Written by Juliet Blankespoor with Meghan Gemma
Photography by Juliet Blankespoor
In an ideal world, we would each have inherited the ability to conjure a personal list of essential garden herbs, tailored to our particular climate and health concerns. As it is, many of us are re-learning the traditional art of the apothecary garden—a place where beauty, medicine, and bees reign supreme.
My hope is that the information below inspires you, as a jumping board of sorts, to create your own unique dream herb garden. I chose each plant based on its ease of cultivation and medicinal usefulness and versatility. But bear in mind, there are many more herbs out there to choose from!
If this article merely gets your green thumb tingling, I highly encourage you to visit our Medicinal Herb Gardening Hub, which is a lush garden in its own right—a virtual library filled with herbal gardening wisdom and resources. You’ll find cultivation tips and medicinal write-ups for dozens of herbs, featurettes on small-space and urban gardening, a roll call of medicinal seed and nursery suppliers, and a step-by-step guide to bringing your own dream garden to fruition.
1. Calendula, Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis, Asteraceae)
Calendula is one of the most familiar and beloved herbs, earning our affection with its cheerful golden flowers. The “petals” (technically known as ray florets) are edible and the whole flower is an important medicinal herb for addressing skin conditions. There’s so much to say about calendula that I’ve written an entire article devoted to its cultivation and medicinal use: Calendula’s Herbal & Edible Uses: How to Grow, Gather, and Prepare Calendula as Food and Medicine.
Calendula flowers (whole; including the resinous green bracts) are incorporated into topical oils and salves for healing wounds, rashes, burns, and dry skin. This plant holds an interesting claim to fame—it is the herb most likely to be found in diaper rash ointments and creams. For more on using calendula topically, see my recipes for Calendula Oil & Salve and Calendula Poultice.