While summer is the season to kick back and enjoy the longer days outside, the heat and the extra high pollen count can sometimes lead to a little aggravation. But the right medicinal plant or herb is capable of cooling down the body, supporting healthy skin, aiding digestion, cleansing the system or simply providing a burst of aromatherapy to your home.
You can easily cultivate a few of these hardworking herbs and plants in a kitchen windowsill, from seed or cuttings. Wild crafting is abundant from spring into early fall, with many aromatic and medicinal plants growing anywhere from empty lots to public parks.
Some tips to keep in mind: The best time to harvest these herbs is when the flowers are just forming – and in the morning, when the dew has dried from the leaves. As long as herbs are dried properly, stored whole in an airtight glass jar and kept in a dark, dry place, they maintain their active medicinal components better than fresh herbs. When making herbal tea, you’ll need twice as much fresh than dried herb.
Below are some varieties to keep handy during the summer months.
Aloe was known as the “plant of immortality” in ancient Egypt, and a papyrus from Thebes dating back to 1552 B.C. depicts its medicinal and beauty-based uses. The inner juice is especially soothing for insect bites, sunburn, dry skin, psoriasis, diaper rash, razor burn (pretty much all minor burns), small wounds and other skin issues. Try adding it to your favorite juice or smoothie to soothe kidney and bladder infections and for a happy digestive tract.
Native to Europe, red clover is a common cover crop for replenishing soil nutrients that grows almost anywhere – including wild in your own backyard. It’s one of the oldest cancer preventative medicinal plants and contains several trace minerals, such as calcium, magnesium and potassium. In tea or tincture form, the herb stimulates your immune system and cleanses the blood. Topically, you can use it to treat psoriasis and combat itchy bug bites. Be sure to clean your harvest well and dry out in a cool, dark, ventilated space to maintain color and medicinal properties.
Mint cools the body down – and the scent is invigorating when you need an extra boost on a hot day. It’s commonly used as a digestive aide. For a refreshing drink, make “sun tea” by placing a jar filled with fresh mint leaves and water in the sun for a half-hour. (Doesn’t get more summer than that.) Mix the tea with hibiscus flower for an added kick of color and Vitamin C. Mint becomes invasive if given too much freedom, so keep it in a container.
Splashing your skin with rose water is a great way to rehydrate during the hot summer months. The water helps soften your skin, maintain elasticity and also treat bug bites. A few drops of rose oil, diluted in carrier oil (around 60,000 Damascus roses are needed to make just one ounce of pure rose oil) reduces scarring and promotes healing in minor cuts. Rose hips, the fruit from the rose, are also high in vitamin C and taste delicious as a tea or jam.
Lemon balm is an antioxidant that promotes relaxation and alleviates stress and anxiety. It’s also an effective immune booster for suppressing viruses. The fragrant plant was traditionally used in Europe as a “strewing herb,” thrown on the floor to freshen a room. The leaves can be crushed into a poultice and applied directly to the affected area or taken in tincture form, infused in grain alcohol. To make a tea, pour boiled water over the leaves and let stand, covered, for a few minutes. An added bonus: Lemon balm attracts bees and butterflies to the garden.
Emily DiGiovanni is a garden educator and photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. She integrates useful culinary, apiary and medicinal plants into her garden designs, along with making her own beeswax and plant-based products. Her photography often touches on the the daily interactions that humans have with their environment. More of her work can be viewed at www.branchingearth.com.
– Crocker, Pat. The Healing Herbs Cookbook. Robert Rose, December 1992
– McIntyre, Anne. Drugs in Pots. GAIA, May 2011
– Morningstar, Amadea & Desai, Urmila. The Ayurvedic Cookbook. Lotus Press, December 1992
– Swerdlow, Joel L. Nature’s Medicine: Plant’s that Heal. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2000
Do you have a favorite herbal remedy? Let us know in the comments section below!