It is so easy to overlook the food and medicine that is hiding in plain sight all around us. It may seem as though there are more options in the country or on a farm than there are in the city, but that isn’t necessarily true. There are many popular landscaping plants that are so much more than ornamental.
There was a time in my life when I lived in the city. In fact, I lived in an area with a very strict homeowner’s association. The plants they used to landscape in common areas may have been food and medicine hiding in plain sight, but after the copious amounts of chemicals fertilizers and herbicides were dumped on them, I certainly didn’t want to eat them. I was faced with a decision, either give up clean access to homegrown food and medicine or find a creative way around the problem.
Being who I am, I balked at authority and set about placing medicinals into my “pretty” flowerbeds in ways that the homeowner’s association wouldn’t notice. If you are in the same situation, or if you simply want a flower bed with unconventional beauty, here are a few suggestions to add function to beauty in your plantings.
Instead Of Hostas
Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana)
Horseradish leaves are glossy and bright green. They are so large that they will easily fill any area where you would like a focal point of foliage. Of course, we all know that the root of horseradish will yield a delicious and pungent spread in the fall. Did you know that it also can provide fresh greens for a salad and steamed greens for a casserole. All parts of the horseradish are chock full of nutrition and have been used for a list of health issues in the digestive, circulatory and immune systems.
Comfrey (Symphytum officinal)
Comfrey can be purchased by root cuttings or plants and make quite a statement. The deep-green, fuzzy leaves grow to tropical proportions and will run weeds and grasses out of your flower gardens with their shade. As a bonus, comfrey sends up a delicate stalk of pink to deep-purple, bell-shaped flowers. Comfrey can be cut to within 1 inch of the soil, the leaves dried, and made into a variety of topical remedies for cuts, burns, bruises and more. The leaves will re-grow fresh at least two to three times per season.
Instead Of Ornamental Grass
Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Looking for a wispy clump or maybe a wall of green to set off small plants in the front of your flower bed? Dill is a great choice, growing reliably to waist height with ferny, edible foliage. All parts of dill are filled with volatile oils that will support your digestive health. As an added bonus, a grassy border of dill in your garden will attract beneficial insects, giving you a lot to watch and keeping your plants pest-free with less work.
For Contrasting Color
Sage (Salvia spp.)
With so many varieties of sage, it is easy to find one that will overwinter in your area. Many of the sages have a gray foliage that can provide a nice foil to all the green in your flower bed. Common garden sage has gray leaves and stems and purple blossoms. I love it in my moon garden, where the white, muted light at night makes them glow. Sage is just the thing to pick and make into a tea for a sore throat, and it’s so nice to dry for use around the holidays for the very freshest way to flavor your stuffing.
For Large Drifts Of Annual Color
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
This bright sunny annual is a show-stopper in the summer. There are many varieties, blooming yellow to deep, burnt orange. If you keep calendula dead-headed you can use the blooms dried or infused into oil for topical rashes, cuts and other skin ailments. By using the blooms, you will ensure that calendula flowers continuously throughout the summer and into the fall.
Instead Of Spring Bulbs
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
Spring flowers are important for the sanity of those who get antsy as the last of winter shakes itself from our beds. We long for a bit of fresh color, but if you tire of the old standbys, such as tulips and daffodils, try giving a home to some bloodroot. This plant has the most uniquely shaped leaves and this time of year the beautiful white blossoms thrill my heart with their early appearance, even before the tulips have bloomed.
Bloodroot is a forest medicinal that craves a shady, moist area. It is currently endangered, so adding it to our flower beds ensures that it will continue to be around. It is highly storied in medicinal circles for its blood-colored root, though it is less commonly used today due to toxicity concerns. It is best to grow this one and appreciate its history. If you wish to use it, talk to an experienced herbal practitioner.
For Ground Cover
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Why settle for limited ground cover options when lemon balm is so easy to grow. Our front flower bed has used this plant for some time to provide living weed prevention and visual interest below the taller flowering plants. Lemon balm spreads easily (some say too easily, so be warned) and smells and tastes deliciously citrusy. Best of all, this plant can be picked throughout the year to make a fresh cup of tea or to top off a salad, to calm the nerves and relax before bed.
There are so many more medicinals that I have tucked subversively into flower beds over the years. Do you use medicinals creatively in your flower beds?