Tea/Pollinator Garden Design
When designing a garden, it is always fun when you can incorporate plants that serve multiple purposes. This simple design incorporates some of our wildflowers that double as delicious and medicinal teas*, while attracting bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida columnifera) has a unique shape and is easy to grow from seed. The plant is a native of the Canadian Prairies but grows well in zones 3+. Prairie Coneflower's deep taproot allows it to survive well in dry conditions.
Its medicinal properties help to alleviate headaches, stomach aches, and can reduce fever when used as a tea (leaves and flower heads). A stronger brewed decoction of the plant has been used to relieve the pain and inflammation of poison ivy rashes, and can draw out the poison from a rattlesnake bite. This unique, eye-catching flower is also a favourite of pollinators.
Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida) is Ontario's truly native coneflower and can be found in much of the central United States. Its flowers are a unique dusty purple and emerge in early summer. It forms a deep taproot which allows for great drought tolerance, but it does not do well in undrained soil and resents being transplanted. It is a food source of the adult Ottoe Skipper butterfly, which is listed as endangered in Canada and threatened in the United States.
Its medicinal properties have a very wide range of applications:
- using the plant as a pain reliever (including for toothache)
- as a treatment for coughs, colds, and sore throats
- as an antidote for various forms of poisonings, including snake bite.
Many of these uses have been confirmed by modern science. Note that this species is considered to be less active than Echinacea angustifolia or Echinacea purpurea (which we talk about below) but it has been shown to have a general stimulatory effect on the immune system. The roots and the whole plant possess cortisone-like, antibacterial activity, anodyne and anti-inflammatory actions. The root is harvested in the autumn and can be dried for later use.
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) is a native culinary delicacy that is very easy to grow from seed and a breeze to maintain. The crushed leaves and flowers smell and taste like sweet, delicate licorice and are immensely popular with bees.
Anise hyssop tea by (towergarden.com)
Anise Hyssop has so many medicinal properties, including:
- Used in cold remedy teas, can relieve congestion.
- Clinical research has shown that the essential oils of Anise Hyssop is antiviral toward Herpes simplex I and II.
- A poultice of Agastache foeniculum is also useful in treating burns.
- Being diaphoretic, a hot infusion (tea) will induce perspiration and is therefore useful in treating fevers.
- The leaves were used traditionally in incense to help treat depression as it provided an uplifting fragrance.
- Can be used as a wash to treat the itchiness of poison ivy.
- Used in curing wounds, can be used as a salve.
- Pectoral (Used to treat lung issues) - Often combined with licorice for lung conditions such as respiratory infections and bronchitis. It is an expectorant and cough suppressant.
- It can be used as an aromatic digestive aid tea, therefore preventing gas, bloating. Sip some tea with your meals to prevent gas and bloating.
- Take a bath in the leaves for treating sunburn or for fungal conditions such as athletes foot or yeast overgrowth.
- Sedative, one of the main oils in Agastache foeniculum is Methyleugenol, which has been shown to have sedative properties.
- Dry the leaves and flowers and make a Dream Pillow which you can place on your eyes as you rest
Photo from (staticflickr.com)
Borage (Borago officinalis) is a naturalized annual that is native to Europe and that will often self-seed. It may not be native, but it is a super plant in many regards. Borage plants bloom with small, beautiful, blue-purplish/pinkish flowers that attract pollinators and butterflies to your garden. The blooms last all summer into the fall, until the first heavy frosts. The flowers taste like mild-cucumber, and are a beautiful addition to fruit salads and green salads. It repels pests like hornworm and improves the soil by adding trace minerals that can be taken up by other plants. The blog Practical Self-Reliance outlines some of the medicinal uses of Borage.
"This herb is a cooling, cleansing herb with adaptogenic, demulcent, diuretic, expectorant, and anti-inflammatory properties. All parts of the borage plant contain medicinal properties. The flowers are the most commonly used part, but the leaves and oil from the seeds are useful if you want to create herbal remedies. Oil from the seeds is sold as a popular borage oil herbal supplement, and it’s a plant-based source of Omega fatty acids."
Borage has been used to treat a variety of ailments, such as:
Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder
Acute respiratory distress syndrome
Borage tea can help treat nervous condition, can be used to reduce fevers, relieve stress, and stop coughing. The tea is best made out of fresh leaves and flowers. You need around ¼ cup fresh borage leaves or flowers and one cup of hot, boiling water. Let the tea steep for 10-15 minutes. The flower and petals can also be dried and stored for a soothing tea in the winter months.
(image from (staticflickr.com)
Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) (AKA Bee Balm) is a member of the mint family. It has a beautiful, soft purple colour that adds a delicate touch to the garden. It is an important nectar source for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
Wild Bergamot is antimicrobial and soothing, so it’s often used to treat colds and flu. If you smell it, you will find that it may remind you of oregano, which has similar antiviral/antimicrobial properties. It also has a soothing effect on the digestive tract and helps to treat indigestion, bloating and nausea (I have had a cup of Bergamot tea after a big meal, and it has been so so helpful). Its antispasmodic qualities also help to treat menstrual cramps as well as coughs.
The blog Practical Self Reliance's 12 Uses for Bee Balm post lists several other ways to use Wild Bergamot, but our focus is tea for today. "The individual petals of bee balm flowers pull out easily and can be dried to make a beautiful tea. In season, the petals can also be used fresh. Bee balm tea is a digestive aid that helps relieve nausea, upset stomach and gas."
Steep for around 15 minutes. Try 1 tablespoon of dried flower petals or 2 tablespoons of fresh petals to every cup of water. The water should be just below the boiling point because herbal flowers are a bit more delicate than teas made with roots or stems.
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is popular with bees, hummingbirds and butterflies and seeds are a fall and winter food source for birds as well. It makes excellent cut flowers, is easy to grow and will spread in the garden. Leaves and flower petals, and roots are edible, which many make into a tea to benefit from its many medicinal qualities.
Studies show that echinacea contains antiviral properties. Echinacea has anti-inflammatory properties and fights against virus-infected cells. Most people associate echinacea with treatment of the common cold. It it known for:
- Reducing inflammation.
- Easing cold symptoms, such as runny noses, sneezing, and chest congestion.
- Boosting the immune system.
- Lowering blood sugar levels.
- Activating chemicals in the body that decrease inflammation (which is likely why it helps us feel better when we are sick.)
- Echinacea also contains compounds that have been shown to attack yeast and fungi directly, which means echinacea tea may also boost healing from yeast infections.
(photo from practical self reliance)
A hot cup of echinacea tea a few times a week can work as preventative care against winter colds and flu. If taken at the first sign of sickness, echinacea can help people get better faster or prevents the illness from developing altogether. (This is one of my go-to herbal remedies. If I am exposed to a cold, I drink Echinacea tea, and take my Echinacea tincture right away. I have fought off countless viruses this way.) Echinacea tea can be made with either fresh or dried plant material. If you’re using fresh echinacea for tea, you’ll need about twice as much for a tea of the same strength. Start with 1/4 cup of loose echinacea (or 1/2 cup fresh echinacea) and pour about 1 cup boiling water over the herb. Allow the mixture to steep for about 15 minutes. Roots should be harvested in the fall when the energy of the plant goes into the root; leaves and flowers should be harvested while still fresh and in bloom on the plant.
The great thing about this garden is that you can harvest these different plants for tea, and combine them to make soothing, nourishing tea-blends. Some combinations I have tried have been Wild Bergamot & Borage and Echinacea & Anise Hyssop.
*When working with medicinal plants, please do your own research. If you have health conditions that could be complicated by the medicinal properties of these plants, please consult a health professional prior to ingesting these herbs. If you research the plant, type in "counterindications" next to the plant's name for helpful resources.