Medicinal Plants To Start In Your Fall Garden

Many folks get gardening on the brain as spring kicks in, but did you know that fall is a fantastic time to start or add to your medicinal plant garden?   Growing your own medicine is one of the more empowering things you can do while also adding a bit of beauty to your life.  

If you’re not sure where to start, no worries! Here are a few considerations on what to put in your medicinal plant garden…


Questions To Consider Before Fall Planting In Your Garden

  • What kind of medicine do you want?  Something for digestion? Stress?  Arthritis?  Hot flashes?   
  • How much sun does your space get? And, how much space is there? Do you have room for a full-on garden, or like me, are you limited to a balcony?
  • What’s your water situation? When I was limited to a cistern, I grew only those plants that could put up with just a couple waterings a week when there wasn’t rain.


Where do you get medicinal plants?

Plants can be obtained from a variety of sources. You may already have something growing that you want to expand. Checkout what nearby friends or family have growing. Transplant wild plants. Here are a few other sources for medicinals: 

  • United Plant Savers often will provide seeds from plants that are endangered or otherwise at risk of becoming so. 
  • Strictly Medicinal Seeds specializes in (yup, you guessed it) medicinal plants. They sell seeds, dormant roots, and plants. 
  • Local nurseries may have medicinal plants native to your area, even if they’re simply selling them as ornamentals. 


Whether you’re planting in the fall or spring, different plants can be started in different ways.  For example, starting from seed is cheap and is easy for some plants, though other plants may take a long time to germinate, or may need special seed treatment for sprouting to occur. 

Taking cuttings of actively growing stems from established plants works well for many plants.  This is a good way to raid a friend’s garden!  Generally, you collect a 3 to 5 inch cutting below a leaf node and insert it into sand, perlite, vermiculite, or a mix of these (no soil at this point).  Keep it wet. For even better rooting, you can dip your cutting in rooting hormone. Unlike seeds, a cutting will ensure that you get the medicinal qualities from the parent plant. For example, if your cousin has a lavender plant with a divine scent, you can grow your own from a cutting. With seeds, what you wind up with is more of a gamble.

Root divisions are another great way to propagate a plant with the qualities you value from the parent plant.  Many perennials spread via underground growth. To do a division of the roots/rhizome, use a spade to lift the entire plant then gently divide into large clumps. Further divide these into smaller clumps.  Cut the aerial parts back to within 1 inch of the roots. Replant divisions in the ground immediately.  


What medicinal plants are good to grow in your garden? 

In the meantime, we’ve put together a list of some of the best medicinal plants to grow in your garden.  The most popular ones are listed at the end of this article with more specific details about their planting guidelines and medicinal uses.  Here are some others to consider:


Medicinal Plants You Can Start By Direct Sowing: 

  • Calendula (Calendula officinalis): Easy. May spread more than you want…
  • Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum): Easy.
  • Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora
  • Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa): Give it something to climb. 
  • Black Cohosh (Actea racemosa)
  • Mullein (Verbascum thapsus): Considered an invasive weed in some places, but if you use it for medicine as much as I do, it gets harvested before spreading much. Also, you can prevent spread by harvesting the flowers before it goes to seed. 


Medicinal Plants That Work Well From Cuttings:

  • Geranium (Pelargonium species)
  • Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
  • Many, many others….  Not sure about a particular plant?  Look online or give it a go!


Medicinal Plants That Work Well via Root Division:

  • Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
  • Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)
  • Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
  • Mints (Mentha species) - Good in containers so that they don’t hybridize and/or take over. 
  • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
  • Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)


If you’re only going to grow a few medicinal plants, you might choose from some of the most useful ones. Here are some eminently useful and beautiful medicinal plants to consider starting this fall…


Angelica (Angelica archangelica)

  • Tall, gorgeous plant that looks like an angel from a distance when it’s blooming
  • Uses: Digestion, cold/flu (seeds, roots)
  • Biennial, or short-lived perennial, though if it likes its conditions, it will self-reseed
  • Starting: Doesn’t transplant well. Start either from seed or from root cuttings of second year plants. Seeds need light to germinate; don’t cover them with soil.
  • Light: Sun is fine in cooler climates. Plant in dappled shade in warm climates.
  • Soil & water: Rich, moist soil but with good drainage. Don’t let soil dry out completely. Mulch a couple times a year.
  • USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9


Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa)

  • Lovely-smelling member of the mint family with showy purplish-pink flowers
  • Uses: Cold/flu, fungal infections, swollen glands, stress, digestion, cooking (hence it’s other name, “Wild Oregano”) (Leaves and flowers)
  • Perennial. Thin every 3 years.
  • Starting: Start from seed (they don’t need to be covered), soft wood cuttings or root division 
  • Light: Full sun to light shade 
  • Soil & water: Likes moist, well-drained soil but can tolerate dryness and a wide variety of soil types from sand to clay
  • USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9


Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)

  • Blue flowers that seem to glow in the dusk make Vervain a great addition to a garden you like to enjoy at the end of the day.
  • Uses: Stress, depression, hormonal imbalances, hot flashes, digestion
  • Short-lived perennial
  • Starting: Can start from seed or cuttings. Readily self seeds.
  • Light: Full sun 
  • Soil & water: Does best in rich, moist soils. There are species native to the Western US that are fine in drier soil.
  • USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9


California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)

  • Beautiful, cheerful, bright orange flowers that make you feel better just looking at them.
  • Uses: Stress, insomnia, pain, restlessness, irritability
  • Annual that readily reseeds
  • Starting: Doesn’t transplant well, grow from seed.
  • Light: Full sun
  • Soil & water: Likes well-drained soil (though it grew just fine in our clay soils here in Durango). Does fine in containers, as well as in rock gardens and xeriscapes.
  • USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9


Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia, E. purpurea)  

  • Used to be found all over the prairie states. Not so widespread in the wild anymore. 
  • Uses: Infection (internal or external), allergies
  • Perennial, but also self seeds. Divide every several years (the plants will otherwise be clumped together). 
  • Starting: Easy to start from seed or root division. 
  • Light: Full sun. Will tolerate a bit of shade during the day. 
  • Soil & water: Tolerates wide variety of soil conditions, including rocky, dry soil. But doesn’t do well in constantly wet soil or poorly drained soil. Can get away with watering it just a couple/few times a week.
  • USDA Hardiness Zones 2-10


German Chamomile

  • This is a plant everyone should have in their garden or in containers on a balcony. 
  • Uses: Digestion, stress, insomnia, depression, irritability, pain, allergies
  • Annual that reseeds itself, so it can seem like a perennial
  • Starting: Easy to start from seed
  • Light: Full sun to light shade
  • Soil & water: Not picky about soil. Will spread on its own with little watering. Does well in containers, but these need more watering. 
  • USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9


Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

  • Anyone ever visit the Lavender fields of Provence?   Some day…
  • Uses: Infections (internal or external) including cold/flu, stress, depression, digestion, pain, bug bites, herpes/shingles
  • Perennial
  • Starting: As with other medicinals, planting from seed results in plants with varying qualities. To preserve quality of a valued plant, start from cutting. Pinch off first year flowers for better growth if starting from seed. Protect from winter wind.
  • Light: Full sun (mine did fine with morning shade & intense afternoon sun)
  • Soil & water: Well-drained light soil is preferred, though mine did fine in amended clay soil.  If mulching, use pea gravel or sand, not organic mulch. Once established, doesn’t need a lot of watering.  In fact, a little stress will result in a more aromatic plant. 
  • USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9 (Munstead cultivar that tolerates hot and cold)


Sage (Salvia officinalis)

  • While I kill off other plants on a regular basis, this one seems to be quite forgiving. 
  • Uses: Digestion, infections (internal or external) including cold/flu, hot flashes/menopausal symptoms, stress, mind fog
  • Perennial
  • Starting: Can start from seed, cuttings, or root division  
  • Light: Full sun to part shade. I used to have one on a south-facing wall that got baked in the afternoon and it did fine. Generally tolerates hot or cold conditions. 
  • Soil & water: Likes well-drained soils but grew fine in amended clay for me in the past. Doesn’t need much water in the garden but does need regular watering if in a container in a sunny location or in drier climates (2-3 times a week). 
  • USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8


Violet (Viola odorata & others)

  • Absolutely one of my favorite flowers!  And those heart-shaped leaves… 
  • Uses: Growths (as a topical), dry or irritated digestive tract, depression, heartbreak
  • Some are frost hardy perennials
  • Start from seed or can transplant local native species
  • Light: Part shade, though some will tolerate more sun
  • Soil & water: Rich, moist but well-draining soil 
  • USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9 (V. odorata), 3-8 (V. canadensis),  4-9  (V. adunca)



Finally, here are some good books to turn to for more detailed guidance on growing medicinal plants:

  • The Medicinal Herb Grower by Richo Cech
  • Rodale’s Successful Organic Gardening: Herbs by Patricia S. Michalak
  • Any of the Sunset Gardening series relevant to your region