Sunday, April 8, 2012


Catnip in early spring

Most medicinal plants are preserved after harvest by drying for infusion or tincturing. A few garden mints, however, are more effective if used right after picking.

Flowering catnip
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) may stimulate our black cat Cleo but has the opposite effect for her two-legged housemates. It calms both the mind (nervine sedative) and the gut (carminative, antispasmodic), making it an ideal herb for insomnia from indigestion, particularly in children. With it's square stems and aromatic opposite leaves, catnip is easily confused with other mints unless flowering. But Cleo will always know it's catnip, and a plot of it in the garden will keep the fresh leaves handy when needed for a bedtime tea.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is another mint with nervine sedative and gastrointestinal antispasmodic properties. Fresh leaf extracts have the additional effects of soothing sore throats and improving mood by calming anxiety. The lemony taste distinguishes it from the other mints of your garden which lemon balm will gladly dominate if given the chance. You can limit it's spread by potting a clump each fall for a winter stash of the fresh leaves.

Lemon balm in mid-spring

Basil flowering tops
 The spiciness of basil (Ocimum basilicum) adds a diuretic and diaphoretic (sweat inducing) element to the medicinal effects of this third garden mint, giving it wider applications as a respiratory tonic and adaptogen (see Adaptogens in Herbal Formulas). Contrary to cooking with basil, the fresh flowering tops are the most pharmacologically active so dead-head away but save the pickings for tea or tincturing.

Fresh mint tinctures three ways

HERBALIST'S NOTE: Tincturing of fresh plants can be done by the folk method (chop into jar, cover with alcohol) as shown for lemon balm,  the weight-to-volume method (1:2 ratio of plant to alcohol in blender) as for basil, or a combination as for catnip since it took 5 parts alcohol to cover 1 part of the plant.

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