how to grow an herbal lawn

How to Grow an Herbal Lawn

(By Kimberly Gallagher in collaboration with Ashley Chesser, NCAP Co-Director)

My children grew up looking forward to dandelion season. We would go out into our backyard and gather up those bright yellow blossoms from our herbal lawn to make dandelion flower cookies, fritters, and even bright yellow homemade fermented soda. Dandelion flower jelly could be pulled out at winter solstice for a little taste of sunshine.

The grass in our lawn was mixed with all sorts of useful plants. The plantain and chickweed growing in our yard became poultice band-aids for scrapes, cuts, and bee stings. We’d turn to yarrow for deeper cuts when we needed to stop the flow of blood. Chickweed also got made into pesto and added to our salads along with miner’s lettuce and finely chopped plantain and dandelion leaves. One of our favorite lawn herbs was self-heal or heal-all. We would gather the clustered tiny purple flowers to dry and add to our tea blends.

how to grow an herbal lawn

So, Just What is an Herbal Lawn?

An herbal lawn is simply a lawn where plants like dandelion and self-heal grow right in amongst the grass. These other plants are considered weeds by many people, but they are actually some of the most nutritious and healing plants around. It may take some time to get used to allowing these plants to grow along with the grass, but they are mostly low growing and can be mowed right along with the grass so that you can still keep your lawn neat and tidy.

how to grow an herbal lawn

Benefits of an Herbal Lawn

John and I always preferred an herbal lawn to one made up entirely of grass, and as it turns out there are many benefits to cultivating a lawn like this. Grass lawns are monocultures that deplete soil nutrients and require more fertilizers to keep them growing, while the multiple plant species in an herbal lawn give and take nutrients throughout the seasons so that the soil stays healthy. The diversity of plant species also supports microorganisms within the soil and insect life above the soil, including pollinators that help our garden and fruit bearing plants to thrive. Healthy lawns are complex ecosystems of interconnected organisms and the more diverse the ecosystem, the more resilient it will be.

Ashley Chesser, from the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, encourages the planting of herbal lawns because the healthy ecosystem that is created also helps keep pests in check, preventing the need for spraying pesticides. Also, of course, if we are letting the herbs grow, herbicides like Roundup are not needed either. Nearly 80 million pounds of pesticides are used on U.S. lawns annually and many are linked to health concerns like Hodgkin’s lymphoma and nervous system damage.

Beyond all of this, herbal lawns require less water than turf grass and need less mowing. So, they require less upkeep from you. Without the need for pesticides and herbicides they are also healthier places for our children to play, and you and your kids can have fun making herbal treats from the plants in your own backyard.

how to grow an herbal lawn

Cultivating an Herbal Lawn

Oftentimes, all it takes to cultivate an herbal lawn is simply letting the herbs grow rather than weeding them out. If there are particular herbs you’d like to cultivate, seeding is best done in early spring or fall. Before starting, rake out any dead or matted grasses in the lawn. Broadcast the seeds by hand or using a wheeled seed spreader. Encourage growth by lightly raking compost or organic fertilizer into the lawn at the same time.

This will be easier to do in areas where cool-season grasses like bluegrasses and fescues grow. Warm-season grasses like Bermuda or St. Augustine are more aggressive and make it hard for the herbs to compete. If you have a lawn with these types of grasses, you may have to dedicate a space for the herbs and keep the grass weeded out.

Here are some wonderful lawn herbs…

DANDELIONS (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelions are tap-rooted, perennial herbs, native to temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere.

Benefits in a lawn: The taproots break up compacted soil and the flowers provide food for pollinators — making them an excellent addition to an herbal lawn.

Some benefits as an herb: The whole dandelion plant is a wonderful food source. The roots and leaves contain beneficial vitamins and minerals. Besides being nutritious, the bitter taste of  both the leaves and roots help to stimulate digestion. The flowers are high in lutein, a constituent that supports eye health. Flower poultices can also help soothe itchy eyes and rashes.

Thyme (Thymus serpyllum)

Thyme is an aromatic perennial evergreen herb in the mint family, Lamiaceae. Creeping thyme is the variety best suited for an herbal lawn, with green leaves and light pink flowers that bloom in early summer.

Benefits in a lawn: Many creeping thyme species thrive on neglect, and over time the plant grows lush and thick without becoming too long. It is drought tolerant and self seeding.

Some benefits as an herb: Though milder acting than garden thyme (Thymus vulgaris) this variety can be used in the same ways. Thyme can help ease symptoms related to colds and flus and can be particularly helpful when trying to stop coughing spasms. Thyme also aids   digestion and can be useful to help stop belching and flatulence. Plus, thyme is antimicrobial and is wonderful when used as a mouthwash for sore gums and minor mouth infections.

plantain

Plantain (Plantago spp.)

Plantain is a flowering herb native to most of Europe and Northern and Central Asia, but has naturalized in North America. This common herb is wind-pollinated and propagates primarily by seeds, which are held on the long, narrow spikes, which rise above the oval or lance-shaped leaves.

Benefits in a lawn: Plantain grows from a basal rosette and the root can be up to a foot long. Similar to dandelions, they are good at breaking up compacted soil. They are hardy and tolerant of repeated mowing and trampling.

Some benefits as an herb: Plantain is an amazing remedy for bee and wasp stings. It takes away the sting and also helps draw out the stinger. A plantain poultice will also help draw out splinters and heal cuts and scrapes. It is often known as the “band-aid plant” for these healing qualities. Plantain can also be chopped up small and added to salads. Because it is cooling and moistening, plantain can also be a wonderful remedy for a dry, hacking cough.

Chickweed  (Stellaria media)

Chickweed is a flowering herb in the family Caryophyllaceae. It is native to Eurasia and naturalized throughout the world. The leaves are oval and small with white flowers that have five deeply lobed petals.

Benefits in a lawn: Chickweed can grow anywhere from 2 to 16 inches tall but generally grows shorter within a lawn. It forms a thick, dense mat that can withstand foot traffic and grows well in both sunny and shady conditions.

Some benefits as an herb: Chickweed is a tasty and nutritious addition to a salad. It is filled with beneficial vitamins and minerals like calcium, magnesium, and vitamin C. Chickweed’s cooling qualities can also be a great remedy when you have a fever that is making you feel hot and restless. Also, like plantain, a chickweed poultice can help heal scrapes, cuts, and blisters.

self heal

Self-Heal (Prunella vulgaris)

Self heal is a flowering plant in the mint family Lamiaceae and is common in most temperate climates.  It has square stems and opposite leaves. Its numerous, small (about ½ inch), purple to pink or white snapdragon-like flowers have short, tubular stalks.

Benefits in a lawn: Self-heal is a great low growing perennial ground cover. It will die back a bit in the hot, dry months of the year but will return the following spring. In your herbal lawn, self-heal’s flowers can provide food for smaller native pollinators.

Some benefits as an herb: This little weed is a powerful healing plant. It has antiviral properties and the polysaccharides in it can help support a healthy immune system. Hot self-heal tea is great at the beginning stages of a cold with a sore throat. Its antiviral properties will help our bodies fight the virus, while its demulcent qualities help to soothe and coat the irritated throat. A poultice of self-heal can also be helpful for healing wounds like cuts, scrapes, and burns.

Yarrow: Herbs for Fever

WHITE YARROW (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow is a flowering perennial herb that spreads via rhizomatous growth. It is native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere in Asia, Europe, and North America.

Benefits in a lawn: Yarrow is much tougher than grass and can endure high traffic once established. The blossoms provide food for smaller native pollinators.

Some benefits as an herb: Also known as “woundwort,” yarrow is one of our go-to first aid plants for tending cuts and scrapes and for stopping bleeding —including from nosebleeds. Yarrow is also antimicrobial and can be used to address common symptoms of colds and flus, including sore throats and wet coughs. Beyond these acute situations, yarrow also can help promote healthy digestion and support vein health.

Now we’d love to hear from you…

Do you have a lawn? Have you ever let herbs grow in it? If so, what do you like to grow in your herbal lawn? Please let us know in the comments below…Happy gardening!

Kimberly & Ashley

41 comments
  1. Thank you for always educating me on what is good naturally. I love the pictures you have included as they make it easier to identify the plants I need to respect in my lawn.

    • I’m glad the pictures are helpful. Enjoy your herbal lawn!

  2. Thanks for sharing, Kimberly! I used to grow pots of Yarrow and other herbs on the roof of my apartment building. After being a city girl my entire life I moved to the country in 2020 where my little house sits on a hill/meadow, with woods as my backyard. I let the hill grow wild and it was the most magical thing I’ve ever witnessed (well, except for the ticks :() Yarrow, Mullein, Dandelion, Evening Primrose, Queen Anne’s Lace, etc. grow wild. Butterflies, Hummingbirds, Bees, Dragonflies and Bears! are my neighbors now. I’m in heaven here and feeling so blessed. xo

    • Your backyard does sound magical! Thanks for sharing. The image of thriving plants and hummingbirds, bees, dragonflies, and bears will stay with me. :-)

  3. How lovely of a thought to share with others. I get laughed at too for the “weeds” I pick yet find so beautiful and I agree it’s a different way of enjoying the magic of nature!! Thank you for sharing :)

    • Hi Danielle, I am so glad you enjoy Kimberly’s and Ashley’s article! :) Have a wonderful day!

  4. wonder no matter kind of onion alike purple or white onion to cook??

    • Hi Donna, in herbal preparations, you can use either white or red/purple onions. :)

  5. I feel very familiar with the plants, lived and not so loved, in my area of Utah, and have never seen chickweed. We have been on the hunt since we read Herb Fairies last year. I even asked a forager friend who is also very familiar and she says she has also looked and not found it. Is that possible? The USDA map says it’s here somewhere… Where should we look? Or can you send me some? Lol. Weed seeds aren’t easy to find either. And on a scale of invasiveness, where does it fall? Like mint or bindweed extreme, or more like creeping thyme?

    • Look in damp, shady places. And, I would say more like creeping thyme. It can grow quickly, but is fairly easy to remove in my experience.

  6. Bindweed is the worst plant ever in my existence! I fight it continually all my growing season. I even poison it! We have beautiful chicory that grows all over my yard in the late summer. Mullien, copper fennel, dandelions, prolific self heal, plantain, sorrel that grows every where that I have to yank out by the wheelbarrow load, clover, yarrow that I cherish, and wormwood that is another prolific nuisance, even the chickens won’t eat it! My neighbors think my lawn unruly but gorgeous when the chicory and Queen Anne’s lace are blooming so beautifully.

  7. Growing up my mom used to try to pluck out the dandelions growing in with blades of grass. However, I am learning here that dandelions can be medicinal. I think that would be news to her as well that she was plucking those dandelions for all the wrong reasons. She was of the belief that they were weeds and were destroying the lawn itself. Also, thank you for the remedy note cards you are sending.

    • You’ll notice dandelion is the logo for LearningHerbs. It’s such a nutritious and medicinal ally, and it just keeps coming up even when people try to weed it out. I like to think that the dandelions know we need them, so they just keep sprouting!

  8. I would add mullein (so beautiful on the edge of my property), nettle(again on the edge), camomile(grows along my driveway), minor’s lettuce and purslane (yum).

    • Great additions! I love all those plants.

  9. Is there a rule of thumb about how long to wait to use wild plants for food if you know pesticides were sprayed on the area? (I had heard 3 years-?) Our yard has some lovely things that come up – but I haven’t harvested anything because I know it was sprayed in the past.

    • Let me check with Ashley about this. I’ll get back to you.

      • Ashley says conventional farmers say plants are safe to harvest after 3 days, but she recommends waiting 6 or 7 months, so 3 years sounds like plenty of time.

  10. white and pink yarrow, pineapple weed, chickweed, lambs quarter, clovers, dead nettle, yellow rocket, shepherds purse, dandelion and more pop up wherever they want in my yard, though you could hardly call it a lawn because there’s very little grass. we’re getting ready to plant more “lawn” space and i’m considering all the plants i want to include in the mix, including legumes, red clover and barley. i’m of the persuasion to throw it all out there and see what thrives. when we had a more traditional lawn i mowed around clover and dandelion patches that would pop up. pollinators gotta eat too!

  11. A favorite of mine is violets. So sweet and demulcent, cooling and uplifting! Sheep sorrel and purslane as well.🌿

  12. I thank you both for the wonderful information.. I am between homes right now and staying with my son on two acres. I would love to have him “donate” a space for herbs that I can care for. I will most likely be moving into a townhome at best and would love to have a garden to tend when I visit ( which would be much ore often if I could care for some wonderful herbs).

  13. Slightly surprised there’s no mention of creeping charlie (ground ivy)

  14. Awww love this so much! I am working on turning my north facing urban front lawn in Saskatchewan Canada into a wildflower/medicinal lawn and many common *weeds* are part of the team!

    Along with the ones mentioned above I’ve got Shepherds purse, pineapple weed, violets, St John’s Wort, Borage, Hyssop, and a bunch of perennials like sorrel, valerian, marshmallow etc.

    Love love love this 🥰

  15. This is an excellent Idea. Currently I have Dandelions, Wild Violets and more wild herbs that I am slowly learning to identify. I’ll start working at removing grass and spread seeds for eatable herbs and something that will bloom for my honey bees. Thank you for all the great article’s to help me with Learning Herbs, I love it all

  16. Hi! Thanks for the topic. I stopped mowing my back yard in Tampa Bay, Florida 3 years ago. My old Southern lawn guy was confused when I said don’t mow the back yard. So I said, “I want to see what will grow that I can eat or make into medicine.” And Billy Bob said,” I can guaren-d*mn-tee ya, ain’t nothIn’ in this-here yard you can eat.”

    I have identified:
    acorns, pokeweed, ropeweed, wild mustard, bitter melon, hibiscus, beggar’s tick and chickweed. I also planted a cutting of longevity spinach form a friend’s yard and that thing has good vital force!

    • I love this story! I’m glad you stuck with your idea to let the backyard grow.

  17. We have so all of these in our lawn! Even my three year old knows to get plantain for a bee sting and Yarrow leaves for cuts. We have red and white clover, henbit, cleavers, sorrel and violets, and probably more that I’m not thinking of right now. I’m so thankful that most of the medicines I use grow right outside my door!!

  18. I have grown all of what you mention. Yarrow is my favorite in the lawn, to replace the whole lawn or even a special area. I love walking and laying on the soft ferniness of yarrow and the fragrance is wonderful. It was a common thing to have yarrow lawn in England years ago. You just keep it flat/low by going over it with your lawn mower. I also have a patch I leave to flower for cutting and drying for tea and medicine. It is a strong grower and survives in this cold spot in the middle of Canada 1 hour from the US, Minnesota border. I just transplant little plants from elsewhere (often found growing wild) into the lawn like little plugs and it takes off – be patient and water well the first year.

  19. Thanks for the beautiful pictures and tips. In my backyard I have dandelion, mallow, wormwood, horehound, lemon balm, rue, cayenne, rosemary, mormon tea.

  20. Thank you for the wonderful article. I’m wondering if many of these plants can be used together in a “boo-boo balm”? Is there any reason some would not react well on a wound when infused in oil then combined E.g. Lawn daisies, self heal, plaintain, and yarrow? I’ve also thought about adding calendula.

    • I think they would make a great boo-boo balm! And calendula would be a wonderful addtion.

  21. I l eat my dandelions in a mixed green salad every day and when reaching its end,l pull,scrub ,dry ,roast & grind the taproots….Dandelion coffee.Yum!! Paid dollars for that in the 80’s.Both ate great liver detoxes.Cheers from Australia.

  22. We use our dandelion to make infused oil then make dandelion salve and chap stick. The salve is excellent for burns. We keep a little in frig in case we get burned cooking. Immediately put it on and don’t even development a blister

  23. Unfortunately I live in the desert southwest where lawns are discouraged because of the lack of water. Most cities encourage rock yards with a few desert plants scattered.

    • I grew up in Phoenix, so I’m very familiar with those desert rock lawns. Aloe and prickly pear are some lovely desert herbal allies.

  24. Thanks everyone, for your comments! I love hearing what all of you are growing and making with your herbal lawn plants. These conversations help us all learn from each other!

  25. I absolutely loved that lawn garden piece. When I first began looking at herbs for all their wonderful qualties, I began to notice self-heal and plantain and of course, dandelion in my yard everywhere. I also began seeing it wherever I went. I really felt like they were calling to me. So I began studying them and working with them. My joy and surprise grew to my studying and growing many other herbs. I now will be on a the mission to make my lawn an herb lawn. Thank you so much for sparking a new adventure for me in herbalism.

  26. A couple years ago I planted some Chamomile in my garden. Over the years it has flourished. Just the other day I was walking through my backyard and noticed that the whole yard is carpeted with the feathery green leaves of chamomile! I love it!!!

    • Awesome, Lori. Chamomile is such a beautiful plant!

  27. We are going to start growing Chickweed this summer thanks to your inspiration! Should we use seed? And do you have a poultice recipe using it??

  28. All herbs are welcome in my lawn. While some herbs enjoy me indulging them, and some (like mullein) at least tolerate being transplanted out of the path, others need much more luring and I don’t know why. Herbs like dandelion, yarrow or lady’s mantle seem to refuse to spread. But I keep trying because their medicine is priceless.
    I remember a summer after a few dry years when a bare spot appeared in the middle of the lawn where the soil is shallow and there’s a rock just a foot below. When the rain finally came, immediately the spot got covered with tiny seedlings of chickweed and Roberts geranium. My gratitude and admiration for those little fellows were boundless!

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