How to Decide Which Medicinal Herbs to Buy and Which to Grow Yourself
Which Herbs Should You Buy and Which Should You Grow Yourself
So you’ve been learning about medicinal herbs and are wanting to start growing some for yourself. If you’re like me, when those seed catalogs come around, it’s tempting to order a whole slew of herb seeds, but hold on! Let’s narrow down which herbs are best for YOU to grow. It’s difficult to decide which medicinal herbs to buy and which to grow yourself.
There are a number of factors to consider when starting to grow herbs:
- How much time you have
- How much space you have
- If you are growing in containers or a garden area
- If you are growing indoors only or outdoors
- If you are buying plants or growing from seed
- How much money you want to invest in a medicinal herb garden
Questions to Ask When Considering Which Medicinal Herbs to Grow:
- Is this an herb I use often? If yes, go to the next question. If no, don’t grow it.
- Could this herb be easily and responsibly harvested from the wild? If yes, go to the next question. If no, don’t grow it.
- Do I have the right soil, space, light, and temperature to grow this plant? There are lots of questions to ask to narrow this one down. If you have limited space, which is true for most of us, it’s challenging to plant herbs that could potentially take over our garden area. If this is a concern you will need to make sure it grows well in a container or find its own separated spot in your yard. (Mints are notorious for taking over a garden plot, for example. Last year I planted all of my mints in their own large containers. They were very happy and so was I.) A general rule of thumb for growing any plants is to have well-drained, nutrient-rich soil; at least 6-8 hours of sun each day; space for the plant to grow and spread out. But this isn’t true of all medicinal herbs. Some grow best in the shade or part shade, some like dry soil, some like crowded roots. Look up the growing conditions for each herb you want to grow. If yes, go to the next question. If no, don’t grow it.
- Do I use a lot of this herb? Is it inexpensive to buy? Is it more cost-effective for me to buy it dried than to grow it myself? (For this example, I use chamomile. I love the smell of fresh chamomile, however, to get enough to last us for teas and tinctures through the winter, I would have to grow a lot and it needs to be harvested little by little through the summer. Chamomile is inexpensive to buy, so I am opting this year to just purchase it dried.) If yes, go to the next question. If no, don’t grow it.
- Is this an herb that is best used or processed fresh? For example, Skullcap really should be tinctured immediately, so I elected to grow this myself. It is much more cost-effective for me to grow it than to buy ready-made tinctures.) If yes, go to the next question. If no, don’t grow it.
- Is this a plant that is easy to grow? Do you have the knowledge to be able to grow this herb yourself? If you don’t have a “green thumb”, you may want to stick to plants that are easiest to grow. If yes, go to the next question. If no, don’t grow it.–unless you like a challenge!
- Do I have the time to care for the herb/s? Many herbs are pretty hardy, but if your climate is dry and your plants like wet feet, or if you grow in containers, you will need to water often. Thinning and “weeding” can take some time, too, depending on the style of gardening you do. Make sure not to overwhelm yourself when you are just starting out. Stick to a shortlist of herbs to start with to see how things go. If yes, go to the next question. If no, don’t grow it.
- Do you have a way to keep critters and pets away from the area? Last year I tried growing red clover and the dear promptly ate it as soon as the buds came on it. It’s an easy plant to grow, but I will either have to build some tall sturdy fencing or opt to purchase it in the future. I am opting for the latter because you can buy red clover easily and I always dry mine to use later anyway. If the answer is no, reconsider where you plant your herbs and which types you grow.
When to ditch the practical and grow them anyway:
- Will it bring beauty and joy to you and your family? Sometimes we grow things just for the pleasure of it. For instance, chamomile. While you would have to grow a lot to fill your jars with dried flowers for winter, it is still a fun herb to grow. It’s a safe herb for children to pick and use, and the smell of the fresh chamomile is mild and pleasing. If yes, grow it anyway.
- Are you drawn to it? Is it sort of calling your name? Isn’t it interesting that we just love certain plants and others we could care less about? We have relationships with plants. And yeah, that sounds all new age and out there–which some of you will love. It will make some of you uncomfortable to think that, though. Either way, pay attention to your spirit and see if it doesn’t lead you to a plant to grow. If yes, grow it anyway.
Growing herbs for food or medicine brings me so much happiness and I want you to enjoy it, too. To have a successful start at growing herbs for you and your family, I suggest you find the herbs that are easiest to grow and that you will enjoy using the most.
For more information on growing herbs and gardening tips, check out my articles, Beginner Herb Garden – What to Grow and Tips from a Lazy Gardener.