Growing medicine can be a family affair! Since my kids were little I have grown and processed herbs, fruits, and vegetables, from seed to harvest, and they have helped me along every step of the way. My boys did everything, from planting the seeds, to watering and transplanting, and lastly to harvest and preparation. Don't worry if you don't have a green thumb; luckily most herb seeds are quite hardy and easy to grow. Be sure to read the seed packet or refer to the catalog's growing instructions for sprouting tips, like soaking in diluted fertilizer, or scarring or stratifying (exposing to freezing temperatures for certain period of time) the seed. Growing your own plants is not only good for your health and unifying for the family, it is also good for the planet. Herbs are being over-harevsted all over the world, so by planting your own, you are helping to keep our valuable natural medicines from going extinct!
I am focusing on Western herbs in this article, though I am doing so with an Ayurvedic twist! Every herb, every plant for that matter, can be classified energetically using the Ayurvedic system. This is helpful when treating someone with an illness because you can match the appropriate herb to the person (and their sickness) depending on their natural constitution, dosha in sanskrit. There's plenty of information on the internet about doshas and Dosha self-tests you can take, so I won't focus much on that here, other than mentioning the doshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.
Just as a reminder, Ayurveda is a health system which focuses on balancing our doshas (our individual constitution) by ridding the body of Ama, a form of unmetabolized waste which can buildup and create sickness and disease. Ama is a normal byproduct of our digestive process, but it must be regularly eliminated to maintain balance. In sanskrit, our digestive "fire" is known as Agni. Agni is pivotal to our health , and when impaired, leads to the accumulation of Ama. Ama can build up in tissues as well as at the cellular level. When our body's cells are compromised and coated in Ama, there is a weakened immune response, making the body vulnerable to disease. (Fyi, Yoga is also a useful tool in eliminating Ama from the body). Equally important to remember is that Ayurveda does not treat specific disease, but rather focuses on balancing an individual's constitution (dosha) and enhancing overall rejuvenation. Ayurveda considers disease to be a by-product of imbalanced doshas.
Here are some of my family's favorites, as well as their Ayurvedic classifications and uses.
1. Elecampane (Inula helenium)
In sanskrit is known as Pushkaramula. You can use the flowers and the root, but I am most familiar with the roots. This root is pungent, bitter, and heating. It decreases Kapha and Vata and increases Pitta. Elecampane is useful for excessive mucus buildup in the lungs, and is actually a rejuvenative for the lungs. It also encourages sweating, which can be important therapeutically when one is sick. It absorbs excess moisture from the lungs and decreases swelling. It is a fantastic expectorant and works well to relieve coughs. You can combine it with cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, or cardamom to increase it's expectorate properties. It is also known to have a relaxing effect on the following: the digestive system, the nervous system, as well as a woman's reproductive system. In my house, we simply chop up some clean root and infuse it in honey. We keep this in the fridge and take teaspoonfuls as needed.
2. Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis)
You can use the flowers or the whole herb. This lovely yellow flower is bitter, pungent, and cooling. It reduces Kapha and increases Vata and is especially helpful for Pitta. Chamomile has an affinity for the nervous system, digestive system, and respiratory system. You can even use it for a gentle eyewash after a long day! Large doses can be emetic and may aggravate Vata. In addition to being useful for headaches and stomach upset, Chamomile is useful externally as a poultice for various nerve pains. Energetically, Chamomile is sattvic and will bring balance to frayed emotions. (Sattvic foods are known in Ayurveda to give the body energy while balancing the emotions). In our house when we get indigestion or stomach aches, we make simple Chamomile tea by infusing about 2 Tbs of flowers in a pint of boiled water. You can also make a strong infusion of Chamomile and add it to your bath water for an enhanced relaxation. I harvest the flowers with a Chamomile rake purchased from Johnny's Selected Seeds.
3. Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
I don't know how I would have gotten through my kids toddlerhood without Mullein! You can use the leaves as well as the flowers, and even the roots! It is bitter, astringent, sweet, cooling, and pungent. It reduces Pitta and Kapha and increases Vata, and is contraindicated for high Vata. Mullein has a natural affinity for the respiratory system, nervous system, circulatory system, and lymphatic system. It rids the body of excess Kapha and dispels excess mucus in the lungs. It assists the lymphatic system by moving excess lymph and is especially helpful for glandular swellings. The flowers reduce pain and irritation while also decreasing inflammation. In our house, I have used Mullein oil successfully to deter ear infections and reduce pain from ear aches. I have 3 kids and NONE, yes NONE, of them have ever had an ear infection!!! Mullein oil is easy to make: simply harvest Mullein flowers and infuse in olive oil for about 4 weeks. Strain and bottle. YOU ONLY NEED ONE DROP PER EAR! Repeat 3x/day for 1 week and always treat BOTH ears, as the infection, if any, can spread. Another common sense measure is to keep kids out of the cold and always have them wear hats throughout the cold season.
4. Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)
Another vital herb in our house is Echinacea. You can use the roots as well as the flowers, though the root is the most potent. Echinaea is bitter, pungent, and cooling. It reduces Pitta and Kapha and increases Vata. It is contraindicated for high Vata and vertigo. Echinacea has an affinity for the circulatory system, lymphatic system, and respiratory system. It is especially helpful with poisons and toxins in the blood and has been used successfully with bites and stings as well as general infections, eczema, and gangrene. It is a natural antibiotic and detoxifier and stimulates white blood cells in order to deter infection. In Ayurveda it is used to eliminate Ama. It combines well with Elecampane for colds and congestion and infection in the lungs. In our house, I harvest the roots and prepare a tincture with 100 proof vodka. This can easily be administered by adding to water, tea, juice, etc... Refer to the dosage on the bottle and consider the weight and age of your child. Externally it is useful as poultice for oozy and pus-covered infections.
5. Roses (Rosa rugosa)
In sanskrit, Roses are known as Shatapatri. Roses are considered universally to be the flower of love. Their gentle petals are surprisingly bitter in addition to being pungent, astringent, sweet and cooling. Roses are balancing for all the doshas, though may aggravate high Kapha if taken in excess. Roses are especially suited for Pitta and Pitta conditions because they soothe inflammation and relive heat and congestion in the blood. You can also use an infusion of roses as gentle eye wash, especially during allergy season. In our house, we love collecting rose petals from our secret stashes and chopping them up and infusing in honey. You can eat it straight or add to toast, tea, etc... We also dry lots of rose petals to add to teas all winter long, which certainly helps when missing warm summer days! (Plus your house will smell amazing and your heart chakra will get some stimulation!)