The coming of spring brings with it a renewed interest in the sprouts, buds and shoots of warmer weather and how they can be used to improve our health. Many people are motivated to not only learn the uses of finished herbal products found in the retail world; they are also inspired to connect with healing plants while they are still in the ground. Learning their growing needs and ways to harvest and process plants is an essential part of the herbal path.
While the ever increasing interest in using herbal medicine in recent decades has been beneficial in many ways, there is a major downside: the over-harvesting of plants in the wild. One example is the fact that some species of echinacea have become almost extinct in the wild due to market popularity.
Either purchasing cultivated herbs or growing our own are the best ways to take the pressure off wild plant populations. While many people find gardening in the arid southwest to be challenging, many healing plants, especially those native to the area, can be successfully grown.
To further the cause of small scale, home gown medicinal herb gardens, the following sources are offered for getting started.
(Note: People who sell plants are experts on how to grow them. For the most part, they are not trained as herbalists so don’t expect them to give you long and detailed descriptions of how to use herbs for health reasons. You need to do your own research on the therapeutic uses of plants before going to these businesses.)
My favorite local source in Flagstaff in Native Plant and Seed. Over the years, I have found 20 – 30 different species of medicinal plants for sale. As most of them are native to the area, they usually grow well with a minimum of watering once established. A very large variety of seeds are also offered.
Warner’s Nursery has non-native herbs available. Look in the covered area in the back for the 4” starter pots. This is a good place to find kitchen sage, thyme and catnip and even St John’s Wort on occasion.
The Arboretum in Flagstaff has a plant sale over a long weekend each summer. Many local growers offer their plants along with the greenhouse crew at the Arb. Some of my most prized finds have come from this annual sale, including the treasured Osha.
The final local source is the Flagstaff Farmer’s Market during the summer. While most of the products for sale are fruits and vegetables, one occasionally comes across some potted herbs for sale.
Perhaps the largest selection of seeds and starter plants comes from Strictly Medicinals. Located in Oregon, they have a superb website and offer plants for many growing environments.
The leading organization for supporting and protecting wild plant populations is United Plant Savers. Their site includes a list of flora whose wild populations are the most endangered. These are the plants that should be garden grown when possible or at least purchased as cultivated. Check the labels of any retail products; this information should be included.
Included below are resources for folks who would like more information on how to garden locally and which herbs to choose.
Native Plants for High Elevation Western Gardens by Janice Busco and Nancy R. Morin – an excellent reference for our area. Its focus is on gardening in general with native plants and is not specific to medicinal herbs.
Growing 101 Herbs That Heal by Tammi Hartung – as the title says, specific to growing medicinal plants in general, not specific to the southwest although this book includes many plants that are native to our part of the world.
Planting the Future: Saving Our Medicinal Herbs, edited by Rosemary Gladstar and Pamela Hirsch – the primary publication of United Plant Savers, this book has specific chapters on individual plants that are endangered, including some native to our area.
Wishing you much success in your gardening adventures!