Sheena Patterson of Oxford Garden Design on being too ill to visit the wellbeing festival
Oh the irony of life! Last weekend we planned an outing to The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew which has launched its 2014 summer festival, exploring how plants positively affect our health and wellbeing.
We didn’t get there in the end. The reason? I was struck down by a virus, hardly able to put one foot in front of another, let alone examine the healing properties of plants. If we’d visited the day before perhaps I might have been able to dose myself with an appropriate herb or two to ward off the impeding disease.
Earlier on this year we designed and built a garden for a barn conversion said to date back to the 11th century. In keeping with its history, we decided to devote part of the garden to a bed of medicinal herbs. In times gone by, such plants gathered by monks were the only really effective available medicines and many are still in use today.
Calendula, also known as pot marigold, is a centuries-old anti-fungal, antiseptic, wound-healing. It’s the petals of these cheerful yellow and orange daisy-like flowers that lend skin-soothing properties to many natural cosmetics and nappy rash creams. A freely reseeding annual that blooms all season long, Calendula makes a lovely addition to gardens with full sun. Harvest the petals fresh, or dry entire blooms, which close in the evening, before they’ve formed seeds.
Lemon Balm is another commonly grown herb with healing properties. The oils, tannins, and bitters in Lemon Balm’s fragrant leaves and flowers have a relaxing antispasmodic effect on the stomach and nervous system and is tasty and gentle enough for children when prepared in teas or tinctures with a glycerin base.
Mint is a great plant to grow and use fresh, as the dried herb loses some potency after six months. Both spearmint and peppermint pack a powerfully refreshing zing, use it as a tea to relieves digestive discomforts like indigestion and vomiting. But be careful where you plant it, all mints spread rampantly in a moist garden, so consider growing each plant in its own large pot. Rosemary is the great reviver. This perennial, woody herb stimulates energy and optimism and sharpens memory and concentration by bringing more oxygen to your brain, according to experts on the subject. Try rosemary tea as a stimulating alternative to a cup of coffee, when you need that second wind!
Thyme is another easy to grow little gem, lurking in many gardens. A row of these long-lived and drought-tolerant plants make beautiful, bee-friendly, evergreen ground cover. In medieval England this herb was said to heighten bravery and ward off nightmares. Modern herbalists rely on the antibacterial and antiseptic properties of thyme’s oils to prevent winter colds and flu.
Long-recognised for its sweet perfume, lavender is said to have medical benefits as a mild antidepressant. Try adding a few sprigs to your bath to alleviate stress, tension, and insomnia.
Sadly, none of these remedies were able to ward off my own malady.