Witch hazel not only brightens up a winter garden with its cold-weather blooms, it's also a medicinal herb used by Native Americans.
The apothecary garden, also called the physic garden, is a collection of medicinal plants that were useful to apothecaries or healers. The most famous physic garden in the world, London’s Chelsea Physic Garden, has been in use since 1673 and is now a living plant museum.
Plants to Try
French rose (Rosa gallica L. var. officinalis)
This shrub rose, also called the apothecary rose, is one of the oldest cultivated varieties. It has a beautiful, strong fragrance and red hips high in vitamin C. Rose hips have been used for thousands of years to treat coughs, colds and scurvy. The rose’s essential oil is used in aromatherapy.
perennial; USDA zones 4 to 8
Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla L.)
Lady’s mantle was traditionally used for the treatment of bladder problems. In medieval times, it was used to cure wounds, sores and eye infections and to prevent miscarriage. Today the plant is used by herbalists to treat digestive and menstrual disorders. The tiny yellow flowers also lend themselves to dried-flower arrangements. While there are numerous varieties of lady’s mantle, Alchemilla xanthochlora boasts some of the most attractive flowers and leaves.
perennial; USDA zones 3 to 9
Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis)
This easy-to-grow annual was traditionally used in tea to sooth gastric upsets, but its main use today is to soothe skin problems, such as burns and bruises. It can also be dried and used for food coloring or sprinkled in salads and soups as a garnish.
annual; hardy to zone 6
American Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
Witch hazel was a sacred medicinal herb of Native Americans. Its extract is used for bruises and sprains and in cosmetics. As a bonus, the shrub’s scented flowers bloom in late winter.
perennial; USDA zone 4 to 8
Other Plant Choices
St. John’s wort
About the Author: Sharon Biggs Waller is a freelance writer and hobby farmer based in northwestern Indiana. She has several themed gardens of her own, including a scented garden and an apothecary garden. She’s the author of The Original Horse Bible (BowTie Press, 2011) and blogs at www.sharonbiggswaller.com.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2011 issue of Hobby Farm Home.