Not sure what to plant this spring? Grow your own medicine cabinet!

I love springtime. I love the blooming flowers, warmer temperatures and the collective awakening from winter. I always feel really inspired to grow flowers or put in a window box or over-commit to a high-maintenance house plan (this year it was a Fiddle Fig Tree). But choosing what to plant can be really overwhelming, especially for a novice like me.

Last year, I started researching herbal remedies for common ailments like sore throat and upset stomach. (Confession, this interest was partially encouraged by the show Outlander.) I decided to try a few tinctures and infusions for myself with fresh grocery store herbs, and I was really impressed by their efficacy. So by the time spring rolled around, I knew exactly what to plant!

With just a handful of new additions to your garden (or flower pots) – thyme, sage, calendula, mint and lemon balm – you can treat most typical household ailments, including sore throat, congestion, minor wounds, skin irritations, and upset stomach. I’ve found the following recipes to be very simple and effective. Start planting now, and you should be able to harvest your first batch of ingredients by autumn, just in time for flu season.

(Don’t forget to buy organic plants and potting soil since they’re for medicinal purposes.)

Thyme Cough Syrup

Helps with: thins mucus, acts as an expectorant, and is an antiseptic and antibacterial in the lungs

Ages: children 12 months and older

Ingredients:

2-4 tablespoons fresh thyme

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 cup water

¼ cup honey, preferably raw

Pour near-boiling water over thyme and steep, covered, for 15 minutes. Strain. Add honey and lemon juice. Refrigerate for up to 1 week.  For children 12 months and older, give 1-2 teaspoons every 2 to 3 hours, as needed. For teens and adults, give 1-2 tablespoons every 2 to 3 hours, as needed.

Sage Gargle

Helps with: irritation and inflammation of the mouth, throat and tonsils or when fighting off a cold

Ages: appropriate for anyone capable of gargling

Ingredients:

1 cup water

1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves or 2 teaspoons dried sage

¼ teaspoon salt

Bring water to a boil, then turn off the heat and add sage. Cover and let steep for 10 minutes, strain, pour into a tea mug, and add salt. Stir it up and gargle with it every 1 to 2 hours, as needed. (Don’t swallow.)

Thyme Honey

Helps with: sore throat, upper respiratory infections, minor wounds

Ages: For children under 12 months, substitute maple syrup for the honey.

Ingredients:

½ cup fresh thyme leaves or ¼ cup dried thyme

8 ounces raw honey

Put honey in saucepan and very gently heat. Add the thyme and stir for about 10 minutes. Pour your heated thyme honey into a clean canning jar, put on the lid, and let it sit in a warm place for 2 to 3 weeks. Using a fine-mesh strainer, pour the honey into a clean jar. Label and store it in a cool, dark place. It will stay good for roughly 1 year.

For coughs and colds, put 1 teaspoon thyme honey into 1 cup hot water and stir. Add some fresh lemon if desired. You can also just take 1 teaspoon thyme honey straight off the spoon to stop a cough.

For wounds, spread a thin layer on a bandage or gauze and apply. Change daily.

Calendula Flower Oil

Helps with: minor skin problems, including sore nipples when nursing (calendula, also known as pot marigold, is an edible flower)

Ages: all

Ingredients:

Calendula flowers, dried

Olive, grape seed or sunflower seed oil

Fill a jar 2/3 full with calendula flowers and then cover with oil. Put on a lid so that it fits tightly. Let it steep in a paper bag in a warm place for 2 to 4 weeks. Strain, bottle, label and store the oil in a cool, dark place.

To use, apply to affected area as needed, 1 to 4 times per day. Calendula is also a wonderful, safe baby oil; massage a thin layer of oil after bathing.

Gentle Tummy Tea

Helps with: upset stomach

Ages: gentle enough for children

Ingredients:

1 cup water

1-2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves

1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon balm (melissa) leaves

½ teaspoon honey, as desired

Pour boiling water over fresh herbs (or use a tea ball). Steep for about five minutes. Strain into a cup. Add honey for flavor. You can serve the tea hot or at room temperature.

Several recipes inspired by National Geographic Healing Remedies issue.

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