Over the years, I have shared many articles relative to herbs and plants for the survival garden. Some are easily found while foraging while others need to be cultivated. Some provide benefits for a specific ailment while others are all encompassing. It should come as no surprise the essential oils made from plants and flowers are so popular since they represent the most concentrated form of plant material out there.
Today I take a different approach to medicinal plants. More specifically, I am introducing ten medicinal plants that can be cultivated from seeds. Not only that, these seeds will be viable in a wide variety of climates and locations, making them ideal for both the survival garden and your stored seed bank.
But first, why seeds? Even the most prolific garden will have an off year. Sometimes, not often, entire crops are lost. With seeds, and heirloom type seeds at that, you are pretty much guaranteed an endless supply of plants especially if you save seeds from year to year.
10 Medicinal Plants To Cultivate From Seeds
Medicinal herbs have been used for thousands of years as a natural way to fight off disease and infection. Here are 10 medicinal herbs that are easily cultivated from seeds.
Also known as a starflower, Borage is a an annual plant that has a long history of both medicinal and culinary uses. Though mostly grown for borage seed oil extract, many gardens also grow it for the edible leaves and flowers.
Medicinally, borage flowers are used in an infusion to treat numerous ailments such as gastrointestinal (stomach) discomfort, urinary problems, and is used in naturopathy to regulate the metabolism and maintain hormonal balance. According to WebMD.com, borage oil (also called starflower oil) is used for skin disorders, treatment of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and rheumatoid arthritis. The leaves and flowers are used for fever and cough.
Borage has also been used in companion planting with tomatoes as a pest deterrent.
Calendula is commonly known as the ‘pot marigold.’ The flowers are large with small, yet long, petals and is part of the daisy family. The flowers are edible and yellow dye can be made from the extract. This plant has been used for centuries across the globe in both food and medicinally.
Coloring butter and cheese, added to soups and stews, or infused in a tea are a few of the ways this colorful flower is consumed as a food. Calendula has been used in rituals from the ancient Greeks and Romans, as well as in Catholic events in some countries.
The medicinal qualities are just as numerous as the edible options. As a topical, calendula infusions are used to treat acne and soothe irritation skin. When consumed, this pretty little plant is used to treat stomach cramps and constipation. Allergic reactions do occur and pregnant women should not use calendula.
All it takes is one exposure to cayenne, whether in pepper or powder form, to remember what it is for the rest of your life. This plant produces a fiery pepper that has an established place in culinary and medicinal history.
Consumption of cayenne in any form is like taking a full blown body hit when you consider all the effects it has on you. The active ingredient, capsaicin, dilates blood vessels. This speeds the metabolism and increases the amount of heat your body produces, which is one of the reasons many people sweat when they eat dishes spiced with cayenne.
Cayenne is used to help regulate high blood pressure and the digestive system. It has also been shown to be a metabolism booster and help with weight loss.
Volumes have been written about this weed that is anything but common for its usable properties. Edible from tip to root, dandelions are a fantastic food source that can be eaten fresh, cooked in various ways, fermenting into wine, making jelly with the flowers, and even dry and preserve for later use.
Soups, stews, salads, baked, sauteed, dried and ground roots as a coffee substitute – the list goes on. When eating fresh leaves, the smaller ones are better tasting. Larger leaves tend to be more bitter.
When it comes to medicinal uses, dandelion is a diuretic and blood purifier.
Echinacea is one of those herbs that has been used for millennia. Various parts of this large flowered plant are used for different purposes. It has multiple uses to help alleviate symptoms associated with the common cold and flu. Topically, Echinacea has been used for everything from boils and sores to bee stings to help ease pain, irritation, and itchiness.
Teas, tinctures, salves, and aromatherapy infusions are some of the ways this versatile and powerful plant is prepared for use.
Commonly taken as a supplement or consumed as a tea, this herb is one of the rare ones that is seen more as a medicine by the western world than as a culinary spice. It is not often cooked with.
This is a plant of many names: methi, Greek clover, Greek hay, and chandrika are just a few. The seed is the prized part that is used as a medicine though the leaves are edible and commonly eaten both fresh and dried as a spice. There have been no official scientific studies done to date on the medicinal properties this plant however, the use of it dates back thousands of years.
It has been used as a poultice by pressing leaves directly to irritated skin and wrapped with a warm, wet cloth. It is also used for an upset stomach or constipation, bronchitis, boils, and kidney ailments.
A plant that has been naturalized in the United States and Canada, Hyssop is commonly found growing along roadsides. Hyssop is ancient in the medicinal world, being mentioned in the Bible. The ancient use for this hardy plant was as an insect repellent and in soaps or perfumes.
Today Hyssop is used to ease the symptoms of the flu, common cold, and other respiratory infections. It helps sore throats, coughing, and hoarseness.
Hyssop is noted as having delicious flowers and are sometimes grown as a spice that has a flavor likened to rosemary or lavender.
8. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is used for many delicious dishes and in teas. Because almost all flavor is lost when dried, most people only use the fresh leaves of lemon balm. In ancient times, lemon balm was steeped in wine to give a light flavor and help lift spirits, no pun intended.
Lemon balm is grown to attract bees and in larger operations for use in cosmetic products and medicine. Prepared in teas, salves, poultices, tinctures, and just about any other way you can think of, this versatile plant is well known the world over.
Specific medicinal uses include treating insomnia, cold sores, and anxiety.
Lovage is a wonderful alternative to celery and many find it much easier to grow. This herb was widely used during the medieval times though its use had largely fallen away. Thanks to a renewed interest in herbs, Lovage is being rediscovered by people all over the world. It was brought to Europe by the Romans and spread out from there.
Medicinally speaking, Lovage is used for urinary tract health, along with indigestion, heartburn, and joint pain. The entire plant is edible.
When most people think about Yarrow, at least those who are exposed to herbalism, they think about using it to stop bleeding. Yarrow is widely used for its ability to help blood clot and hikers know it can be used to help scrapes and shallow cuts to heal due to its antimicrobial properties. It is found all over the planet and the histories of many cultures record a long tradition of using this wonderful plant.
When it comes to growing conditions, yarrow tends be forgiving and grows wild in forests and along roadsides in almost all climates. Yarrow is usually steeped in hot water for 10 to 15 minutes and consumed as a tea for treating cold symptoms.
What to Look For When Purchasing Seeds for Storage
When purchasing seeds for long term storage, there are many options. You can purchase individual seed packets and then repackage them in a moisture proof container (such as a mason jar or Mylar bag) and create your own seed bank.
Another option is to purchase a commercial seed bank. There are many out there at differing price points. Since germination rates diminish over time, you are going to want to be mindful of the packaging date. It goes without saying that you will also want non-GMO, heirloom seeds.
In researching seed banks, also called seed vaults, be mindful that quality does not come at a bargain price. If the price seems too good to believe, then chances are you are not getting seeds that will store well for the long term. That means they may have a low germination rate or may not germinate at all.
Something else you should look for, or at least ask about, is the moisture content of the seeds at the time of packaging. Optimally, you want seed that has been specifically dried for storage as opposed to crop year seeds. According to studies at the University of Washington, each 1% reduction in seed moisture doubles seed life.
I would be remiss if I did not mention seed saving as another option. If this is the route you take, get a good book on seed saving (like this one) and take extra care to ensure that the seeds you save are completely dry before they are packaged. It is also a good idea to test the seeds annually; I know of people that have stored their own seeds only to find that one year later, the germination rate is less than 10%.
Survival Seed Kits – One More Thing
Up until now, I have not been a big fan of survival seed kits. This is because most are marketed by companies that have taken a variety of current year crop seeds, slapped a survival label on the package, and sold their kits with zillions of seeds to preppers and survivalists. Many of these kits come without proper storage or cultivation instructions. It is a shame, really.
On the other hand, there are a few kits I have come across that I believe in. My pick of the moment is the Medicinal Seed Kit from Buy Emergency Foods. Not only does it include all of the medicinal herbs I recommend, but I value the research and testing that has gone into the drying of these seeds for long term storage purposes.
In a recent conversation I had with Phil Cox, the CEO of BEF, he shared his views on seed storage.
“I look at storing common sense items like food and water for emergencies as sort of a common sense insurance policy. If the worst happens, then my family is ‘covered’ so to speak.
Storing seeds that have been properly dried and packaged for long term storage seems to me like insurance for my insurance policy. Given what seeds can produce in a long term emergency, there is really no cheaper insurance policy. But there is another fantastic reason to store seeds.
I don’t’ know if you’ve seen the new movie The Big Short, that recently came out, but there is an amazing scene where one of the characters encourages gardening and specifically storing seeds. I’m paraphrasing (and there are no spoiler here either…) but his rationale was that when everything goes south, seeds are going to be so sought after that they will become the new currency.
I feel like that’s probably right. Given how relatively inexpensive storage seeds are, I think adding them to your emergency supply is prudent for several reasons.”
To add to that, my comment was that even if our gardening environment is not ideal, having seeds would allow us to join up with others that do have a well-situated garden. Without question, an extra set of hands to share the work, some gardening tools, and a cache of high quality, viable seeds, would make for a welcome addition to any survival community.
The Final Word
A lot of emphasis is placed on growing food gardens. Alas, not everyone has the space, the climate, and the amount of sun needed to harvest a sustainable amount of food. On the other hand, medicinal herbs can be grown in pots and in a wide variety of growing environments.
Following a disruptive event, both food and medicine will be is short supply. Since it is easier to purchase food storage and bulk medicines, my vote is going forward, to use my own limited growing space for medicinal herbs. Growing medicinal plants, learning how to use them to solve everyday ailments, and storing medicinal herb seeds for the long term are my goals for this coming year.
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
Gaye Levy, also known as the Survival Woman, grew up and attended school in the Greater Seattle area. After spending many years as an executive in the software industry, she started a specialized accounting practice offering contract CFO work to emerging high tech and service industries. She has now abandoned city life and has moved to a serenely beautiful rural area on an island in NW Washington State. She lives and teaches the principles of a sustainable and self-reliant lifestyle through her website at BackdoorSurvival.com. At Backdoor Survival, Gaye speaks her mind and delivers her message of prepping with optimism and grace, regardless of the uncertain times and mayhem swirling around us.