May 092019

By Juliet Blankespoor and Meghan Gemma
Photography by Juliet Blankespoor

You can grow a respectable herbal apothecary in pots. In fact, some of the most beneficial medicinal herbs will positively thrive in containers placed right on your porch or patio.

Many can even double as attractive houseplants, the likes of which may arouse the botanical curiosity of friends and neighbors.

These ten hand-picked herbs will round out any medicine chest and add beauty to your home. Adaptogens, first-aid herbs, digestives, and relaxing remedies are all represented.

We’ve included hearty medicinal tidbits for each plant, alongside the “green thumb” information you need to shower your medicinal herbs with proper TLC.

Need more guidance? For a fleshed-out primer on selecting containers and understanding the sensitivities unique to potted medicinals, visit our blog on Growing Medicinal Herbs in Containers.

Curious where to find herb starts and seedlings? Take a wink at our catalog of Herbal Seed Suppliers and Nurseries.

*Please note that this article’s discussion of medicinal uses is introductory in scope. We’ve provided safety guidelines for each plant, but we recommend that you research any new herb and consult your health care providers for possible drug/herb contraindications and precautions before ingesting.

Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) receiving a harvesting "haircut"

Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) receiving a harvesting "haircut"

1. Gotu kola (Centella asiatica, Apiaceae)

Parts Used:  Primarily leaves, may include small amounts of stem, flowers, and fruit

Medicinal Preparations: Tea, tincture, infused oil, nibble, infused ghee, milk decoction, powder, broth, poultice, compress, green smoothie, and fresh juice

Herbal Actions:

  • Vulnerary (wound healing)
  • Diuretic
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antioxidant
  • Anxiolytic (anti-anxiety)
  • Nervine
  • Antibacterial
  • Alterative
  • Secondary adaptogen*

Medicinal Uses: Gotu kola, also known as brahmi, has been used medicinally in Asia for over two millennia as a rejuvenative tonic in the treatment of memory loss, stress, worry, and foggy thinking.

It is often combined with ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) to improve memory and concentration, while simultaneously promoting a calm nature. I add gotu kola to herbal formulas for people who have trouble concentrating or who feel scattered or indecisive, including those who experience ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder).

Gotu kola can be used, both internally and topically, in healing wounds. Famous for its use in treating leprosy in India, it is now used by contemporary herbalists to treat burns, minimize scarring, and promote tissue repair after injury or surgery.

Gotu kola is also used topically as an infused oil, compress, and poultice to heal a variety of skin conditions, including insect bites, rashes, seborrheic dermatitis, herpes sores, eczema, psoriasis, and dry, irritated skin.1

*Most herbalists recognize gotu kola as a secondary adaptogen, or “almost-adaptogen.” In my experience, it clearly has adaptogenic properties: it’s helpful for increasing vitality, reducing stress, balancing the immune response, and acting as a tonic for overall well-being.

Cultivation: Personally, I find that gotu kola makes one of the most luscious herbal houseplants, and I enjoy its presence in my office where it keeps me company as I write about medicinal herbs.

The key to growing this verdant herb is to provide moist soils with good drainage. Some people grow brahmi in an old whisky barrel or retired bathtub. If your space is more limited, try planting it in a shallow, broad pot with a saucer underneath to help keep it moist.

To increase the drainage of your soil mix, add coarse sand or pine bark fines. Water the plants so the soil is continuously damp but not waterlogged. You may have to water your containers every two to three days, and gotu kola will readily communicate with you through the ancient plant code of wilt.

Gotu kola can be placed in full sun if it’s well-watered or if summertime temperatures are mild. But if your summer is sweltering, gotu kola relishes some cover. In hot climates, morning sun and afternoon shade are ideal. I bring my potted gotu kola plants inside every winter to an east-facing window and then return them to the outdoors when the temperatures warm in the spring.

I harvest gotu kola with the “haircut method”: using scissors to cut off all the leaves. (See the photo above of gotu kola receiving a harvesting haircut.) It quickly grows a new batch of tender leaves, typically offering at least three cuttings per growing season.

Safety and Contraindications:  Avoid in pregnancy or if attempting to conceive.2 Although rare, some people react with dermatitis to topical use. In Ayurveda, there are precautions that high doses may lead to headaches and loss of consciousness, but it is important to remember that gotu kola is widely consumed as a food plant without incidence in much of tropical Asia.3

Spilanthes (Acmella oleracea); note the profusion of seedlings in the front—spilanthes rapidly spreads, or self-sows

Spilanthes (Acmella oleracea); note the profusion of seedlings in the front—spilanthes rapidly spreads, or self-sows

2. Spilanthes (Acmella oleracea, Asteraceae)

Parts Used: Leaves, stems, and flowers

Medicinal Preparations: Tincture, tea, nibble

Herbal Actions:

  • Immunostimulant
  • Antimicrobial
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Sialagogue (stimulates salivation)
  • Oral anodyne
  • Diuretic

Medicinal Uses: Spilanthes is a joyful herb to behold and has been one of my top ten herbal allies ever since I began growing it and using it for medicine. Its succulent leaves and gumdrop-shaped flowers are useful for a wide spectrum of infectious illnesses including colds, flu, sinus infections, and ear infections.

Clinical studies demonstrate that spilanthes is effective against pathogenic bacteria. One of the primary ways I use spilanthes is as an immune stimulant, much like echinacea species.

Spilanthes is employed as a toothache remedy in many locations, including India and Southeast Asia.4 Sometimes called “toothache plant,” it can temporarily numb the mouth during tooth infections and abscesses. (Dental infections typically require conventional dental care, with herbal care offering temporary symptomatic relief.)

Additionally, it is helpful for maintaining healthy gum tissue by increasing salivation and blood flow. The dried flowers can be added to tooth powders to address periodontal disease and prevent dental caries, or cavities.

Cultivation: Spilanthes is one of the easiest medicinal herbs to grow, and kids absolutely love its zippy-zappiness. It does well in containers and can be interplanted with other ornamental medicinals, such as lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) and artichoke (Cynara scolymus).

Plan to grow spilanthes as a frost-tender annual unless you live in the tropics. Transplant seedlings into outdoor pots containing average to rich soil after all danger of frost has passed.

Despite its succulent appearance, spilanthes relishes water more than most other medicinals. You may want to amend your potting soil with extra organic matter or add a bit of clay to aid with water retention. Protect the plants from slugs, as they will devour it—slug candy, indeed!

The plants are also prone to spider mites—telltale signs include mottled yellow leaves and fine cobwebs on the underside of the leaves. Also, the plants readily self-sow, so it may become a weed in your garden, although it’s typically not troublesome.

Safety and Contraindications: Immune-stimulating herbs, like spilanthes, have the potential to increase autoimmunity and have caused flare-ups in people with autoimmune conditions, although this is more the exception than the rule.

Because spilanthes is in the aster family, it may cause a reaction with people who are highly sensitive to plants like ragweed (Ambrosia spp.) and chamomile (Matricaria recutita); this possibility is rare, but sensitive individuals should proceed with caution when taking spilanthes for the first time.

Take care not to squirt the tincture on the back of your throat or chew too large a wad of spilanthes, as the throat may take offense and clamp down—not a fun exercise!

Aloe (Aloe vera)

Aloe (Aloe vera)

3. Aloe (Aloe vera; A. barbadensis, Asphodelaceae)

Parts Used: Fresh leaves and gel extracted from the fresh leaf

Medicinal Preparations: Gel, poultice, prepared juice

Herbal Actions:

  • Emollient (soothing to skin)
  • Vulnerary (wound healing)
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antibacterial
  • Laxative

Medicinal Uses: Every home will benefit from an aloe plant. Soothing and cooling, aloe is a useful first-aid herb for burns, abrasions, blisters, and stings.

It’s a summertime staple; helping to heal mild sunburns, after the area has been bathed in cool or tepid water. A few drops of lavender (Lavandula officinalis) essential oil can be mixed with the gel for additional anti-inflammatory action.

Aloe can also be used topically as a skin tonic for conditions like acne and rosacea, and be applied to the hair for smoothing.

Internally, aloe is a traditional cleansing herb—it is laxative in appropriate doses. It can take quite a bit of aloe to prepare the needed juice, so alternately you can use organic preserved aloe juice from your local natural foods store. Follow the dosage instructions on the bottle.

Cultivation: Aloe is truly a winsome houseplant—it’s both hardy (hard to kill) and beautiful, with its glowing succulent leaves. It is well-adapted to many climates, and can be grown nearly anywhere. I grow aloe as a potted patio plant in warm weather, and bring it inside during the colder months (aloe is frost-sensitive). Despite aloe’s succulent status, it won’t tolerate full sun; instead, give it dappled shade or morning sun. If your aloe’s leaves are turning yellow, it’s a sign that the plant is receiving too much light.

When indoors, a north- or east-facing window will keep it perky. You’ll almost certainly be blessed with aloe “babies,” which will grow from the parent plant’s roots. These can easily be separated and placed in their own pots. In this way, aloe will multiply itself for years and years.

Safety and Contraindications: Internally, aloe is a laxative and should be avoided in pregnancy and breastfeeding. For this same reason, take care and follow dosage instructions on purchased aloe juice; too much can cause painful stomach cramps.

Do not apply aloe to staph or staph-like infections; the gel creates a perfect breeding ground for staph bacteria.5

Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum)

Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum)

4. Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum, Cucurbitaceae)

Parts Used: Leaves and stems

Medicinal Preparations: Tea, powder, tincture, nibble

Herbal Actions: 

  • Adaptogen
  • Immune tonic
  • Antioxidant
  • Cardiotonic
  • Hypocholesterolemic (lowers cholesterol levels)
  • Hypotensive (lowers blood pressure)
  • Liver tonic

Medicinal Uses: Also called Southern ginseng, jiaogulan is a popular folk herb in Southeast Asia where it is grown as an affordable substitute for ginseng (Panax spp. Araliaceae).

It’s gaining popularity in Western herbalism, where it is used as a tonic for longevity and vitality. The leaves are brewed into a medicinal tea that can be taken for anxiety, stress, depression, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Sometimes known as sweet tea vine, jiaogulan is ironically quite bitter; it has a flavor reminiscent of ginseng with mild soapy undertones. However, I enjoy the taste! If bitter tea isn’t your thing, you can combine jiaogulan with pleasant-tasting herbs like peppermint (Mentha piperita), anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), and tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum).

Cultivation: With its lush growth and star-shaped leaves, jiaogulan is easily one of my favorite herbal houseplants of all time. Given the right conditions, it becomes a rambunctious trailing vine that grows beautifully as a potted plant or in a hanging basket.

Joe Hollis of Mountain Gardens describes it as the easiest to grow of the adaptogen herbs (which are health-promoting, immune-boosting, and stress-balancing botanical tonic remedies). Joe is credited with bringing jiaogulan into popular cultivation in the West. You can hear him speak personally about growing and using jiaogulan here.

In the ground, jiaogulan can spread assertively, which makes it an ideal potted medicinal (the container reins it in). It favors moist, rich soil and is partial to light shade. If you have this kind of habitat, I DON’T recommend planting jiaogulan in the ground, as it can completely overtake an area and be almost impossible to control!

You’ll notice a distinct thinning and yellowing of the leaves if the plant is receiving too much sun. A porch or patio with dappled shade is a perfect niche for jiaogulan. Bring indoors once the weather starts to cool.

Safety and Contraindications: Do not use in pregnancy. Can cause nausea in larger doses or with sensitive individuals. Use caution when combining with blood pressure or blood thinning medications.

Lavender (Lavandula spp.)

Lavender (Lavandula spp.)

5. Lavender (Lavandula spp., Lamiaceae)

Parts Used: Above ground parts in flower, or flowers

Medicinal Preparations: Tea, tincture, infused oil, essential oil, sachet

Herbal Actions:

  • Relaxing nervine
  • Gentle sedative
  • Anxiolytic (relieves anxiety)
  • Antidepressant
  • Carminative (relieves gas and bloating)
  • Antimicrobial
  • Analgesic
  • Bitter

Medicinal Uses: Lavender has a wonderful proclivity for soothing the nerves, and has been used medicinally for centuries as a remedy for digestive issues, headaches, stress, and grief. It is a gentle sedative, which also makes it beneficial for anxiety and insomnia.

Lavender is often used in formula for the herbal treatment of depression as it has more immediate effects as compared to many of the slower-acting tonic antidepressants and adaptogens. I combine lavender with lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora) in tea to help lift the spirits.

The flavor of lavender tea is stronger than one might expect: it’s slightly bitter, mildly astringent, and very aromatic. A little goes a long way. Try combining it with rose petals (Rosa spp.), mint (Mentha spp.), chamomile (Matricaria recutita), or passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) for relaxation and decompression. It is generally safe for children and the elderly.

Topically, lavender (as a wash or essential oil) can be healing for burns, wounds, and minor infections. It is soothing, antimicrobial, and pain-relieving.

Don’t forget that lavender is also a culinary herb! Find our recipe for decadent Lavender Truffles on the blog.

Cultivation: Lavender’s beautiful purple spikes and uplifting aroma make it a classic garden darling. English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is the most common species grown and used medicinally. However, there are thirty-nine species of lavender, many of which are grown ornamentally! Ask your local herb nursery which varieties or cultivars grow best in your area.

A short-lived perennial, lavender prefers full sun, well-drained soil, and ample airflow. You may want to add perlite, gravel, or sand to lavender’s potting soil to provide ideal growing conditions. And if you live in a region with high rainfall, consider giving the plants cover in a sunny locale so they don’t receive too much water. Bring your lavender plants inside to overwinter—preferably in a place that receives bright, direct light—if your climate experiences hard freezes!

Safety and Contraindications: There are no known safety precautions for lavender, although its tonic use may be constitutionally inappropriate. For example, if you have very dry skin and mucous membranes, the long-term internal use of lavender may be too drying.

Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) in the rear, spilanthes (Acmella oleracea) in the foreground, lavender (Lavandula spp.) plants on the right

Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) in the rear, spilanthes (Acmella oleracea) in the foreground, lavender (Lavandula spp.) plants on the right

6. Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum, Lamiaceae)

Parts Used: Leaves and flowers

Medicinal Preparations: Infusion, tincture, pesto, medicated ghee, infused oil, infused vinegar, compress, and poultice

Herbal Actions:

  • Adaptogen
  • Antioxidant
  • Antidepressant
  • Anxiolytic (anti-anxiety)
  • Immunomodulator
  • Anticatarrhal (dispels phlegm and mucus)
  • Hypotensive (lowers blood pressure)
  • Hypocholesterolemic (lowers cholesterol)

Medicinal Uses: Tulsi, also known as holy basil, is Sanskrit for “the incomparable one.” It is a sacred folk herb in much of the Eastern world, and has quickly been adopted into the repertoire of Western herbalists, whose understanding of the plant originated with its traditional uses in southern Asia and northern Africa.

Tulsi is highly aromatic, antimicrobial, and adaptogenic; the leaves and flowers are used as a medicinal tea for colds, coughs, asthma, bronchitis, sinusitis, headaches, arthritis, stress, and anxiety.

Tulsi helps increase focus and clarity, making it especially useful for elders with declining cognitive abilities, children and adults with ADHD, and enterprising college students.

It can be combined with gotu kola (Centella asiatica), calamus (Acorus calamus), and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) in formulas to increase concentration and cognition. Holy basil is a fine ally for people who are naturally scattered or distracted, as it is both calming and centering.

Cultivation: Holy basil may appear puny when you first plant it, leaving you to wonder if it has some botanical failure-to-thrive syndrome— perhaps you spoke too harshly with it when you were transplanting it.

Take heart in knowing when the days grow longer and the nighttime temperatures warm, it will take off!

Tulsi enjoys full sun in temperate areas, but doesn’t mind a little afternoon shade in warmer climates. It will grow in most any soil, but will thrive more lushly with good fertility and consistent moisture.

As with culinary basil, pinching back the shoots and early flowers encourages the plant to bush out and promotes more vegetative growth. Tulsi truly is an early bloomer, sometimes flowering when it is only a few inches high! Pinching off those early flowers helps it to develop into a well-rounded plant with lush foliage.

Several harvests can be obtained in one year: simply cut back the mature plant to eight inches or so, and it will re-grow quickly.

There are at least five varieties of tulsi. Tropical gardeners can grow all of them with success, and most varieties will reach waist-high proportions as woody perennials. Four-season herb growers can experiment with the tropical varieties as annuals or potted herbs that are brought indoors to overwinter, but the easiest to grow variety is the temperate holy basil. It germinates readily and self-sows, giving you a hearty supply of tulsi for years to come. For the largest variety of holy basil seeds, please see Strictly Medicinal Seeds.

Safety and Contraindications: Avoid in pregnancy or if trying to conceive. There is some controversy around the use of holy basil in pregnancy, but it has been used traditionally as an abortifacient and antifertility herb in some cultures.6

Holy basil may modify blood sugar regulation—people with diabetes should monitor blood sugar closely and talk to their physician prior to use.7

Several studies on male animals have shown a decrease in sperm count and motility and decreased mounting time (lower sexual behavior score) with extremely high doses (relative to body weight).8 It’s not clear whether this has any bearing on human physiology with moderate consumption.

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) growing with artichoke and sage

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) growing with artichoke and sage

7. Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus , Poaceae)

Parts Used: Stems and leaves

Medicinal Preparations: Tea, broth, honey, soup

Herbal Actions:

  • Nervine
  • Carminative
  • Diaphoretic
  • Antibacterial
  • Antifungal
  • Expectorant

Medicinal Uses: Throughout the world, lemongrass is a popular tea and everyday home remedy for some of the most common health complaints: headaches, stress, anxiety, indigestion, insomnia, coughs, colds, and flu.

It is a staple herb in Brazilian, Caribbean, Chinese, and Indian folk medicines. Much of the contemporary research conducted on lemongrass has centered on the essential oil, which has demonstrated marked antibacterial and antifungal properties.

I use lemongrass as a uniquely delicious medicinal tea. In the summertime, try pairing lemongrass with other citrusy herbs, like lemon balm and lemon verbena, along with hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa), for a refreshing herbal iced tea.

You can add the flavorful “bulbs”—the tender inner base of the stems—to broths, Thai coconut soups, and curries. Teas and broths featuring lemongrass are wonderful for easing the symptoms of colds and flu. 

Cultivation: This aromatic tropical grass is often grown as a container plant and brought indoors to be protected during the colder months. Growing it in a pot helps to keep its size manageable, and it’s quite commanding when planted with other ornamental herbs, such as artichoke (Cynara scolymus) and purple sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’).

For a tropical flair, pair with nasturtium (Tropaeolum spp.) and other cascading flowers. Plan to acquire a large pot for lemongrass and its companions!

Lemongrass prefers full sun and soils that drain rapidly—consider adding extra perlite or pine bark fines to your soil mix. Harvest the stems repeatedly throughout the growing season to increase yields and to keep growth in check.

If you have difficulty finding lemongrass starts in your area, you can often obtain pieces of lemongrass stem, with attached roots, from Asian grocers. These can be directly planted in pots or encouraged to root in a glass of water before planting. You can also grow it from seed if you get a head start on the season.

Safety and Contraindications: Individuals who have reacted to lemongrass essential oil may develop an allergic contact dermatitis handling the fresh plant. The essential oil must be properly diluted before coming in contact with the skin.

White Sage (Salvia apiana)

White Sage (Salvia apiana)

8. White Sage (Salvia apiana, Lamiaceae)

Parts Used: Leaves and stems

Medicinal Preparations: Tea, tincture, aromatic smoke, honey, gargle, and steam inhalation

Herbal Actions: 

  • Antibacterial
  • Antifungal
  • Astringent
  • Carminative (lessens intestinal gas)
  • Anti-inflammatory

Medicinal Uses: White sage’s medicinal uses are nearly interchangeable with its Mediterranean cousin, garden sage (Salvia officinalis), although the former is more antimicrobial and stimulating than its domestic brethren.

I use a steam inhalation of the leaves to help break up respiratory congestion in both the lungs and sinuses. Try combining it with thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) in the steam pot with a few drops of eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) essential oil.

The practice of burning white sage as an aromatic cleansing and purifying agent has been widely adopted by Westerners, to the demise of wild populations which have been overharvested, primarily for sale as “smudge sticks.”

Cultivation: Endemic to southern California and Baja California, white sage has become increasingly rare in its native habitat due to over-gathering. If you enjoy this herb, please consider growing your own supply. Do not gather or purchase wild-harvested white sage. We have a more detailed growing guide (plus recipes!) on the blog.

White sage favors warm, dry conditions. In humid climates, white sage will sometimes develop fungal diseases or rot. I cut off the afflicted area, and it will often make a comeback, but sometimes the whole plant up and dies. Subsequently, I plant more white sage than I ultimately need.

White sage is especially alluring in a terra-cotta or glazed blue ceramic pot. Add extra drainage material to the soil mix, such as coarse sand, perlite, or pine bark fines, and take care not to overwater. White sage is also prone to aphids; if it seems over wilty, look for the little green, red, or black insects on the undersides of the fresh growth. Use insecticidal soap as an organic pest control.

Try placing potted white sage in a covered spot that receives ample sunshine, but excludes rainfall (like the overhang of a roof). Overwinter in a greenhouse, or in a south-facing window.

Safety and Contraindications: Sage is a uterine stimulant and should not be used internally in large doses by pregnant women. In medicinal quantities, it can dry up the breast milk. White sage is also highly drying and can aggravate dry skin and sinuses. 

Calamus (Acorus americanus, syn. A. calamus var. americanus)

Calamus (Acorus americanus, syn. A. calamus var. americanus)

9. Calamus (Acorus americanus, syn. A. calamus var. americanus, Acoraceae)

Parts Used: Rhizomes (root-like subterranean stems)

Medicinal Preparations: Tincture, tea

Herbal Actions: 

  • Aromatic bitter
  • Carminative (lessens intestinal gas)
  • Circulatory stimulant
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Decongestant
  • Rejuvenative

Medicinal Uses: Calamus is a warming, stimulating, and drying remedy and is thus used for cold, damp conditions, and stagnation. For instance, it’s a valuable remedy for digestive issues, menstrual cramps, and chronic sinus congestion.

Calamus is especially helpful for supporting a crisp, clear mind—it nurtures alertness and clarity, and is a treasured ally for those with foggy thinking or a tendency to mind-wander. Many students appreciate the root for augmenting focus while studying!

Calamus also acts as a circulatory stimulant for people who run cold in the winter. Combined with ginger (Zingiber officinale) and cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum), it makes a tasty tea, although those with a tender palate may find it too spicy.

The root is a classic remedy for allergies, acting as a decongestant and anti-inflammatory. I combine it with turmeric root (Curcuma longa) and goldenrod (Solidago spp.) to treat allergies acutely (right when symptoms are present).

A little goes a long way with calamus—its pronounced flavor and spiciness make it an ideal candidate for formulas. In other words, combine milder tasting medicinals with calamus in your teas and tincture combinations to offset its potency.

Cultivation: Calamus is a wetland herb, and therefore thrives in containers that can be kept consistently moist, such as a retired bathtub or a plastic pond liner. For this reason, take extra care to water the plants during dry spells.

In cooler climates, calamus is quite happy and tolerant of the sun; gardeners in warmer or arid climates will want to give the plants afternoon shade, in addition to extra watering, to help it tolerate the heat and dryness.

Calamus reproduces by rhizomes; after two years you can divide the plants and colonize new containers or keep the harvested roots for medicine.

When sourcing calamus plants, look for A. americanus specifically rather than A. calamus. They are closely related—in fact, it’s still debated whether they are distinct species. However, a difference in chromosome numbers means that A. americanus plants don’t produce a potentially toxic compound (beta-asarone), whereas A. calamus does.

Safety and Contraindications: Do not use in pregnancy. May cause vomiting in high doses and may aggravate heartburn.

Lemon verbena (Aloysia citriodora) and one of her admirers

Lemon verbena (Aloysia citriodora) and one of her admirers

10. Lemon verbena (Aloysia citriodora, Verbenaceae)

Parts Used: Leaves and flowers

Medicinal Preparations: Tea, honey, syrup, and vinegar

Herbal Actions: 

  • Hypnotic
  • Nervine
  • Antibacterial
  • Antiviral
  • Analgesic
  • Antidepressant

Medicinal Uses: Lemon verbena is a tropical, South American plant—and it is often a favorite among the lemony herbs for its crisp aroma and fine flavor. Lemon verbena is an uplifting remedy, and is useful for conjuring sunshine during the dreariness of gray winter days, as well as during dark nights of the soul.

It is simultaneously brightening and calming, and doesn’t induce lethargy in most people if they drink it throughout the day. It is safe for children and elders, and in the same league as chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and mint (Mentha spp.) in that it rarely has side effects and is an everyday beverage tea. I combine lemon verbena with catnip (Nepeta cataria) and chamomile as a gentle sedative for insomnia.

Lemon verbena is also useful in quieting nausea and can be mixed with ginger and catnip for this purpose. It is useful for motion sickness, as well as the queasiness brought on by various infectious illnesses.

Cultivation: This brightly-scented perennial bush thrives in fertile, well-drained soil in full sun. It is highly drought tolerant and does best if it dries out between waterings. Pinch back the growing tips to encourage bushiness; this is most important when the plants are seedlings. The plants are also prone to spider mites—telltale signs include mottled yellow leaves and fine cobwebs on the underside of the leaves. Treat organically with a spray of insecticidal soap.

Potted plants in all but the warmest climates should be pruned, then brought indoors for the duration of the winter. Planted into moist soil amended with sand, lemon verbena will happily hibernate in your basement or an unheated greenhouse (tucked in with a cozy mulching of straw) until warm weather arrives again. Be warned that the plant will lose all its leaves over winter. Be sure to water it infrequently throughout the winter, though, to keep the roots alive.

Safety and Contraindications: No known precautions.


  1. Khalsa, K. P. S., and Tierra, M. The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs: The Most Complete Guide to Natural Healing and Health with Traditional Ayurvedic Herbalism. Motilal Banarsidass, 2010.
  2. American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook, 2nd ed. CRC Press, 2013.
  3. Frawley, D., and Lad, V. Yoga of Herbs. Lotus Press, 1986.
  4. Tiwari, K., Jadhav, S., and Joshi, V. “An updated review on medicinal herb genus Spilanthes.” J Chin Integr Med. 2011.
  5. Gladstar, R. Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health: 175 Teas, Tonics, Oils, Salves, Tinctures, and Other Natural Remedies for the Entire Family. Storey Publishing, 2008.
  6. Cambie, R. C., and Brewis, A. Anti-Fertility Plants of the Pacific. CSIRO Publishing, 1997.
  7. American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook, 2nd ed. CRC Press, 2013.
  8. Sethi, J., Yadav, M., Sood, S., Dahiya, K., and Singh, V. “Effect of tulsi (Ocimum Sanctum Linn.) on sperm count and reproductive hormones in male albino rabbits.” International Journal of Ayurveda Research. 2010.

Meet Our Contributors:

JULIET BLANKESPOOR founded the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine in 2007 and serves as the school’s primary instructor and Creative Director. She's been a professional plant-human matchmaker for close to three decades. Juliet caught the plant bug when she was nineteen and went on to earn a degree in Botany. She's owned just about every type of herbal business you can imagine: an herbal nursery, a medicinal products business, a clinical practice, and now, an herbal school.

These days, she channels her botanical obsession with her writing and photography in her online programs and here on her personal blog, Castanea. She's writing her first book: Cultivating Medicinal Herbs: Grow, Harvest, and Prepare Handcrafted Remedies from Your Home Garden. Juliet and her houseplants share a home with her family and herb books in Asheville, North Carolina.

MEGHAN GEMMA is one of the Chestnut School’s primary instructors through her written lessons, and is the principal pollinator of the school’s social media community—sharing herbal and wild foods wisdom from the flowery heart of the school to an ever-wider field of herbalists, gardeners, healers, and plant lovers.

She has been in a steady relationship with the Chestnut School since 2010—as an intern and manager at the Chestnut Herb Nursery; as a plant-smitten student “back in the day” when the school’s programs were taught in the field; and later as a part the school’s woman-powered professional team. Meghan lives in the Ivy Creek watershed, just north of Asheville, North Carolina.

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