An herb garden is one of the easiest and most rewarding types of gardens you can grow. Years ago in my first house in Phoenix, I grew basil plants so large they were, in reality, bushes. Cilantro, oregano, lavender, and varieties of basil turned my front courtyard into a fragrant oasis — I loved it!
For prepping purposes, herbs provide not only a way to flavor our food but also a way to maintain our health and treat some of our illnesses. While medicinal herb gardening for preppers takes some planning, it’s also very rewarding.
Even when your location and other circumstances make it hard to grow much food, many preppers turn their attention to other useful plants like medicinal herbs. Once established, herbs can be a relatively low fuss, but deciding what herbs to grow and where to plant them can be a bit overwhelming.
Why I’m Not Telling You What Herbs To Grow
Because gardening depends so much on the local environment, it’s important to take your location into consideration when you are thinking of establishing a medicinal herb garden for prepping purposes.
Rather than try to highlight a few plants that might grow well in one part of the country but never make it in another garden, let’s take a look at how to determine what will work well in a given situation– even if you don’t have much space or very little gardening experience.
Before you go any further, be sure to take my Gardening Self-Assessment! This quick evaluation helps you understand your unique gardening needs and starts (or keeps you moving) on the path to a fabulous prepper garden!
How To Decide What Herbs You Should Grow
There are basically just three things to keep in mind when you’re deciding what to plant in your medicinal herb garden: what you want to grow, your garden zone and growing season, and the plants that are native to your area.
Make a list of herbs you’d like to grow
This may take a good deal of research if you are new to herbalism, or you may already have a list in mind. I like to grow herbs that double as both medicinal and culinary plants.
If you aren’t sure what herbs you might want to grow, a basic guide like Making Plant Medicine by Richo Cech, my book, The Independent Herbalist, or another resource that gives information about specific herbs and how to use them can be a good place to start. This article has suggestions for herbs to grow for seasonal allergies and this one discusses herbal antibiotics.
Some of the most versatile and adaptable herbs that you may want to look into for your area include yarrow, peppermint, elder, hawthorn, valerian, and lemon balm, but again- they may or may not be well suited for your area.
READ MORE: Herbs aren’t the only thing with medicinal properties you can grow. Check out the restorative effects of wild violets, too.
Determine your garden zone and growing season
Once you have some herbs in mind, identify your garden zone and your growing season. Those aren’t exactly the same thing. The garden zone is more about what to plant while the growing season is more about when to plant. Most herbs are very hardy and grow across a wide range of temperatures and rainfall zones.
Adding drainage in very wet areas can make a garden more successful, and very dry areas can use ideas like drip irrigation to concentrate water use. Knowing your zone and annual rainfall will help you when you begin to research the specific herbs you have in mind.
Identify native plants for your area
Another good thing to learn about at this stage is native plants local to your area that are also herbs.
Incorporating native plants into your landscaping means you will be working with herbs that are adapted to your local environment.
Field guides like Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West by Michael Moore and Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America by Steven Foster and James A. Duke are a good place to start for this type of information.
Where Should You Grow Them?
Once you have assembled a list of plants that you think will work for your area and determined your garden zone and annual rainfall, it’s time to look at what else the plants on your list need to survive.
Do a little research and make notes on your list about how much sun each herb will need. Some herbs need full sun, but others do better in part shade. Soil type and water requirements are other important things to note.
Map your landscape
Make a sketch of your garden or yard and then make notes about how much sun and shade they receive throughout the day. Keep in mind this will change as the days lengthen but it gives you a starting point. You’ll use this map in combination with your other research to determine good planting spots.
Match herbs to locations
Once you have that basic information, you can begin matching herbs to areas in your garden. Make notes about what should work well in the different areas.
It’s possible that most or all your herb selections can be planted in the same area, but let your herbs tell you where they are most happy. Don’t be surprised if you have a few growing in the shade, a few in full sun, a few pots on a patio that gets filtered light, etc.
It’s also a good time to strike through any herbs that are obviously not a match for your garden. For example, a plant that needs sandy soil won’t be happy in heavy clay. Although the soil can be changed by adding amendments and conditioning, it can be a daunting process.
If you don’t have any space at all for an outdoor garden, consider an Aero Garden. I had one on my kitchen countertop for years and had a non-stop supply of just about every herb imaginable!
How Much Of Each Herb Should You Grow?
In The Medicinal Herb Grower, Richo Cech suggests around ten feet of bed space per type of herb, or a minimum of three of a kind for home medicinal use. I’ve found that to be more than enough in most cases.
In my experience, one plant of most species produces at least enough herbal material for one 4 oz bottle of tincture. That’s a good size for a home apothecary, (most store-bought extracts come in a 1 or 2 oz size) so planting beyond that will give you material left over to dry and store for teas or other uses. While your herbs are growing, collect dark amber or blue bottles for tinctures and old prescription bottles for dried herbs.
A note of caution
It’s important to note that plants in the mint family like lemon balm and peppermint will yield far more than you’ll ever need from one plant. Large plants like hawthorn and elder also have high yields from one plant. Because mint plants, in particular, are famous for spreading and taking over large areas, I like to grow those in pots.
Are You Short On Space? No Worries!
Medicinal herb gardening for preppers is adaptable to pretty much any size space. Even though it’s great to have a full-sized garden, plenty of herbs grow well in containers.
A small patio can supplement an apothecary stocked with dried herbs bought in bulk and allow you to keep a selection of herbs at the ready if you ever have the opportunity—or the need—to establish a larger garden.
Another option for small spaces (or big), is to incorporate medicinal herbs for prepping into an edible landscape.
Some kitchen herbs, like basil and oregano, can even be grown indoors on a sunny windowsill. Surprisingly, many kitchen herbs have lots of uses beyond seasonings. So even if you only have room for a few of these versatile herbs you will still be growing some excellent home remedies, too.
Whether you are growing a large herb garden or a small patio container garden, medicinal herb gardening for preppers is all about determining what you want and what will work for your part of the country, but that’s the hard part!
Herbs don’t need much care from us, so once they are established they basically look after themselves. Because they have such strong tastes, they are fairly pest resistant; and other than requiring regular weeding and an eye on watering if it gets too dry they don’t need much care. If spring is approaching in your area, read this for things you can do to prepare.
Now that you have the head knowledge you need to start your very own prepper herb garden, be sure to take my Gardening Self-Assessment! I can guarantee this will help you evaluate the areas in which your gardening skills can grow (pun intended). Good luck with your gardening endeavors!
What kinds of medicinal herbs do you grow?
This is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any disease. Consult your personal medical professional.
This article was originally published May 18, 2018, and has been updated and revised.
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