5 Bang-for-Your-Buck Medicinal Herbs


Recently, a friend asked me, if I had to pick my top five herbs to grow in the garden – my “Bang-for-Your-Buck” herbs, what would they be. She’s looking to start an herb garden, so what would I recommend.  Wow – there are so many herbs to pick from, how do you narrow it down to just five? It’s like trying to pick a favorite child.  So I thought about what herbs are easiest to grow – I really don’t have a green thumb, so for me, low maintenance plants are a must. Perennials vs Annuals – for the most part, I don’t want to have to worry about replanting herbs each year. Sometimes I don’t have a choice due to our climate here in Philly (it’d be so nice to not have to plant basil and cilantro each year). So my list focuses on herbs that are a one and done plant – once they are planted, you can enjoy them year after year after year. I also don’t have a lot of space, so I focused on herbs that give you the most plant material to use in a limited space. As much as I love my lavender, my darling little plant yields a limited amount of flowers as opposed to some of the mints I have which produces ample leaves for me to harvest through the year. And finally I didn’t want to pick a bunch of herbs that all have similar actions in the body, so I tried to come up with five herbs that will address a broad range of aliments.

Now that you can see the criteria I used, what herbs made the list…

Mint-leaves-2007Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)

If you plant this in your garden, you’re best bet is to do so in a container, as this guy will take over and end up where you least expected it. It’s a very hardy and easy plant to grow and will return year after year. Peppermint is an excellent carminative – meaning it’s great to help with digestion. It has an interesting duality, in that it’s both a relaxant as well as a stimulant.

This is one of my go-to herbs for tummy troubles (colic, flatulence, nausea, morning sickness, etc.) . It makes an excellent tasting tea to calm the stomach. Perfect if you need to ease nausea or stomach cramps. Due to the taste, I’ll often add it to other herbal tea blends to improve the overall flavor. Whenever treating a cold that involves some congestion – Peppermint is added to the mix to help break up the congestion and open up the nasal passages.  It’s very cooling, so for any skin burns, including a sunburn, you can use the tea to make a compress to help cool the skin. It can also stave off hunger – just a whiff of peppermint to help to suppress the appetite. Often, I’ll just through a few leaves in my water bottle to add a little kick to my water, or make a quick and refreshing skin spritz. You can make your own Peppermint extract, by tincturing the leaves. I’ve used the fresh leaves to infuse milk/cream to make my own mint chocolate chip ice cream. I’ve used the dried leaves in various beauty products, like my Rosemary Mint Foot Scrub – perfect this time of year to give your piggy toes some much-needed attention before you put on your little sandals. As you can see, there’s a ton you can do with just this one plant, and believe me, if you plant this, you will have plenty of leaves to use.

lemonbalmLemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

I talked a bit about my dear friend Melissa (a.k.a Lemon Balm) when I made a Lemon Balm Glycerite. Another member of the mint family, this lady will take over if not contained as well and you will certainly have more than enough leaves to use throughout the season.

I often add this to my tea blends for flavoring and for the nice calming effect it has. This is one of my herbs of choice when I need to calm my nerves or alleviate stress/anxiety.  Like Peppermint, it’s also excellent for the digestive system. An awesome anti-viral, she’s my best friend at the first sign of a cold sore. She’s an anti-depressive so it comes in very handy on days when you just need a little pick me up. And she also has a tonic effect on the heart and circulatory system and therefore helps to lower blood pressure.

thymeThyme (Thymus vulgaris)

Most people are aware of Thyme and it’s uses in the kitchen – the leaves are often added to soups and stews,  but Thyme is good for more than just it’s taste.  Thyme is great at getting rid of both upper and lower respiratory infections. Whenever a cold makes an appearance at my house, I bust out the crock pot and make a big batch of chicken stock with tons of Thyme and will drink it throughout the duration of the illness.  I will add it to steams (along with some peppermint and eucalyptus) to break up congestion and get rid of the virus. This guy will help kick out stomach bugs too. As it’s anti-microbial, I make a Lavender Thyme Cleaner – and use this to clean counters, cabinets and floors. You can also use it externally as an antiseptic wash for cuts, sores and wounds.

nettlesNettles (Urtica dioica)

This is probably the most praised tonic herbs known to us herbalists. It’s a virtual vitamin in a plant – full of iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, chromium and a bunch of other vitamins and minerals. Nettles really does help virtually every body system and will be a benefit to any aliment. The fresh leaves are a great reliever of seasonal allergies and asthma. You can consume the leaves just as you would spinach leaves to give yourself a nutrient boost. A Nettle and Rosemary vinegar makes a great rinse for your hair and scalp.

Just beware of Nettles around little ones – they do sting. I keep mine in the back of my garden and have taught Little Bug not to touch, although I myself keep forgetting not to touch it and boy does that sting last.

Aloe_aristataAloe  (Aloe vera)

This plant is not actually part of my usual herb garden, as for most of the year, this is a house plant. Since Aloe likes the warmth year round, I keep her inside my house near a sunny window most of the year,  and then let her hang out with the rest of my herbs outside only really in the summer. Aloe is a great first aid plant. She’s excellent for any kind of skin injuries (cuts, burns, etc) or irritations (pimples, acne, rosacea); however you should not use it on staph infections. Any time one of us gets a cut, scratch or burn, a snip off the old aloe leaf is called for. A trip to the beach is often followed by an application of some Lavender Aloe to help heal sunburn. She’s an excellent laxative and will help to heal many intestinal issues. You can use both internally and externally (although pregnant and nursing mothers should avoid internal use).

As you can see, these five herbs cover a broad amount of actions. These guys will help reduce nausea; limit the duration of cough, colds, congestion; clean cuts and wounds (as well as any surface area of your home); cut short fever; ease sunburn; repair your digestive system; boost your mood; suppress your appetite; lower blood pressure; eliminate gas/bloating; and on and on and on.

What are your “Bang-for-Your-Buck” herbs?


  1. This was great and I love your list! We shared with our FB readers at homesteadlady.com.

  2. Jennifer says:

    Hello. Thanks for sharing your recommendations. I have a question/concern that I hope you can address. I am wondering if herbal teas are as effective when cooled and stored after steeping. I want to get the health benefits of herbal teas but find it difficult and inconvenient to keep making cups of tea all day long. What are your thoughts on this? Do you have any tips for getting maximum benefits from these herbs?

    • Hi Jennifer. Herbal teas are just as effective when cooled and stored after steeping. Usually I’ll make my teas in a glass quart jar and will sip it throughout the day. 3-4 cups of tea/day is usually the dosage. The longer you steep the herbs, the greater the benefit (however not that if you steep too long the flavor of the tea may become too bitter and unappealing. Make sure to steep for atleast 20-30 mins and cover the container you’re steeping in so that the steam doesn’t escape bc many of the benefits are in the volatile oils in the steam. You could even make a bigger batch – a half gallon or gallon to last a few days. When you’re ready to drink the tea you can warm it up, leave room temp or add some ice – whichever you prefer. Enjoy!

  3. All great herbs! My herb I would add to the list is Calendula. It is good for healing the skin both inside and out. It also supports lymphatic movement. I love it for salves, stomach soothing teas, and to get the lymph moving through the body to promote healing throughout. Thanks for sharing on Natural Living Monday!

    • I love calendula too, Amanda. It’s in all my salves and a staple in my herb cabinet. It didn’t make the list because the amount of usable herb you get from a plant is very small compared to those on the list (at least in my experience). Its definitely on my top ten favorite herbs list though. Thanks for stopping by !

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