A Garden of Simples Offers DIY Remedies

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In the early days of our country, certain herbs were grown and used for the household and for simple medicinal remedies. There was no drug store around the corner so whether one was rich or poor, every household had what was then known as a garden of simples.

“Simpling” was a method using just one or two herbs for home remedies, among other things. This was usually left to the women of the household. Recipes were passed down orally, hand written, or in book form.

Herbal books

Today there’s a resurgence of interest in what we call the “simpling herbs,” allowing us to have more control of our health. You don’t need a large area for your garden of simples. Growing herbs in pots works just fine. In fact, some simpling herbs are culinary herbs, too, so you may already be growing them in pots.

Health for your Flock from the Garden of Simples

The herbs used in a garden of simples don’t have to stop with the family. Here on our little patch of heaven, we use the simpling herbs for our chickens, as well. When I learned how to clean a chicken coop, I found that hanging bunches of basil in the pen helped repel flies. The comfrey salve I make for my family works for poultry wounds, too. Adding garlic and sage to their diets adds immune system benefits and helps prevent internal parasites from taking hold. My garden of simples is one of the most useful gardens I’ve ever planted.

There’s a bonus in using one or two herbs at a time — no complex formulas needed!

Here are some of my favorite simpling herbs and how to use them.


I have been growing basil for many years. An annual culinary herb, basil is also good for removing environmental toxins from the skin. Make a basil face splash: Bruise a handful of basil leaves, place in heat-proof bowl, and pour boiling water over. Let infuse a few minutes, strain, and cool. Use as a soothing face rinse, avoiding eyes.

Basil face splash


Peter Rabbit’s mother gave him a cup of chamomile tea after his anxiety-ridden foray into Mr. McGregor’s garden. Chamomile self sows easily. Its pleasant apple aroma has calming qualities, and chamomile is anti-inflammatory. A teaspoon of dried German chamomile or a tablespoon of fresh flowers to a cup or so of boiling water makes a healthful infusion.

If you’re allergic to ragweed, don’t use chamomile as it’s a member of that plant family.



This perennial herb has a long and storied history of healing.

The allantoin in the plant is regenerative and is effective in healing cuts. Make this comfrey salve from either leaves or roots.


Comfrey Salve


  • 1 cup petroleum jelly or Waxalene (organic substitute)
  • 2 tablespoons dried root or 1/2 cup dried leaves


  1. Bring ingredients to a gentle simmer. Continuing simmering for 30 minutes.
  2. Strain and pour into containers.
Comfrey salve


Echinacea was highly valued as a medicinal herb by Native Americans and early settlers. I use Echinacea purpurea. This biennial with its pretty pink/purple flowers is a tried and true immune system booster at the onset of a cold. This tincture is easy to make but takes a while to infuse.

Echinacea in flower

Echinacea Tincture

This is Rosemary Gladstar’s immune boosting recipe. I met Rosemary at a conference where we both presented, and have since used many of her remedies.


  • Echinacea roots, fresh or dried
  • Vodka


  1. Fill a glass jar halfway up with chopped root.
  2. Pour enough vodka over to completely cover roots, then add more vodka to bring the liquid up 2” above the root. Shake every day.
  3. Let infuse in dark, cool place for 4-6 weeks. Strain and pour into dark bottles.
  4. Add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon into a liquid and drink several times a day at the onset of a cold.

    Echinacea tincture

Lemon Balm

Like many members of the mint family, this perennial herb contains compounds which repel certain insets, including mosquitoes. Simply rub crushed leaves on exposed areas, avoiding face. (A word of caution: rub a small amount on your forearm for several days to make sure you’re not allergic).

The lemony aroma is similar to citronella, and mosquitoes don’t like that!

Lemon balm

Lemon balm is one of my most used garden of simples herbs. It makes a fun and calming herbal sock bath for little ones, especially if they tend to be anxious or overtired. Let them make their own with the socks they’ve outgrown.

I use dried herbs but you could use fresh as long as you use the sock bath the same day you make it.

Herbal Bath Sock for Kids


  • Sock
  • String or Ribbon
  • Dried or fresh lemon balm


  1. Easy peasy: Just stuff the sock with the leaves, tie securely, and either hang from the faucet or put the sock in the tub with the little ones. Let them squeeze to fortify the water and release the aroma.


  • Add a few lavender flowers or sprigs. Lavender is antibacterial and another skin soothing herb.
  • Epsom salts is a nice addition, soothing sore muscles.
  • Toss some lemon balm leaves in your chickens’ water. It’s a natural insecticide and as the girls peck the leaves, the aroma wafts out, giving them I think a sense of calm.
    Child’s lemon balm sock bath

    Child’s lemon balm sock bath


A self-sowing member of the chrysanthemum family, feverfew has small daisy-like flowers. Chew a few of the leaves for relief from migraine. You might want to mix the leaves with food, since they’re bitter.

Feverfew in flower


Considered an invasive weed by many, this herb is a biennial, sending up leafy rosettes the first year, and flowering the second. It has been said that our Native Americans put a large mullein leaf in each moccasin to cushion the foot. The forerunner to our modern orthotics!

Mullein leaves

Mullein Flower/Garlic Oil

The dried flowers combined with another simpling herb, garlic, makes a soothing antibacterial oil for earaches and swimmer’s ear.

Now there’s no “real” recipe. Bruise mullein flowers and place in a saucepan with a clove of smashed garlic. Cover with extra virgin olive oil, bring to a simmer, and simmer 30 minutes. Strain and bottle. Store in refrigerator. Place several drops in sore ears.

Mullein in flower

Thyme and Sage

I pair these perennials together for a soothing tea. Thyme helps with coughs and sore throats. Take a sniff and the thyme will open up sinus passages.

Sage, with its anti-inflammatory qualities, helps heal respiratory illnesses and fevers.


Thyme is also a natural disinfectant and a useful strewing herb for your poultry. And apparently cats have an affinity for it, too. Our cat, Rain, hovered near the tea when I was taking photos. As soon as I turned my back, she lapped every drop up!

French thyme

Sniffles Tea


  • 1 tablespoon each fresh thyme and sage, or 1 teaspoon each dried
  • 1-1/2 to 2 cups boiling water
  • Sweetener of choice and lemon (optional)


  1. Pour boiling water over herbs. Cover and steep 5 minutes.
  2. Strain. Add sweetener and a squeeze of lemon if you like.

    Sage and thyme tea

What herbs would you choose for a  garden of simples?

Originally published in the March/April 2019 issue of Countryside & Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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