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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

Why do you want to grow medicinal plants?

  • 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.
  • 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

Which Medicinal Plants Grow Well Here:

  • Angelica - Angelica archangelica
  • Propagation: It likes rich, moist soil, Self-seeds into garden fairly readily. But can be propagated by direct seed or transplant. It is a biennial, but it is not uncommon for it to live 3 – 5 years.
  • Medicinal Use: Root/branches/seeds, Good for stimulating digestion, can help reduce painful menstruation, helps with asthma, pie with rhubarb, attracts pollinators, in the Middle Ages it was thought to protect from evil spirits, contained in many liquers.
  • Arnica - Arnica chamissonis
  • Propagation: I tried to grow it in 3 spots and it did not do so well in the first two spots. But it likes the current spot where it gets a fair amount of summer sun but not all day. Seeds are only viable for a short time. Can be propagated from root divisions or vegetative cuttings. Very short plant. Not likely to get much production in the first year. Production builds slowly over the years. A clump can get quite old and big at year 10. Plants can be divided in the 4th year, sometimes the third.
  • Medicinal Use: Pick flowers and buds to soak in olive oil and run thru cheese cloth to make a great oil to rub on sore muscles. Used in salves and creams. Be careful not to rub it on cuts. Internal use needs to be limited to homeopathic remedies.
  • Ashwaganda – Withania somnifera
  • Propagation: Annual. Grow from starts or from seed. Best to start seeds indoors. Likes drier soil and sun but does not need sun all day. Harvest in the fall ideally after killing frost.
  • Medicinal Use: root – builds energy, reduces tension, strong reproductive tonic for males and females, energizing but it does not over stimulate,
  • Black Cohosh – Cimicifuga racemosa = Actaea racemosa
  • Propagation: Can be grown from seed but I have done it from starts. It produces a lot of seed. Can be grown from crown divisions. Plant roots in fall or spring. It likes rich soil in shade but Michael Pilarski and others have had success growing it in the sun. After harvesting, best to cut the root into several parts to make cleaning and drying easier.
  • Medicinal Use: root used for hot flashes, painful menstruation, stimulates uterine contractions to aid in childbirth. Also relaxes smooth muscles and is a strong antispasmodic.
  • Boneset – Eupatorium perfoliatum
  • Propagation: I have had success growing it in mostly sunny and in fairly shady spots. It likes moist conditions but I have had success with it in less than moist soil. Harvest when starting to flower
  • Medicinal Use: leaves and flowers help with relieving pains and aches associated with flu. It helps the bronchial system loosen phlegm. Anti-inflammatory. It is one of the best plants for fighting flu.
  • Burdock – Arctium lappa
  • Propagation: Self-seeds also. Biennial. Harvest roots in the fall of first year or early spring the 2nd. Year. Before they send up flowering stalks.
  • Medicinal Use: root used to help with digestion, good nutrition, restorative, good for the liver and kidneys. Leaves are antimicrobial. Seeds stimulate the immune response.
  • Catnip – Nepeta cataria
  • Propagation: Full to partial sun. Does not need much water. I have neglected patches and they hung on. Then when I gave them water and weeded them they took off. Harvest when it goes into full bloom. Can spread vegetatively and self-seed.
  • Medicinal Use: Helps you relax. Calms the stomach. Safe for children.
  • Cleavers – Galium aparine
  • Propagation: Grows readily here in sunny and shady spots without any attention.
  • Medicinal Use: Use the aboveground plant. Traditional Spring cleansing tonic, anti-inflammatory, immune tonic. Can be prepared as a compress or a salve to address burns, sunburn, bites, and wounds.
  • Cramp Bark - Viburnum opulis
  • Propagation: Grows well in Western Washington. Maybe because other Viburnums are native here.
  • Medicinal Use: bark from main trunk or branches for cramps
  • Dandelion – Taraxacum officinale
  • Propagation: Grows better in more alkaline soil by the greywater on our property. But it can grow in a wide range of soils.
  • Medicinal Use: root and leaves are good for digestion, liver, used in bitters. Leaves very nutritious. Nice to make use of what many people throw away, spray, or complain about.
  • Echinacea – Echinacea purpurea
  • Propagation: Can grow by direct seeding in fall or early spring, or transplant plugs or crown divisions. Likes full sun and well-drained soil. But grows here in part sun.
  • Medicinal Use: Root typically used but the whole plant is medicinal. Jump starts the immune system response to fight colds, flu. Anti-viral and anti-biotic. Safe.
  • Elder – Sambucus caerulea
  • Propagation: Can grow in a fair amount of moisture. I have noticed that if it does not get regular water, the leaves dry out and it starts to wilt some. Can grow in the shade or part sun (prefers full sun for fruit production). It thrives on fertility so consider growing red clover underneath to fix nitrogen.
  • Medicinal Use: Leaves and berries can bring down fevers. Anti-viral, to treat colds, flu, respiratory infections. Nutritious. Can make into tea, tincture, liqueur. Can cook berries into syrups, jams, juices.
  • Elecampane – Inula helenium
  • Propagation: Self seeds a bit on its own here, suspect from birds. Can be direct seeded. Harvest after 2 years.
  • Medicinal Use: Root used to fight infection and clear mucus from bronchial system. Can be made into cough syrup, tea, or tincture.
  • Feverfew – Tanacetum parthenium
  • Propagation: This is one that I ignored for years but it kept on growing in a shady part of the garden. It can be harvested multiple times in a year.
  • Medicinal Use: leaves/flowers, migraines
  • Ginkgo- Ginkgo biloba
  • Propagation: Partial shade or full sun. Can be grown from seed or softwood cuttings. Pretty hardy and pest resistant.
  • Medicinal Use: Leaves help with memory and brain function, strengthen the nervous system, and good for heart and circulatory system.
  • Goldenrod – Solidago canadensis
  • Propagation: fairly drought tolerant in Western Washington, attracts pollinators.
  • Medicinal Use: Like many medicinal herbs it used to be in the United States Pharmacopoeia from 1820 to 1882. It is good many health issues. Helps with allergies, antifungal, helps with tension and with digestion, and much more.
  • Goldenseal- Hydrastis canadensis
  • Propagation: Likes shade and rich soil. Can be grown from seed or rootlets. Don’t let rootlets dry out. It is over-picked in the wild.
  • Medicinal Use: Root good for fighting infections, antibiotic, antiviral, good for digestion,
  • Greek Mullein - Verbascum olympicum
  • Propagation: Biennial. Fairly drought tolerant. Large taproots can help break up compacted soils. This variety produces many more flowers than the common mullein. Can grow in a wide range of conditions. Reseeds profusely. I have not planted it for over 9 years but it keeps reseeding and coming back. Common mullein is considered invasive in Washington state. I have found that the Greek mullein spreads but not in a really invasive way.
  • Medicinal Use: Leaves can be great for moistening mucous membranes – throat, bronchi, lungs. Good for asthma, coughs, Be sure to strain the tea thru a cloth bag to remove the tiny hairs that are an irritant. Antiviral and antibacterial. Flowers can be used to make an oil which can be slightly warmed and a drop or two added to ear to help with earaches and infections.
  • Black hawthorn – Crataegus douglasii
  • Propagation: Likes slightly acidic soil which is one of the reasons they grow wild on Vashon. Can grow from seed, much easier to grow from cuttings. Easy to take stem cuttings, wet it, plant in potting soil, keep in moist and warm. Watch for the thorns
  • Medicinal Use: Berries, flowers, leaves are one of the best tonics for the cardiovascular and nervous systems. A lot of nutrition. Can use in tea, tincture, jams.
  • Hops – Humulus lupulus
  • Propagation: I planted 3 starts of Hallertauer variety over 10 years ago. I initially watered them in pretty good the first 2 years. But in some years they had limited water. They have spread 6 to 20 feet and typically grow over 25 feet into the Western Red cedar. The strobiles are what is harvested and typically the ideal window of opportunity for picking them only lasts 2 weeks or less. This is one of the plants that you have to check and be ready to drop everything to harvest it when it is ready or you may miss the window of opportunity.
  • Medicinal Use: Strobiles are bitter for digestion and help with insomnia.
  • Lemon Balm – Melissa officinalis
  • Propagation: Oh my god, does it love growing at our place, fairly invasive if you ignore it for a year or more. Likes full to partial sun. Easy propagation from seed or cuttings.
  • Medicinal Use: Helps reduce tension. Antiviral and antimicrobial. Also good for gastric upset.
  • Marshmallow – Althaea officinalis
  • Propagation: Perennial that likes moist soil. Can grow by root divisions, cuttings, or seeds. Likes growing in a moist soil area here. Likes full sun but we grow it in partial sun. Harvest leaves when it flowers. Harvest roots in fall of second year or spring of third year.
  • Medicinal Use: Roots and Leaves have mucilage that is soothing to throat and digestive track
  • Motherwort – Leonurus cardiaca
  • Propagation: Readily self-seeds and can grow from divisions. Be careful where you plant it or let it grow because it can grow over 6 feet. Last time I planted it was over 10 years ago, but it has spread by self-seeding and it is perennial so it keeps coming back.
  • Medicinal Use: Leaves strengthen the heart and reduce tension. Relaxes muscles to ease menstruation and cramping and helps with transitioning from postpartum and menopause. Helps treat hot flashes. It is a bitter that helps with digestion.
  • Nettles – Urtica dioica
  • Propagation: It grows in the wild part of our garden and we don’t water, or fertilize, or weed it but it does very well. It is one of the first herbs to come up, lately it often comes up as early as January. This year it did not come on in a big way until late February. Steaming and drying destroys the stinging. But it can be harvested until before it sets seed. If you harvest it too late the silica content can be so high that it can irritate your system.
  • Medicinal Use: Leaves, root, seed. Leaves good for allergies, liver, urinary tract infections, asthma and great nutrition. Best fresh leaves are the young ones when it is less than 2 feet high.
  • Oregano – Origanum species
  • Propagation: Likes full to partial sun. Fairly drought tolerant, but will grow better if given some water.
  • Medicinal Use: Leaves antibiotic, improves respiratory capacity, good for asthma, good for digestion, anti-inflammatory.
  • Peppermint – Mentha piperita
  • Propagation: It is a hybrid of spearmint and watermint so it can’t be grown from seed. But can be grown from cuttings of rootlets. Weeds have a tendency to crowd it out but if you keep it weeded it can spread fairly well. And it can handle a few harvests in a year.
  • Medicinal Use: Leaves good for digestion, helps bring down fever.
  • Rosemary – Rosmarinus officinalis
  • Propagation: During one of the cold periods about 9 years ago one variety of Rosemary died. And during the cold snap this last winter, many of the leaves were killed. Pretty drought tolerant and deer have yet to eat any of it in 13 years.
  • Medicinal Use: Leaves antibacterial, good for the heart, good for digestion and relaxing,
  • Self-Heal – Prunella vulgaris
  • Propagation: They have come in on their own into some of the worst soil here.
  • Medicinal Use: Above ground part for nutrition, antibacterial, antiviral, immune tonic, and much more.
  • Siberian Ginseng – Eleutherococcus senticosus
  • Propagation: Grows well in partial shade, likes loamy soil but can grow in a variety of soils. Hard to grow from seed. Softwood cuttings cut in early spring and put in moist potting medium and it will take most of summer for roots to develop well. Harvest roots in fall after 3 years growth, bark of branches also has medicinal value.
  • Medicinal Use: Builds energy, adaptogen, for most people it builds energy without it giving a hyper energy. Helps with stress. Can make tincture or tea.
  • Skullcap – Scutellaria lateriflora
  • Propagation: Likes full or partial sun and moist, loamy soil. Don’t add too much nitrogen. Can be direct seeded, transplanted, or grown from cuttings. Harvest above ground parts when starting to flower. We have never had disease problems but some people have had powdery mildew problem with it in dry years.
  • Medicinal Use: Leaves bring mental relaxation. Good for premenstrual tension and cramping. The first time I tried it I ate 3 fresh leaves and I found it very relaxing. Not all batches I have used since then have been as strong. Used in tincture and tea.
  • Tea- Camellia sinensis
  • Propagation: During one of the cold periods in the winter about 9 years ago, one of the tea plants almost died but it came back. I was worried that this year the plants might die but they survived the cold snap very well.
  • Medicinal Use: Stimulant, aids in digestion of fats, reduces risk of arterial disease, antibacterial, anticarcinogenic, antiviral, cardiotonic
  • Valerian – Valeriana officinalis
  • Propagation: This one self-seeds out very readily, likely from the birds. Full sun to partial shade. Likes moist, rich soil. Don’t let it dry out too long. Can grow from seed, roots divided and replanted in early spring or late fall. Can intermix it with marshmallow, boneset, and Vervain which have similar growing conditions. Harvest roots in 2nd or 3rd year, early spring. When harvesting cut roots into 4 or more main part and wash well because they can have a lot of soil stuck on them. Michael Pilarski harvests valerian like biennial roots. Harvest roots in the fall of first year or early spring the 2nd. Year. Before they send up flowering stalks. This is because after the first year you build up a lot of rotten parts in the crown which you have to remove during processing. This adds a lot of time to the process. You should aim to grow a big root in one year. Too bad you can’t do this with the native Sitka Valerian (Valeriana sitchensis) which takes 4 years or more to harvest.
  • Medicinal Use: Root tincture is great for helping most people safely fall asleep. Some people find it stimulating.
  • 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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