Survival Skills: 10 Medicinal Plants You Can Grow at Home

If you have a little space to grow some plants, you can get a lot of enjoyment and even some medicinal relief from growing your own remedies. While these should never take the place of professional medical care, it's nice to have a sense that you are not helpless, should you end up having to fend for yourself. This is a list of 10 great plants that you can pick up now at home improvement stores and garden centers, and set out as your own personal medicine garden.

1. Yarrow: This is my top pick for someone starting a medicinal garden. Yarrow is a good looking perennial herb that can serve several uses. Among them, crushed yarrow leaves and flowers can be placed on cuts and scratches to stop bleeding and reduce the chance of infection.

2. Aloe Vera: Native to tropical Africa, Aloe has spread all over the world as a first aid-friendly herb that is very soothing to burns and scalds. This tender plant is best grown in a container so that it can be brought inside for the winter (unless you live in the deep-south).

3. Pennyroyal: A great smelling mint relative, pennyroyal can be crushed and applied to the skin as a very effective bug repellent. The leaves can be crushed and applied to wounds as an antiseptic, or brewed as a tea to settle upset stomachs. Don't overdo it, though. Up to 2 cups per day can be drunk, but any more can--ironically--cause nausea and cramps.

4. Peppermint: Similar to pennyroyal, peppermint can be a great tonic for digestion. However, peppermint, pennyroyal, and other strong mints should not be consumed by women who are (or may be) pregnant, as food and drink that contain fresh strong mint leaf can be dangerous to the baby.

5. Borage: This odd plant has attractive flowers that can be soaked in alcohol to make a mood boosting tonic. The leaves and flowers may be eaten, used for tea, or soaked in wine or liquor to flavor the beverage. Maybe it's just the liquor talking, but the fresh plant has a salty flavor and a cucumber-like odor.

6. St. John's Wort: This one lifts the mood so well that you should not take St. John's wort if you are already on anti-depressants. The leaves and flowers can be used to make tea or soaked in liquor to create a tincture. In February of 2000, the FDA released a warning that there was a risk of dangerous interactions between St. John's Wort and certain prescription medications for AIDS, heart disease, transplant rejection, and cancer, among others.

7. Comfrey: Cooked mashed roots of comfrey are used for a topical treatment for arthritis, bruises, burns, and sprains. Just don't eat it. Recent research shows that it is damaging to the liver if eaten in quantity.

8. Lemon Balm: Make the best lemonade of your life by adding bruised lemon balm leaves to the drink. This plant also makes an outstanding topical agent for cold sores, and it is often used as a calming "nightcap" tea to fight insomnia.

9. Lavender: Typically used as a fragrance today, lavender has been used since ancient times to treat bug bites, burns, and skin disorders, and to relieve itching and rashes and reduce swelling. But it's not to be taken internally by pregnant or nursing women, or small children.

10. Echinacea: Echinacea, a.k.a. the purple coneflower, is an American perennial wildflower best known for stimulating the immune system. Echinacea preparations are used against colds and flu, minor infections, and a host of other ailments.

Got a favorite medicinal plant? Tell us what it is and what you do with it by leaving a comment.