Consider inviting wild bergamot into your garden for its beauty, medicine, and amazing ability to attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. Wild bergamot is a close relative to bee balm however, wild bergamot will thrive in hotter and drier conditions as compared to bee balm. Both bee balm and wild bergamot have been important medicines for Native American people. They are used medicinally to treat infections and digestive issues, such as gas and bloating. Wild bergamot is antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and diaphoretic.
Wild bergamot has a pungent aroma and flavor and can be enjoyed in tea or prepared as a tincture. The lavender flowers are edible and can be used as a garnish or tossed in salads for an extra splash of color. The leaves can be mixed with basil to create a pungent twist on the classic pesto.
For most gardeners, it’s easier to purchase a plant or divide a bit of the root from a friend’s plant. Wild bergamot spreads vigorously by runners, similar to mint. Plant it where it can go hog wild, or contain it with a rhizome barrier, as you would for mint or bamboo.
This close relative of common basil is native to India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and has gained recent popularity as a tasty herbal tea. Holy basil is highly aromatic and antimicrobial; the leaves and flowers are used as a medicinal tea for colds, coughs, asthma, bronchitis, sinusitis, headaches, arthritis, diabetes, stress, and anxiety. Its effect offers an uplifting energy and helps with mental clarity and focus. Culinary uses: fresh leaves can be added to salads and are used as a more pungent version of basil. Holy basil pesto is divine!
Plant outside after the danger of frost has passed. Holy basil may appear puny when you first plant it, leaving you to wonder if it has some botanical failure-to-thrive syndrome—perhaps you spoke too harshly with it when you were transplanting it.
Motherwort is one of the easiest herbs to grow and is a highly versatile medicinal. It is one of my favorite remedies for anxiety and stress. It is taken as a tincture or tea to lessen pain, such as: headaches, menstrual cramps, and muscle sprains and aches. It is many women’s ally in menopause for easing hot flashes and hormonal- induced irritability. Finally, motherwort fully lives up to its name in helping to increase parental patience. Many mothers find that motherwort softens the edginess brought on by sleep deprivation, endless laundry and dishes, and uppity wee folk.
Passionflower is a native vine to the southeastern United States, with gorgeous flowers and interesting foliage. It is weedy in much of its native range and fairly easy to grow elsewhere, especially if given a wall or trellis to climb. The leaves and flowers are an important nervine sedative and are used to help promote sleep and alleviate pain, such as menstrual cramps and headaches.
Passionflower will spread throughout the garden if it’s happy, which may make you happy, or not very, depending on how big your garden is. Its easy enough to pull up any runners emerging in an inopportune location, and either transplant them or give them to your uptight neighbor. And then just when you think you cannot contain the vines’ exuberance, and begin to see it as a nuisance, it will up and die from heartache.
Calendula is one of the most familiar and beloved herbs, earning our affection with its cheerful golden flowers. The petals are edible and the whole flower is an important medicinal herb in treating skin conditions. Calendula is found in topical ointments, salves and creams. This flower holds an interesting claim to fame—it is the herb most likely to be found in diaper rash ointments and creams. I plant calendula close to my front porch so I can enjoy the blooms, and watch the hum of pollinator activity all summer long.
The sunshiny yellow-orange flowers are an edible garnish for salads, cakes, and soups. The flowers are also incorporated into oils and salves for healing wounds, rashes, burns, and dry skin. Calendula flowers are used internally in teas, tinctures, and broths as an anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and digestive anti-inflammatory. It is one of my favorite remedies, along with meadowsweet and licorice, for GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) and peptic ulcers.
Echinacea or Purple Coneflower
Purple coneflower is one of the most popular garden ornamentals with its showy purple flowers that attract all manner of butterflies and bees. Not only is it gorgeous, it is easy to grow—Echinacea is a decidedly unfussy plant, withstanding drought, disease and insect infestations. Purple coneflower roots, seeds, and fresh flowers are all medicinal, and can be made into a tingly tasting, immune-stimulating tea or tincture.
This stately herb is native to meadows in Europe. The flowers are quite attractive, growing in large white billowy clusters, and are traditionally used to flavor meads. The leaves and flowers have a pleasant wintergreen aroma and flavor, and are used internally for inflammation, fevers, heartburn, and peptic ulcers. Most people, including finicky children, love the tasty tea. Meadowsweet is a wonderful tonic for arthritis with its anti-inflammatory salicylates.
Southern Ginseng is a popular folk herb in Southeast Asia where it is grown as an affordable substitute for ginseng. It is gaining popularity in the Western world, where it is used as a tonic for longevity and vitality. It is also given to racehorses to improve their performance. The leaves are brewed into a medicinal tonic tea for anxiety, stress, depression, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. This vine is an easy-to-grow tonic, which contains some of the same compounds found in Asian and American ginseng. Sweet tea vine is quite bitter, contrary to its name; it has a flavor reminiscent of ginseng with mild soapy undertones. As you are likely aware of, sweet tea (black tea with copious amounts of white sugar) is the beverage of choice for many southerners.
This plant has golden, globe-shaped flowers with a red center, leading one seed company to market them as “eyeball plant.” Even a tiny nibble from one of the flowers will set your mouth to drool. The tingly numbing sensation affords relief to toothaches, and is used in many tooth and gum formulas, as it is anti-microbial, stimulating, and acts as an oral anodyne. All the aboveground parts are medicinal, and can be chewed fresh in moderation or made into a tincture.
Nettles is a highly revered, nutritious spring green, eaten steamed or in soups and stir-fries. The sting disappears when the leaves are cooked or dried. The greens and tea of nettles are high in minerals, vitamins, and chlorophyll, namely Vitamin A and C and calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron. The leaves and seeds are used medicinally in teas, and as a food, for allergies, arthritis, and as kidney tonic. Nettles is a highly useful garden plant if placed wisely in the landscape. It is considered a perennial vegetable—it does not need to be planted from seed each year, but comes back from the roots year after year, making it less energy-intensive to cultivate than many annual crops.