Get Your Herbalist On – Seven Safe Herbs for Beginners and How to Use Them
Aaaahhhh….herbs. Pungent, soothing, wholesome. If you’re like us and you wish you were an old-world apothecary with bunches of dried weeds hanging from the rafters and glass jars filled with mysterious dried roots and mushrooms lining the walls, then this post is for you.
Getting into using herbs at home can feel overwhelming. How do you even get started? What herbs are safe to begin with and how do you prepare them for use? We hope this will help you to get started on a little herbalist journey of your own with safe, easy-to-use herbs that pack a punch of wholesome, healthy, uses. Most of these herbs will probably be quite familiar to you and you may already use them at home. We hope that after reading this you’ll be inspired to use them even more and perhaps even to prepare your own teas and tinctures, if that’s something you’re interested in.
Mint is a safe and easy-to-grow herb that’s famous for its stomach-soothing effects. You can grow mint at home indoors or out, though if you grow it in your garden beware; it will probably take over! If you don’t want a mint yard, try growing it in pots where it will stay put. All mint is edible and has wonderful therapeutic properties, but our favorites are Spearmint and Peppermint. Both of these mints are quite potent and may alleviate indigestion, ease sore throats, or even boost your memory.1-2
To prepare mint, you can dry the leaves and make a tea from them. If you want a smooth tea with a less bitter aftertaste, try steeping your leaves in water that is 180 degrees Fahrenheit or a little less, since this will keep the leaves from getting burned. Alternatively, you could prepare a tincture or syrup, or even just add them to your next salad for a bit of Mediterranean flare. It’s that easy!
2. Lemon Balm
Lemon Balm is actually a part of the mint family, but it doesn’t taste like mint at all. Like the name suggests, this herb has a lemony, citrus flavor, but with a little something “herby” about it too. Again, if you grow it at home, we suggest growing it in a container since it will spread like wildfire. Lemon balm is famous for its antispasmodic properties and is especially helpful at soothing the nerves and muscles of the digestive system.3
Like mint, you can prepare lemon balm as a tea, tincture, or syrup. You can eat it fresh as well, though we recommend you try a leaf or two on its own before adding it to your next salad. You may enjoy the flavor of raw lemon balm leaves, but it’s not as popular in its raw form as its minty cousins are.
Cookies, bath salts, cleaning products, body sprays, ice cream…what don’t we add lavender to? There’s good reason for humanity’s obsession with this flowering herb. Lavender buds are renowned for their soothing properties and have even been suggested to act as a mild anti-depressant. People use lavender to help them sleep, calm their nerves, ease pain, and alleviate tension. While the buds are the most popular part of the lavender plant, you can also use the leaves, just be sure to dry them first.4
As we’ve already indicated, you can use lavender in a myriad of ways. Try adding lavender buds to your next batch of lemon muffins, or use dried leaves and buds to make teas, syrups, and tinctures. Since the scent of lavender is largely what we find most soothing, you could even just drop a few sprigs into your next hot bath and breath in all the goodness that way. Relaxation initiated.
Say what? That’s not an herb, that’s a weed…and a very annoying one at that! Wrong. Dandelions were brought to the Americas because for centuries they were an essential herb grown by most households throughout Europe. Dandelion has been used throughout the world to detoxify the liver, promote weight loss, as a digestive aide, and as a diuretic. People have used the plant’s leaves as a food source and even added the flowers to salads.5
The roots, leaves, and flowers of the dandelion plant are all medicinal and can be prepared in a variety of ways. Dandelion root is commonly used to make teas and tinctures, the leaves are used in culinary preparations as a leafy green for salads and cooked foods, and the flowers can be used to make jams, teas, and syrups as well as being added to salads. You can buy dandelion greens at some grocery stores and forage for dandelions in your yard or neighborhood.
A note about getting dandelions for home consumption: Don’t forage dandelions unless you know for sure they haven’t been sprayed with weed killers and/or insecticides. This advice is true for anything you forage but is especially pertinent to foraging for dandelions as they are very often the target of extremely toxic chemicals.
No longer just for your furry friends, catnip is actually more than just a recreational drug for felines. This herb is wonderful for calming anxiety and reducing nervousness due to its high content of nepetalactone, which is chemically similar to the main sedative found in valerian root. The gentler catnip is great at producing calm without causing couch lock. Catnip does cause some drowsiness, however, so we recommend you don’t use this herb if you need to be alert and attentive to anything. It’s also a diuretic, so taking it immediately before bed is not ideal unless you want to repeatedly get up to use the restroom for the first hours of the night. We recommend it for afternoon/early evening and your day off.6
Catnip is also popular as a menstrual-inducer due to it’s supposed ability to encourage uterine contraction.6 If you’re struggling with delayed periods, you could try this herb to stimulate your cycle. It’s also commonly used to encourage placental discharge following childbirth.
To use catnip at home, you can use fresh or dried leaves to make a soothing cup of herbal tea, or to create a tincture.
*Do not use catnip if you are pregnant. Since catnip can induce uterine contraction, it is considered unsafe for use during pregnancy. *
Echinacea, or Coneflower, has many medicinal applications and is lauded throughout the natural health community for its immune-boosting, pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antioxidant effects.7 Because of these properties, it’s useful to pretty much everybody pretty much all the time, though it’s most popular during cold and flu season.
To use echinacea at home, you can harvest the roots, flower buds, and leaves to make teas, tinctures, throat sprays, and topical ointments. Echinacea is generally considered safe for adults and children, though you should check with your doctor before administering to children or to any person with a serious illness.8
You can forage echinacea but be sure check and see if the plant has been sprayed with any pesticides or herbicides that would make it unfit for use.
This flowering herb is popular in kitchens and gardens since it’s easy to grow as well as being safe and easy to use. Traditionally, chamomile has been used to treat everything from anxiety and insomnia to bacterial infections and indigestion. Its wide array of applications is largely owing to its many phytonutrients which are known to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and mild astringent properties.9
To use chamomile at home, you can harvest the flowers (or buy them) and make tea, tinctures, and topicals. These flowers can be used fresh or dried.
And there you have it! Everything you need to get you started on your very own, at-home apothecary of safe, effective herbs. As always, be sure to check with your healthcare provider before introducing any new supplements or herbs into your routine, since certain medications and medical conditions may not interact well with some herbs.
In parting, remember that eating healthy, whole foods, and lots of plants foods is one of the simplest, safest, and most effective things we can do to promote good health in our bodies. As with every preventative/restorative measure though, sometimes these changes alone are not enough to help our bodies function the way we want or need them to. If you are struggling with health problems, please contact your doctor or other healthcare provider such a Naturopathic Doctor, Dietitian, or Mental Health Professional to see if they can offer appropriate guidance and care. We at Wholesome Story believe that healthy communities require community effort, so we advise you to keep your healthcare community aware and involved in your journey as you pursue better health.
- Mount Sinai Health System. https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/herb/peppermint. Accessed January 7, 2022.
- Herrlinger KA, Nieman KM, Sanoshy KD, et al. Spearmint extract improves working memory in men and women with age-associated memory impairment. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5779242/. Published January 2018. Accessed January 7, 2022.
- Lemon Balm. Mount Sinai Health System. https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/herb/lemon-balm#:~:text=Lemon%20balm%20(Melissa%20officinalis)%2C,%2C%20as%20well%20as%20colic). Accessed January 7, 2022.
- Mount Sinai Health System. https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/herb/lavender. Accessed January 7, 2022.
- Wirngo FE, Lambert MN, Jeppesen PB. The physiological effects of dandelion (taraxacum officinale) in type 2 diabetes. The review of diabetic studies : RDS. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5553762/. Published 2016. Accessed January 7, 2022.
- Western New York Urology Associates, LLC. https://www.wnyurology.com/content.aspx?chunkiid=21644. Published 2022. Accessed January 7, 2022.
- Mount Sinai Health System. https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/herb/echinacea. Accessed January 7, 2022.
- Osuch J, Josh has lived a natural lifestyle his entire life. His parents (Bill and Jennifer) have made it a driving force in his family. He is an Eagle Scout and currently working on his Bachelor's degree. How to grow, harvest and preserve echinacea. Seed To Pantry School. https://seedtopantryschool.com/grow-harvest-preserve-echinacea/. Published November 28, 2019. Accessed January 7, 2022.
- Srivastava JK, Shankar E, Gupta S. Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future. Molecular medicine reports. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995283/. Published November 1, 2010. Accessed January 7, 2022.