Italian parsley, photo by Jane Gates

Flat leaf or Italian Parsley: photo by Jane Gates

Herb gardens can be decorative and produce edibles to spice up ordinary cooking. But most herbs are also good to grow for good health. Most have some health benefits and herbs have been used for their medicinal properties by people all over the world from the most ancient of times.

Some people consider an herb garden to be a natural form of garden health insurance. You can use herbs to build up your resistance, bolster healing or for the medicinal qualities of the individual herb.

Tomes have been written on the many uses of herbs for health. Sage (salvia) got its name from the fact it is good for so many ailments. It is also supposed to help with brain functions as well as being an anti-inflammatory, an anti-oxidant, and an aid with bronchial issues. Chives are believed to heal bruises and kill germs in the intestines according to Chinese medicine. Thyme is considered antimicrobial and seems to help establish healthy fat in cell membranes – something that is thought to reduce some of the negative effects of aging. Rosemary grows easily in warm, dry climates with little to no soil amending, yet it is considered another excellent anti-oxidant, stimulates hair growth, reduces respiratory problems and stimulates brain activity. Try fennel (which is really more of a vegetable) for its high content of vitamin C and for the high grades it has been receiving in research as a cancer preventative. An old favorite, basil, works as an anti-inflammatory in a way not dissimilar to aspirin and Ibuprophin as well as showing a tendency to inhibit the growth of a number of bacteria that have grown resistant to antibiotics. Then there's that wonderful old standby, parsley. Parsley is a powerhouse of vitamin C and A and scores off the charts with vitamin K. It is being tested for properties that appear to inhibit tumor growth and increase the antioxidant capacity of the blood.

More medcinal Herbs are chamomile, often used as a sedative or a skin cleanser, echinacea as an anti-bacterial, anti-bronchial and even an insecticide, the tall elecampane for antifungal and anti-bacterial properties, fenugreek for indigestion and horehound for coughs and colds. There are many more herbs with healing and soothing properties for all parts of the body. Some can also help our pets.

Scents herbs are excellent in potpourris and sachets and will sweeten the air of your house. There are even connections from the olfactory lobes that take up scents to the brain. You can influence your mood with certain scents. There is a whole study on aromatherapy which I have no intentions of dealing with here. But just for starters consider you can help alleviate anxiety with the scents of chamomile, borage, lavender and peppermint. Herbs can be grown for psychological good health and healing, too.

There are many herbs that stay small enough to grow in container gardens for those who don't have a lot of room for gardening. Some herbal plants will grow as large as trees and supply shade in the garden. Many are highly decorative in leaf and flower so they can be integrated into your landscape or garden design. Or you can grow a special garden that is devoted exclusively to herbs. Different herbs require different growing conditions so you will have to do some research to find out which are likely to do well in the location you want your herbs to grow. But don't forget to grow medicinal herbs for good health and healing as a part of your garden -- indoors or out.