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Food Cures You Can Grow at Home

April 27, 2012


Besides adding another dimension to your cooking, freshly harvested herbs can soothe dozens of common health problems, and it’s possible to grow a selection of home remedies in a couple of pots placed in a sunny spot.



Aloe Vera Indoors

Warmth and sunlight are keys to growing aloe plants, so give them bright light indoors and partial shade when they

Here are the different varieties of aloe that can be grown in your home:

A. aristata Lace aloe: The small tight rosette of gray-green leaves is covered in tiny white spikes. Occasionally produces a spike of orange flowers.

A. variegata Partridge-breasted aloe: Overlapping V-shaped leaves form a tight rosette and are banded with white. A spike of orange-pink flowers may develop.

A. vera: This interesting plant is useful and easy to grow. In optimum growing conditions the loose rosette of very fleshy, gray-green, toothed leaves may produce a flower spike bearing dozens of tubular yellow flowers.

Aloe Vera Outside

If you live in a very warm climate, you can plant aloe in your garden following these additional guidelines from How Stuff Works:

Choose small to medium varieties and install them in rows, with each plant 18 to 24 inches apart. The plantings will expand into attractive large clumps within two to three years. Leave the earth bare around aloes to highlight their striking sculptural quality and regularly groom older clumps to keep offshoots from cluttering up the plant

Additional tips include:

Position: Aloe requires a sunny position and a very well-drained soil.

Propagation: Aloe vera can be raised from seed, but it rarely sets seed in other than warm climates. Propagate it from offsets that form at the base of the plant. Allow these plantlets to dry for two days before planting them into small pots filled with a gritty, free-draining potting mix. Once they are well established, transfer them to their permanent position.

Maintenance: Aloe is affected by even light frosts, and in areas where winter temperatures fall below 41

Put Aloe’s Magic to Work

The best part about aloe is its practicality! The plant can actually be used to heal scrapes, burns and other skin irritations. Use a knife to cut a leaf of the plant off at its thick base. Then use a spoon to scoop out the gel-like sap and apply it to the skin



Sweet basil is a bushy annual, 1 to 2 feet high, with glossy opposite leaves and spikes of white flowers. Basil leaves are used in cooking, imparting their anise (licorice) flavor to dishes. Many cultivars are available with different nuances of taste, size, and appearance, including cultivars with cinnamon, clove, lemon, and lime overtones, as well as purple-leaved types such as ‘Dark Opal’ and ‘Rubin’. One of the most popular herbs in the garden, basil adds fine flavor to tomato dishes, salads, and pesto.


Plant seed outdoors when frosts are over and the ground is warm, start indoors in individual pots, or buy bedding plants. If you start plants indoors, heating cables are helpful, since this is a tropical plant that doesn’t take kindly to cold. Plant in full sun, in well-drained soil enriched with compost, aged manure, or other organic materials. Space large-leaved cultivars, such as ‘Lettuce Leaf’, 1½ feet apart and small-leaved types such as ‘Spicy Globe’ 1 foot apart. Basil needs ample water. Mulch to retain moisture after the soil has warmed. Pinch plants frequently to encourage bushy growth, and pinch off flower heads regularly so plants put their energy into foliage production.


Grow a few basil plants in containers so you can bring them indoors before fall frost. Or make a second sowing outdoors in June in order to have small plants to pot up and bring indoors for winter. As frost nears, you can also cut off some end shoots of the plants in the garden and root them in water, to be potted later.


Basil can be subject to various fungal diseases, including Fusarium wilt, gray mold, and black spot, as well as damping-off in seedlings. Avoid these problems by waiting to plant outside until the soil has warmed and by not overcrowding plants. Japanese beetles may skeletonize plant leaves; control pests by hand picking.


Begin using the leaves as soon as the plant is large enough to spare some. Collect from the tops of the branches, cutting off several inches. Handle basil delicately so as not to bruise and blacken the leaves.


You can air-dry basil in small, loose bunches, but it keeps most flavorfully when frozen. To freeze basil, puree washed leaves in a blender or food processor, adding water as needed to make a thick but pourable puree. Pour the puree into ice-cube trays and freeze, then pop them out and store them in labeled freezer bags to use as needed in sauces, soups, and pesto. Pesto (a creamy mixture of pureed basil, garlic, grated cheese, and olive oil) will keep for a long time in the refrigerator with a layer of olive oil on top.


Use it: Rub crushed leaves on your temples to relieve headaches. Pour boiling water over basil leaves for a pain-relieving foot bath.
Basil enhances the flavor of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. It is great in spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, and ratatouille. It’s also excellent for fish or meat dishes, combining well with lemon thyme, parsley, chives, or garlic. Try it in stir-fries or in vegetable casserole dishes. Fresh basil leaves are delicious in salads. Try the lemon-and lime-scented cultivars in fresh fruit salads and compotes. Basil is also a staple ingredient in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine; cultivars such as ‘Siam Queen’ give the most authentic flavor to these dishes. Basil vinegars are good for salad dressings; those made with purple basils are colorful as well as tasty.


Lavender in Containers
Plant lavender in a container made from a material that breathes, such as terra-cotta. Repot to a larger container every spring to allow the plant to reach its full blooming and growth potential.

Use a sterile potting mix, or try this one from V. J. Billings, owner of Mountain Valley Growers, an organic nursery in Squaw Valley, California: Mix approximately 60 percent peat moss with 40 percent perlite, with a couple of handfuls of homemade compost thrown in. If you don’t add compost when you pot, you’ll need to fertilize every three weeks or so with a diluted fish or seaweed emulsion.

5 steps to perfectly dried lavender

  • Harvest stems when you see the first couple of blossoms have opened.
  • Avoid mildew by harvesting on a dry, sunny day after the dew has dried but before the sun is blazing.
  • Cut each stem back to the first set of leaves.
  • Make a bundle of about 50 stems and secure it with a rubber band.
  • Hang them upside down in a dry, cool, place out of direct sun. They’ll be ready to use in about a month.


Use it: It has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. Crush a handful of the heads and add to a bowl of boiling water to use as a steam bath for your face. You can also dab the oil from the flowers on blemishes



In zone 7, it can be harvested at least until the end of November. It is moderately shade-tolerant, much more so than most herbs. In dry climates, it grows best in partial shade.

Lemon balm grows in clumps and spreads vegetatively as well as by seed. In mild temperate zones, the stems of the plant die off at the start of the winter, but shoot up again in spring. It can be easily grown from stem cuttings, or from seeds. Under ideal conditions, it will seed itself prolifically and can become a nuisance in gardens.

This herb is relatively easy to cultivate outdoors in United States Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zones 4 through 9. In zone 4, it needs winter mulch and a well-drained sandy soil to survive.

Common name for Melissa officinalis, an aromatic, sweet herb of the Mint Family grown in the herb garden for seasoning, and also used in liqueurs and historically, as a medicine. It grows to 2 feet tall and has small 2-lipped flowers in late summer, and leaves of a decided lemon odor and flavor.

Of Old-World origin, it is widely naturalized in America. It is easily increased by division or by seeds sown in the hotbed or coldframe.

Sun & Lighting Requirements
Lemon balm grown outdoors prefers full sun, but is mildly shade-tolerant. In dry climates, it grows best in partial shade.

Lemon balm will grow indoors satisfactorily under standard fluorescent lamps, and exceptionally well under high output fluorescent, compact fluorescent, or high intensity discharge (metal halide or high pressure sodium) plant growing lights. Keep standard fluorescent lamps between 2 and 4 inches from the tops of the plants, high output and compact fluorescents approximately one foot above the plants, and HID lights between 2 and 4 feet above the plants, depending on wattage. Have an oscillating fan gently stir seedlings for at least 2 hours per day to stimulate shorter, sturdier, and more natural plant habit.

Water Requirements
Requires consistently moist soil, do not let soil dry out in between watering. Water on a regular schedule, taking care to not overwater.

Potential Pests & Diseases
Whitefly, spider mite, thrip. Susceptible to powdery mildew.

Special Notes
Lemon balm may be considered a noxious weed or invasive plant in some areas. Lemon balm is drought tolerant and is useful in xeriscaping. Lemon balm is known to attract bees, butterflies or birds and has fragrant blossoms. Lemon balm self-sows freely; remove flowers (deadhead) if you do not want volunteer seedlings the following season.

Use it: Use for healing and preventing cold sores. Also, rub leaves directly onto skin as a natural insect repellent or to soothe bites.


Mints are perennial herbs with squared, four-sided stems with opposite leaves and small lipped flowers. All parts of the plants are pungent. Most mints are rampant spreaders, forming a thick mat of spreading stolons (creeping underground stems) just under the surface of the ground. Aboveground, plants produce 2-to 3-foot upright stems. Most are hardy in Zones 3–8, but check the species you want before you buy.


The genus Mentha has many species and cultivars. Mentha × piperita, peppermint, and M. spicata, spearmint, are the most familiar. Herb gardeners can also grow M. suaveolens, the furry apple mint; M. × piperita f. citrata, orange mint, and popular chocolate mint, M. × piperita f. citrata ‘Chocolate’; M. requienii, the creeping, mosslike Corsican mint; and numerous hybrids or variegated forms.


All mints prefer a cool, moist spot in partial shade but will also grow in full sun. Mint is extremely variable from seed. Instead, order plants from a reputable source, or visit a nursery to find plants whose flavor and aroma appeal to you. One plant of each cultivar you select will soon provide more than enough mint for home use—the big problem is to keep them from overrunning all neighboring plants. To avoid this, plant mints in bottomless containers that are at least 15 inches deep and sunk in the ground with one or two inches protruding above the soil surface, or plant above the ground in tubs and barrels.


Snip leaves or sprigs as needed. To harvest in quantity, cut stems to within an inch or so above the ground. You can make several harvests, depending on the length of the season. Hang mint in loose bunches to air dry, dry individual leaves on a tray in a food dehydrator, or freeze in self-sealing bags.


Use it

Ideal for treating the collywobbles, which you might know as butterflies in the stomach. Sip tea made with fresh peppermint leaves to soothe stomach cramps, nausea, and flatulence. For a natural decongestant, place a fistful of mint leaves in a shallow bowl and cover with boiling water. Lean over it, drape a towel over your head, and breathe the steam. Enjoy aromatic mint teas hot or iced. Peppermint tea, a centuries-old remedy, can calm an upset stomach. Add chopped fresh leaves to lamb, rice, salads, or cooked vegetables. Corsican mint is an attractive creeper, good between paving stones or in the rock garden.



Two different forms include the familiar curly parsley and the more flavorful flat-leaved Italian version, with leaves like celery and cilantro.

Propagation / sowing:

Sow seeds outside in spring. Place seeds in drills 1/2 inch deep and cover with soil. Thin to about 3 inches apart. Do not allow the soil to dry out. Soaking seed in lukewarm water for several hours before sowing is beneficial; or freezing seed for a short time. Sow indoors, from late winter to early spring and outdoors in early spring, before last frost.

Parsley is hardy and easily grown in most climates. It is popular because of its much-divided, sometimes curly leaves which have a characteristic flavor and smell.

Parsley is one of the most familiar of all herbs and is used for both garnishing and flavoring. It is relatively high in vitamins A and C and iron.

Parsley is a biennial, and will overwinter, but it is mostly grown as an annual. Can be slow in germination, doing best in warm, moist soil, with pH of 5.0 to 7.0. Soaking seed in lukewarm water for several hours before sowing is beneficial; some advocate use of boiling water, or freezing seed for a short time. Sow indoors, from late winter to early spring and outdoors in early spring, before last frost. Ensure constant moisture until after germination (may take 3 weeks or more). Thin or space plants at 6 inches apart. Harvest as needed, beginning with large, outer leaves.

Companion planting:

Parsley helps the growth of roses and tomatoes.


Harvest as needed, beginning with large, outer leaves – allowing younger inner leaves to grow.

Use it: Immune-system booster. Eat one tablespoon of chopped flatleaf or curly parsley daily. Chewing parsley neutralizes mouth odors. Cosmetic, culinary, decorative, and medicinal. Parsley is added to bath water to sooth and cleanse. It also is used in shampoo, perfume, soap, and lotion. It flavors sautés, grilled meat, poultry, soups, and salads. It may be used in herbal butters and vinegars or as a garnish. Parsley can be used to make golden green or yellow dyes. It also can be grown in containers. It is said to have some medicinal qualities.


Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) is a classic example of a plant with a confusing common name. The “real” sages are members of the genusSalvia, which includes the common culinary herb Salvia officinalis. Russian sage and the salvias do share the same family (Lamiaceae), but they are quite different plants. The so-called Russian sage is native from Afghanistan to Tibet, while culinary sage originated in the Mediterranean region. Russian sage is a large, shrubby perennial with light blue flowered spires that float above the deeply toothed silvery foliage.

Propagation: Needs full sun and a dry sandy soil.  Sage means “to be in good health.”

Culinary sage has smooth-edged, tapered leaves, and tends to not grow over 2 feet tall. It is also a celebrated kitchen herb, with strongly scented leaves that were originally used to flavor (or perhaps mask the flavor of) meats. The inedible gray-white stems and leaves of Russian sage don’t have a use in the kitchen, but they add four-season interest to ornamental borders.

The foliage of both plants releases a similar, pungent scent when crushed, but I find the scent of Russian sage more reminiscent of another confusingly named but similarly scented plant: sagebrush (Artemisia).

Use it: Gargle with a broth made from a quarter-cup of leaves (and cooled) to relieve sore throat.



This hardy perennial loves basking in sunshine. Rosemary grows in shrubby clumps of branching stems covered with wonderfully fragrant, needlelike, green leaves. This herb is a half-hardy perennial that’s an evergreen in Zones 8 through 9. In Zones 6 and 7, you can grow the hardy variety ‘Arp’, or you can grow rosemary as a container plant that’s overwintered indoors. Plants can reach 5 to 6 feet tall where they’re hardy outdoors; container plants reach 1 to 3 feet tall.


This aromatic herb grows best in well-drained, sandy, or gravelly soil and full sun.

Seedlings grow very slowly, so you’ll want to buy plants and start with them for fastest results.

Space plants 1 to 2 feet apart (if you plan to grow your rosemary as a perennial in the garden, space the plants a good 4 feet apart).


You can continuously harvest rosemary as long as the plants are growing. Strip the needles from the stems; chop before using. Rosemary also dries and freezes well. Freeze whole sprigs, and when you need some leaves, slide your thumb and index finger down a sprig, taking off as many leaves as you need.

Use it: Tea made from a thumb-sized piece has been known to lift spirits in people suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and hangovers. Infuse warm red wine with rosemary, cinnamon, and cloves to soothe winter colds.

Rosemary is an herb that’s not just for the kitchen spice rack. You can use rosemary to make sachets for your drawers or a rinse for your hair. And rosemary oil adds a pleasant piney scent to soaps, creams, lotions, and toilet waters.

Trivia tidbits
In ancient Greece, students wore rosemary garlands in their hair while studying for exams because they believed rosemary would help improve their memory. In the Middle Ages, men and women placed rosemary sprigs under their pillows to ward off demons and prevent bad dreams.


Thymus spp. Labiatae

Versatile and beautiful, thymes should have a place in every herb garden. All thymes are perennial herbs with very small leaves and tiny flowers ranging in color from white through pink to deep rose-magenta. The creeping types, such as mother-of-thyme (Thymus serpyllum), will cover bricks and stones or low walls and can tolerate a certain amount of foot traffic. T. ‘Coccineus’ is a mat-forming cultivar with showy reddish purple flowers and bronze fall foliage. The bush forms are 6 to 8 inches high and have woody, wiry stems and branches.

Common thyme (T. vulgaris) is the type of thyme most frequently used for cooking. Most thymes are very fragrant, with aromas reminiscent of coconut, orange, balsam, oregano, lime, or nutmeg. Golden lemon thyme (T. * citriodorus ‘Aureus’) has yellow-edged leaves and a strong lemon odor. Zones 4 or 5–9, depending on the species and cultivar.


Needs sun.  Thymes need full sun and a dry, gritty soil. Buy named cultivars as plants, or plant thyme seed outdoors in a prepared bed in fall or spring, or start your seeds in flats indoors. Bush thymes (except for variegated cultivars) often seed themselves freely, so there should be no shortage of new plants if the old ones don’t come through a hard winter. To propagate cultivars, separate rooted pieces or take cuttings. In the North, protect plants from winter damage with a covering of evergreen boughs.

When plants are beginning to flower, cut off the top half and hang to dry in a shady place or dry on trays in a food dehydrator. Once the leaves are thoroughly dry, strip them from the stems and store in a dark place until ready to use. You may harvest pieces from thyme plants all summer, but don’t cut them back severely in fall.

Use it

A powerful antioxidant as well as an antiseptic. Drink a tea made from lemon thyme to treat colds before bed. Warning: don’t use thyme when pregnant. One of the essential oils in thyme is thymol, still used by pharmacists, especially in cough remedies. Thyme is antiseptic, as well as an aid to digestion. In the kitchen, thyme is a wonderful addition to pasta and pizza sauces, salad dressings, stews, stuffing’s, meat loaf, and soups, and is especially good with poultry, fish, and eggs.,0


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