The great thing about medicinal herbs is you don’t have to stock up on a huge supply. Instead, you can grow most of them throughout the year and harvest what you need as you go. But unless you have lots of time and space, you should focus on herbs that have multiple uses. And unless you have a large backyard, you should focus on herbs that grow well in containers. To that end, here are 11 useful herbs you can grow in containers, in alphabetical order.
1. Basil (Ocimum basilicum) has many different varieties. Some–like “Holy Basil” (Tulsi)–will help calm or soothe, and all basil is naturally anti-bacterial. Basil is easy to grow in containers, and while it prefers warm climates, it can be grown indoors anywhere. If you want, you can grow mixed varieties of basil with no flavor issues. Basil is easy to preserve dried and can be used in tea for its antibacterial properties, or generally in cooking.
2. Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) is well known for its soothing and calming properties, possibly best advertised in the “sleepy time” teas. One of the properties of chamomile, also shared by the wild Oxeye Daisy, is that of an anti-spasmodic. However, like mint, chamomile will not sooth everyone and can have the opposite impact on some people. Chamomile is a flower, and can successfully masquerade as a potted decoration until needed for tea. The flowers dry easily, and the plants themselves are vigorous and will flower for a few weeks if the flowers are picked as they open. Chamomile is good on its own, or combined with mint or lavender.
3. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are a fun and easy to grow perennial which can do well in pots. Similar to garlic and onions, chives add flavor to food and have a similar antibacterial property to garlic. The flowers are especially spicy, though also attractive to bees. Use in cooking, or salads, to help prevent foodborne bacteria attacks, and as an immune system booster. Chives can be dried for later use, though I would not recommend them in tea.
4. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is an unusual container herb, and while it is native to tropical climates, it can be grown successfully in temperate conditions as well. Ginger can be started from a small organic root that is sprouted and rooted in water. The root does need to be slightly exposed on the surface of the soil when growing. It will make a large and decorative house plant. Ginger has immune boosting properties, as well as anti-nausea properties. Ginger root can be stored in a cool location for several weeks to months once it is harvested. If you are growing Ginger in a container, you can simply start a new pot (or three) when you decide to harvest.
5. Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) is another herb that can be grown in containers, though due to its large root size you may end up needing a fairly large container. Horseradish is as spicy as anything, and awesome for kicking bacterial and microbial butts. A culinary herb normally, a strong concoction of horseradish will also help clear your sinuses. Though it may have the side effect of making you cry. Horseradish can be started from a slip of root, and the roots will store in the refrigerator or another cool location for several weeks to a few months. It is best to grow horseradish in a container, otherwise it can be very difficult to get rid of it.
6. Lavender (Lavandula) is another soothing herb that is awesome for repelling moths, or calming people down. Lavender is also an effective moth repellant, awesome for soothing burns, and epic for taking the sting out of insect bites and stings. It is easy to grow in containers, though it may need to be transplanted each year since it is a perennial. There are many varieties of lavender, and all are easy to preserve by drying. Lavender can also be used in cooking, and has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties.
7. Licorice Root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is a slightly unlikely candidate for container gardening since it loves to spread and it takes a few years for the roots to mature. However, licorice has anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties, so would be helpful in wound related emergencies. Dried licorice root can also be used as a toothbrush and toothpaste substitute, but only when dried.
8. Mint (Mentha) has many species, some stronger than others, but any mint will have the same basic properties. It is easy to grow in a container, and if grown in the ground it can take over everything. Mint is a good container choice, particularly if you want to grow multiple varieties, as you can keep them separate so the flavors do not blend. Mint has a calming and soothing effect on most people, and has the added benefits of being able to disguise bitter herbs in teas, freshen breath, and soothe throats when made into a tea with honey and lemon (or lemon verbena). One caution with mint is that, with some people, it can make them hyperactive instead of calm.
9. Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is another herb that masquerades under culinary status while disguising amazing antibiotic, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties. You may have heard of Oil of Oregano, which is effective against most bacterial infections. While the herb itself is not as concentrated as the oil, a tea of Oregano will have some of the same impact as the concentrated version. Combining oregano with other herbs with similar properties will also enhance the health benefits. Oregano is good in a container as it has a spreading habit similar to mint, and if left to its own devices will spread like crazy.
10. Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a strong anti-bacterial herb that can be used for personal hygiene as well as medicinal uses. A tea of Sage, Basil, and Oregano can be quite effective against a cold or the flu due to all three plants’ anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties. For personal hygiene, sage leaves can be used directly on teeth as a tooth cleaner, or used in a cooled tea form for deodorizing armpits or feet.
11. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a versatile herb and good to grow in small spaces or containers. Since it is a flower, it can masquerade as a decoration rather than an herb. Yarrow is a good choice for wound care, with both anti-bacterial and clotting properties. Dried yarrow, or yarrow tincture, can be applied to a bleeding wound to encourage rapid clotting. It also has some cleansing and supporting qualities if taken internally as a tea, and it goes well with mint.
What to read next: Medicine in Your Backyard