The Hometown Herbalist: Backyard Herbalism

May Day flowers are popping up all over, and as the abundance of Spring ripples throughout the area, it has us all enjoying this beautiful time of year in the East Bay. While I’ve been savoring the abundance of cool-season herbs like cleavers and chickweed, as the days warm and summer prepares to set it in, my focus shifts away from the green rolling hills of our quaint little town, and into my own backyard.

Continuing into May gardeners all around will dust off their shovels and spades and start tending the earth below. We will make the trek to the local nursery to pick out fresh vegetable starts to line our garden beds with, and then the planting begins. Tomatoes, beans, peppers, corn – the cornucopia of plants that will adorn our yards this summer will start to make their way into the fertile spring ground.

Herb and veggie starts from Annie’s Annuals and Perennials.
Herb and veggie starts from Annie’s Annuals and Perennials.

While planting a good crop of delicious fruits and vegetables is an essential component of any family’s nutritional needs, let’s not forget about the unsung heroes of the garden – the herbs! Though many of us are likely planting things like basil, oregano, and rosemary, what we may not realize is that most of the culinary herbs we’re planting are actually medicinal herbs.

People often think of medicinal plants as being unknown entities from a far-off land. In reality, however, many of the herbs used in herbal medicine meet halfway between the medicinal and culinary worlds. Medicinal plants are often dualistic in nature, and it is this duality that makes them an ideal choice for someone who is interested in learning more about herbalism. By adding herbs into your garden you can elevate your gardening game, incorporating a new level of health and wellness into your home.

Herbs like thyme, oregano, basil, sage, and rosemary not only have a distinct flavor that makes them a great addition to any summer dish but a myriad of medicinal properties as well. Medicinal flowers like calendula, borage, chamomile, and violet can add both beauty to the landscape and elegance to seasonal salads and desserts. For those of you who enjoy growing your own fruit, berries like elderberry and raspberry (though we use the leaf of raspberry, not the berry) offer potent medicine as well. The rinds of California’s prized citrus, like orange and lemon, can be used as a flavorful and medicinal component to many teas.

What’s better yet? Many of the herbs listed above do great in planters and pots, making them an option for someone with little to no backyard space. While having an urban farm may be the dream (ok, at least mine) you don’t have to have a big garden to plant medicinal herbs. When it comes to some of nature’s most giving plants a simple windowsill or porch will do the trick!

One of the things I love so much about herbalism is its versatility. Just as the food we put into our bodies acts as medicine, the herbs we add to our dishes do the same. From the fresh homegrown tomato to the robust patch of thyme that pours out of a planter on your porch, turning your food into medicine is a practice that brings vibrancy to the yard and added health to you and those that you love. This year, when you’re planning your garden, make sure to save a little space for some of the many medicinal plants mentioned above.

Interested in learning more about planning a medicinal herb garden? Join me for a FREE community workshop at Harvest House in Concord on Saturday, May 19th from 11:00 am-12:00 pm. We will be going in depth about what herbs to plant in your yard and how they can be used, as well as talking about plants that are beneficial to pollinators.

Note: For more information about local, seasonal, herbal remedies and regional botanical information, check back on the first Sunday of every month for the Hometown Herbalist column.

Anna Marie Beauchemin is a trained Clinical Western Herbalist and Biologist. Born and raised in Martinez, California, she is passionate about sharing her craft with her community and helping people to find balance and wellness in their lives. She runs her practice in downtown Martinez – offering herbal consultations and custom formulations, herbal education, product development and consulting, and community herb walks. For more information about her services contact her at or visit her website at

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