Tending a garden and making herbal remedies from plants you cultivated is a great way to gracefully transition with the seasons. As we move into fall, the sun becomes less intense and the night sky starts to arrive sooner, a symmetry of light and dark. Leaves are starting to fall on the ground and soon growth energy will be focused on root development. To help you live in harmony with the season, here are my fall gardening tips, plus five healing plants to grow.
A Time of Transition
Much of this season’s garden focus is on nourishing the garden’s foundation, the soil. Depending on what and where you grow, certain varieties could be exhausting your soil of nutrients. Fall is a great time to let lifeless soil rest while feeding it to regain a balanced soil web. This practice can be viewed as giving thanks for spring and summer leaf growth, blossoming, fruiting and harvesting.
Our usual fall garden preparation consists of turning compost and harvesting some to feed the soil before spreading gathered fallen leaves to serve as garden mulch. We also gather seeds and trim away all dead plants, which then get added to the compost.
We’ve had much success with more traditional ways of watering our garden. By placing large clay water vessels called ollas in garden beds and throughout growing spaces, we’ve been using less water and moisture travels faster to root systems. We’ve even used large clay pots filled with large rocks for this method and it’s worked great.
A Time for Rest
Just like nature needs its rest, so do we. As plants begin directing their growth downwards, we can allow ourselves to also tune into this growth pattern by going inwards with our own development. A time for introspection and a time to renew ourselves in harmony with the gardens we tend. A time not just for rest but also for reassessment of the world we cultivate around us.
If there isn’t a garden space for rest and reflection, this would be the perfect season to arrange one, and the location can change every season to suit you and the garden’s sunlight patterns.
A Time for Preparation
Putting annual edible growing beds to rest requires a bit of preparation, yet it feels effortless once you’re doing it because of all the healing you receive back in tending and envisioning the future of the garden. Planting soil-building cover crops is an easy way to feed soil; once the cover crops are at the end of their growing season, you simply turn them into your growing beds, too.
There are also edible and healing plants which we can grow that don’t require much intervention in laying the soil to rest because they serve as beneficial ecosystem support pillars. Growing more resilient plants like the ones listed below relieve a gardener of additional intervention and cultivation without compromising harvests. These plants are commonly found in permaculture gardens and you can learn more by researching that specific garden practice.
A Time to Plant and Heal
The following plants are great to start from seed or cuttings in the fall and most will provide harvests in time for your winter apothecary, especially if adopted as seedlings from a nursery or friend to start.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
This Mediterranean herb has a reputation for resilience. An easy way to introduce rosemary to your garden is by propagating a cutting that is not in flower. Rosemary likes good drainage and a fair amount of airflow and sunlight to thrive. This is also an herb that’s easy to grow in a container as it does not take up too much space and there are varieties that grow lower to the ground making for a great groundcover.
Since this is an evergreen perennial plant, I would trim it here and there during the fall, even during its first season, to direct plant growth towards root development. And with those cuttings you can make a variety of herbal remedies, for both external and internal use, perfect for the holiday season.
Besides cooking with rosemary (check out this recipe for rosemary tapenade), my favorite use for this herb is in steams and foot baths for its circulation support.
Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
Mullein is a European and Asian biennial and sometimes a short-lived perennial that offers plentiful harvests at each growing phase. It is super easy to grow from seed and since it flourishes greatly from seed, it’s important to manage your garden’s mullein seed bank so that it does not get out of hand or enter the wild or your neighbor’s yard. This plant can become invasive in the wild and if it’s not native to your area, one must be extra mindful to control the seed population.
This is another herb that can be grown in a container and it would make for easier root harvesting. Each individual plant does not take up much room, but they can start to bunch together. There are several that have re-seeded themselves in growing containers in our garden.
Once mullein’s rosette forms and fills out, you can harvest a few leaves. The flowers are also of great use and will bloom in its second season. During this time you could also harvest some roots for medicinal use, especially if you have a healthy growing population.
I tend to use mullein leaf infused oil the most in our apothecary to promote healthy lymph movement. We’ve also employed a common use of flower tincture for earaches with much success before inspiring us to keep this tincture on hand. It also has a great affinity for the lungs.
Common Sage (Salvia officinalis)
This is an herb some of us may be familiar with from cooking (or even baking), hence some of its common names, culinary or kitchen sage. This variety of Mediterranean sage is a short-lived highly aromatic compact perennial that also reseeds easily. This herb enjoys a sunny spot in the garden with good drainage and can be easily grown in a pot.
Just like other aromatic herbs, sage can be used externally and internally in a myriad of ways. My favorite way to enjoy sage internally is by consuming infused sage honey and externally for a mouthwash, which is a popular use for sage. I also take sage with rose tincture to help calm night sweats.
Strawberry Ground Cherries (Physalis pruinosa)
Strawberry ground cherries are a delicious variety of these golden spheres that have a sweet and slightly tart flavor with tropical notes. Ground cherries grow native from Central to South America. These tasty ground cherries have come to my rescue a few times, serving as a tasty and nutritious snack to get me to my next meal.
These ground cherries can really flourish in a low-maintenance garden and hence their name, they grow low to the ground. All you need is some heavy mulch to promote abundant harvests since they need a bit of moisture to produce fruits. They also re-seed easily, making them a permanent garden resident after you grow them for the first time.
Like I mentioned above, I enjoy eating these fresh but there are so many ways in which you could preserve them. I’m looking forward to making a jam next time I get a large harvest in my basket. You don’t see these ground cherries used much in herbal medicine; however, they are packed with vitamins and minerals and can serve as a great addition to your fall menu to help support healthy immune defense. They would be great addition to an immune support tonic.
Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)
This is a North American naturalized herb from Europe, Northern Africa, and Southeast and Central Asia. Horehound is in the mint family, like rosemary and sage. It grows abundantly along the nature trails in small patches where we live, letting us know that this plant does not take much to cultivate. It’s best to start this plant from seed as it’s hard to find at nurseries as seedlings. Since it has already become naturalized, as a mindful gardener I would be strategic in your garden’s seed production, ensuring that you do not introduce more into the wild.
Once established in the garden, it will thrive in areas of the garden that don’t get much attention. Even though this herb is in the mint family, it does not enjoy moist soil.
Horehound has been traditionally used to treat coughs and can be made into tasty syrups and candies, perfect for kids. I like combining molasses, horehound and brandy for a tasty cough elixir.
Note: Those pregnant or planning to become pregnant, breastfeeding or taking other medications should always consult with a professional health practitioner before taking herbal medicine.