Fill your cottage garden landscape with these showy annuals that double as herbal medicine. Medicinal and gorgeous, start these cottage garden annuals now to get the most bang for your buck, while treating your mind, body, and soul.
The illustrations of Beatrix Potter have positively captivated me for years. I am drawn to the washes and swaths of pastels hued agrarian scenes of her dynamically textured landscapes. While many gardeners enjoy structured elegance in the garden — I desire a breezier landscape, over flowing with movement and color popularized by the likes of Potter, Tasha Tudor and other cottage gardeners.
I also desire a cottage garden landscape that is as useful as it beautiful. And by that I mean medicinal. While studying Maude Grieves tome “A Modern Herbal” I was struck by just how many of our cottage garden gems are also, in fact, considered medicinal. I have thusly decided to dedicate a blog series to the medicinal annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees of the traditional cottage garden with botanicals from seed catalogs and nursery centers that we are all likely to be familiar with!
Growing Medicinal Annuals from Seed
Anybody that has ever filled there cart with 4″ pots of annuals knows just how very quickly the total adds up at the register. Our desire to have abundant color and texture can be downright financially painful. Which is why growing your medicinal cottage garden annuals from seed will save you tons and money — and, with any luck, more plants than you need.
Wait, who am I kidding, there is no such thing as too many plants.
For those that are unsure, annuals are qualified as such due to hardiness to a particular growing zone. Annuals will die completely after the growing season (or when a strong frost or freeze hits), and not return the next year unless it has set seed which may germinate the following growing season.
Below I will detail some loose guidelines based on my personal experience growing these medicinal annuals from seed, but please be mindful to follow the instructions on the seed packet for success with your chosen seeds.
Here are a few of my favorite medicinal annuals for the cottage garden
I am a trained herbalist with a degree in Complementary and Alternative Medicine, I am not, however, a doctor. Posts in this blog are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Before using any herbs, check for appropriate dosage, drug interactions, and contraindications. Information contained herein is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prescribe. Please consult your primary care physician regarding your specific health concerns.
Common names: Love-lies-bleeding, red cockscomb, pendant amaranth
Parts used: leaves, seeds
One of the most unique annuals to add to your medicinal cottage garden is amaranth. Offering an abundance tassel-like panicles, bearing coral peach to burgundy red petal-less blooms often as long as your forearm, amaranth is a striking plant in the landscape. Suggested in the Doctrine of Signatures, amaranth is often considered for bleeding concerns such as excessive menstrual bleeding. Due to is astringency, amaranth can also be used to arrest discharges due to ulcerations, phlegmatic conditions, minor burns, and diarrhea. Additionally, the seeds are considered highly nutritious, containing 13-18% protein and is particularly high in the amino acid lysine.
How to Grow Amaranth:
Start amaranth indoors about six weeks before last frost, or after last frost if sowing directly in the planting bed. Amaranth seeds need temperatures of approximately 70 degrees (F) to germinate, and at least six hours of direct light to avoid becoming leggy and scraggly seedlings. If starting indoors, transplant when seedlings are about three inches tall, with a well established root system. My personal experience is that amaranth transplants quite well, and was the rockstar of my cottage garden border last summer. Depending on the cultivar, some amaranth can grow quite tall — over four feet — so it is best planted toward the middle or back of a cottage border. Harvest leaves from the bottom of stems perpetually throughout the growing season, keeping at least 2/3 of the foliage remaining for continued harvests.
Common names: herb of grace, Indian pennywort, water hyssop, brahmi
Parts used: whole plant
This petite trailing annual with small white (sometimes lilac colored) blooms is perfectly at home in baskets, window boxes and pots in the cottage garden. Succulent fleshy leaves are reminiscent of chickweeds and the lovely flowers are pretty addition to the dark green foliage. Bacopa is a herb used in Ayuervedic medicine as an herb for the brain – improving cognitive function, concentration and memory. It is a relazing nervine and a vasoconstrictor, helping to improve blood flow and reduce tension.
How to Grow Bacopa:
Bacopa likes warm temperatures and humid conditions for proper germination, so it is best to start these tiny seeds indoors, transplanting when the summer weather starts to warm. Although bacopa will tolerate a variety of soil conditions, it prefers a fertile medium and damper conditions. Well planting bacopa in containers, I strong suggest pairing it with other moisture loving botanicals. Plant in partial shade to full sun.
(Ocimum basilicum, O. tenuiflorum)
Common names: tulsi (holy basil)
Parts used: leaves
A favorite herb — culinary and the more medicinal holy basil, are striking annuals for the cottage garden. I am especially keen to growing the dark purple foliage varieties such as Dark Opal and exotically scented cinnamon basil in the ornamental landscape. Basil is a relaxing nervine — soothing tension and frustration.
How to Grow Basil:
Like many annual herbs, basil prefers to be started from seed indoors — approximately 6-8 weeks prior to last frost. Basil seeds will germinate best when ambient temperatures are around 70 degrees (F). I pinch back emerging growth when it reaches about six inches tall to spurring a branching habitat and increased yields.
Common names: starflower, bugloss, bee bread, seed oil
Parts used: flowers, leaves
This tasty botanical with its gray-green hairy foliage and bright blue, nodding, star shaped flowers is right at home in the medicinal cottage garden. With a taste suggestive of cucumber, borage is a popular edible flower and pot herb. Medicinally speaking it is a profoundly cooling herb and somewhat emollient, making it and excellent herb to soothe hot inflamed skin conditions such as minor sunburns and eczema. Additionally, borage was used historically to bring joy and courage to a person.
How to Grow Borage:
Borage seeds can be started three to four weeks before that last frost, or sown directly into a prepared garden bed after the danger of frost has recently past. Like basil, borage responds well to being pinch back, encouraging a bushier plant and lots of blooms. Plant borage in areas of full sun in well drained soils, where it can thrive and serve as an excellent food source for pollinators.
Common names: pot marigold
Parts used: flowers
No medicinal cottage garden would be complete without sunny, bright calendula. While the orange and yellow daisy-like blooms are heralded for their medicinal values, I have been enjoying bronze and peach colored cultivars for their ornamental (and edible) value! Calendula is a soothing healing herb with a particular affinity to the skin and the lymphatic systems. Calendula is practically unmatched for its ability to mend broken skin and heal minor wounds.
How to Grow Calendula:
I find calendula to be one of the easiest, and most forgiving annuals to start from seed for the medicinal cottage garden. The hearty serpent shaped seeds can be sown directly into well drained soils in a sunny location as the last frost, or started indoors approximately three to four weeks prior to last frost. Once blooms, pick the flower just as they begin to open (this is when they are their most potent, medicinally speaking), and pick often to encourage repeat bloom that often continue until a hard frost.
Common names: scented mayweed
Parts used: flowers
An absolute darling of the cottage garden, German chamomile is a carefree, loosely mounding annual that performs reliably all summer long. Soft feathery foliage and small daisy like flowers offer a soft dried apple aroma that I, personally, find very comforting. A popular sedative herb, chamomile is a cardinal herb for ushering folks into a restful slumber. Additionally, chamomile is a relaxing antispasmodic, and offer cooling relief to red and irritated skin. For medicinal purposes, I prefer the flavor, aroma and efficacy of German chamomile (M. recutita or M. chamomila), over Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile).
How to Grow German Chamomile:
Sow your German chamomile seeds indoors, six to eight weeks prior to last frost. Because these seeds require light to germinate, simply press the seeds into damp growing medium and keep moist. Transplant outdoors to a sunny location when the plants are two to three inches tall. Once your chamomile is flowering, pick the flower often, if not daily, to encourage repeat bloom. I even find a good mid season “haircut”
pruning the foliage back by a third or so, will revive a leggy plant and encourage another robust flush of blooms. Chamomile is a prolific re-seeder, so you will likely see it return year after year to the same area of you medicinal garden.
Common names: dillweed
Parts used: flowers, seeds, foliage
Tall, sturdy and a powerful attractor of pollinators, dill is a perfect, if sometimes overlooked, medicinal annual for the cottage garden. Ferny foliage and soft yellow umbels of blooms serve as a great foil to lower growing plants when placed grown in a border. Although dill is practically synonymous with pickles, I am particularly fond of dill’s ability to gently dispel gas pains and indigestion in adults and children alike. One of my all-time favorite uses of dill is to stop hiccups on a dime, owing to its gentle but effective antispasmodic action.
How to Grow Dill:
Being somewhat sensitive to transplant, dill should be sown directly in a prepared bed in a sunny location, two to three weeks prior to last frost. Another medicinal annual needing light for strong germination, tap dill seeds into prepared soil and keep evenly moist during their 10-14 day germination window. I tend to sow seeds heavily and thin plants to approximately 4 inches apart (when I do get around to thinning plants that is). Dill fronds and flower/seed heads can be harvested fairly freely throughout the growing season which should extend until a hard frost.
Common names: Indian cress
Parts used: leaves, flowers
A favored edible flower, fiery nasturtium flowers and leaves bring a peppery bite to any meal they brighten. As such, nasturtium is a warming, stimulating herb perfect for clearing congestions and aiding in expectoration. Nasturtiums are high in vitamin C making it a profound antioxidant. With its trailing to mounding habitat, nasturtiums are a welcome addition to window boxes and planters, and an excellent companion plant in the vegetable garden.
How to Grow Nasturtium:
Nasturtium starts can be somewhat fussy about transplant, so I prefer to sow directly into prepared soil in after first soaking the seed is in water. If pressed for time, you can also nick the outer seed coating to encourage germination within 10-14 days. While nasturtiums thrive in full sun, they are tolerant of light shade, especially from blazing late afternoon sun. Harvest leaves and flowers throughout the growing season to ensure continued bloom.
Common names: rabbit’s lips, lion’s lips
Parts used: leaves, flowers
Snapdragons are a favorite of the cottage garden (and a personal favorite of mine to the extent that a forearm sleeve of snapdragon tattoos), but did you know that they are medicinal too? Glorious snapdragons boast nearly every shade of the rainbow, bringing color, texture and form the the medicinal garden. Snapdragons are are anti-inflammatory and febrifuge, reducing heat and redness from fevers and swelling. Traditionally, poultices made from leaves and flowers were used to reduces boils and sooth ulcerations.
How to Grow Snapdragons:
Snapdragon seeds should be sown indoors roughly 10-12 weeks before the last frost. Start pinching back foliage when there are at least six true leaves to encourage a robust plant and prolific bloomer. Because snapdragons are tolerant of a mild frost, they can be transplanted to the medicinal cottage garden as earlier as two weeks prior to last frost. Plant snapdragons in full sun, preferably with some shelter from hot late afternoon rays, as they prefer cool, moisture retentive soils. Harvest flowers and upper stems/leaves, or deadhead often to encourage a colorful show all spring and summer long.
Common names: sweet alison, madwort, heal-bite
Parts used: leaves, flowers
Although sweet alyssum is technically a perennial in zones 4-9, second year growth tends to lack the impact of this prolifically blooming ground cover. Blooming in shades of white and lavender. this low growing botanical offers a soft spot for the eye to rest in a oft busy cottage garden. Historically sweet alyssum was used to treat animal bites and prevent infection. It is thought to be a relaxing nervine and a strong antioxidant due to its high vitamin C content. This cottage garden annual is also edible with a flavor best described as spicy broccoli.
How to Grow Sweet Alyssum:
Start sweet alyssum seeds indoors six to eight weeks prior to last frost. These seeds also require light for successful germination, so simply press seeds into damp soil and keep evenly moist. Transplant once danger of frost has passed in the front of borders or near paths where its diminutive nature can be appreciated. While the initial bloom period is long lived, I typically cut my sweet alyssum back severely mid growing season to encourage another robust flush of flowers.