Project: Medicine Garden

For several years I’ve been… I think of it as practicing growing plants indoors. I’ve finally been doing well enough to start expanding my single large pot into an actual garden.

Originally I meant to grow food plants. Lately, I’ve been having second thoughts.

There are several reasons, but a few big ones —

The needs of my family: At least for the next few years, my family can expect to be food-secure. On the other hand, our medical care is extremely insecure. Both my partner and I need daily medications. Can the medicine we need be replaced with herbal remedies? I have no clue, but I’d like to find out now when it isn’t an emergency.

The needs of folks around me: Among folks who recognize our society is fucked, growing food at home, urban farming, permaculture, etc., are popular now. Plus, I live on the border of coal country and farm country. As things get worse, medicine will be in much shorter supply than food around here.

What I have to work with: Right now, the only gardening space I have is inside my apartment. There are other options, but I’m not sure I’m healthy enough to take advantage of them. If I only have small gardening space, I want to make the most of it.

Medicine Garden Month 0:

Right now, I’m focused on research — what herbs would be best for my family, will fit in the space we have, can I meet the needs of, can I get seeds for, etc.

Of course, the danger with me is getting so caught up in the research I never actually start. I’m not going to be able to wild harvest any seeds until next spring, but there are a few things (like chamomile) I can pick up at the local grocery store.

I’ve overloaded myself on projects this month already, but I think one of my January projects will be getting at least two more pots going and rearranging the living room to get them the best light possible.

As usual, expect updates.

Medicine Garden Month 2:

Missed last months update because I was sick — which has some level of irony I guess.

Still, progress has been made. I’ve got both the living room and my bedroom re-arranged to maximize access to the south-facing windows there. (Bonus! I have work space in my bedroom so I can work without constant kid distractions for the first time in forever.)

My long-growing plant tub is still hanging on — perhaps too well. I tried pulling up the alfalfa from an old school science experiment, and it grew right back! Obviously I missed some of the roots. Plus the half dozen lettuce plants that I’ve been using for lunch. The marigold is still doing well.

Speaking of marigold — you will find some herbals that list ‘marigold’ and then tell you that ‘we don’t mean the common plant called marigold, we mean calendula’. Then OTHER herbals say ‘this plant is sometimes mixed up with another calendula, which is sometimes called marigold.’

It turns out that marigold (proper) has long been used in North America and caledula (called marigold) has long been used in Europe. So no matter which plant you have, it is a medicine herb, but watch that the herbals don’t get you mixed up!

Of course, there are dozens of varieties of marigold (proper), all of which have been used by different peoples for different things. — which rather leads me to my biggest take away of the past month:

Herbal medicine (whether home-grown or store bought) is an ongoing process in medicinal research.

My big progress for the past two months has confirming the most important info for my fam: there are herbal alternatives for almost all the daily allopathic medication we require. Since one of my big reasons for focusing on herbs was awareness that if we lose access to our prescription meds Star and I absolutely screwed, this is a huge win.

For the next month, I’m going to be focusing on an herbal called Spice Apothecary. It focuses on stuff you can find bottled in your local grocery stores spice-section. I want to identify what there I’d want to have access to/keep on hand and hopefully find the spoons to try making a few tinctures/salves/etc. for common issues in our household.

Medicine Garden Month 3

Okay, the month is almost over, but it’s still technically month 3, right?

I’ve made a good bit of progress this month. Small progress, but the kind that sets the stage for big stuff later.

The Spice Apothecary was less helpful than I’d hoped (I found it’s layout kind of annoying, actually). But it give me some good info.

Between the SA and the Anarchists Free Herbal (and how have I not linked that before???) I decided that my first project should be an oxymel to help boost my circulation.

Oxymels seem less finicky than syrups (anything that can crystalize if you do it wrong isn’t my first pick), and my circulation has been a low-key annoyance/worry for a while. Plus, I could get everything I needed with foodstamps.

I went with a 2:1 honey/vinegar mix, with ginger and habanero peppers. (Most herbals recommend cayenne pepper because you can buy it in dried flakes or powder, but it’s the capasin that matters and cayenne from the spice section costs ten times a couple of fresh peppers.) For a similar reason, I bought whole ginger root rather than powdered ginger.

Chop, mix, soak, wait two weeks… I just decanted it (my first oxymel!!!).

How’d it come out?

Well, it has a very strong smell and a slightly darker color. Since I’m really not a fan of chili peppers I didn’t even try to taste it undiluted. Instead I took a half tablespoon and mixed it into some warm water. (16 oz cup). It tastes like a mild ginger tea with a bit of extra zing and some honey. I can’t really taste the chili, but it’s there in a lingering almost-aftertaste.

Dosages for herbs are of course hard to nail down. The usual recommendation for an oxymel is several tablespoons a day. For now I’ll be starting with 1 tablespoon a day and seeing how what effect that has.

Now that I know the process for making an oxymel, I’m confident that i can do it again with the only limitation being my ability to clean and chop stuff. One a week is definitely doable — once I get more jars. (Time to go pickle shopping…)

Oxymels aside, I haven’t done any actual gardening of medicines for a number of reasons, but my last batch of lettuce will be ready to harvest just in time for Passover. So my goals next month are to get another few oxymels going and to pick and plant a few medicinal herbs that I want to have on hand and can’t get at the store.

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