Why and How to Plan and Plant a Medicinal Herb Garden
Learn how to simply and easily plan a medicinal herb garden for all your plant-based wellness needs. Aren’t sure what herbs are traditionally considered medicinal? We can help with that, too! You CAN grow wellness, or medicinal, herbs wherever you live, in whatever space you have.
Just a quick note – this post is looooong, so grab a pencil and some paper to take notes just in case your kiddo gets a scraped knee, a package gets delivered or the pig escapes and you have to read it in installments.
Why would you want to know how to plan and plant a medicinal herb garden? With more and more of us opting out of the conventional this or that, there’s been a rise in interest in gardening in general, and growing herbs specifically, over the last few years. Herbs are amazingly useful plants in the landscape, even if you’re not ready to use them to boost health and wellness.
Most herbs are really not very difficult to grow, many have lovely flowers and/or interesting foliage and they can easily be integrated into your perennial beds or any traditionally landscaped area. A lot of herbs grow well in pots, either indoors or outdoors and many are very adaptable to climates and types of soil. Many, many herbs are basically pest resistant plants, ta-boot!
If you’re new to herbs, get started with our short e-book, Herbs in the Bathtub. This book will get you growing herbs in pots this year regardless of where you live or how much space you have. It outlines a collection of well known herbs for culinary and wellness uses. We’ll teach you how to grow and use these wonderful plants – anyone can grow an herb garden this year!
Even people who aren’t into herbs know the basics like basil, mint and garlic. Interestingly enough, all three of these are classified as culinary and medicinal herbs being both highly nutritive and flavorful as well as powerfully potent in treating various health issues. My goal here is to cover a few basic principles on how to plan and plant a medicinal herb garden. A medicinal herb garden is defined as a garden planted with the goal of serving the needs of your general health maintenance, as well as acute issue that might arise.
There’s no way I can cover everything on how to plan and especially how to plant your wellness herb garden but we’ll cover some of the basics. If you have specific questions, feel free to ask and I’ll do my best to answer them.
Here is a list of my Must Have, Must Grow Medicinal Herbs that are also very manageable for most gardeners.
The list includes some cultural requirements for each plant and a few of their uses but most herbs are multi-taskers. Always double check everything you read about herbs so that you can be sure of your information; don’t take my word for anything, do your own homework. See our full disclaimer at the bottom of this post. Please bear in mind that these herbs are traditionally referred to as “medicinal herbs”, though “wellness herbs” is also an appropriate term. Please always consult your physician, homeopath, herbalist or medical professional before making any changes to your health and wellness regimen.
Most herbs are not terribly tricky to grow, but they are plants and will require you to have a certain amount of gardening knowledge. Fortunately for all of us gardeners, nature is adaptable and resilient, and whenever I have a garden failure I just say right out loud, “Well, that’s why God invented next year”! My first piece of advice for effectively planning your medicinal herb garden is to evaluate how much gardening experience and knowledge you realistically have. The best rule to follow for new gardeners is:
Aim Small, Miss Small
If you’ve never really grown much, try basil or calendula this year as both are easy to grow (easy to grow from seed even, if you’re feeling ambitious). They’re very pleasing plants when they leaf and bloom – not to mention what great medicinal herbs they are!
Here’s a little herbal homework:
Remember to only take on two new-to-you plants this year. I don’t want you to get overwhelmed and frustrated, suffer a loss, and then figure you have a black thumb. You’re going to be busy living your life, AND tending your few new plants, AND reading herb/plant books from the library, AND looking for community gardening classes to join so that you can improve your garden Ninja skills.
Two plants will be all you can handle.
There are literally thousands of useful wellness herbs you COULD grow. But your climate, soil and other growing conditions will only successfully support so many of those varieties. Sit down and go through your herb closet or shelf to see which herbs you use all the time.
Now, grab one of those herb books you’ve checked out from the library, and start looking for information on each of your herbs’ “Cultural Requirements.” These are the conditions that each herb will need in order to grow and thrive.
You’ll be lucky, too, is the plant will propagate itself in some way. Propagate is when a plant reproduces itself which it can do by:
Pay special attention to how many hours of sun your medicinal herb needs a day, because if your book says the herb needs 6-8 hours of sunlight is required, it probably means it. Here are some medicinal plants for the shade, in case you need them.
Also pay attention to what water requirements the plant has, what kind of soil it needs and, VERY important, what kind of winter and summer temperatures it can take.
Sometimes you can fudge a little with each individual plants requirements. For example, a little less water, only 5 1/2 hours of sun, a soil that is only borderline quality. However, winter temps, especially, are not forgiving. Make sure you are zoned for the plant you want to grow. If you’re not sure, go to this site and type in your city. (Be sure to ask your nurseryman what the temperature range is for the plant you’re interested in, if the tag or the website doesn’t specify.)
Realistically determining what herbs you can actually grow will knock out a big chunk of your wish-list. Some of the common medicinal herbs we’ve become accustomed to ordering from our favorite herb suppliers are among those that will only grow in specific, delicate conditions.
For instance, in my climate without a greenhouse, using the examples above I can only grow:
Did I say only?!! That’s a pretty good list, all things considered.
As I tend my medicinal herb garden, I’ll find herbs that can serve as substitutes for those ones I can’t grow in my zone. God wants us to be healthy and has provided all we need to be so no matter where we live. I truly believe that and I’ve bet my life on it, literally.
Once you have a working list of medicinal herb plants you know you’ll use AND be able to plant, order an herb catalog from a quality seed house. In fact, order from two or three. Read the descriptions of the plants, and see how much you’ve learned. Keep your herb book close by as a reference, and to answer any questions you have about the plants that the catalog isn’t answering.
What you’re doing here is finding an herbal seed vendor with whom you want to work.
The fact is, you may not be ready to start growing your herbs from seed this year (this is a step above keeping a plant alive in a pot on your deck), but you will eventually get there. And its good to begin with the end in mind.
(The picture above is of my daughter holding rose hips from medicinal and edible plant rugosa rose. The large seeds are inside the sweet hips and the plant uses both its hips and underground runners to propagate itself. To learn more about rugosa roses, click here.)
Here’s a list of 20 Medicinal Herbs You Can Grow From Seed from Learning and Yearning.
If you’re wanting to create a MEDICINAL herb garden, then the chances are you’ll exhaust the resources of your local nursery within a few years. You’ll just be so herb savvy! You’ll discover you’ve moved beyond the simple basil and sage options at the nursery, and are looking for a wider variety from which to choose. I have several favorite, high-quality seed houses that I do business with.
However, if I’m looking specifically for medicinal or culinary herbs seeds, there’s only one choice for me and that’s Strictly Medicinal Seeds. They answer all my important seed house questions:
There are some online vendors who sell medicinal herb plants but unless you have a very small yard and a very big budget, stocking an entire herb garden with mature plants will be cost prohibitive. So:
I will say that some herbs can be buggers to grow from seed, but all is not lost! If you are lucky enough to have a neighbor or friend who is growing an herb you need, research the best method of cutting or rooting for that plant and see if you can do that. For example, thyme can easily be propagated by a method called layering. Here’s how to layer with thyme:
Again, have a good book on hand. Also, where it’s legal and the plants are available, consider learning how to wildcraft (harvest from native plants) the herbs that you need from your local environment. Please be sure to do this responsibly. Additionally, I encourage you to read this post on Get Free Plants for Your Garden by Healthy Green Savvy – there are probably some ideas here you have yet to try!
Be realistic about the space available to you when planning and planting your medicinal herb garden.
Are you in an apartment? Well, then look at what you can grow in a sunny window or a southern facing deck. What about a community or farm garden plot, or a friend who has extra space in their yard? You’re into medicinal herbs, right? So, you’re used to thinking outside the box – bottom line, find a decent amount of space to grow some herbs.
What’s a good size? Ahhhh…ummmm…that depends. Argh – it’s impossible to get a straight answer from a gardener! Sorry, but it really does depend on certain factors.
Let me give you an example: I grow medicine for seven people. I have a spearmint patch that I inherited it with the house that is about two feet wide and eight feet long. I harvest at least twice, sometimes three times a year, by shearing the plant about six inches from the ground, and then letting it regrow. We hang-dry all of that, and then we use it fresh from the plant throughout the growing season, both in the house and in the barnyard. With those two or three harvests (which equals several, large fresh bundles), I have enough to last all winter for both the humans and the animals. I even have some left over most of the time.
Want to know what to do with mint? Please visit this post.
Here’s another example using seed fennel. I put fennel seed directly into the ground, and grew up three patches of sweet fennel (not to be confused with bulb or Florence fennel). Those three patches left me with a #10 can size harvest of fennel seed – plenty for this year and then some! Remember, some herbs are culinary, too, and you’ll need to plan amounts to use in the kitchen. From each herb, harvest during the growing season to use fresh, and then harvest some for storage through the winter. I have no sense of proportion, and plant way more basil every year than I technically need, but is that really a bad thing?!
The key is to practice with these plants so that you get familiar with how they perform, and how much you typically need each year.
Are you still with me?
Ok, so you’ve done a good deal of thinking and studying, now:
Your design can be something as simple as a Square Foot Garden bed devoted to herbs, or as complicated as an entire yard full of these great plants. Remember to utilize our book Herbs in the Bathtub, if you need a little help.
There’s no shame in hiring a designer if this isn’t your thing.
I ended up consulting with a designer for our medicinal herb garden because it was in the front yard in a neighborhood with manicured growing spaces. I took her great plans and tweaked them the way I wanted. We also included a lot of edible plantings, and even some ornamentals since the space was large. I wanted the garden to be full and rich all year round, especially for my bees. It will take me years to get all the herbs I want in, and to grow up the edibles and ornamentals to a mature size. Tasha Tudor says it takes over a decade for a garden to look like it’s been there a lifetime. Sounds about right to me and I’m on track.
Incorporating all those other plantings also opened my eyes to how so many plants I’d never even thought of before have herbal actions. For example, we’re growing rugosa roses to form a living fence at the front of the garden, and because they’re lovely and will survive our winters. It turns out that their hips are so incredibly nutritious and powerfully healing that they are a medicinal plant. We took our first harvest of those hips this season and, wow, did everyone from the children to the goats appreciate those plants!
If you’re needing online herbal courses, including those covering medicinal herbs, please visit The Herbal Academy. There are several different courses to pick from, at varying levels of experience from novice to master.
If you’d like just a few great herbal posts to read, how about these?
I don’t mind the time it will take to mature my medicinal herb garden as I continue to plant it. I’m using the time to learn more and more about herbal preparations, properties and uses. I’m also getting to know the plants themselves, as they grow and occasionally fail. (We had a horribly hot summer and a terribly cold winter – I shudder to think what I’ll find this spring…)
So, I guess my last piece of advice is, take your time and pace yourself BUT start this year and do something to plan and plant your medicinal herb garden. No matter how small the effort may seem. Just like growing a vegetable garden, the key is to:
Grow what you’ll use and grow what will grow!
The unspoken truth of successful gardening…
Wow Tessa. So helpful. I’m clearing the place where our enormous herb garden will go, and hearing basics like this is so grounding. I also appreciate hearing the specific names of things, like the right fennel, and the right rose. This helps me when I make and tweak my design. 🙂
So glad it was helpful! The best part about a garden is that its never done, so you have your whole life to get it just how you want it….
Great post, thanks. Pinned it. 🙂
I’ve tended to find that realism is often lacking when people plan for their herb gardens (and gardens more generally). All these TV shows make it seem as though anyone can grow anything, which simply isn’t true. That said, making mistakes is nearly always the best way to learn! 🙂
Well, if that’s true, then I will be the most knowledgeable gardener on the planet by the time this adventure is completed! Nevermind how many plants I killed last year…
Great step by step guide. Thanks for sharing on natural Living Monday!
Thanks for sharing this informative post on Mostly Homemade Mondays. Good, sound advice for herb gardening. Are you into foraging for medicinal plants at all? I’ve recently become intrigued with that, and am learning more about it.
Yep, we wildcraft whenever/wherever we can. We have elderberries that grow wild in our mountains as well as plantain, comfrey, mallows, angelica and a whole host of other stuff including stinging nettle – yowch! it’s a great thing to do as long as your responsible with it – no taking more than 1/3 of the leaves at one time, no pulling plants up by the roots – that kind of thing. 🙂
Thank you for sharing this for MMM link up party this week! These are some great tips! I am going to share this today on Adventures in Mindful Livings FB page. Have a great week! I look forward to seeing what you link up next week!
Wonderful – thank you! Love the MMM link up!
Wonderful post. I have 3/4 of an acre in Ocala Florida and this is my second year living here..originally from Iowa (where ANYTHING grows without even trying). I am finally ready to give it a go down here (after a year of disappointing tomatoes last year) and start a medicinal herb garden. I have a big circle that gets partial sun and am hoping for the best. Your post was an inspiration to me!
I’m so pleased! I am a firm believer in hoping for the best – especially when it comes to gardens!
Thank you so much for this! My husband and I have been learning more about medicinal plants. I am definitely pinning this for later so we can come back to plant with more purpose next spring.
I’m so glad it was useful to you, Abigail! I love the name of your blog – ha! Are you familiar with Homestead Bloggers Network? Its free to join at the basic level (where I am) and I think you’d be a great fit! https://homesteadbloggersnetwork.com/apply-to-homestead-bloggers-network/
I have been planning my herb garden and have been taking the Herbal Online Course for a month now…I am loving the class and I am learning so much!
That’s great, Tracy! What course are you taking?
Did you ever find out what online class she was taking? Would love to know.
April, I believe Tracy is taking the Herbal Academy of New England course that I advertise in this post and on my sidebar. I work with one of the heads of HANE in a networking group I belong to and they are truly cool people. The course is beautifully designed and very user friendly! Let me know if you have questions or you can visit their site – just click on any of the links on the site. (FYI – those will be affiliate links)
Wow, this is going to be an awesome journey. So much info, I’ m so excited to get started learning and growing with your site on hand.
Thanks for all this info, and I’m looking for more!
So glad it was useful to you! Let me know if you have questions or suggestions. I’d love to know what herbal plant combinations you’re thinking about.
Will this work if I want to plant them in pots and make it an indoor/kitchen herb garden?
Good question, Leo! The short answer is yes and no. Some herbs are suited to pots – many, in fact. To get started, I suggest you consider our Herbs in the Bathtub book which can help you learn more about herbs and how to grow them in pots.
If you are looking for Medicinal Plant Starts to help get your Medicinal Garden going, we ship across the US!
I agree with looking at what herbs you already use. Also, try out new herbs before devoting garden space to them. Everyone’s needs are different. In my garden I have oregon grape (antibiotic), bleeding heart (injuries), horehound (cough), mint (cough and pain), garlic (antibiotic), yarrow, and california poppy (anxiety). I would also have cottonwood (pain), but I don’t have enough space so I wildcraft that.
Great ideas, thank you for sharing!
Personally, I find that rosemary works wonders for my migraine. But I’ve killed several lovely ones in pots. Thanks for such an informative post! Definitely inspired me to get started again.
So glad it was useful, Sarah! We’ll start a reform club for those of us that kill rosemary in pots. I’ll be the first one to sign up! 🙂
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Why and How to Plan and Plant a Medicinal Herb Garden