5 Herbs to Grow for Health

Growing Herbs for Health.

With the spring equinox it means there’s more daylight hours than darkness so our gardens will start to come to life quickly now. Perfect timing for everyone whilst we self-isolate. This month, I thought it would share my top five herbs to help with health and wellbeing and how to dry them to make teas and balms.

Calendula officinalis

These are gorgeous orange daisy type flowers and will grow in sun or part sunny gardens and are loved by bees. They’ll flower from June to October and are happy in any poor or fertile free draining soil (but not clay soil) and grow to around 50cm tall. You can grow them easily from seed too – just follow the instructions on the packet. The flower petals are edible and have a peppery flavour, which can be added to food. Or you could dry them and use in salves. To dry them – harvest them after mid-day when it’s dry and cut the flower head off. Bring them indoors (do not wash them) and place them on an old sheet or paper towel (depending on how many you have. Leave to dry in a dark, well-ventilated space for approximately 4 weeks. Then store them in an airtight jar. These can be used to infuse oil to make balms and lotions. The oil of Calendula officinalis is used as an anti-inflammatory and a remedy for healing wounds and skin complaints, plus many other uses. It’s best to seek advice from a trained herbalist to help with any specific conditions.

calendular orange flower

Chamaemelum nobile – commonly known as Camomile

An aromatic plant with finely dissected leaves and daisy-like flowerheads with white petals and yellow centres. Traditionally used to help with stress and calm the nerves – chamomile tea before bedtime is very soothing. These are mat forming plants, that loves the sun or part shade, happy in all soils except clay and will grow to around 50cm tall. Flowers from June to August. To dry them – pick the flowers when in full bloom, ie when the white petals are still in place. Remove any bugs. Make sure it’s a warm dry day. Leave in a dry dark space for approximately 4 weeks then place in an airtight glass jar. Can be mixed with Lemon Balm to make your own tea infusions.

Melissa officinalis – commonly known as Lemon Balm

Amazing lemon-scented, light green leaves which grows to around 1.5m tall. Loves full sun or part shade and will grow in any well drained soil. They flower in June with spikes of tiny, pale-yellow flowers, which fade to white or lilac. Loved by bees and the leaves can be used in salads and soups. Pure lemon balm essential oil is valued for its properties in aromatherapy where its considered to be uplifting and calming. Ideal in herbal teas too.

Ocimum basilicum – commonly known as Basil

basil leaves herb

Most people know this herb from having it with their tomato soup, pesto or pizza. It can be easily grown from seed on a windowsill or container in full sun. Using normal loam compost. Depending on the variety (there are plenty to choose from) they can grow to around 50cm tall. If you want to dry basil so you have herbs all year round, follow the previous instructions for Chamaemelum. The best time to pick basil is just before flowering. If you want to dry the herb quicker, you can do it using the oven too.

Oven-dry method

  1. Wash the leaves and dry using a paper towel
  2. Place leaves (no stems) on a baking tray, one layer, and not touching/overlapping each other
  3. Oven temperature should be on the lowest setting possible
  4. Cook for 20 minutes (or until they are crisp and break easily) then leave in the oven overnight
  5. Put them in a sealed container such as a glass herb jar

Basil has many medicinal benefits and is generally beneficial to health, for example it is renowned for helping digestion and bug bites. However, it can also thin your blood if eaten in large amounts.

Thymus vulgaris – common name Thyme


Thyme is a bushy dwarf shrub with small ovate, aromatic, dark grey-green leaves with small white or pink flowers in early summer. Its evergreen so ideal for a cottage garden as well as an herb garden. It prefers full sun and will grow in all soils except clay to around 40cm tall, so best suited to the front of a border or a pot on the patio. Another herb that is easy to grow from seed. Thyme can be turned into essential oils which is traditionally used as an antiseptic and an insect repellent. Thymol (the compound in Thyme) is a common meat preservative, and olive farmers often combine thymol into the oil that preserves olives in the Mediterranean. With all herbal medicines, it is best to seek the advice and guidance of a professional.

Grow your own cocktail with my herb kit

Contains two packets of herb seeds – Basil & Thyme, plus snips to cut the leaves and a recipe card to make a cocktail (or you can leave the alcohol out). With a pencil & two wooden plant labels, packed into an A6 size kraft box that easily fits through a standard UK letterbox. £12.50 including free P&P Buy direct from my shop https://borderinabox.com/product/herb-seed-gift-box/

thyme basil border in a box herb kit

Gardening – nature’s anti-depressant and how it makes me happy


gardening makes me happy

After a horrific year of heart-breaking news about terrorist attacks, fires and conflict around the world thankfully there have been some heroic acts of kindness that’s been featured on every TV show and newspaper, but I’ve been feeling helpless and frazzled by it all. Thankfully through my own personal traumas, or challenges as I like to call them (much less dramatic!) I developed a love of gardening which really helped soothe my frazzled mind and gave me a place to escape to.

A few years ago when life was really difficult I had a really over-grown garden so I was able to go and chop all the shrubs back – I had no idea what I was doing to the poor plant, but it looked untidy and I needed it to look neat, nothing to do with the lack of control in my life!

After a few months I thought I needed to understand how to look after my garden properly so I enrolled at a local horticultural college and attended every Saturday for two years and learned all about plants, their structure, soil and loads of other stuff I can’t really remember. But that’s what stress did to me, it affected my speech and memory – I just forget words mid-sentence.

But looking back on this time in my life, if it hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have developed my passion for gardening and colour and turning houses in to homes.  After all our homes are our safe havens and pottering around in the garden for an hour or two always lifts my spirits.

So if you’re feeling frazzled, here are a couple of projects you can do in an afternoon that can help you soothe those jangled nerves and brighten up your home too.

Make a planted container

I love container gardens for many reasons; they can brighten up a dull space all year round by having seasonal pots.  You can change colour schemes and create a focal point, height, texture and interest within a border.  The downside is keeping water levels right for the plants to thrive.

Here’s a container I made for a front garden, as you can see the space is narrow and very boring. This particular spot was on a high street, so there’s plenty of pollution and is in the shade, which meant the plant choice had to be thought about.

Step 1: Choose a suitable container or pot for your plot. There is so much to consider at this point, so there is a separate blog on this subject (coming soon!).  In a nutshell, think about the colour scheme and how the pot will enhance the plants.  A quick rule of thumb for colour combinations that contrast are: yellow and purple, red and green, blue and orange – if in doubt do an internet search on ‘colour wheel’ and click on images which will provide you with contrast and harmonious colour combinations.

As you can see from this picture collage, how the choice of plant, background and pot creates a different look, so it’s worth taking time to choose the right combination. The top left picture looks more modern/contemporary, compared to the bottom right which looks more traditional.

pot, plant and background

In this example below I’ve used a wooden trough, which has already had timber preservation applied at the factory.  You can buy them without being treated which makes it easier to paint to match your preferred colour scheme. If you’re using a large pot, it’s advisable to add the compost and plants in situ, otherwise it could be too heavy to lift and move around the garden.

Step 2: line the pot/container with plastic, such as a bin liner – this helps protect the pot from the damp soil and will prolong the life of the pot – no need to do this if you’re using a plastic pot. Use a pair of scissors to create drainage holes in the bottom of the plastic liner – but make sure they’re not too big for the compost to fall through. Drainage is important as lots of plants don’t like to have their roots permanently in water as it can damage the roots and they could drown. In winter the water can freeze and damage the plant roots which could ultimately lead to the plants’ death.

Step 3: add broken crocks or gravel to the bottom of the pot to help with drainage.

Step 4: add in a layer of compost.  The depth is dependent upon the height of your pot and the size of your plants.  The top of the plant root ball should be level with the top of the pot when planted. Add in some seasonal bulbs at this point. I’ve created a bulb list for year round colour – it’s free, just message me for a copy [email protected].

Step 5: arrange the plants and when you’re happy with the layout, add in compost around the plants and firm them in.  Water well until the plants become established. The plants used in this pot are: Heuchera, Thalictrum and Fatsia.

evergreen planted container

Make a door or table decoration

If you’re busy pruning shrubs and plants in your garden you could use the clippings to create a lovely decoration for your home. These are easier to make than they look, and can be used for any occasion. This example is a table decoration, but you could add a big ribbon and hang it on your door for Christmas.

Materials needed are: a circular oasis (with a plastic base), available from any craft store or florist. A sharp pair of scissors or secateurs, lots of mixed foliage from your garden (ask neighbours if you don’t have enough variety) and decorations of your choice such as candles, berries, fir cones.

Step 1: soak the oasis in water until it is soaked through but not dripping.  I place my oasis on a tray to make it easier to water and handle. The foliage will hide the tray.

table decoration

Step 2: Add in the main focus flower to the oasis – cut the stems to 3-4cm long. In this example a silk rose has been added – use odd numbers – and place equally around the oasis. You can do this by eye.

floral wreath

Step 3: Start adding in the foliage, berries and decorations – put them in to the oasis at different angles and cover the whole oasis.  Look at it from different angles and fill in any gaps with more foliage – you can’t have too much!

floral table decoration

Here’s an example of one you could create for Christmas – just add in some twigs for added colour (I’ve used Salix in this version).

Christmas floral table decoration

I love creating wreaths as you can get outside, make a mess in the process but create a thing of beauty at the end of it. I completely focus on what I’m doing and forget about everything else going on around me, so it’s a great way to switch off and enjoy the moment.

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Nikki HollierFounder of Border in a Box
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