A Field Guide To Medicinal Herbs For Healing With Mary Gonzalez Of Sweet Mountaintop Farm

Written byKate Eplhoim
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Nature is a bountiful resource of wholesome ingredients that enhance our wellbeing. With people looking for more ways to integrate wellness into their daily lives, whether this is in the form of guided meditation or a restorative yoga session, the time is ripe to add medicinal herbs to your self-care arsenal. For centuries people have turned to medicinal herbs, remedies, and healing botanicals to help live cleaner, healthier lives. Carpinteria-based farm Sweet Mountaintop continues to keep that tradition alive.

Owned and operated by Mary Gonzalez, the two-acre farm is nestled among avocado orchards on the Rincon Mountain. The idyllic farm specializes in growing medicinal herbs and everlasting flowers, which it then uses to create herbal tinctures, dried tea blends, salves, toners (hydrosols), as well as a number of other natural products. 

More than simply starting an organic farm, Gonzalez’s commitment to environmental excellence runs deeper. The family farm adheres to higher standards than a traditional organic farm, creating a superior product in the process. We spoke to Gonzalez who navigated us through the wonderful world of medicinal herbs to help bring you this guide. 

For the Nervous System

“A lot of our herbs that we grow are nervine herbs — herbs that are really soothing and calming to the nervous system,” Gonzalez explains. These nervine herbs may be categorized as either tonics, relaxants, or stimulants. Tonics are said to strengthen the nervous system, relaxants soothe, and stimulants support a healthy stamina. While all serve different functions, each is believed to help the nervous and limbic systems respond to stressors more effectively. 

Milky OatsAvena sativa
Harvested during the plant’s milk stage, milky oats have been used to support the nervous system, combat mental agitation, and promote sleep.

TulsiOcimum sanctum
Tulsi is an adaptogenic herb, meaning it helps reduce stressors in the body. The plant is a common ingredient in Ayurvedic medicine and has been used for anxiety and depression.

Anise HyssopAgastache foeniculum
Known for its beautiful purple flowers, anise hyssop has been used to support digestion, strengthen the respiratory system, and ease insomnia and anxiety.

Lemon BalmMelissa officinalis
This herbaceous perennial may soothe the nervous system, relieve stress, ease digestion, and is an antiviral.

SkullcapScutellaria lateriflora
Don’t let the name scare you. Skullcap has been used to help build and refresh tired nerves, as well as ease stress and anxiety. It is considered a nervine tonic, and a heavy dose acts as a mild sedative.

St. John’s Wort Hypericum perforatum
These delicate, yellow-flowered plants have been used to help with anxiety and depression. It contains anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral properties.

CatnipNepeta cataria
Believe it or not, catnip is not just for your cat. The flowering tops can be brewed into tea. ‘It is really soothing and calming and a nice gentle sedative,’ Gonzalez explains. 

Medicinal Herbs

For the Digestive System

In the U.S. alone, digestive diseases account for over 100 million ambulatory care visits annually. Herbs like these have been used for centuries to curb a variety of digestive woes. Some may already be lurking in your kitchen cabinet or garden. 

ChamomileMatricaria chamomilla
One of the most common medicinal herbs, chamomile has been used to support sleep, protect the digestive tract, and soothe inflammation. 

MotherwortLeonurus cardiaca
Once employed by the ancient Greeks to reduce anxiety during childbirth, today motherwort is used to promote female reproductive system health, promote heart health, aid digestion, support the nervous system, and support liver function.

WormwoodArtemisia absinthium
Made famous for its association as one of the main ingredients of absinthe, wormwood has been used to stimulate digestion and relieve spasms in the intestinal tract. 

PeppermintMentha piperita
Known for its fragrant aroma and refreshing flavor, this versatile herb has been used to relieve digestive issues such as stomach cramps and irritable bowel syndrome.

CatnipNepeta cataria
The flowering tops can be brewed into tea along with other dried herbs. You can find dried catnip online or fresh at your local nursery. It is also a popular nervine herb. 

For the Immune System

Immunity is everything these days. So instead of embarking on the dreaded six-day juice cleanse, consider incorporating these six herbs into your daily routine. For those looking for that extra boost to their immune system, Gonzalez recommends the following:  

EchinaceaEchinacea purpurea
Grown today for its vibrant flowers and medicinal properties, echinacea has been used to support the immune system and ease symptoms of the cold and flu.

SpilanthesAcmella oleracea
Known by many as the ‘toothache plant’ for its numbing and pain-relieving effects, spilanthes has been used for its anti-inflammatory, diuretic, and aphrodisiac properties.

Western VervainVerbena lasiostachys
Vervain, or verbena as it is more commonly known, has been used to support the immune system, calm a busy mind, relieve anxiety, aid digestion, and support the respiratory system.

Bee BalmMonarda didyma
These vibrant insect-attracting plants have been used to treat the cold and flu due to their antimicrobial properties. They also make a lovely addition to any garden. 

CalendulaCalendula officinalis 
Calendula, otherwise known as marigold, is popular for its ability to heal wounds as well as its anti-inflammatory properties. 

ElderberriesSambucus mexicana
Elderberries contain antioxidants and vitamins that may boost your immune system, support your respiratory system and mucosal tissues, and help prevent and ease cold and flu symptoms. Sweet Mountaintop Farm uses a local variety to make their elderberry tincture. 

For the Respiratory System

Breathe easy with these six herbs. Fragrant and familiar, these plants are commonly used for their essential oils, making them excellent candidates for an at-home aromatherapy session. You may already have a number of these herbs hiding in your fridge or growing in your backyard. 

Bee BalmMonarda didyma
This vibrant insect-attracting plant has been used to treat the cold and flu due to its antimicrobial properties.

PeppermintMentha piperita
That cooling sensation you feel when consuming mint products is a result of an organic compound called menthol. Most vapor rubs will use menthol, the active ingredient in mint, to open up the airways when sick or congested.

Anise HyssopAgastache foeniculum
Anise hyssop has been used to support digestion, promote respiratory system health, and ease insomnia and anxiety. When crushed, the leaves give off a distinct licorice aroma.

SageSalvia officinalis
Sage is a common herb used in cooking and can be found in nearly every grocery store. This aromatic plant has been used for its antimicrobial properties and mood enhancing effects.

ThymeThymus vulgaris
Aside from its culinary benefits, thyme is also thought to have antibacterial and possibly antifungal properties.

HorehoundMarrubium vulgare
Horehound is what is known as an expectorant herb, meaning it helps loosen bronchial secretions and eliminate mucus. You can even find soothing horehound-flavored hard candy to ease a sore throat. 

Medicinal Herbs

For the novice herbalist looking to expand their botanical knowledge, reading up is key. Gonzalez shares two of her favorite resources on medical plants. “Book-wise, what really inspired me was The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer, which talks all about each herb and their medicinal properties, how to grow them, how to dry them, and how to prepare them. Another book that I love is Making Plant Medicine. That one is really wonderful. There’s just so many lists of herbs in there. It talks a lot about how to extract herbs in different ways like in vinegars, making syrups, making herb-infused honeys, and oils and salves.”

If you are at the very beginning of your medicinal plant journey, Gonzalez suggests starting a little herbal garden at home. “I recommend trying to grow a certain herb that you’re interested in even if it’s just the basic one, like chamomile, or something easy to grow like calendula. I always say your best teacher is the plant.” 

Note: While plants may have therapeutic properties, their efficacy has not been proven or clinically evaluated. Please consult a physician if you are sick or are taking medication.

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