En español | At the end of most days, 81-year-old botanist Jim Duke pours himself a cocktail. Hardly a Scotch on the rocks, this healthy concoction he’s aptly dubbed Creme d’Mentia is a blend of herbs, steeped in diluted vodka, that are thought to boost relaxation, mood, memory, and overall brain health (see recipe below). "It lifts my spirits and lowers my anxiety," says Duke, who worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 30 years and is the author of The Green Pharmacy book series.
See also: Tips to help your garden grow.
Wild herbs were used as healing remedies long before records were kept — Otzi, the 5,300-year-old Iceman found in the Alps in 1991, had medicinal mushrooms among his personal effects — and they’ve been an integral part of Eastern medicine for centuries. Today modern medicine is beginning to realize that herbs may ease the symptoms of many ailments, from the common cold to arthritis, because they contain important health-promoting compounds such as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories.
Growing your own herbs is easy and fun, and the fresh leaves are more potent than dried ones. All you need are some pots, soil, and a sunny spot (see "How to Get Started," below). We've collected five gentle but effective herbs that are ideal for amateur gardeners — they’re simple to grow and will thrive in just about any environment. Better yet, they have few side effects when consumed in small amounts, and you can take them with most pharmaceutical or over-the-counter drugs. If you’re on blood thinners or have a serious condition, consult your doctor first.
First cultivated near London in 1750, peppermint has been shown to be an effective remedy for indigestion. “It calms the muscles of the digestive tract to alleviate intestinal gas and cramping,” says Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine in Tucson. A cup of warm peppermint tea may also thin mucus, loosen phlegm, and soothe sore throats. Apply it topically to take the itch out of bug bites or to ease muscle cramps, arthritis, and headaches.
Growing tip: "Snipping can begin two to three weeks after a plant is established," says Tess Delia, a garden and flower designer in Piermont, New York. "Be sure not to strip the stem bare or you’ll compromise the plant."
Health Benefits: Settles upset stomach; eases muscle cramps