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Fighting the Blues

St. John the Baptist, the New Testament healer, lends his name to St. John’s wort, which blooms during summer near the time of the feast of St. John. This short, yellow-flowering herb, botanically known as Hypericum, has been used since ancient times to treat all nerve-related problems, including depression, a disorder of the central nervous system. The species Hypericum perforatum is said to have the greatest amount of active ingredient for medicinal purposes, but many of the perennial species have at least some.

The aboveground portions of the plant contain the essential oils from which the medicinal qualities of St. John’s wort are derived. Ground-up flowers of St. John’s wort suspended in vegetable oil are used to relieve pain from neurological disorders like tennis elbow and sciatica. When made into a tea, St. John’s wort has been known to relieve symptoms of ulcers, gout, and arthritis. But St. John’s wort is best-known for its effectiveness in the battle against depression, and because there are no recorded side effects from using St. John’s wort, it is fast becoming an alternative to prescription antidepressants.

St. John’s wort is easy to grow and is well suited for a healing or wildflower garden. Its mid-green to blue-green foliage provides an attractive backdrop for the bright yellow flowers with their prominent yellow stamens. Choose a sunny spot in the garden with moist but well-drained soil, and expect your plants to reach two to three feet in height with a spread of at least two feet. With this sunny-yellow healer gracing the garden, you’ll find it hard to keep singing the Blues!

BUG OFF! Nature’s Way

Not all insects are harmful to your garden; in fact, many are beneficial and are an important part of the ecosystem. Chemicals used to eliminate insects do not discriminate between the good bugs and the bad ones, so you can limit the damage done to beneficial insects and, at the same time, keep harmful chemicals out of the environment by practicing organic pest control.

Here are a few simple and effective ways to eliminate bugs and other pests naturally:

Handpicking: Insects can be handpicked from plants, and pests like potato bugs can easily be shaken from plants into a box. Use a butterfly net to capture white cabbageworm butterflies before they lay their eggs on your crucifers.

Traps: Slugs love to slurp beer from cans strategically placed in the garden, but don’t open the tops all the way lest the openings become two-way streets. Sticky traps hung in apple trees attract and trap apple maggot flies. Brush-on insect trap coating can be applied to small boards on stakes and used throughout the garden. Painting the boards a bright color will make them even more effective. Pheromone traps draw insects like Japanese beetles to their own hormonal scents and safely capture them in boxes away from prized roses and peonies.

Covers: Using lightweight floating covers on crops such as blueberries keeps those pesky birds, rabbits, and deer from eating you out of house and home. Of course, don’t install them until after pollination so that bees can do their job first.

Biological Pest Control: Releasing beneficial bugs into your garden to feed on bad bugs is a fine way of eliminating pests. Ladybugs love aphids, and certain wasps lay eggs on the eggs of other insects, such as cutworms and cornborers; when the wasp eggs hatch, they feed on the pest eggs. The bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is found in spray form and is used to control cabbageworms and their cousins.

Botanical Pest Control: Natural insecticides made from plants like the pyrethrum daisy (Tanacetum coccineum) are used very effectively and are a major force in the bad bug patrol. Pyrethrum, rotenone, and sabadilla are a few of these botanicals, which disperse quickly and do not leave residues.

Gardens That Heal

Planting medicinal herbs is an ancient practice. Earliest accounts date back more than 6,000 years, when the Sumerians, a now-extinct civilization, recorded herbs and their medicinal properties on clay tablets. Ancient Chinese, Greek, and Indian healers depended on herbs to prevent and correct imbalances in the body. And the Greek physician Hypocrites, whose oath has been taken by medical practitioners since early times, believed that nature itself was healing. His herbal was filled with plants such as burdock for arthritis and healthy kidney function and blessed thistle for increasing circulation and strengthening the heart and lungs. Pilgrims brought herbs with them to plant in their gardens in the New World and learned from Native Americans how to grow and use the land’s herbal bounty. Today, many people are turning to herbal remedies to avoid the sometimes harmful side effects of prescription drugs, and scientists are increasingly focusing on the natural world for cures for some of our most serious diseases.

Growing your own plants for herbal remedies such as teas and ointments makes the healing garden useful as well as beautiful, and the range of plant material available is surprisingly large. By definition, a healing herb is any plant or part of a plant that can be used to increase health and alleviate distress. Therefore, many plants we don’t traditionally call herbs, such as peonies, apples, and cabbage, are herbs in the medicinal sense because they promote healing. Healing gardens can be large enough to accommodate trees such as ginkgo, whose leaves are said to be effective in improving concentration and easing the symptoms of PMS, and willow (Salix), from whose bark aspirin is derived. Small healing gardens are best filled with perennials like catnip (Nepeta cataria), which when made into a tea relaxes and calms digestive system illnesses. The roots of coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia) can be made into a tincture to speed healing of burns or diluted into a tea for help with arthritis pain and toothaches. German chamomile (Matricaria recutita), usually made into a tea, eases tension and reduces fever. The common garlic plant (Allium sativum) has been shown to be effective in reducing cholesterol, ginseng (Panax) guards against stress, and St. John’s wort (Hypericum) relieves depression and also the pain caused by neurological disorders. The list of healing plants is long and varied, and with some research, a veritable pharmacopoeia can be planted in your own backyard.

The healing power of plants is truly a marvel. As the medicinal qualities of some plants can be quite potent, we encourage you to educate yourself before experimenting with herbal remedies. Even if you never make one tea or salve from the plants in your healing garden, the simple acts of planting and working in the garden relieve the stresses of everyday life and impart a positive feeling and sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. It’s no wonder that gardening is America’s number-one hobby.