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For those of us who are growing herbs for the kitchen and our medicine cabinets, this is the hardest time of the year. The last of the summer heat requires us to put extra time and care into our gardens. The sun seems to sap every drop of water from the containers, and we must be careful harvesting leaves (especially on broadleaf herbs, like basil), so we don’t stress the plant.
Some medicinal plants do well in the heat, however.
Aloe Vera is a succulent that loves the heat and can be used for all types of topical healing: burns, blisters, scrapes, and cuts. This is also the time of year for prickly pear (nopalita), which is highly valued in the Mexican and Central American kitchen.
Garden Sage, one of our most versatile plants, loves the summer heat. Sage can be grown with little soil and grows wild even in very rocky areas. Besides tasting great in your Turkey stuffing, sage has been used for centuries as a remedy for digestive issues. In addition, it has been effective for healing throat and gum infections, and even ulcers. Garden Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a cousin to Mint, and is not to be confused with White sage or the Artemisia tridentata commonly used in ceremonial smudge sticks.
Another plant that loves this last gasp of summer is Chamomile. You can find this versatile, medicinal plant growing wild in pastures and grasslands. It has a long thin stem and a tiny, daisy-like flower. Chamomile can be used in topical products to treat inflammation but is most commonly made into a tea that treats cough, fever, and digestive problems.
Milk thistle is another herb you’ll find in sunny pastures. Considered a ‘weed’ and a nuisance plant, the milk thistle, with its purple blooms and shiny pale green leaves can be used to help diseases of the liver, including hepatitis and cirrhosis, and can even help treat depression.
Echinacea is also a plant that grows naturally if you have access to areas where the sun is constant. The plant itself is quite drought-resistant and can be identified by its cone-like flower shape that has a large bulb pointing upward and a small purple petal hanging down. Echinacea is used as a general immune system builder but can also be used topically on burns, sores, bites, and stings.
While we are out in the pasture, we need to look for the Prunella Vulgaris. To most landowners, it’s just another week, but to those who practice herbal medicine, this plant is called All-heal. A cousin of the lavender and basil plants, this aromatic herb is completely edible. Its leaves and stems can be eaten in salads and the flowers can be dried and powdered to use in teas to treat infections and fevers and can be used with water as an eyewash for pinkeye and sties. You can find this versatile plane everywhere, even along the roadside.
So, while our container gardens are requiring extra water and attention right now, many medicinal plants that love the sun are ready to harvest. If you choose to take the walking through pastures methods of gathering your herbs, please make sure to take with you an herbal catalog and/or a knowledgeable friend. If that’s not your preferred method of gathering herbs, click on any link.