Backyard Pharmacy: Plants as



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This compact yet complete guide to herbal medicines shows you how to transform common plants into remedies that heal. While using herbs as medicines can often seem complicated or costly, the Backyard Pharmacy gift edition offers a way to learn that’s simple, effective, and low cost.

Plants you once believed were just seasonings for sauce in the kitchen or scents for your home are in fact medicines that can help heal and soothe, if you know what to do with them. This book shows you how easy it can be to make your own herbal remedies for life’s common ailments. Profiles of common healing plants offer advice on growing, harvesting, preparing, and using these herbs in healing tinctures, oils, and creams.

You'll find all-natural, low-cost herbal solutions for a range of common ailments, such as:  

  • Learn how to grow and craft a poultice to soothe mosquito bites.
  • Make an herbal tincture to fix sluggish digestion. 
  • Brew up some lemon balm iced tea to ease a stressful day.
  • Craft echinacea drops to support immune system health.
  • Use elderberry to ease cold and flu symptoms.
  • Blend a cayenne salve to relieve inflammation.
  • Steep chamomile tea to aid with insomnia. 

From the common cold to a nasty scrape, headache, or digestive issue, simple, all-natural home-grown ingredients can make you feel healthy and happy. With guidance from this useful yet beautiful book, you'll be able to match properties of each plant to your own medicinal needs. And with this new, more compact gift edition, you can share the soothing essence of herbal remedies with everyone you love.

From the Publisher

Backyard Pharmacy: Plants as Medicine – Plant, Grow, Harvest, and Heal

An outdoor garden with a walkway

An outdoor garden with a walkway

Cut herbs on a drying rack

Cut herbs on a drying rack

a basket of herbs and flowers

a basket of herbs and flowers

The Basics of Gardening

We grow an array of robust vegetables on our farm that take up plenty of space, like the pumpkins that send out thick runner stems, or the alien-looking kohlrabi, with their heavy globes snugged into the ground.

By comparison, the section we have allocated for medicinal plants seems like a little fairy garden. The delicate fronds and cute-as-a-button flowers of chamomile wave just above the dark green, lush leaves of lemon balm, giving me plenty of ideas about how to combine the two.

The fact is that our farm could become a large-scale production enterprise (it won’t) and I’d still consider this small growing space as one of the most important on the land. Perhaps it’s because I harvest from this section every day, chopping a bit of oregano and basil for a dish, or grabbing a few raspberry leaves to make into a bedtime tea. Our medicinal garden has become like a friend who’s always happy to see me.

Using Your Harvest

Growing medicinal plants can be deeply satisfying, but when you’re able to utilize those herbs in meaningful ways, then they truly become therapeutic marvels.

Fortunately, most preparations aren’t complex, and can be done with what you already have on hand. In other cases, a few modest purchases (such as a spice grinder and dark-colored jars) will greatly expand your homegrown medicine cabinet. Putting equipment like a mortar and pestle on the kitchen counter can be a nice reminder to make the most of a harvest.

Often, I find that preparing remedies has a therapeutic effect in itself, since many of those moments involve slowing down, collecting ingredients like honey or olive oil, and laying out plant components in front of me. Dried leaves, bits of root or bark, or a smattering of flower petals are spread out in front of me, and no matter how frantic my day has been, creating a tea or infusion is an instant downshift.

Kitchen Garden Herbs

When many people think about medicinal herbs, they tend to envision varieties that sound like they might pop up in a Victorian novel: blackwort, centaury, damiana, feverfew, juniperus, and perhaps the best named of all, false unicorn.

While there are plenty of those types of herbs in use, and we’ll cover some charmingly named ones in the next section, there’s also a wealth of medicinal options that come from a kitchen garden and wouldn’t be out of place on a spice rack.

Herbs like sage, peppermint, oregano, and other culinary options give zip and flavor to meals, but they also have health benefits. Integrating these into your medicinal mix is easy, especially since they’re so tasty. Plus, finding medicinal uses helps to conquer the “too many herbs” issue when a whole garden is ready for harvest.

Cut herbs and flowers

Cut herbs and flowers

A blackberry bush

A blackberry bush



Herbal Garden Remedies

I’ve felt somewhat intimidated by medicinal herbs, even though I’ve long been a fan of complementary medicine and alternative therapies. I could expound on the advantages of acupuncture and reiki, but when it came to using echinacea, I was clueless.

Going to herbal healers was beneficial, but I never dreamed that I could replicate those complicated mixtures. When I quit smoking and developed chronic respiratory issues during the detox period, a brilliant herbalist created a concoction with coltsfoot, mullein, hyssop, licorice, and something called mouse ear that I really hoped wasn’t what it sounded like. Although it worked well, I still didn’t consider making my own remedies; it felt similar to trying to create my own prescriptions. Who can whip up penicillin in her kitchen?

Then I became a farmer, and started growing all kinds of vegetables I’d never eaten before. A small culinary herb patch expanded, including herbs that attract pollinators, such as calendula and chamomile.

Fruits and Shrubs

While nearly all of the previous chapters focused on herbs, throwing a few edibles into the mix makes sense in terms of wellness. Of course vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, and other goodness, and it’s much easier to grill an onion than a sprig of basil. Fruits, on the other hand, tend to get less attention. So, let’s change that.

Although fruits are well recognized for their antioxidant power and sweetness, they’re not often heralded for the incredible amount of medicinal clout that they can bring. Dried or fresh, selections like blackberry, blueberry, and strawberry are more than a natural way to lighten up your morning granola, or to bake into a sugar drenched pie.

Best of all, fruits make a fantastic addition to any backyard pharmacy because they’re generally easy to plant and maintain, and offer fruits year after year. You can create an espalier by trellising them along a wall, or keep shrubs nestled alongside a walkway for a more ornamental effect.

Wild Friends

Although the previous chapters covered just a fraction of potentially useful plants—perhaps setting you on a path to expand your garden even more—I’d also like to make a plea to consider the non-cultivated options that might be growing in and around your carefully planted beds.

What many people consider weeds could be the start of a beautiful herbal relationship. Once you start recognizing these once reviled weeds, you’ll begin to see your yard in a whole new way. For me, it took just an hour-long class on local herbs for me to get hooked on finding wild medicinal plants. The speaker mentioned that plantain (which is covered here later, but trust me, it’s very cool) could be used for insect bites and wounds, and that it was so abundant in the city that we’d all probably see some on our walk back to the parking lot. Sure, I thought, dubiously.

Here are eight wild plants that are often saved from my lawnmower’s wrath, with many making their way into our medicine chest.


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