Start Your Own Backyard Apothecary

Start Your Own Backyard Apothecary

by Kellen Watson

For as long as there has been pain, cultures have sought to ease it using herbs and other botanicals. The Ancient Chinese boiled ginseng root to calm the spirit and prevent disease, Roman gladiators chewed parsley before battle to strengthen their reflexes, and the early Egyptians regarded garlic as a universal remedy, claiming that it had the power to cure every disease except for the one it caused— bad breath.

Here in the North Bay Area, we are lucky to live in a climate that supports a wide range of medicinal plants. As the days grow shorter and the noses more sniffly, Daily Acts recommends planting a few of them in your garden. We’ve gathered a list of a few easy-to-grow medicinal species to get you started. 

Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow

This beloved California native has long been valued for its medicinal uses, and even makes a cameo appearance in Homer’s Iliad when the Greek hero Achilles carries it into the battle of Troy to treat his wounds. Endemic to North America, Yarrow also played an important role in the cultural and medicinal practices of many Native tribes, including the Navajo, who called it “life medicine” and used it to heal saddle sores on their horses. It is good in teas and to heal skin wounds.

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)

Feverfew

As its name implies, Feverfew is widely regarded for its fever-dispelling properties, although its sweet daisy-like flowers also make it a popular choice as an ornamental species. Recent scientific evidence supports Feverfew’s effectiveness in preventing migraine headaches, but the bitter perennial plant has been used to treat everything from male infertility to tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Women who are pregnant should not take Feverfew, as it can induce contractions, contributing to miscarriage and early delivery.

Elderberry (Sambucus sp.)

Any true Harry Potter fan will tell you of the extreme magical power of the Elder Wand, crafted from the wood of Sambucus, or Elderberry tree. This plant’s leaves, bark, roots, and berries have been intensely coveted for centuries due to their rich medicinal properties. In addition to treating the flu, boosting the immune system, and preventing viral infection, this multifunctional berry can be fermented into a sweet liquor, used as a pigment for natural dye, or baked in a delicious fruit crumble. Don’t eat too many raw.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)


Catch a whiff of this perennial herbaceous plant, and you’ll see how it got its citrusy name. Part of the mint family, this species is Thought to calm anxiety, ease restlessness, and soothe tummy troubles, Lemon Balm is a great choice for adults and kiddos alike. Keeping a plant or two in your backyard is a great way to have an herb on hand for teas, tinctures, aromatherapies, and more. The honey bees will thank you for it too!

California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)

California Poppy
Drought-tolerant? Check. Self-seeding? Check. Official state flower of the nation’s most populous state? Check! If that isn’t enough, this little-flower-that-could has medicinal properties to boot, acting as a strong nervous relaxant and pain reliever. The California Poppy is primarily used to treat insomnia. Extracts from this species have a notable sedative property, causing subtle feelings of euphoria, although the effect is far milder than that of its cousin the opium poppy.

To learn more about how you can make and incorporate plant-based medicine into your homegrown routine, join Daily Acts for our upcoming Natural Medicine Making Workshop, which will be held on September 3rd, 11am-3pm at the Cavanagh Recreation Center in Petaluma.

In this workshop, you’ll create your own healing elderberry syrup, whip up a lemon balm tincture, and learn how to properly process and store herbal teas. Our wonderful instructor, Amy Charnay, MS, CNS, has a fascinating background in wellness and traditional medicines, with over 15 years of experience in the natural products industry. She also holds a master’s degree in Herbal Medicine and is a Board Certified Nutrition Specialist. Learn more about her inspiring work on her website, amycharnay.com.

To reserve your spot at this workshop, visit our event page at dailyacts.org.

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