Reviewed by Physician Brandon Yew and Dr Jessica Gunawan on October 21, 2022
Best Medicinal Plants To Grow At Home
Published | 6 min read
Adding medicinal plants to your home garden is a great way to have access to fresh herbs for your favorite recipes and homemade skincare products.
Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or you’ve never grown plants at home before, this guide can help. We’ll explain how Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) uses medicinal plants and the best ones you can grow right at home.
What Are Medicinal Plants?
Medicinal plants are classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as plants that possess compounds with therapeutic properties in their natural organic form or whose metabolites can be extracted to make useful drugs.
About 25% of modern medicines have been developed from medicinal plants. The efficacy of medicinal plants is affected by the soil and region they are grown in.
How Does TCM Use Medicinal Plants?
Herbal and plant medicine are a hallmark of TCM, often complementing its other modalities, such as acupuncture, cupping, moxibustion, tuina massage and Qigong.
Senior Physician Brandon Yew from Real Medical says that in TCM, each medicinal plant has its own properties and flavors, delivery propensities, toxicity and meridian tropism.
The property of a herb refers to its warming or cooling effect on the body. It’s not in terms of the physical temperature of the medicinal part of the plant, but in counter-response to what is pathogenic Fire Heat and Cold in TCM. These properties are
“The flavor of a herb is not simply about its smell and taste. It is more about the certain mechanistic actions associated with the flavors,” Physician Yew elaborates.
There are six kinds of flavors for herbs. Their corresponding mechanistic actions are as follows:
- Sour (Suan): Absorbent and astringent
- Bitter (Ku): Dehydrating and purging
- Sweet (Tian): Nourishing, harmonizing, and moistening
- Pungent (La): Dispersing and propelling
- Salty (Xian): Softening and laxative
- Bland (Ping Dan): Diuretic and filtrating
How Medicinal Plants Are Prescribed In TCM
Herbs are prescribed depending on the syndrome, body constitution, and symptoms of the patient. Physician Yew further shares that delivery propensities refer to the four different types of biomechanical actions to deliver bioactive compounds to certain parts of the body. These are:
- Ascending to deliver upwards
- Descending to deliver downwards
- Floating to deliver outwards
- Sinking to deliver inwards
“A common misconception is that although medicinal plants are natural, that doesn’t mean they are free from toxicity. There is a TCM saying, ‘Every herbal medicine has its toxicity,’” reveals Physician Yew. All medicinal plants have individual levels of toxicity and potency that work to correct body imbalances for treating diseases. These are:
- Non-toxic (all the plants featured in this article fall into this category)
- Mildly toxic
- Moderately toxic
- Highly toxic
Finally, each TCM herb is categorized by its meridian tropism, where each herb is perceived to have one or more inclinations toward certain meridians and specific organs. The seven
- Ginger: Lungs, Spleen and stomach
- Mint: Lungs and Liver
- Lemongrass: Lungs, Spleen, stomach and Liver
- Chrysanthemum: Lungs and Liver
- Goji berry: Liver and Kidneys
- Licorice root: Heart, Lungs, Spleen and stomach
- Chinese yam: Lungs, Spleen, stomach and Kidneys
Top Medicinal Plants To Grow At Home
One of the advantages of natural medicine is the relative ease when preparing a herbal mixture outside of laboratory conditions. “All of them can be lightly boiled with water and enjoyed as tea, preferably after meals and limited to once daily. They can be prepared individually or in combinations,” Physician Yew shares. You can also include them in your cooking to extract their benefits.
Ginger (Sheng Jiang) is no stranger to many kitchens, with benefits that include antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticarcinogenic actions. In TCM, ginger is great for:
- Expelling exogenous Wind, Cold and Dampness to relieve cold, chills and body aches
- Warming the stomach and suppressing nausea to prevent vomiting
- Warming the Lungs to relieve cough and breathlessness
- Removing the fishy and gamey taste from seafood and meats
- Neutralizing seafood toxins
Recent scientific studies have shown that mint (Bo He) oils help address digestive symptoms through their relaxing and spasmolytic properties. It also has antiemetic properties to help with nausea. Specifically from the TCM perspective, it:
- Expels exogenous Wind, Heat, and toxins to relieve fever and skin rash
- Clears Liver Fire to alleviate headaches and sore eyes, and improve vision
- Neutralizes Heat toxins to soothe sore throats
- Dispels Dampness to promote digestion
- Moves Liver
qi to improve mood
- Expelling exogenous pathogens, particularly Wind and Dampness
- Dissipating blood clots and unblocking meridian channels, restoring and enhancing qi and blood circulation
The phenolic compounds in chrysanthemum (Ju Hua) have numerous health benefits. It is especially well-known in TCM, where it is used for:
- Expelling exogenous Wind and Fire toxins to relieve fever
- Clearing Liver Fire to alleviate headaches and sore eyes, and improve vision
- Soothing Liver
yang(active energy) to alleviate giddiness, calm nerves and improve sleep
Goji berry (
- Improves eyesight
- Protects against cancer
- Reduces cholesterol
- Stabilizes blood sugar
- Helps with anxiety
This herb is known to have anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, anti-microbial, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-asthmatic properties.
Licorice root (Gan Cao) is a common ingredient in many TCM herbal formulas, including the well-known
- Regenerate Spleen
qi for better digestion
- Clear Heat toxins to soothe a sore throat
- Expectorate Phlegm to relieve cough
- Ease muscular cramps and stop pain
Meanwhile, sapogenins found in Chinese yams are a key ingredient in formulating creams for healing wounds and reducing skin inflammation. In TCM, the plant is known to:
- Revitalize the
Spleenand Stomach for better digestion and bowels
- Replenish fluid to nourish the Lungs and relieve dry cough
- Strengthen the Kidneys to help with frequent urination, enuresis, nocturnal emission, premature ejaculation and leukorrhea (abnormal vaginal discharge)
While these plants are generally safe for consumption, it’s best to seek professional advice from a qualified TCM practitioner before consuming any of these plants. This minimizes side effects and maximizes their therapeutic benefits.
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- Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2020. A Review of Malaysian Herbal Plants and Their Active Constituents with Potential Therapeutic Applications in Sepsis.
- IntechOpen. 2019. Traditional Chinese Medicine: From Aqueous Extracts to Therapeutic Formulae. [Accessed 16 June 2022].
- Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI) – Biology. 2020. A Descriptive Overview of the Medical Uses Given to Mentha Aromatic Herbs throughout History.
- Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI) – Plants. 2021. Glycyrrhiza glabra (Licorice): A Comprehensive Review on Its Phytochemistry, Biological Activities, Clinical Evidence and Toxicology.
- Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI) – Life. 2021. Metabolome Profiling of Eight Chinese Yam (Dioscorea polystachya Turcz.) Varieties Reveals Metabolite Diversity and Variety Specific Uses.
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