimately happy, affordable health.