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Medicinal Herb Guide for Western Washington

Dragonfly Medicinals, Vashon Island, Washington

Last Updated: May 10, 2017, Michael Laurie,,

1. General Garden/Farm Prep.

Analyze Site

  • Sun, solar tool
  • Soil – is it sandy, clay, loam? Does it vary? Use a soil probe to check out the depth and soil type. The soil on this property varies partly because the previous owners were gardeners but beyond that there is a wide range of sandy versus glacial till spots with some very loamy areas.
  • Water- Observe where the water tends to flow, drain, and run to. I have done some perk tests for rain gardens and within 10 feet the drainage was very different.
  • Shade – Watch to see how it changes thru the seasons. Even though we have a lot of trees around. The summer sun rises above the trees in most places for many hours in the day.
  • Edge habitat between forest and field can attract birds and pollinators and more.
  • Good to have some wild areas.
  • Although after analyzing think about how things will evolve in the garden over time
  • branches fall which can add nitrogen from lichens
  • soil changes as plants grow there for years.
  • trees grow to create more shade

Build soil

  • with compost
  • worm compost, better
  • Beneficial fungi and bacteria contribute to plant health and can provide more water and nutrients.
  • Recent research shows that plant and bacteria relationships help produce medicinally significant compounds.
  • mulch – can build soil. Large chunks of woody mulch can suck nitrogen out of the soil until they break down if they are worked into the soil. It is useful to till in small amounts of chips to soil if manure or nitrogen sources are added at the same time. The chunky organic matter improves aeration. If you want to have a wild garden where you want to let the plants tell you where they like to grow, too much mulch will block some of the self-seeded plants from growing. This is a management decision. Put heavy mulch where you don’t want seed germination and no or light mulch where you want volunteers to reseed. It will always include some weed seed germination as well which needs to be weeded (in most cases).
  • Cover crops – red clover is a good choice because it can block weeds, fix nitrogen, and because it is a medicinal. Michael Pilarski plant oats at a high density when seeding red clover. Red clover is small at first and doesn’t compete with weeds well, but a tall over-story of dense oats really reduces weeds and nurses the red clover which doesn’t begin to grow robustly till late in the growing season that it is seeded. Red clover blossom harvest is light in the fall of year one but is heavy throughout year two if mowed 2 or 3 times a season to rejuvenate growth.


  • Building up soil and adding mulch reduce need for irrigation
  • Drip – Dripworks catalog, Not all parts from different suppliers are compatible especially the nominal ½” mainlines.
  • Rainwater – may have a long payback, but if it serves double-duty of controlling stormwater and providing irrigation it has a better payback, also if your well or utility supplied water sometimes runs low in summer rainwater can be essential to ensure you don’t lose a crop.
  • Directing stormwater to your plants can help, swales, indented areas for plants, terracing on slopes

Pest Control

  • Diversity – We have about 200 species of plants growing here. And they have helped to minimize disease and insect problems
  • Use plants to attract pollinators and beneficial insects
  • Bird baths and a variety of habitats and plants attract birds who eat some of the harmful insects.
  • Soil health – I put two pickup truck loads of worm compost throughout the garden and the neighbor told me that the previous owner put a lot of composted horse manure in the garden.
  • Right plant, right place. Locate Plants where they are likely to grow best, although many plants will grow well outside their native or recommended conditions. And if you let things grow on their own to some degree, plants will let you know where they like to grow as I have seen with Angelica, burdock, elecampane, motherwort, marshmallow, valerian, and many others.
  • Fences are best to control deer.
  • “Green gardening products and methods that work”, the best green products to address a variety of garden problems.
  • Grow Smart Grow Safe web site, or the app, are excellent sources to determine how safe garden pesticides are.

Why do you want to grow medicinal plants?

  • medicine for your family and friends? If so what are you current or likely health issues. Common ones are insomnia/stress, need for energy, digestion problems.
  • to sell products. Then you might want to research which plants are in big demand. Some that are in big demand are skullcap, nettles, red clover, Arnica chamissonis, …


  • Most people know about growing plants by direct seeing and planting starts. But we will address some of the challenges
  • Not as many people are as familiar with growing plants by root cuttings, woody cuttings, new growth cuttings (softwood cuttings) crown divisions, rhizomes., or layering We will explain some of these.

When to plant

When to harvest

  • Some of the plants and plant parts won’t wait – you need to be flexible and ready
  • Ideal time to harvest Hops is only a 1 – 2-week window
  • Leaves of many plants have a wider harvesting window except Gingko leaves, hawthorn flowers, and flowers in general.

Processing Herbs and making products

  • Clean them
  • Garble them
  • Tincture making, ratios of plant material to liquid, ratios of alcohol to water in tincture liquid
  • Drying Herbs, usually better to dry longer at lower heat, check a few times/day if possible


  • Best to start small and with a few crops and see what it takes and see if you are up for more.
  • At your farm, how will you attract people
  • Farmer’s markets, lots of set up and take down and on-site time, and usually need to be there on a regular basis.
  • Co-ops and Herb stores
  • Large herb companies, larger quantities

2. Herbal Antibiotics and Antivirals

This information is offered as traditional uses and is not meant to be medical advice. Do due diligence in your research.

There are a number of herbs that you can grow in Western Washington that are antibiotic and antiviral.

I highly recommend growing some of each to have them readily at hand when needed.


There is a growing concern in the medical world about bacteria that are becoming resistant to antibiotics.

This is partly due to the fact that many antibiotics are a single compound. Scientists are now starting to recognize this and are developing multiple compound treatments for a variety of illnesses. There are a number of antibiotic medicinal plants and they have multiple compounds in them that are antibiotic, reducing the possibility of any bacteria developing a resistance to their antibiotic properties.

Great antibiotic medicinals that you can grow in Western Washington include:

  • Usnea – lichen
  • Licorice
  • Goldenseal
  • Oregon Grape
  • Other medicinals that you can grow that have antibiotic properties include:
  • Calendula
  • Garlic
  • Hops
  • Osha
  • Self heal


Many of us grew up being told that there was nothing we could do to fight a virus except getting a shot.

Great antibiotic medicinals that you can grow in Western Washington include:

  • Chinese skullcap
  • Elder
  • Licorice
  • Other medicinals that you can grow that have antiviral properties include:
  • Ashwaganda
  • Boneset
  • Reishi - fungi
  • Shitake – fungi
  • Tea

Herbs Good for the Immune System

The healthier your immune system the less likely you are to get sick.

Medicinal plants that you can grow in Western Washington that can help your immune system include:

  • Ashwaganda – also antibiotic and antiviral
  • Astragalus – also antibiotic
  • Boneset
  • Echinacea – also antibiotic and antiviral
  • Eleuthero -
  • Reishi – fungi – also antibiotic and antiviral

3. The Plants

  • Violet – Viola odorata
    • Propagation: From seeds, start indoors. Can grow in full sun, part sun, shade.
    • Medicinal Use: Use leaves and flowers. Can make into a syrup for respiratory support and cough remedy. Can make tea and tinctures.
  • Wild Ginger – Asarum canadense
    • Propagation: Likes to grow in the understory in shade, ideally in old growth forest or a forest that is mimicking old growth by containing rotting logs, fungus, a diversity of plants, good soil.
    • Medicinal Use: root tincture or tea. Helps with digestion problems, fevers
  • Wild Yam – Dioscorea quaternata
    • Propagation: Perennial vine. Over picked in the wild. Cold hardy. Likes partial shade of hardwood forest in moist soil. Grows with black cohosh and mayapple. Easiest to grow from root cuttings taken in fall. Harvest root in the fall
    • Medicinal Use: antispasmodic and tonic for muscles associated with internal organs, helps with digestion, helps treat PMS and hot flashes,
  • Woodruff – Galium odoratum
    • Propagation: Great ground cover in shady and partly shady areas.
    • Medicinal Use: Aids in elimination of toxins, helps reduce depression, digestive problems. Can be used as a poultice to treat boils, wounds, headaches.

Other plants that grow here but are more challenging:

  • Bloodroot – Sanguinaria canadensis
    • Propagation: There have been periods in the last 13 years where I was so busy with other work that I neglected to water some of the plants for sometimes a few months after they were established. When I did that with Bloodroot it died out. Grows in understory. Likes moist, humus or clay. Likes mulch and slightly acidic soil. Can grow well under alder and with wild ginger and trillium. Over-picked in the wild.
    • Medicinal Use: Can be made into a salve to treat warts. Also helps the gums, aids in treatment of arthritis, asthma, cancer, nasal polyps, reducing plaque buildup
  • Osha- Ligusticum canbyi
    • Propagation: Last year, I tried growing it in a few spots but it did not do so well. Then I found a spot on the edge of the gingko and hawthorn trees that I think it likes. It prefers moist areas. It likes aspen groves. Likes growing with angelica, arnica, and valerian. Needs less supplemental water after it is well established.
    • Medicinal Use: Excellent for lungs, reduces mucous in lungs, increases respiratory capacity, soothes irritated sinuses, helps with allergies and asthma, pneumonia, antifungal, antiviral, antibiotic.
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