07/06/2015 Nutrition & Recipes
Turn your garden into an Ayurvedic pharmacy. Get started with these five easy-to-grow herbs and plants that provide a host of health benefits.
Growing a mini-Ayurvedic pharmacy at home isn’t as hard as you might think—and the benefits are huge. Imagine being able to reach into your own garden, where you know exactly how plants have been grown, and picking medicine for you and your family’s well-being. There is nothing more natural; and it can be a fulfilling way to add to your household’s health.
Ayurvedic medicine uses a variety of herbs and spices to create balance and nourishment for your mind and body. There are some commonly used herbs that can be grown easily in the United States. Some of the more tropical herbs such as cardamom and turmeric may present problems for those who live outside of warm climates. But even in cold climates, these herbs can be grown indoors or in a greenhouse.
These five easy-to-grow herbs and plants can make a positive difference in your life. You can always expand your garden once you’ve mastered the basics. Through the practice of creating your own herb garden, you will open your life up to the true understanding that food is medicine.
Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum)
Holy basil or Tulsi is highly revered among practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine and is considered to live up to its name holy within Hinduism. It has a long association with Lord Vishnu, the preserving/sustaining personality of the Hindu godhead, and it’s easy to understand why.
This herb has many antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s prized for both its culinary and medicinal qualities. It can be used in your recipes just like its close relative, the familiar sweet basil. Holy basil leaves can also be steeped to make a great tea, which can be used to treat digestive disorders and help recover from chemotherapy.
Tulsi is generally safe for use; it can be mildly Pitta aggravating in high doses for those with a high fire content and temperature. Its main effect is on Kapha, which is why it’s so effective against colds, flus, and respiratory tract issues. Use a little in your food on a regular basis to give a boost to your general health and well-being.
How to grow holy basil: You can plant these as seeds or as a starter. The seeds need to be planted just beneath the soil at about a half-inch deep. Water as you would any other seed until you have sprouts, which should appear in about 10 days.
Once sprouted, give these plants no less than six hours of direct sunlight daily. Water the plant as needed. Although it’s resilient, you don’t want to overwater or dry it out. Pay attention to the soil and water it when it shows dryness, but before it’s bone dry. If you don’t wish to cultivate seeds for new sprouts, you can pinch back flowers. Otherwise, allow it to bud for a continual supply of this wonderful medicine. Some recommend chanting to this plant, as it seems to be curiously receptive to this practice.
Ginger (Zingiber Officinale)
You might have already experienced the benefits of ginger. It’s phenomenal at easing digestive issues, including nausea and heartburn. Ginger is a heating food, so its main effects are on Vata and Kapha imbalances.
This root is versatile and can be used to fit whatever digestive issue you may have. If you need to work on a Vata problem, use fresh, moist ginger. Choose a dried form of ginger when dealing with Kapha, as it will balance the wetness of this dosha. It positively influences every stage of the digestive process.
One of the best ways to get ginger into your diet is by making tea out of the root. It also can be chewed before meals to boost Agni and ease digestion. Ginger is an anti-inflammatory. Even if digestion is not a problem for you, regularly eating or drinking some ginger is beneficial.
How to grow ginger: Since you’ll be cultivating the root of this plant, don’t start this from seed. Ginger can be grown from the same fresh specimens you find at your local grocery. This root will tolerate most soils, but you generally want to go for nutrient-rich, loose soil. When starting your own ginger plant, take your fresh store-bought ginger and soak it overnight. Take it outside and bury it about 4 inches deep.
Water it regularly, but don’t oversaturate the root. If your ginger has knobs on it, face them upward when you place it in the ground. You want to plant ginger in a well-drained area with low sunlight. Ginger does best in shady areas, as long as it’s not a soggy spot.
You can grow ginger indoors. However, it does best as an indoor-to-outdoor transplant at the start of the season. The root stays close to the surface; be mindful of this as you’re growing it.
Critters love this stuff; take precautions specifically against caterpillars and cutworms. Harvest your ginger in about 8 to 10 months—once its growth slows down. Store by drying or freezing your root for long-lasting results.
Feverfew (Tanacetum Parthenium)
This herb has been especially useful to my family. It was one of the first plants to show me the effectiveness of Ayurvedic medicine. It has made my life easier by calming the symptoms of my beloved Pitta. For years, my wife suffered from migraines until I found this herbal treasure.
Feverfew is not a traditional Ayurvedic herb. However, it can be used in this way and is easy to grow. From an Ayurvedic perspective, feverfew or “bachelor’s buttons” carries a bitter taste and is cooling on the system. This herb is effective in balancing Pitta and Kapha. As the name implies, it’s well known for its effectiveness against fevers and other body issues that stem from overheating.
The best way to take feverfew is as a daily supplement. You can take 2 to 3 leaves of this plant daily to receive the benefits. I just throw it into meals I prepare. The taste isn’t especially strong or distracting from recipes. You might want to test your own sensitivity to this herb. Some may choose to chew the leaf directly, which is more potent.
How to grow feverfew: These plants are easy to maintain, making it a suitable herb for the beginning gardener. Feverfew is a perennial and reseeds itself. Plant your seeds close to the surface, just barely in the dirt. Make sure you pick a place where the seeds will receive plenty of sun. Don’t overwater. In my experience, Feverfew is pretty tolerant and forgiving of newbie gardeners so this a pretty low-maintenance addition to your herbal arsenal.
While this plant is technically a succulent, it’s included on this list because of its overall medicinal awesomeness. This plant, which is native to Africa, has been used as an herbal medicine since the first century A.D. and today is used in a wide array of cosmetics.
Aloe’s main effect on our bodies is cooling. It can be used on sores, cuts, and all kinds of skin conditions. It also can be used as a laxative and is effective in treating ulcers. Despite its cooling effect, aloe is actually balancing to all three doshas and is a very good detoxifier when taken as a juice. The gushy insides of the aloe leaf can be used to treat facial skin as well.
How to grow aloe vera: This is another plant that is easy to cultivate. The best method is to transplant it from a mature aloe plant. However, you also can grow it from seed. Since aloe vera plants are mostly water, they’re sensitive to cold temperatures.
Water aloe only as needed. The plants store a lot of water within their leaves and have a shallow rooting system. Slightly water the plant and then let the soil go dry before watering it again. You may feel like you’re going too long between watering.
This is another very forgiving plant; don’t be afraid to jump right in and plant one of these in your home garden. Aloe vera is drought-tolerant and requires sunlight with some shade to be happy outdoors. We keep ours indoors near a window and it has turned into an aloe “tree” on us. If you have kids, you’ll find its use for cuts and “boo boos” especially helpful.
Lavender (Lavandula Angustifolia)
This herb is one of nature’s greatest gifts. Like several other previously mentioned plants, humans have a long history of cultivating and using the gifts of lavender. Its use is widely known even in mainstream society today, where it is often touted for its effectiveness as a sleep aid and its pleasant smell.
Lavender has also been known to be an effective pain reliever, anti-anxiety medicine, and a digestive aid. Oil made from this plant can be used in your bath, in massage, or a diffuser in your home. Lavender can be made into a scented oil for aromatherapy, tea, and pain-relieving oil.
How to grow lavender: Don’t overwater lavender and allow plenty of space for breeze in between new starts. I purchased this plant already sprouted and would recommend that you do the same. Depending on the region of the country you live in, it may be hard to establish a plant from seed.
Once these plants are rooted, they’re very strong. Give them full sun and allow them to dry before re-watering them. Lavender is sensitive to dampness, so watering 2-3 times a week during the summer is a good idea. They’re resistant to drought; don’t be afraid to let them dry out, once they’re established. I watered ours quite a bit at first and almost lost several plants.
Humidity can be a problem for these plants. These plants thrive with full sun and less water. There are several kinds of lavender available; do a little research and see what does best in your area.
These are just some tips I have picked up in my own journey as a gardener. I recommend doing further research—there’s a lot of herbs to choose from. Remember, growing your own medicine is not only cost-effective; it’s also healthy and sustainable.
Dollemore, D. Gottlieb, B. New Choices in Natural Healing. Emmaus, Pennsylvania. Rodale Press, Inc., 1995.
Weil, A. Natural Health, Natural Medicine. Boston. Houghton Mifflin Co., 1995.
Simon, D. Chopra, D. The Chopra Center Herbal Handbook: Forty Natural Prescriptions for Perfect Health. New York. Three Rivers Press. 2000.