A polytunnel can allow you to grow far more than just food. You can also use your polytunnel to grow medicinal plants. Of course, eating a healthy home-grown diet is always good for your health and well-being. So growing your own can already help you live more healthily. But growing plants specifically for natural healing can be a great way to go.
There are, of course, a huge range of different medicinal plants that you could grow. There is absolutely no way that you could cover them all in just one article. But here is a list of ten of my favourite plants that you can grow in a polytunnel garden for natural healing and heath. If you are new to natural medicine – these are some great options to get you started:
If you grow just one medicinal plant in your polytunnel, then garlic is one that I would highly recommend. Of course, this is also a great plant to grow to add flavour to a wide range of dishes. But science has shown that garlic, when included regularly in the diet, can bring a number of benefits to your health. Garlic consumption is linked to reduced risk of heart attacks, better glucose metabolism in diabetics, and may even have anti-cancer activity.
Garlic can also be be applied topically to treat a range of problems. It has great germicidal properties, is anti-fungal and anti-bacterial (especially when fresh from your polytunnel garden).
Ginger is not likely to be something you can grow outside in your garden. But having a polytunnel opens up the opportunity to grow this tropical root. The root is rich in volatile oils, gingerols and (when dried) shogaols.
You are no doubt familiar already with the fact that ginger can be helpful for nausea – be it morning sickness or motion sickness. But it is also used for relieving pain and easing a range of other symptoms. It is an ingredient, for example, in a range of tonics to help ease the symptoms of colds and flu.
This is a member of the ginger family, and another interesting exotic crop that you might be able to try in your polytunnel garden. Turmeric can of course be used as a culinary spice, and is also used as an edible dye.
But turmeric has also long been used in traditional Indian medicine for a range of reasons. And modern science has found that many of the claims made are backed up by evidence. Modern scientists have discovered, for example, that the yellow colouring (curcumin) of turmeric has anti-cancer properties. It also has anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective activities. (Consume turmeric with black pepper, which contains piperin to enhance its absorption.)
There are plenty of common culinary herbs with medicinal properties and thyme is one of them. Thyme not only has a range of culinary uses, it is also valuable for its antiseptic and antioxidant properties. It is used in the treatment of a range of different ailments and health problems, and so can be another great medicinal plant to grow. In addition to providing fresh leaves, this herb also yields a potent essential oil that is used in a wide range of different ways.
Lavender is not only a beautiful bee-friendly flower, with a delightful scent. It can also be good for your health and well-being. Lavender is great for relaxation. It has a soothing and relaxing effect on our nervous systems. The essential oil derived from the plant is strongly antiseptic and also has a range of other beneficial effects. It is often rubbed into the temples to cure a nervous headache, or added to bath water for a relaxing soak. It is also great for topical application to burns, scalds, sunburn, chapped lips etc..
Chamomile is another excellent herb for relaxation. It is often brewed into a tea that can aid stress relief and promote good quality sleep. The flowers are gathered in summer and can also then be dried for later use, so you can use them throughout the rest of the year too. Chamomile is also said to be helpful for various other issues – particularly involving the digestive system, and are believed to have an anti-inflammatory effect.
Calendula is one of the famous, versatile herbs of Western herbal medicine, and is used in a wide range of domestic remedies. The whole plant, but especially the flowers and leaves, have a range of positive effects on the body. It is taken internally to treat fevers and chronic infections, and applied topically to bites, stings, burns and wounds, and other skin problems. Note: it is only the orange, common variety that is considered to be of medicinal value.
Meadowsweet, interestingly, takes its name not from the fact that it is often found in meadows, but from the fact that it was historically used to sweeten mead. This is another herb that has a long history of use in herbal medicine. The flower head contains salicylic acid (aspirin is synthesized from this). So it can help in pain relief and have an anti-inflammatory effect. The herb is also very useful for treating diarrhoea and other digestive issues such as gastritis and peptic ulcers.
Echinacea is one of the most efficacious herbs in Western herbal medicine for detoxification of the circulatory, lymphatic and respiratory systems. They are also used in Ayurvedic medicine and were commonly used by North American Indians. Echinacea is traditionally used in a wide range of different ways and traditional beliefs are confirmed by modern science. The roots and the whole plant are considered to be beneficial in the treatment of burns, sores, wounds etc.. and to treat bites and stings. They have cortisone-like and anti-bacterial activity.
Comfrey is another plant that is always very useful in your garden. In addition to using it as a mulch and to make a liquid feed, you can also use it as a medicinal plant. It contains a substance called allantoin, which speeds up the healing process. So it can be very beneficial in external treatment of bruises, sprains, broken bones and a wide range of other complaints. The root is more active than the leaves and can be used to make a poultice.
11. Stinging Nettles
You might think of these plants as more hurting than healing. But stinging nettles really are very valuable plants to allow to grow in or around your polytunnel. In addition to being a delicious edible green, stinging nettles are also a very useful medicinal plant. They can be used as a cleansing tonic, and can help stem internal bleeding. An infusion of nettles can be soothing as a treatment for burns or other skin irritations, and there is also some suggestion that ingesting the plant may be beneficial for kidney and urinary system complaints.
Rosemary is another great herb to grow in a polytunnel – as a medicinal plant as well as for culinary use. It is rich in volatile oils, flavanoids and phenolic acids, which have strong anti-septic and anti-inflammatory properties. You can use an essential oil derived from this aromatic herb in a wide range of different ways. Rosemary, when used in a tonic, can boost mood and help with nervous exhaustion.
There are of course many, many more plants with medicinal properties that you could consider growing in your polytunnel garden. Just remember to use caution when ingesting any plant. Be sure that you are confident with identification and don’t take any risks. When it comes to herbal medicine it is always very important to do your research. And if in doubt, always consult with an expert in herbal remedies and their uses.
Do you grow any medicinal plants in your polytunnel? Which are your favourites? Let us know in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.