Try growing medicinal herbs in your garden

White clover occurs naturally in winter turf. It fixes nitrogen that is released to other plants when it dies back in summer. And, the bees love it.

I saw the Rolling Stones last week.

They rocked well past my bedtime. It occurred to me as Mick Jagger pranced down the runway that these 70-year-old men have defied their age. Keith Richards has defied modern medicine.

We tend to categorize plants in ways similar to how we categorize people. For instance, many homeowners consider clover a weed that shouldn’t be growing in our lawn.

The simple definition of a weed is a plant growing where it is not wanted. But an argument can be made in clover’s favor. While it may not blend well with turf, it is a favorite source of nectar for bees. It also is a legume that naturally fixes nitrogen for other plants. Weeds are in the eye of the beholder.

Recently, Patricia Harpell from the South Carolina Herbal Society stopped by the horticulture program at Trident Technical College to discuss the role of “weeds” in our landscape.

Harpell promotes the traditional and ancient uses of plants, including landscaping, culinary and medicinal uses, that many of us think of as weeds.

While covenants may prevent what many homeowners can do in the front yard and, in some cases, the backyard, there are some weed plants that don’t always need to be thought of as the enemy. This does not, however, include invasive weeds. While there are many beneficial uses of kudzu, such as jellies and medicine and basketweaving, it should never be intentionally planted due to its ability to alter ecosystems with runaway growth.

Harpell discussed several historical uses of plants that naturally occur in our yard and their often forgotten benefits.

She encourages people to garden, even if it’s a small kitchen garden, because freshly grown herbs are more medicinally effective as well as nutritious.

She was careful to point out that common sense should be exercised when utilizing plants found in nature. Berries, roots and leaves can be just as toxic as synthetic poisons.

Her top three essential medicinal herbs are the following.

Turmeric is a tropical herb frequently used in Thai cuisine. It can be grown annually or grown in containers that can be brought indoors during the winter. While the entire plant is edible, the rhizomes can be boiled, sliced and minced. While they are often ground into powder, sources suggest this method is difficult for homeowners.

Known as an essential anti-inflammatory, turmeric has been described as the herbal ibuprofen. Inflammation is considered to be an underlying cause of chronic disease. It has been known to soothe inflammatory pain such as arthritis and tendonitis as well as treat skin conditions.

Most of us have eaten garlic. In fact, taste and preference is typically not what prevents us from eating it as much as the impact it has on those around us. Its anti-bacterial activity promotes general health in addition to aiding digestion.

Garlic differs from onions in that it is composed of several cloves. It should be planted in early fall to be ready for harvest in early summer when the foliage begins to yellow. Plant in full sun. Elephant garlic (A. ampeloprasum) is not true garlic but should be planted and harvested in similar fashion.

One of the most wanted weeds in America, dandelion has been demonized as an animated monster on television commercials.

Well known for its puffy seeds, the buttercup flowers can paint a field yellow. The young foliage can be used as salad greens as well as in soups and teas. The root can be roasted as a coffee substitute. Dandelion contains active ingredients that decrease inflammation and improve digestion. As most people are aware, dandelion doesn’t need much help growing in your garden. For more information about SCHS, visit their website at Monthly meetings are conducted September through May. Workshops are conducted throughout the year. For more intensive education, an apprenticeship program covers herbal and ancient traditions of medicine.

Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, e-mail him at tony.