There’s something romantic about the idea of being able to heal yourself and your family with nothing more than a few snips of a magical plant. And while the plants below may not be magical, they’ve all been checked out and given the thumbs up by generations of shamans, witch doctors, spiritual healers, and—more important—Western medical doctors. Grow these right in your own kitchen garden, and call on their healing properties when necessary—no chanting required!
Heals This: Burns, cold sores
Aloe vera is the herb for minor (second-degree) burns, confirmed by a 2009 Surgery Today study, among others, which have shown aloe vera gel has a dramatic effect on burns, wounds, and other skin conditions. The gel stimulates the immune system and provides a protective layer for the affected area; it can also be used on oral ulcers.
Heals This: Intestinal gas
Fennel seeds contain phytonutrients that are thought to reduce spasms in small muscle fibers like those found in the intestines, helping to reduce gassiness. The aromatic quality of the seeds also helps freshen your breath. And a 2011 review published in Pediatrics found that fennel tea can be useful for treating a baby’s gas-caused colic.
Heals This: Ear infections, skin rashes
Garlic’s antibiotic compound, alliin, has no medicinal value until the herb is chewed, chopped, or crushed. Then an enzyme transforms alliin into a powerful antibiotic called allicin. Garlic is antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory, so it will treat any infection, but when combined with mullein oil, it’s especially effective for ear infections.
Heals This: Headaches
“The scent of lavender triggers a calming response, releasing tension in the scalp muscles a bit, which eases the pain,” explains herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, author of Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. Take a few long whiffs whenever tension strikes, or toss a handful of stalks into a hot footbath.
Heals This: Anxiety and—believe it or not—herpes
Several doubleblind studies have found that the active ingredients in lemon balm promote calm and reduce anxiety. The herb and its oil have been used in Alzheimer’s care units to calm those who are agitated. It also has antiviral properties and can reduce the healing time of both oral and genital herpes.
Heals This: Heartburn
The Native American herb, a perennial that grows outdoors in most American climates, is high in salicylic acid (a mild precursor of aspirin). It’s effective at calming inflammation in the stomach, often working within a day or two, explains Sheila Kingsbury, N.D., chair of the Botanical Medicine Department at Bastyr University.