According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, the average American between the ages of 19 and 64 fills nearly 13 prescriptions a year, and that number almost doubles for those over 65. These statistics do not account for the amount of over-the-counter medicines people buy to relieve pain, itching, allergies, digestive issues, and other maladies.
Filling so many prescriptions can be expensive and subject you to a host of unwanted, difficult-to-manage side effects. Although some people undoubtedly need their medications, many fresh herbs and plants have similar effects. If you want—and are able—to try a natural alternative to medication, growing these 14 herbs and plants might be just what your body and your garden need.
The anise plant grows to be approximately two feet tall and usually flowers by July. To harvest, bring down the whole plant and thresh the seeds. Anise seeds, which taste like licorice, can treat a variety of ailments, including coughs, asthma, nausea, indigestion, and excess gas. Anise also has estrogenic effects, stimulating breast milk production in nursing mothers.
Ashwagandha is related to the tomato and has been used in traditional Indian medicine for centuries to support the immune system and help the body cope with stress. The plant should be started indoors in late winter and transplanted outside when there’s no risk of frost. After the berries are ripe and the leaves begin to dry, pull up the plant and harvest the roots. Tea made from the dried roots can be used to treat anxiety, depression, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar, among other things. Ashwagandha is not recommended for pregnant people or those currently taking tranquilizers. Learn more about adaptogenic herbs like this one.
Astragalus is part of the legume family and originates from China and Mongolia. Although this plant is not difficult to maintain, it takes a long time to reap the benefits. Seeds can be started indoors and transplanted outside when the weather is warm, harvesting the peripheral roots after three years. In addition to protecting the body from stress and supporting the immune system, tea made from the dried roots can treat colds, allergies, high blood sugar, and kidney disease.
Cilantro is an annual herb most commonly cultivated for fresh leaves and dried seeds to be used in cooking. It grows best in well-drained soil, either in full sun or partial shade. After sprouting, cilantro can be harvested in approximately three to four weeks.
Cilantro has many beneficial properties and may be used to treat fungal infections and inflammation as well as promote healthy skin and hair. Learn more about growing cilantro.
Fennel can be used in many forms, including its seeds, leaves, and the bulb, which has a licorice-like flavor. As it originated from the Mediterranean, fennel needs a moderate climate and well-drained soil.
To get all of the health benefits of fennel, make sure to use the bulb. Fennel combats bloating, excess gas, indigestion, and constipation. Fennel can also be used in cooking, making it a versatile addition to the garden.
For thousands of years, people have used ginseng as an herbal remedy. It is a perennial plant that grows in the cooler climates of North America and East Asia, its fleshy roots providing numerous health benefits. Growing ginseng can be a challenge, as it prefers cool temperatures and a neutral soil pH. Ginseng can take between five and 10 years to mature until the roots can be harvested—so it’s an investment in your garden and your health. Ginseng boosts the immune system and treats colds. It can also improve blood sugar, mental health, and energy levels. Ginseng is also known as an adaptogenic herb.
Goldenseal, also known as orangeroot or yellow puccoon, is a member of the buttercup family. Many Native American tribes have used goldenseal roots for centuries in traditional medicine as a natural antibiotic, treating colds, sore throats, diarrhea, urinary tract infections, and rashes. Because it grows naturally in the northeastern United States, goldenseal needs a lot of shade in order to grow well in a home garden. It also requires neutral, well-drained soil.
Holy Basil (Tulsi)
Unlike the sweet basil used in cooking, holy basil has been used in traditional Indian medicine for centuries. All parts of the plant can be used for different home remedies, making it a versatile addition to a home garden. The flowers can treat bronchitis, the leaves can be used for insect bites, and the whole plant or tea can help nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Additionally, holy basil has been known to improve cholesterol and blood sugar, lower inflammation, and protect the stomach. Finally, holy basil can also boost the immune system and improve mental health and energy levels. Holy basil requires a lot of sun and moist soil to grow, and the plant will produce more leaves when more are harvested. Pinch off buds before they flower to keep the plant active longer. Holy Basil is also on our comprehensive list of adaptogenic herbs.
Lavender is a beautiful plant, boasting colorful blooms and an intense, sweet fragrance. Although lavender is fairly well-known for its ability to soothe anxiety and stress and improve sleep, lavender has several other health benefits. Eating lavender can improve stomach issues such as bloating and indigestion, and oil from the lavender plant can ease the itch of rashes and insect bites. Lavender needs a lot of sun, space, and well-drained soil to flourish. To keep the plant lasting as long as possible, be sure to prune the plant after it flowers. Learn to grow lavender and its many medicinal uses.
Although most people are familiar with licorice as a candy, licorice root actually has many medicinal properties and can be consumed as a tea for maximum benefits. Licorice can treat coughs, asthma, and heartburn. To grow licorice, make sure it gets a lot of sun, has adequate drainage, and has enough space, as it can grow to be five feet tall. Licorice plants need to grow for around three years before their roots can be harvested. Learn more about licorice root.
Nearly all varieties of mint grow quickly and spread rapidly, invading your whole garden if you’re not careful. Make sure they have their own space in the garden—separate from the rest of the plants—or grow mint in a pot to contain it. Mint needs a lot of sun and moist soil.
You can either harvest leaves individually or cut the whole plant above the second set of leaves right before it flowers.
Oregon grape is an evergreen shrub native to the northwestern United States. The plant is very colorful throughout the seasons and produces bluish-purple fruit. It is a natural antibiotic that can be used to treat diarrhea, urinary tract infections, and skin conditions. Grow the shrub in partial shade and acidic soil to get the healthiest plants. Learn to grow it.
Rosemary is a unique herb with a tart fragrance, woody stems, and beautiful blue flowers. It can grow well either indoors or outside, though it still needs plenty of light if grown in the home. Rosemary plants need well-drained soil and do especially well in hot, humid environments. To promote growth, make sure to prune rosemary bushes.
This herb has a variety of health benefits, containing antiseptic, antifungal, and antioxidant properties. Use rosemary to boost memory or to fight infection. Rosemary sprigs can also be used in cooking to add a unique, savory flavor to meats, potatoes, vegetables, and soups. Learn how to grow rosemary.
Sage is a beautiful herb with soft leaves and colorful blooms. Although most commonly used in cooking, sage is a powerful antioxidant and antimicrobial plant. It can be used to combat the effects of aging. It can also treat anxiety, fatigue, indigestion, and sore throats.
To grow sage, plant in the sun and make sure to keep the soil moist, as the plants need plenty of water to thrive. Prune back the woodier stems to keep the plant productive. In addition to using sage in cooking and medicine, burning sage leaves is also believed to cleanse a space of negative energy. Learn to grow sage.
Nature has provided humanity with many healing herbs and plants. If you want to try a natural alternative to prescription medication, talk to your doctor about supplementing with herbs and plants. Natural remedies can also substitute for many over-the-counter medications.
Although some of these herbs and plants require a little bit of time and patience to grow, many of them are easy to grow in a home garden and can be harvested in a matter of weeks. If you want to ditch the pills for a natural alternative (or supplement medication with natural remedies), try taking advantage of what nature has already provided by growing these herbs and plants in your garden.
Learn more about medicinal herbs
Don’t miss our complete list of adaptogenic medicinal herbs and their uses.