How Does Your Apothecary Garden Grow?

by Tressa K. Ballard

Since Spring is nearly here, it’s time to make plans for what to grow in my garden. This year, I’ve done a bit of research to come up with a list of essentials for a medicinal garden to feed bees and create an at-home apothecary. As of now, my list of items to grow includes a variety of herbs, flowers, vegetable plants, and small trees.
I plan to plant horehound, sage, valerian, oregano, fennel, thyme, lavender, rue, a few mint varieties (to be planted in contained raised beds so they don’t go wild), echinacea, violets, elderberries, mullein, chamomile, borage, calendula, bee balm, betony, and rosemary.
Is that an excessive amount? Yepper. Am I really gonna grow that much stuff? Maybe. Just because I plant them, doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily survive to adulthood. However, according to my studies, most medicinal plants are fairly easy to grow and can flourish given they receive a decent amount of rain and shine.
But, whyyyyy? Why so many plants and what do they all do? Well, firstly, planting plants is kind of cool. Secondly, apothecary gardens are part of our history and have been around since the Dark Ages. Thirdly, if I can chew a leaf instead of pop an antacid, that’d be neato.
Real quick, let’s review a couple-few health benefits for a several of the plants I’ve listed. Horehound is an anti-inflammatory and helps with muscle cramping. Sage is an anti-oxidant and improves digestion. Valerian is a sleep aid and reduces anxiety (tastes dreadful though FYI). Oregano is also an anti-inflammatory, and anti-fungal. Fennel improves digestion and improves blood pressure (be careful when using the oil as it can occasionally cause negative reactions). Thyme is an anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and an antioxidant. Lavender anti-inflammatory and improves digestion. Rue is an anti-fungal and reduces anxiety. Mint varieties aid in digestion, nausea, and weight loss, as well as act as a treatment for fatigue and memory loss.
Obviously, there are several other plants on my list I didn’t cover the benefits of, but that’s the gist of it. Each of these plants will (hopefully) grow, be harvested, and then have their leaves/flowers/roots/bark/fruit preserved for future use.
Keep in mind, it’s always a good idea to research exactly what plants to grow in any garden for a multitude of reasons. But, in the case of an apothecary garden, it’s important to know what health-related benefits each plant might provide given what the gardener intends to use each for after harvest.
Disclaimer: Although these plants have proven healing properties and can help to relieve a number of common ailments (from nausea to burns to gout), they shouldn’t fully replace a healthcare provider; especially, regarding serious health conditions.
So, how do we grow such a glorious collection of medicinal herbs and spices? Like any other garden, I’ll start by picking a size and design for the garden. Then I’ll turn over the soil to about a foot deep or plant them all in containers. Then I’ll add a layer of fertilizer (organic, if possible). Keep in mind that all of these plants can all be planted in and around a flower garden, vegetable garden, or herb garden.
In colonial times, these gardens would be grown side by side with vegetable and herb garden and as close to the kitchen door as possible for ease of watering. After planting, I’ll install a marker for each plant. Does a marker have to be a boring old popsicle stick? Not at all. Small stone statues, uniquely shaped rocks, and rock formations can be used as a medieval-style plant divider.
After planting, it’ll be time to water, weed, and sit back to watch it all grow and grow and feed the bees. And when it’s time to harvest, I might actually be able to put my ridiculously massive dehydrator to work.

Tressa Ballard was born and raised in southern Indiana. She’s an Indiana University graduate and works as a professional desk jockey by day. She is best known for writing both humorous and melancholic works of fiction and non-fiction. Her short stories and poems have appeared in various publications throughout her writing career. Tressa currently lives with five dogs, two cats, and one moderately civilized chicken. She often employs a wicked side-eye in public and enjoys skillet cornbread, slot machines, and long walks down a short pier. Part of her appeal is her unapologetic ridiculousness and expert wielding of controlled chaos. Oh, and she has also been described as “anarchy in nice clothes.”