Today, the average American takes about 10 pills per day and fills out 12 prescriptions per year. It wasn’t always like this though. In the past, people took care of their ailments with natural remedies that they could find or grow. Wouldn’t you like to grow your own medicine so you don’t have to rely on expensive pharmaceuticals (which may not always be available)? Here is a small medicinal survival garden plan to get you started.
Raised Bed or Row Medicinal Garden?
The first thing to consider with your medicinal garden is how you want to set it up. Versus Battle has a great article about the pros and cons of square foot and row gardening.
Raised Bed Gardens:
- Good for small yards
- Drain better than row gardens
- Fewer insects get into the garden, making organic gardening easier
- Less soil and water runoff
- Better for people with back problems
- Don’t have to prepare the soil like with row gardening
- Must have materials to construct the raised beds
- Will need to find or purchase soil for the garden beds
- Should replenish the soil yearly
- Good if you have lots of space
- Suitable for all types of plants
- Not suitable for small yards
- Requires work to till the soil
- Must analyze soil each year and add nutrients if necessary
- Susceptible to weeds and pests
For most people, a raised bed is a good choice for a small medicinal survival garden. You’ll also find it easier to plan out your medicinal garden using a simple spreadsheet or drawing.
Tip: Save money on your raised bed garden by using found items – like the cinderblock raised bed garden below.
Sizing Your Medicinal Garden
The average yard in America is one-fifth of an acre – or 8,712 square feet. If we all utilized our yards to grow food and medicinal plants, then we wouldn’t have to worry about food shortages or crises!
That doesn’t mean you should rush out and turn your entire yard into a survival garden though. If you are new to survival gardening, you should start small. As Farmer’s Almanac says,
It’s better to be proud of a small garden than to be frustrated by a big one!
A good size for a single-family medicinal survival garden is 50 to 100 square feet. Of course, this depends on a lot of factors like:
- The size of your yard
- How much of your yard is in ideal growing conditions (sunny area, good drainage)
- Whether you have a vegetable garden too
- How many people your medicinal garden should serve
- What medicinal plants you choose (some require much more space than others)
50 square feet may seem small for a medicinal survival garden, but you can really grow a lot in that space. Here are some examples of raised bed gardens so you can gauge their size.
24 Square Foot Garden
Image: “Making Square foot garden” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by mrmole
80 Square Foot Garden
Image: “photo 4” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by Katiekills
What to Plant in Your Medicinal Garden?
Plants can’t run, fight, or defend themselves like animals can. As a result, they’ve evolved to contain all sorts of chemical defense mechanisms which protect them against disease, fungi, and other ailments. These same chemicals are what also can help us medicinally.
As far as medicinal plants go, there are literally THOUSANDS of options. How do you go about choosing which plants to grow in your medicinal garden?
You’ll need to narrow down the plants. Here is how:
1. Choose Medicinal Plants with a Variety of Benefits
Calendula, garlic, Echinacea, and yarrow are all great antibacterial herbs – but there is no reason for you to have 4+ antibacterial herbs in your medicinal garden!
In total, you'll want about 20-30 different plants for your medicinal garden. Aim to include plants which cover all of these medicinal properties. I've included some example plants.
- Antibacterial and antiviral: Calendula, garlic, Echinacea, clove, Oregon grape root, marshmallow root, usnea, lemon balm, licorice, oregano
- Burn and dermatological treatment: Aloe, bishop’s weed, calendula, comfrey
- Wound care: Basil, lemon balm
- Digestive aids: Chamomile, licorice, peppermint, Turkish rhubarb, lemon balm, calendula, parsley, fennel, aloe vera, Chinese yam
- Pain killers and anti-inflammatory: Basil, chili peppers, coriander, fennel, garlic, licorice, oregano
- Sedative: Chamomile, lemon balm, valerian
- Urinary tract infections: Uva ursi, yarrow
- Fever: Feverfew, lemon balm, Spilanthes Acmella
- Cough and Congestion: Johnny Jump Up, mullein, thyme, rosemary, peppermint, fennel
- Ear infections: Mullein, Echinacea, ginkgo biloba
- Parasite Infections: Artemisia annua, thyme, oregano
If you are already using herbal remedies, then go through your cabinets. See which herbs you use the most and then determine if you could grow them yourself.
2. Will the Plants Grow in Your Climate?
Choose a few plants to cover each medicinal property. Then check to see if you can grow them in your area.
For this, you will need to figure out the “hardiness” rating of the plant you want to grow. Go to this website and select your state to see its Plant Hardiness Zone.
3. Are the Medicinal Plants Difficult to Grow?
If you aren’t an expert gardener, now is not the time to learn how to grow difficult plants. Opt for the easiest plants to grow for your medicinal garden. For example, peppermint has a multitude of medicinal uses and grows like a weed.
4. Do the Plants Have Any Other Uses?
Finally, try to choose medicinal plants which have other uses. For example, the medicinal herbs basil, oregano, and thyme are also edible, tasty, and packed with nutrients.
Planning Your Medicinal Garden
By now, you should have a list of plants you want to grow in your medicinal survival garden. All of these plants will be suited to your area and cover a wide range of medicinal properties. Now it is time to map out your medicinal garden!
1. Plant Space Requirements
You should have a list of about 15-30 medicinal plants now. Write down how many square feet a mature plant requires.
As a general rule:
- 1-4 herbs can fit in a square foot of space
- About 4 flowers can fit in a square foot of space
If you can’t figure out how much space your medicinal plant requires, look at the seed packet. It will list the “row spacing” requirements. According to Arcadia Farms,
If the row spacing is:
- 3” apart (or something smaller), plant 16 per square foot
- 4” apart: plant 9 per square foot
- 6” apart: plant 4 per square foot
- 12” apart: plant 1 per square foot
2. Calculate How Much Space to Give Each Plant
Play around with the numbers of each plant. The square foot requirements of the plants should match up to the square footage of your garden bed.
3. Draw Your Medicinal Garden Plan
It helps to use graph paper for this. Make a scale outline of your garden space. Divide it into square-foot quadrants. Start filling in the quadrants with your plants. Use a different color for each plant.
- Remember the growing needs of each plant. For example, don’t put a bunch of tall plants around a short one as they will block sunlight. This is also known as “companion planting.”
- Keep all of your perennial medicinal plants on one side of the survival garden, and put the annual plants on the other side.
- Group any tall plants facing south side on the inside of the garden.
Here is an example of how my medicinal survival garden plan looks like.
Tip: Buy quality seeds! If your seeds don’t germinate or produce hardy plants, then you’ve wasted your time and money. Investing in quality seeds will really pay off during harvest.