The red berries of the indigenous num-num (Carissa spp.) are full of Vitamin C.
The red berries of the indigenous num-num (Carissa spp.) are full of Vitamin C.
Lavender sprigs, leaves and flowers soothe away pains.
Lavender sprigs, leaves and flowers soothe away pains.

Cape Town - Long before the importance of the immune system was recognised in medical science, our grandparents were routinely and carefully using herbs to build up their resistance to infections ranging from the common cold to chronic boils, fevers, infections and even outbreaks of acne.

So what do you need to grow in your garden in order to have your own organic medicine chest?

These are just a few of herb expert Margaret Roberts’s tips on which herbs you can grow in your garden, and include in your diet, to make a positive impact on your health.

Coughs, colds and sore throats:

These days, colds and flu are not only a winter affliction, but can strike in summer too. “The answer seems to lie in the build-up of the immune system and the general build-up of health to enable us to resist the onslaught,” Roberts says.

For centuries, sage, comfrey, elder, nasturtium, thyme, mullein and the onion family have been used to relieve the symptoms of coughs, colds and sore throats. However, few people realise that common garden thyme (Thymus vulgaris), taken as a tea, relieves coughs and colds, and used as a gargle, relieves sore throats.

To make thyme tea, pour one cup of boiling water over a quarter cup of fresh thyme sprigs. Allow to stand for five minutes and strain. Sip slowly.

Stiffness and sprains:

Marjoram tea is excellent for stiffness, gout, rheumatism and stiff joints.

Pour 1 cup boiling water over ¼ cup of fresh sprigs. Leave to stand for five minutes, strain and sip slowly. For a very stiff or sprained bruised area, soak two handfuls of fresh marjoram in hot water. Squeeze out and apply to the area, cover with a hot wet towel, as hot as is comfortable, and leave for 20 minutes.

“Marjoram can also be used as a bath rub for aching feet, heels and calf muscles,” says Roberts.

Pack two handfuls of fresh marjoram into your face cloth, tie in a knot and toss into the bath. Rub with soap and use the marjoram-filled bag to scrub your aching feet and legs.

The old-fashioned English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Dutch lavender (Lavandula latifolia) or blind lavender (Lavendula spica) are superb muscle relaxants, unwinders and strain, sprain and bruise soothers. Lavender sprigs, leaves and flowers boiled in enough water to cover for 10 to 15 minutes, then strained and added to the bath, will immediately soothe away the aches and pains of the day, and lavender pillows tucked behind the neck will soothe stiff necks and headaches.

Finally, the camphor-pine-citrus aroma from volatile oils of rosemary (Rosmarinus offinicinalis) eases stiff sore muscles if used as an aromatic essential oil. Taken as a tea, common garden thyme (Thymus vulgaris) relieves tired aching muscles and joints.

Weight loss:

Many herbs assist in helping the overloaded liver, dispersing fatty build-up, breaking up cellulite, detoxifying the body and giving us energy, maintains Roberts. The most effective natural diuretic is fennel (Foeniculum valgare) – most particularly the seeds, but also the leaves.

Celery and parsley are cleansing diuretic herbs – include two tablespoons of fresh-chopped parsley and four tablespoons of fresh-chopped celery in your daily diet. Peppermint (Mentha piperita nigra) breaks down fats, and flushes out toxins and pollutants.

“Pennywort (Centella asiatica) combined with apple cider vinegar is one of nature’s most amazing detoxifiers, and an alkaline-inducing slimming aid,” says Roberts. Take 2 to 4 teaspoons of pennywort in one glass of water, once or twice a day. Fresh basil added to a balanced diet is helpful in clearing away toxic build-up which is such a large part of incorrect eating.

Immune system builder:

“Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is so chlorophyll-rich and so abundant in minerals, vitamins and trace elements, that it is actually being ‘rediscovered’ scientifically as one of the herbs that builds resistance to infection,” says Roberts. The best way to eat parsley is to cut up a tablespoon of fresh parsley a day – sprinkled over your food.

The red berries of the indigenous small num-num (Carissa spp.) are full of Vitamin C. They have been used in folk medicine to ward off colds and flu, thereby making a person so strong that no infection could find a foothold. All varieties of the onion family (Allium species) are natural antibiotics, and therefore nature’s immune builders. They include chives, spring onions, flat leaf chives and garlic chives.


“In nature there are many detoxifiers and energy givers – we just have to learn what they are and how to use them as rejuvenators and tonics,” says Roberts. Herbs considered to be natural life enhancers include pennywort, alfalfa (lucerne), parsley and basil. Anti-ageing vegetables include carrots, celery, artichokes (both the globe artichoke and the beautiful Jerusalem artichoke) and peas.

Pennywort (Centella asiatica) has a highly-esteemed medical record for treating arthritis and circulatory disorders.

“It is an amazing energy booster – by merely eating two leaves a day, you will feel revitalised,” says Roberts. To make pennywort tea, place three leaves in one cup of boiling water, stand for five minutes, then strain. American homeopaths suggest that one cup should be taken daily during times of fatigue and stress, or alternate days to reverse the ageing process and restore vitality, energy and virility.

Parsley is the herbal multi-vitamin – containing enormous amounts of beta-carotene. It has long been hailed as a natural anti-ager and a boost to the immune, circulatory and nervous systems.

Two tablespoons of fresh, chopped parsley sprinkled over food is the ultimate health boost. - Weekend Argus

Note: Always consult your doctor before starting herbal treatments.