Flower Power: The Medicinal Properties of Popular Plants

Article excerpt

Gardening is the world's most popular and enduring recreational activity, feeding the spirit and the body, reducing dependence on the florist and the supermarket, and, when done organically, curtailing the use of toxic pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Gardening feeds the senses with scent and color, and feeds the body with exercise, fresh air and the freshest--and therefore more vitamin-packed--foods.

But gardens can also feed your health in other ways: By growing your own medicine, you can reduce your trips to the doctor and pharmacist. Garden plants can help with everything from infections or insomnia to healing wounds and broken hearts. Best of all, you can grow these gems in a floriferous landscape that keeps the neighbors happy and boosts your property values.

Here is a small sample of the many flowers that do double duty in a vase and in your medicine cabinet:

Calendula (Calendula officinalis): These indefatigably cheery bright orange flowers are good for both the garden and the gardener. Like their marigold cousins, the plant deters pest insects.

Calendula's sticky resin is superlative for healing wounds. Make a flower tea and use as a skin wash, or steep flowers in olive oil for two weeks and apply topically. Used internally, calendula combines well with drying herbs for respiratory infections. The dried flowers make a bright addition to wintertime teas--you can eat the whole flower as it floats around in your cup.

Even two or three plants will give more flowers than you can keep up with, self seeding prolifically to ensure your garden will always have their blooms. This annual plant is hardy to Zone 6, but may over-winter in warmer climates. Easy-go-ing calendula tolerates many soil and sun conditions, but thrives in full sunlight.

Lavender (Lavandula spp.): Best known for its perfume, lavender is also a remarkably versatile medicine.

The chemicals that make lavender so wonderfully aromatic also make it a potent pathogen fighter. The name comes from the French word for washing; the earliest antimicrobial soaps were made with lavender. The flowers fight bacteria, viruses and fungi, and the essential oil helps heal wounds and burns.

Lavender is also deeply cheering in cases of sadness or mild depression. A hot cup of lavender tea, brought to you by a friend, is wonderful for alleviating a broken heart.

Cultivars of this mounding, Mediterranean perennial can grow larger than four feet high and wide. These sun lovers are hardy to Zone 5.

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata, P. edulis, P. caerulea.): Fast-growing, vining passionflower is one of the best herbal medicines for promoting sleep without making you feel drugged. …