It all started one day when Elizabeth Millard was feeling tired and worn out from working the farm she co-founded.
She grabbed a couple of leaves of holy basil off a nearby plant and popped them into her mouth.
Moments later, she says, she felt surprisingly energised.
“That’s when I really started to recognise the potency and medicinal potential of herbs and other plants,” says US-based Elizabeth, who went on to write the book Backyard Pharmacy.
“We can grow our own medicine.”
Below are just five easy-to-grow disease-fighting plants that Elizabeth says have well-documented healing abilities.
Superpowers: This antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial herb is one of the most well documented medicinal plants in the world, according to the National Institutes of Health. Proven benefits include speeding wound healing (especially burns), preventing and treating colds, protecting against bacterial infections, calming muscle spasms (great for menstrual cramps), easing stomach upset, and promoting sleep.
Everyday perk: Chamomile tea is the ultimate chill-out tonic, soothing frayed nerves. German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) may relieve anxiety and even reduce symptoms of mild depression, according to a 2012 study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
Superpowers: Antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties, not to mention beta-carotene and magnesium, give basil a key role in protecting cells against a host of diseases, including heart disease, asthma, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel diseases.
Everyday perk: It may help soothe headaches. A component of basil called eugenol has been shown to work in the same way as over-the-counter remedies such as aspirin and ibuprofen to block the activity of an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (COX). Elizabeth recommends chewing on basil leaves to dull headache pain.
Superpowers: Mint may beat back prostate and liver cancer using the compound peryllyl alcohol, along with carotenoids and retinoids, according to two 2012 studies. Another compound, rosmarinic acid, scavenges free radicals and lowers inflammation, reducing seasonal allergy symptoms significantly, according to other findings.
Everyday perk: Mint can ease digestion. It works by relaxing the muscular lining of the digestive tract to quiet cramps and gas and reduce abdominal pain.
4. Broccoli Sprouts
Superpowers: With concentrated stores of the compound sulforaphane, broccoli sprouts mobilise the body’s natural cancer-fighting resources, inhibiting tumor growth. Johns Hopkins University researchers call broccoli sprouts—which also deliver a full profile of enzymes, vitamins, and minerals—the single most powerful cancer-fighter around. The sprouts have also been shown to lower blood sugar and cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. They’re 10 to 30 times more potent than fully grown broccoli.
Everyday perk: Sulforaphane may reduce symptoms of asthma and other respiratory disorders, according to two separate peer-reviewed studies.
Superpowers: It’s antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antifungal, and it reduces inflammation. Preliminary findings suggest that it may also lower high cholesterol and blood pressure in people with hypertension.
Everyday perk: Eating garlic regularly could help you avoid the common cold, according to a study in the journal American Family Physician. Elizabeth likes to mince fresh garlic, let it sit 15 minutes for the active ingredients to “develop,” and then swallow it like a pill if she feels like she’s getting sick. “It’s not great for personal relationships, but it’s incredibly effective,” she says. “I haven’t had a cold in 10 years.”