Rich in nutrients and antioxidants, you can also grow these super-herbs at home, says Jane Wrigglesworth
Three superfood herbs to grow
Ginger, ginseng and goldenseal – these are three of the world’s most popular herbal remedies and all have been acknowledged as among the so-called ‘superfoods’: edibles that are especially rich in nutrients or antioxidants. And although it takes some time to get ginseng and goldenseal off the mark, you can grow all three of these herbs at home.
Ginger Zingiber officinale is the most
commonly used edible ginger that provides spice to many of our culinary dishes. It’s also the ginger used most often for medicinal purposes. Other species have medicinal value, but their actions are different.
This pungent edible has antiemetic (reduces nausea and vomiting), anti-inflammatory, antiplatelet (prevents blood clots), antiviral, antispasmodic, antioxidant, antibacterial and antifungal properties, among others. It is also an effective treatment for stomach cramps, coughs, chest infections and stuffed noses. As a circulatory stimulant, it also helps to carry other herbs throughout the body, boosting their effectiveness. Ginger and feverfew taken together, for example, have been shown to be effective against migraines. Its anti-inflammatory actions can also help reduce pain and swelling of those suffering from osteoarthritis.
The freshly squeezed juice from the root (technically it’s a rhizome) can be taken in a hot tea, or simply grate the root and infuse this in boiling water. It’s great to sup on when coughs and colds are rampant. The active constituents in ginger peak about 60 minutes after drinking, then begin to decline.
Looking for herbs classed as superfoods? Ginger, ginseng and goldenseal all have a long enough list of health benefits to warrant a super-herb status.
So for acute conditions, drink this ginger tea every two to three hours.
Ginger is a tropical plant but can be grown in a greenhouse or indoors. It’s best planted in spring or early summer and harvested in autumn. It likes filtered sunlight, humidity and rich soil.
To plant a store-bought rhizome, choose a plump, juicy specimen with ‘eyes’ (growth buds). Slice the rhizomes, making sure there is at least one bud on each piece. Plant in a container of free-draining mix with compost added. Each piece of rhizome needs about 20cm of space; a container at least 30cm deep is ideal. Plant 5cm deep with the growth buds facing up. Keep the soil moist but not soggy, and feed regularly.
The leaves and flower stalks die down in late autumn, at which time you can harvest your ginger.
Goldenseal Due to overexploitation,
Hydrastis canadensis is an endangered species. It’s one of the most prized members of the ranunculus family, having gained a reputation as an excellent herbal antibiotic and immune system enhancer. It’s used for a good number of ailments, including colds, sore throats, sinusitis, ear and digestive tract infections, gastric ulcers, chronic indigestion, infectious diarrhoea, and as a laxative and antihaemorrhagic (stops bleeding).
Goldenseal is especially useful for fighting infections. As a natural antibiotic and antiseptic, it’s used to treat many internal conditions, such as infections of the mucous membranes, as well as external ones such as conjunctivitis, by way of an eye bath (gently boil the dried root for 20 minutes, then bathe your eyes in the infusion).
Goldenseal is also regarded as a particularly potent medicine for liver congestion, according to Christchurch-based herbalist Richard Wheelan. “It works particularly well with dandelion or celandine to treat and cleanse the liver, and it combines perfectly with myrrh and echinacea to treat resistant bacterial or fungal infections on the skin or in the throat,” he says.
Goldenseal is native to the central and eastern forests of the United States and southern Canada, growing naturally on the shady forest floor. A minimum of 75 per cent shade is required. New Zealand trials have shown that 80 per cent is ideal. The plants should be kept moist to ensure good root growth, but it’s essential the soil is free-draining. Further research in New Zealand determined that free-draining, sandy, loam, ash soil is ideal.
Like ginger, goldenseal can be planted as small pieces of root, though you can propagate plants by sowing the seeds and dividing the crown or rhizomes.
Plants die down in winter but, come spring, each plant sends up a single stem with two palmate leaves, about 20cm wide. Small white flowers appear around mid spring, followed by green berries, which turn red when the seeds are mature. The roots and rhizomes, which are a yellow colour, are harvested in autumn.
Like ginger, goldenseal can be planted as small pieces of root, though you can also propagate plants by sowing the seeds and dividing the crown or rhizomes. Plant 20cm apart and keep well weeded. Leaf mulch will keep weeds at bay, as well as help retain moisture.
Roots are harvested in autumn, after the tops die down, four to six years after planting rhizomes. If sowing seeds, harvesting takes place after five to seven years.
Plants are difficult to find, though you do see them for sale occasionally. Check your local herb society for availability (herbs.org.nz).
Note: Goldenseal should not be taken if pregnant, breastfeeding or if you have high blood pressure.
Korean ginseng ( Panax ginseng), also referred to as Asian ginseng, has been used for centuries to enhance performance and wellbeing, increase vitality, enhance the immune system, help the body to withstand stress, improve learning and memory, elevate HDL cholesterol, and increase libido in men. It helps with stress and many of the common ailments that are a direct result of stress. The plant is also said to counter some of the effects of ageing. A study in 2009 showed that ginseng extract, mixed with Torilus fructus and Corni fructus, reduced wrinkles and increased collagen synthesis when taken for 24 weeks.
It is definitely a well-respected herb. The word ‘panax’ is said to derive from the Greek word for panacea, meaning cure-all.
Like goldenseal, you can grow ginseng yourself, but you need patience. It takes six to seven years until harvest, or longer for larger roots. It likes similar growing conditions to goldenseal, growing naturally
in shaded forests with 80 to 90 per cent shade. Also like goldenseal, it produces only one stalk with a single palmate leaf in its first year. Another leaf will appear in the second year, and another in the third. When plants are three years old, a flower stem arises from the leaves and red berries are produced. Each berry contains two seeds. These seeds can be stratified and sown to produce more plants.
Pa Harakeke, a division of the Maraeroa C Incorporation which grows plantations of ginseng in the Pureora region of the central North Island says, “The cold winters and dry summers together with the volcanic soils of the Pureora region are proving ideal for growing ginseng whilst the shade of the pine trees provides the other ingredient necessary to grow pure wild ginseng in natural conditions.”
Choose your ideal spot, then sow seeds in autumn. “Sow the seed sparsely to reduce competition between the plants when they grow older. The seeds may need to be covered in bird netting to protect the seeds from the birds. The planted area should also be fenced to keep rabbits, pigs and deer out.”
Roots are dug out gently in autumn. Ginseng seeds are available from paharakeke.co.nz.
Fresh ginger root can be used in cooking and to make tea.
Zingiber officinale. Ginseng.