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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Physician Brandon Yew and Dr Jessica Gunawan on October 21, 2022

Best Medicinal Plants To Grow At Home

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.

Growing fresh herbs at home min scaled

Growing medicinal plants at home has many benefits. You can use them as herbs to flavor your favorite recipes. You can also add them to homemade skincare products for their antioxidant and anti-aging properties. Not to mention, they make your home look and smell great.

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?

TCM herbs are often used in herbal remedies and soups to heal the body.

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 cold (han), cool (liang), neutral (ping), warm (wen), and hot (re).

“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 plants below have the following meridian tropisms: 

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  

Growing ginger at home is a great way to make your own ginger tea, which helps soothes an upset stomach.

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 

Mint

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 

Lemongrass 

Lemongrass (Xiang Mao) is another common herb used in Southeast Asian cuisines. It has many known medicinal properties to help with the common cold, flu, headaches, high blood pressure, stomach aches, indigestion, arthritic joint pain, and bruises. It also has antibacterial properties. In TCM, lemongrass helps with: 

  • Expelling exogenous pathogens, particularly Wind and Dampness 
  • Dissipating blood clots and unblocking meridian channels, restoring and enhancing qi and blood circulation 

Chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemums can be used to make herbal tea.

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 

Goji berries placed on a plaited bowl outdoor near grass and trees
The goji berry is a medicinal herb and food supplement that’s renowned for its health benefits.

Goji berry (Gou Qi), also known as wolfberry, has become a mainstream herb and is known to have powerful antioxidants. It’s commonly used in TCM to regenerate yin to nourish Liver and Kidneys, improving eyesight and boosting overall vitality. Studies have shown it to contain powerful antioxidants that help with the following:  

Licorice Root 

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 Ba Zhen soup that helps with overall vitality. Specifically, it can: 

Chinese Yam 

Chinese yam (Shan Yao) is another wonder food that you can easily grow for its nutritional and medicinal benefits. It’s high in polysaccharides and helps improve insulin resistance and obesity.

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 Spleen and 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.

References

  1. Advances in Pharmacological Sciences. 2018. A Review of Malaysian Medicinal Plants with Potential Anti-Inflammatory Activity.  
  2. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2020. A Review of Malaysian Herbal Plants and Their Active Constituents with Potential Therapeutic Applications in Sepsis 
  3. IntechOpen. 2019. Traditional Chinese Medicine: From Aqueous Extracts to Therapeutic Formulae.  [Accessed 16 June 2022]. 
  4. Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI) – Biology. 2020. A Descriptive Overview of the Medical Uses Given to Mentha Aromatic Herbs throughout History.   
  5. Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI) – Plants. 2021. Glycyrrhiza glabra (Licorice): A Comprehensive Review on Its Phytochemistry, Biological Activities, Clinical Evidence and Toxicology.  
  6. 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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Feb 23 2024

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