Medicinals: Growing Plants with a Purpose

Commission: By using the below links to Alliance of Native Seed Keepers and applying coupon code CMM, you can enjoy a 10% discount on your purchase, supporting both your garden and this blog.

Watch my Strictly Medicinal unboxing video here.

Watch my Alliance of Native Seedkeepers unboxing video here

Living at 7,400 feet with harsh winters and late frosts, gardening is no easy task. We've managed to grow a beautiful set of perennials that stagger-bloom (spring, summer, fall) so we can enjoy color all season long. However, once these plants were established, there was really no need for me to intervene. So, this year, I'm planning a medicinal garden that better works for our family needs. I’m focusing on native plants that will not just survive but thrive and ones we can use throughout the year for teas, salves, and tinctures for everything from the common cold to cuts and burns.

Look out for more blog posts throughout the season where I share what I learn with you as I go!

Timing and Challenges

Our last frost typically extends until June 11th, meaning we need to start our seeds indoors no later than April 16th to ensure they're strong enough to face the elements and ensures a full harvest. Not sure when yours are? Check your first and last frost dates here. Gardening at this altitude requires careful planning and consideration, but the rewards are well worth it. 

Harnessing The Power of Plants

I've written out alphabetically the plants I am growing this year (from seed) and their uses. Some links below are from the Alliance of Native Seedkeepers (code CMM at checkout for 10% off) and some are from Strictly Medicinal Seeds (sorry, no coupon). 

Here's what I'm growing this year - click to purchase (some have since sold-out):

* Here are my notes on growing, harvesting, and using each of the starred plants above:

Black Cohosh

Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa)

  • The plant’s uses are focused on women, “cohosh” meaning “pregnancy" in Native American language, used historically for women's health
  • Nutrient-rich with no caffeine
  • Contains phytoestrogens, similar to estrogen
  • Helps with menopausal symptoms, menstrual cramps, PMS, and pain relief; can induce labor (after 39 weeks)
  • Tea can ease aches and pains
  • Preparation: Dig up the root, dry, and grate it; add honey and/or ginger for flavor
  • Caution: Use only under medical supervision during the last week of pregnancy


Borage (Borago officinalis)

  • Benefits: Planting borage near strawberries can repel insects and attract pollinators, potentially enhancing the flavor of the berries.
  • Usage: Its blue flowers can be added to cocktails for both beauty and flavor.
  • Medicinal Uses: Steamed in tea, borage can soothe cold symptoms, but it's not recommended for long-term use.
  • Culinary Uses: Its tender leaves can be eaten raw or used in salads.
  • Topical Uses: Borage seeds can be used to make an ointment for topical applications, although the process can be tricky.


Burdock (Arctium lappa)

  • Use caution: Only use roots in the first year and prevent spreading, as it's a biennial plant; beneficial properties are concentrated in the first year
  • High in fiber and antioxidants
  • Anti-inflammatory, good for arthritis and blood pressure
  • Effective burn treatment and diuretic
  • Harvest root in autumn
  • Fun fact: The thistle-like flower inspired Velcro with its adhesive properties
  • Brewing: Combine burdock root with dandelion root; add honey and ginger for taste
  • The Chippewa used burdock to soothe coughs and congestion; dry the roots of burdock and dandelion to make cough syrup; grate and powder to add to the mixture; add honey, ginger, or cinnamon sticks
  • Root oil: Promotes hair growth and can be used on the face for various skin conditions
  • Avoid use if nursing or pregnant

California Poppy

California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)

  • Harvesting: Use the whole plant, harvested and dried or processed; wait until flowers arrive before harvesting
  • Self-seeding: May act as a perennial in zones 5-9
  • Application: Sap can be applied directly to painful areas of the skin or mouth; dried flowers infused in boiling water act as a mild sedative
  • Tincture: Relieves pain and other symptoms
  • Easy to establish: Does better in poor conditions (avoid babying in a greenhouse); can be sown directly into the soil in early spring or late fall


Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla)

  • Use: Relaxation tea for sleep preparation; Native Americans also used tea to ease menstrual cramps, stomach pain, and soothe sore throats; natural antihistamine
  • Preparation: Flowers are dried for infusions (tea); powdered flowers can be used in a tea bag or steeped; make into a tincture by steeping flowers in alcohol, straining, and storing the fluid in a dropper to take mixed with water


Chokecherry or Wild Black Cherry (Prunus virginiana)

  • Use: Collect inner bark in the fall to soothe pains from childbirth, colds, coughs, and upper respiratory ailments; Cherokee used it as a sedative
  • Preparation: Remove outer bark and strip inner bark; dry out of direct sunlight; use bark in tea or syrup
  • Tea: Make tea from the dried bark; may induce drowsiness
  • Food: Eat fruit raw or make preserves and jelly
  • Sedative Mix: Mix hops, wild lettuce, and wild black cherry
  • Syrup: Tonic for sore throats, colds, fevers; add 2 teaspoons dried inner bark to 2 cups warm water, simmer for an hour, strain into a clean mason jar, and add honey to taste
  • Wine: Mix 2 cups ripe cherries, 2 cups sugar, and 2 cups water; remove seeds from fruit and add to sugar, use boiling water to melt sugar, and allow the liquid to ferment; strain into clean mason jars and store; keep flies away
  • Caution: Leaves and seeds contain a toxic compound; use caution when handling and discard seeds; cherry bark can be dangerous when consumed in large quantities


Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

  • Benefits: Dandelion flowers can be harvested and dried to make tea or infused with orange, lemon, and sugar for an immune-boosting treat.
  • Culinary Uses: Dandelion leaves can be eaten raw or cooked and are a rich source of vitamins and minerals.


    Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)

    • Benefits: Echinacea is known for its immune-boosting properties.
    • Harvesting: When fully mature, cut the stem just above the lowest leaves and remove flowers and leaves to dry, discarding the stem.
    • Usage: Chew the roots for a buzzy, tingling feeling that aids in immune support.


    Elderberry or Elderflower (Sambucus nigra)

    • Growth: Grows as tall as 30 feet; plant the tree away from any potential contaminants; all parts of the plant are edible, including flowers, leaves, and berries
    • Culinary Uses: Elderflowers can be dipped in batter and fried for dessert or made into tea, cordial, or lemonade
    • Medicinal Uses: Boil leaves down, strain, and gargle for a sore throat; used as a syrup for sore throats, colds, flu, and generally to boost the immune system
    • Nutritional Value: High in Vitamin C
    • Harvesting: Pick berries in early fall when full and bursting, not dry and wilted
    • Storage: Dry flowers and remove stalks, store in a dark cabinet; for berries, make elderberry tonic as soon as ripe and store in mason jars for winter use
    • Syrup Recipe: Boil berries when they ripen from green to black and soften; add to a saucepan with enough water to cover the fruit, bring to a boil, strain to remove seeds; for every 2 cups of mixture, add 1.5 cups of sugar; optional: add the juice of one lemon or a small piece of ginger to aid colds and sore throats; cook on low, stirring until sugar has dissolved; cool and store in a mason jar in the refrigerator

    Tobacco Plant


    • Drying: Stack in groups of 10 at 70 degrees for a few weeks, then transfer to plastic bags
    • Growing Conditions: Needs 100 frost-free nights; prefers oscillating temperatures, not suitable for starting indoors
    • Varieties: There are over 60 species; I’m growing West Indies and Hopi varieties, with a desire to add
    • Uses: Make a poultice of leaves for pain relief and wounds
    • Smoking: Harvest leaves at the end of the season; stack in piles of 10 and keep them at room temperature; wait until harvested leaves are almost dry, not brittle; remove the center of the leaf and any large veins, cut crossways, roll, and light
    • Seed Harvest: Harvest seeds for next season's plants; let flowers bloom and die off, then wait until little green pods turn brown and start to split open, break seed heads and shake out seeds, store away from sunlight for next year
    • Optional Flavoring: Dissolve a little honey in alcohol (rum, etc.) and mist tobacco leaves for flavor

    White Sage

    White Sage

    • Culinary Uses: Add to your dish as an herb, good for Thanksgiving turkey; make herb oil by adding to olive oil for flavor
    • Medicinal Uses: Dry leaves to process and make a tincture
    • Planting: Don’t plant near other plants, as sage may inhibit germination; however, strawberries and borage grow well near sage

    White Yarrow

    White Yarrow

    • Uses: Boil leaves in hot water and use for an acne remedy using cotton swabs, or drink for anti-inflammatory properties to keep colds away; strain the leaves before drinking; also add leaves to salads or nibble to improve circulation or ease a toothache; insecticidal and can be used as a repellent

    Yerba Santa

    Yerba Santa

    • Etymology: Spanish settlers named it "sacred herb" after watching Natives use it
    • Medicinal Uses: Use the leaves as a poultice for bruises; use the natural stickiness or apply under gauze; use fresh or dried leaves in tea for pain and respiratory problems
    • Not related to Yerba Mate, unfortunately

      Plants I would like to add:

      In addition to the plants currently in our garden, I'm also looking to add Rosemary, Rhubarb, Nettle, Goldenrod, Raspberry Leaf, Lady's Mantle, Daisy, Wild lettuce, Hops, and Calendula. While my dream of keeping bees and chickens may not be possible due to HOA restrictions, I'm exploring the idea of starting a hay bale garden to improve our yield and control invasive plants like Burdock.

      Follow along! 

      I will continue to document the progress of our medicinal garden and share tips and insights on gardening at high altitudes. I think this especially useful information for “prepping” purposes, tobacco being an especially good bartering item and plant use knowledge for treating ailments when traditional medical care may not be available.

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      Disclaimer: The information provided here is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.


      Here's my gardening spreadsheet! Click here to download your own. 

      Garden 2024

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