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Good for What Ails You!

My grandfather, James William McKinney, was a practicing dentist in Kansas City, Kansas, where we lived. Much of his medical training came from his Native American (Wyandotte Nation) friends. So, interest in “medical things” runs naturally for me.

He would take my mother and me for a drive onto the Prairie surrounding Kansas City in his Model A Ford. His favorite place to visit was an abandoned farmhouse outside Oletha. In the springtime we, following his instructions, would crawl among the fallen leaves and debris in the old apple orchard hunting morels. We would fill a basket that Mother would take home, soak in salt water and then sauté in butter and serve over toast for us.

My grandfather would show us sassafras bushes and dig their roots to brew us lovely smelling, pink colored tea (to thin our blood in the springtime). He also dug ginseng roots, hunted and gathered wild greens, which, again, Mother would cook for us along with a slab of country ham. 

When we first moved to Lairdland Farm House at Brick Church, Tennessee, my husband, Don, built me a series of raised beds for an herb garden. The rosemary I brought from Knoxville is still thriving. And despite the recent cold winter, my thyme, catnip and common and Berggarten sages have survived. I believe my tansy and rue have made it also. The bed of lavender looks really good, and hopefully, I’ll have lavender to share again this year.

But my topic is healing, or medicinal herbs, and I want to share with you nine herbs that have medicinal properties and are easy to grow

BASIL: Sweet basil found in most garden centers in the spring acts principally on the digestive and nervous systems, easing gas and stomach cramps and preventing or relieving nausea. It can be used as a tea with lemon juice.

CAYENNE:  A gift from our Native American friends. One ingredient of Cayenne peppers is capsaicin, which stimulates circulation and assists digestion. It also signals the brain to release endorphins (the body’s feel good hormone). However, cayenne is extremely hot and care must be taken to wash hands and not rub eyes or sensitive areas. A recipe for Creaky Bones Cayenne Rub is included.

CINNAMON:  This is a tropical herb not normally grown in our gardens. However, if you Google cinnamon plant, you can find vendors to buy from. It requires a warm, moist climate, and for us, grown in a large pot so it can be moved to shelter in winter. We are all familiar with cooking with cinnamon, but it is also used as a stimulant to encourage menstrual flow. In large quantities will induce miscarriage.

GARLIC: Growing garlic is easy in well-drained, fertile soil and in full sum. Plant in the fall for early spring harvest or plant in EARLY spring for fall harvest. To induce bigger bulbs, cut off the flower scraps. Garlic may be pickled, used to flavor vinegar or oil as well as many additions to cooking.

GINGER: A native of Asia, ginger thrives in hot humid environments in rich, moist soil. Plant a section of ginger root that has sprouted in a flowerpot with the rhizome just under the soil.  Don’t plant too deeply or it will rot. Ginger is good for upset stomach, nausea, motion sickness and seasickness.

ROSEMARY:  Rosemary is a native of the Mediterranean. It needs full sunshine and well-draining soil. In hot weather misting is a great help. Rosemary is a legendary brain tonic, improving concentration and memory. It is known for its ability to ease headaches. It is also a circulatory stimulant, useful for problems with poor circulation and low blood pressure.

SAGE:  Garden sage is an easy to grow perennial. It loves full sunshine, warm to hot conditions and well-drained soil. Older plants get leggy to cut them back in early spring. Sage is superb in the digestion of rich fatty meat. It also lowers cholesterol. It is one of the best remedies for laryngitis or sore throat as a spray or gargle.

THYME:  Thyme is a hearty perennial that prefers well-drained, alkaline soil and a sunny location.  As the plant matures it becomes woody and will benefit from heavy trimming in the early spring. Thyme is a powerful disinfectant and can be used both externally and internally to fight off infection. It is used to fight off colds with a mouthwash. It also makes a fine tea for treating coughs and chest complaints.

TURMERIC:  Turmeric thrives in warm, moist, tropical conditions. It can be grown in a pot but use a big one as it can get 5 feet tall. Plant the rhizome shallowly in rich soil and keep moist, warm and in full sun.  Modern research has shown it has powerful anti-inflammatory properties, which makes it an effective treatment for arthritis, osteoarthritis   and other inflammatory conditions   

There are three herbs I want to caution you about, if you grow them.  These herbs were used by the “granny women” of East Tennessee years ago when they were the only medical persons available.

Pennyroyal, Tansy and Rue are all Abortifacient drugs if ingested. Their purpose was to induce labor – i.e. miscarriage.

Today these herbs are “strewing herbs,” and if you grow and dry them they make wonderful additions to potpourris, sachets, etc.

As recently as 75 years ago, families planting a kitchen garden would set aside a portion as an apothecary section. Good soil is paramount for good herb growth. Positioning your herb garden as close to the house is also important so you can run out and snip a handful easily and quickly.

You may even use a collection of pots for most of them if you don’t have space for a regular garden.  Preserving your herbs may be by drying, freezing or bottling in oil or vinegar. 

I’ve included several recipes for some of the unusual herbs.  Most of those discussed here, however, are frequently used in everyday cooking.



1/2 to 1 cup olive oil

1 to 3 cloves garlic

1 cup fresh cilantro leaves and stems

1/2  cup fresh basil leaves

1/2 cup fresh dandelion leaves

1/2 to 1 cup pine nuts or walnuts

1/4 cup grated Parmesan, Pecorino or other hard cheese

Combine olive oil, garlic and fresh greens in a food processor, Pulse until smoother.

Add the nuts ad cheese and pulse again until mixture reaches the desired consistency.




Pack a clean widemouth quart jar about 3/4 full with fresh basil leaves. Fill the jar nearly full with apple cider vinegar. Put on the lid and shakes gently. Set jar in a warm, sunny window or by a heat source and let steep for 3 to 4 weeks until the vinegar takes on the rich, pungent taste and odor of the herb. When ready, strain and bottle. Add a sprig of fresh basil  for a visual touch.


Pour 8 oz. cold V-8 Juice in glass.

Add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground tumeric

Add 3 to five drops Tabasco sauce

Stir well and drink.


Creaky Bones Cayenne Rub

1/2 cup olive oil

1 Tablespoon cayenne powder or flakes

1/8 cup beeswax

Few drops  of Wintergreen essential oil

Makes an herbal oil with the oil and cayenne.  Make a salve from the herbal oil beeswax.

For each cup of herbal oil add 1/4 cup beeswax. Heat oils and beeswax together over very LOW heat, stirring occasionally until wax has melted. Place 1 tablespoon mixture on a china plate then place in freezer for 1 to 2 minutes.  Check firmness. remove form heat and pour immediately into small glass jars. Store in cool dark place. Will keep 6 months.

Ground  Ginger Use in England

The English sprinkle ground ginger on  fresh melons, cantaloupe, honeydew, etc. when fresh fruit is served for breakfast.