With a couple of pots, you can make yourself a kind of pharmacy in your house.
After a drunken, melissa tea to relieve the stomach and headache.
Sore throat? Hungover? Anxious? You could find the cure in your own garden or local park
I recently walked into a tree. I didn’t mean to, but I was, as usual, looking at what was growing around my feet and not where I was going. The result was a messy scrape of torn skin, but nearby was also the solution: I plucked a few leaves of herb robert and a number of ribwort plantain leaves, mashed them between my fingers till their juices flowed, and pressed the mash into my cut. Within an hour it was knitting back together; a week later you could barely tell it had happened.
Both herb robert (Geranium robertianum) and ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata) are common wildflowers – many would call them weeds – with powerful healing properties. Herb robert is a styptic and excellent vulnerary herb, meaning it stems bleeding and heals wounds; it is astringent, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory and has long been used for scrapes, insect bites and minor sores. Ribwort plantain has similar properties.
No one is doubting the miracles that modern medicine has brought, but humans have always mashed leaves and chewed barks, by boiling roots and pressing seeds. When I pluck a leaf to help me out, I am reminded of all that came before me.
Simple solutions to minor problems already grow in your garden as weeds or ornamental flowers. Understanding how plants can help us is not only rewarding, it means one less plastic plaster in the bin, one less unrecyclable teabag.
For cuts, grazes, splinters and scrapes
Make a poultice by mashing leaves and sometimes roots from clean plant material until their juices flow, and applying this mash to the skin: both ribwort (P. lanceolata) and broadleaf plantain (P. major), can help heal minor wounds, draw out splinters, and are especially good for insect bites.
Both grow on path edges, lawns and long grass. Herb robert smells musky when crushed, but the juice is a powerful styptic, stopping a cut or a thorn wound in seconds. Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris) is another fellow of wilder lawns that is amazing at helping wounds to heal. It’s a strong antimicrobial and will knit together difficult grazes. Chickweed (Stellaria media), another common weed of bare ground in the garden, turns into a soft, kind herb for the skin when mashed. It will soothe rashes and sores. All these herbs are safe for general use.
For hangovers and upset stomachs
Korean liquorice mint (Agastache rugosa) is not a common herb, but should be. An easy-going perennial with liquorice-tasting leaves and brilliant purple flowers, I swear it’s the best hangover tea. It will soothe your sore head and settle your stomach. If liquorice isn’t your thing, try lemon balm. As a tea it will calm nausea, aid digestion and is deeply relaxing. It is safe for general use, but shouldn’t be consumed regularly by anyone with a thyroid condition.
For bloating and indigestion
The seeds of fennel, caraway and dill are carminatives and aid digestion, meaning they help with bloating, gas and indigestion. The nutty, sweet flavour of toasted fennel seeds is a delightful way to consume such a medicine, but all three can be made into a tea for after dinner, with a little honey added, if necessary. To get the most out of the seed, bash it a little first, then steep for 10-15 minutes. All the good properties in herbal teas are lost if it is not covered for 10 minutes; if you don’t have a teapot, cover a mug with a saucer instead. You can also chew directly on the seeds.
For colds, sore throats and snuffy noses
Rosemary, thyme and sage, together or separately, bruised and then steeped in hot water for at least 10 minutes will make a killer antimicrobial tea. Adding dried apple will make sage more palatable. Equally as good cooled and drunk as a flavoured water.