If you live in Maryland, like I do, you’re probably thinking – enough of this rain on the weekends! Last weekend was a total washout for Mother’s Day as well as some local festivals, and this weekend isn’t looking much better. My grass is about a foot high, and who knows when I will be able to plant my vegetables!
So, I am taking advantage of this poor weather (unless you’re a duck) to write about some herbs. This post is a bit on a whim and perhaps a little random, so just bear with me.
A few weeks ago I gave a talk at the Montpelier Festival of Herbs, Tea, and the Arts at the historic Montpelier Mansion in south Laurel, MD. It’s one of my favorite outdoor events of the year – there are herb sales, quality crafts, and – of course – tea!
There are usually a few vendors that sell ‘unusual’ (Read: medicinal) herbs, one of whom is Patti Stinchcomb of God Scent Herbs. I look forward to her offerings, and always find a few new herbs that I haven’t grown before. Over the years I have had particular luck with herbs such as valerian, meadowsweet, yarrow, scullcap, lady’s mantle, blood root, St. John’s wort, burdock, and more – all of which started from Patti. This year her offerings were sparse (something about a busted trailer), so I only picked up a few new herbal friends.
What does this have to do with anything, you say? Well, I thought that my Herbs for a Rainy Day could be the herbs I just acquired. Ready? Here goes!
First on my list is the (anything but) common mullein (Verbascum thapsis). Some may say it’s a weed, but I say it’s powerful medicine. One of my favorite herbal mentors, Claudia Joy Wingo, calls it ‘nature’s toilet paper’ because of it’s soft, fuzzy leaves. And it’s those soft, fuzzy leaves that enhance its medicinal properties.
I like to use dried mullein leaves in a tea when I have a cough or lower respiratory discomfort. It helps to alleviate lung inflammation, soothe irritated membranes, and can actually calm the cough down. As it has a mild (mildly bitter, if anything) taste, it pairs well with other respiratory herbs such as colt’s foot (Tussilago farfara, a great expectorant) and Canadian goldenrod (Solidago canadensis, great for allergies). Add in some peppermint (for cooling) or ginger (for warming) for some extra zing.
Mullein is fairly easy to grow, but be mindful that it will get quite large – in its second year as it’s a biennial. My baby mullein shown above will eventually turn into this:
Next up is stevia (Stevia rebaudiana). Stevia has become popular in recent years as a ‘natural’, low/no calorie sweetener alternative. The reality is that a lot of the stevia products on the market now are still very processed and only distantly resemble the plant from which they were derived.
Still, every year I get a stevia plant and harvest the leaves to sweeten my iced tea. I admit I don’t love the taste because it does have what I can only describe as a ‘funky’ after taste. But I find that if I put a handful of leaves into the brew basket as I brew the tea, I get a mild sweetness but very little, if any, bitterness.
Stevia will also get very tall, though not as tall as mullein! Maybe about 2 feet or so. It doesn’t overwinter so at the end of the season I will (okay, I ‘should’…) harvest and dry the leaves. Medicinally, stevia can be used to help manage blood sugar, and sometimes I will add it into a (hot) tea for a client who is managing diabetes.
Last, but certainly not least, is little gotu kola (Centella asiatica). I actually have grown this one before, but in recent years my plants have gotten ‘stringy’ and this healthy, vigorous specimen really caught my eye.
Unlike the mullein or stevia, gotu kola is more like ground cover as it stays very low to the ground and sends out shoots to reproduce. Unfortunately, though, it’s not very cold tolerant so I haven’t been able to plant it in the ground. Instead, I bring in my pot every year for the winter and then separate/transplant it the next spring.
Medicinally, gotu kola is primarily known as a ‘nervine’ – I have discussed nervines extensively in other posts, but to recap here, a nervine is an herb that is calming to the nervous system. It can take the ‘jitters’ away, relieving mild anxiety. Gotu kola is definitely one of my ‘go-to’ (see what I did there?) herbs for when I’m on edge and in need of relief. I like to use the leaves in a tea (paired with any number of the herbs listed in my anxiety post), partly because of the pleasant, ‘green’ taste of gotu kola but also because the process and ritual of making and enjoying a tea is, in itself, calming.
As a bonus, gotu kola also has some tissue healing properties – particularly for repairing connective tissues. Sometimes you see gotu kola as an ingredient for a healing balm or salve. I will use it for a client who is recovering from surgery or some other injury.
Herbs for a Rainy Day
So there you have it. A somewhat random list of herbs that I hope you enjoyed reading about while you were stuck inside, trying to stay dry.
What are your favorite ‘Rainy Day herbs? Feel free to send me a note or add a comment below to share!