Growing medicinal plants at home

Growing medicinal plants at home

By Elizabeth Borelli

Spend some time in Santa Cruz and you may hear the term “grass” used in all sorts of ways. Delicious herb can mean anything from herbs to oregano depending on who you ask.

Herbs and plants have always been used for medicinal and therapeutic purposes ever since. While Western medicine has given us countless benefits, in the United States medicine has outstripped the “alternatives” that have become almost incidental.

It’s tempting to think of herbalists as experts in providing botanical solutions to wellness. This may be true, or not. Here in the United States, there are no regulations regarding professional terminology. In short, anyone can call themselves a herbalist.

However, not all countries enjoy this amount of freedom. Medicinal herbalist-turned-Cruzan used her degree in clinical herbal medicine from the prestigious University of London to establish a successful pharmacy there. But in 2011, a move to Santa Cruz also forced her to change the way she did business.

Upon her arrival, Grainger discovered that the tinctures and medicinal herbs she relied on were difficult to find in London. This became the impetus to grow her own plants for use in herbal remedies. As she began to integrate into the community, the English herbalist discovered that people here were interested in applying this science to their own lives.

These days, Grainger sees her clients becoming more aware of herbal medicine, following the Western medical model rather than the traditional Chinese medicine model. She notes that the medical establishment is becoming more open to learning about the benefits of herbs and diet as the field becomes more mainstream. However, in fulfilling the many medicinal uses of plants as medicine, there is no one size fits all.

So how does one know where to start? Paula Grainger has ideas.

GT: Do you see herbal medicine as preventative or curative? Or both?

PG: While in England, a medical herbalist is a recognized profession licensed to prescribe treatments, the term commonly used here is clinical herbalist. However, a number of health problems can be significantly improved through the use of herbs. Some herbs can also protect us from a variety of mental and physical conditions, so it’s both.

GT: What are some common reasons people seek your services?

PG: It’s so diverse, from pregnancy to menopause, to chronic digestive issues, to anxiety, to building immunity.

GT: What are the best herbs for building immunity?

PG: I love echinacea, elderberry, thyme, ginger, and andrographis, but it’s also about overall health nutritional status.

It is also important to control sleep and stress. When you are in a state of fight or flight, your body is not in a healthy physical or mental state.

Some anti-anxiety herbs I use are: skullcap, passionflower, chamomile, lemon balm, St. John’s wort, hawthorn and rose.

GT: What are some easy ways to incorporate the benefits of herbal medicine into everyday life?

PG: Herbal tea is a delicious and effective solution. I also love herbal powder blends, and adaptogens that you can add to your smoothie. Cook foods such as soup, and even cakes and pies. Some herbs I like to incorporate into recipes are ginger, turmeric, and garlic. Spice is an herbal medicine, it is antimicrobial and warms you.

GT: What is your favorite herb and why?

PG: Lemon balm, for many reasons. It’s anti-viral, and has the amazing ability to lift your spirits. Helps protect memory function. They grow everywhere in Santa Cruz, so they are easy to access and taste great. You can pick a handful of them and make a tea, it is a beautiful and very soothing herb.

GT: Are you offering an online course soon? Tell me more

PG: I’ve been teaching classes in my home and garden in Santa Cruz for years, but I wanted to create a workshop that anyone could join. It is to enable people to learn to grow and harvest herbs. Your Garden Pharmacy starts February 13thy With a series of 6 chapters. Learn more at

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