Herbs in Bloom

Herbalism, Horticulture

It’s high summer and the blooms are popping at the Gardens. The sight, the scents, the diversity—it’s all so good for our well-being. But did you know that some of these plants, ornamental and beautiful as they are, are part of the long history and tradition of herbal medicine?

Ever since I was a kid, my favorite thing to do was forage in the woods behind my house, looking for plants that did double, triple duty: sight and scent, of course, but food and medicine? Finding those was like discovering hidden treasure.

Now that I work at the Gardens, not much has changed. If you’ve dabbled with herbs as part of your wellness routine, then some of these plants might be familiar to you. At any rate, it’s quite fun to see plants we associate with teas and tinctures in full and wild bloom. If herbs are part of your repertoire (and even if they aren’t) definitely check these out next time you’re at the Gardens.


Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea):

  • A beautiful, pollinator-friendly, drought-tolerant bloom, echinacea is known for its immune-boosting reputation. The root is used, traditionally, and is actually best when used topically. But no matter how you use it, or which of the many varieties you grow, it’s a stunning bloom, adding color to the landscape well into the late summer.

You can find echinacea all over the Gardens. This specimen came from the Bibby and Harold Alfond Children’s Garden. 

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum):

  • St. John’s Wort (so named because it comes into bloom on St. John the Baptist’s feast day, June 24) became a household name when research suggested it could help those suffering from depression. But this buttery-yellow bloom can be found throughout summer. You’ll know you have the right plant when the bruised petals turn red in your fingers (just please don’t try this experiment at the Gardens!).

Arnica (Arnica chamissonis):

  • Famously known as an ointment for cuts, scrapes, and burns, arnica is a great first-aid kit addition, used to reduce swelling, pain, and bruising, especially within the first hour of injury. This bright and beautiful member of the Asteraceae family, which includes sunflowers, daisies, and echinacea, is a sweet, golden-yellow perennial.

Hops (Humulus lupulus):

  • You might know hops from its beer-making fame, and you wouldn’t be wrong! But hops on its own has a long history of use as a nervine (that is, soothing to the nerves) and sleep aid. You’ve probably noticed it on the list of ingredients on your favorite bedtime tea!

If you’re interested in learning more about herbs, Gardenshop’s webshop has some of my favorite reference books. The Modern Herbal Dispensatory is one of my essential go-tos. Or if in-person learning is more your style, we offer classes like the upcoming 10 Medicinal Plants: Morphology and Uses with the Gardens’ Horticulture Operations Program Manager, Lesley Paxson.