Herbs and flowers are an important addition to a cottage garden for their culinary uses and medicinal properties. They are also fantastic for any garden landscape because of the natural beauty they provide.
When you combine all three of these things together to plant herbs and flowers for their culinary, medicinal and aesthetic properties, you get what is often referred to as a kitchen garden or an English cottage garden.
Use this guide to learn all about English cottage gardening design, ideas for what to plant, and medicinal ways to use these herbs and flowers on your homestead.
Listen to the full podcast, Episode #186, How to Design a Cottage Garden – Forgotten Medicinal & Edible Plants, of the Pioneering Today Podcast, where we don’t just inspire you but give you the clear steps to create the homegrown garden, pantry, kitchen and life you want for your family and homestead.
Note: This blog post has been updated to include multiple podcast episodes on medicinal herbs and flowers to grow. I've had multiple guests over the years come onto the podcast who have shared their wisdom. So download each of these podcasts and listen to them at your leisure!
- Episode #405 – Medicinal Herbs & Their Uses with Kaylee Richardson (Also check out this podcast we did on The Link Between Honeybees and Plant Medicine.
- Episode #67 – 7 Herbs for Natural Remedies Your Grandparents Used
- Episode #167 – 8 Medicinal Plants You Need to Add to Your Garden This Year
- Episode #182 – 8 Medicinal Herbs and Their Uses for Growing an Herbal Tea Garden
- Episode #199 – Plant These Medicinal Herbal Flowers from Seed Now for Next Spring
Why You Should Start a Cottage Garden
I'm a fifth-generation homesteader, and growing up, we raised our own meat, grew our own food in a big vegetable garden, used canning for food preservation, and cooked food from scratch. But we didn't use herbs or natural medicine.
In How to Heal Stomach Acid Naturally – My Story Part 1, I share how that all changed in my twenties and the steps I took in my diet to heal naturally. Reflecting on that success, I thought:
“If I had that much of a drastic change just from changing the food I eat, what would happen if I started to use herbs and natural remedies in our medicine cabinet instead of just reaching for an over-the-counter product?”
I have since learned how to plan and grow a medicinal herb garden, how to prune herbs for maximum growth, how to harvest herbs for medicinal purposes, and how to dry fresh herbs at home not only to treat what might ail me but also for preventive use to boost my immune system naturally.
My journey has turned into a passion I enjoy sharing with other pioneer-minded homesteaders, and when I found out that you could use hollyhock medicinally the same way you can use marshmallow root? I knew I needed to share this information with y'all.
I'm really excited about today's guest because Carolyn from Homesteading Family is actually one of my best friends in real life. When talking about our latest cottage garden ideas, I was like, “Hold up, we need to make a podcast out of this.” And from there, this episode was born.
Let's talk for just a sec about using herbs. When I first got into more natural remedies, I had this misconception that if it's natural, it's safe. Not all-natural remedies are safe for every person or every situation.
You have to understand the herb or essential oil, how it works, its dangers, and side effects because they do exist. Even herbs can interact with medications or be dangerous if you’re suffering from certain illnesses or even if you’re pregnant.
I don't say this to scare you or turn you off from natural medicine, not in the least, but we have to be responsible when using herbs and nature as medicines.
Disclaimer: This is for entertainment and educational purposes and should not be taken as a medical diagnosis or treatment. Neither Carolyn nor I are medical professionals, and you should always check with your medical professional before using any herbs medicinally.
What Is a Cottage Garden
When you think of a traditional cottage garden, images of flowering shrubs and climbing roses bordered with perfectly clipped hedges or a picket fence may come to mind.
You might envision spring bulbs blooming among your trees and shrubs as you walk along your stepping stones, leading to seating areas where you can enjoy a magical place.
While this could be a long-term goal, you do not need to begin with a project that would require a landscape designer to get you started.
If we look back to times of old, we see that most homes would have a cottage-style garden that served a much more practical purpose. These cottage gardens would be found right outside the kitchen door, filled with edible plants easily accessible for cooking and use in natural medicine cabinets.
This garden adjacent to the kitchen would be in addition to the larger gardens where they would grow their large-scale crops further away from the house on their property.
Scientific Studies on Medicinal Herbs
Because there’s a lot of folklore about herbs that just isn’t founded in science, it’s important to differentiate folklore from solid scientific studies.
Here in the US, we currently don't have a ton of studies on medicinal herbs, but Germany actually has a lot more research, data, and clinical studies on herbs because they use herbs in their regular healthcare practice.
When researching different herbs, finding German studies can help separate old wives’ tales from science.
Design Elements of a Cottage Garden
Oftentimes, we plant in a straight line in our annual gardens, and there’s a good reason for that if you're growing a lot of food; it really is more functional. Growing and harvesting things in a straight row is much easier than in curvy lines where everything's all mixed up.
But the cottage garden is a place without defined spaces where you can just throw out all those rules and mix it all up to combine function with a space that can soothe the mind, body and soul.
You should thoughtfully plan your garden to keep in mind that each plant needs to be a Swiss army knife in a sense. It will provide some food, medicine, feed the pollinators, focal points to admire, and maybe even offer a cut flower.
Cottage gardens need to serve all of these different purposes, and that’s what makes it an ideal garden to have right off the kitchen.
In some cases, a cottage garden can be quite large to accomplish all these purposes, but do not feel disqualified if your space is a small flower bed. You can become your own garden designer even if you are limited to container gardening on a balcony.
I began with an existing flower bed and started ripping out a lot of plants and replacing them with herbs and pretty plants that also serve multiple purposes. It works no matter where you're at, and you can implement it in stages over time.
What to Plant in a Cottage Garden
Though many herbs are preferential, the medicinal and culinary herbs I recommend planting in a cottage garden are:
- Lemon Balm
- Licorice Root
- Marshmallow Root
- Red Raspberry Leaf
- Stinging Nettle
As mentioned before, cottage garden plants should provide a tangible purpose.
Focus on choosing herbs and flowers for culinary, medicinal, or even cosmetic preparations. Consider what might add value to the health of your garden, such as a plant that attracts pollinators or improves soil year after year.
Balance these practical purposes with aesthetic benefits that soothes the soul. Feel free to grow flowers simply for beauty’s sake that will draw you out into your cottage garden or create beautiful bouquets of cut flowers to improve the appeal of your indoor setting.
Cottage gardens provide the opportunity to explore lesser-known food plants. If you start looking for sources outside of the United States, you will quickly realize there are many plants you can experiment with.
For example, chervil is big in French cuisine, but you rarely find it here. Savory is another one that is hard to find; you just don't see it very commonly in the US.
Then, of course, you have food plants that don’t typically have a place in the annual garden and consequently become forgotten, like sorrels, Good King Henry, rocket, or lovage. I love investing in perennials because even though it's an upfront investment, they pay off for years and years to come.
The versatility to customize and the variety of options may feel overwhelming when planning cottage garden designs. Begin by prioritizing what you will use most, and expand one to two plants each year from there.
Here are some favorites that have found their way into my cottage garden over the years.
Calendula serves multiple purposes in a cottage garden. The prolific blooms attract pollinators, make beautiful cut flower arrangements for your home, and have medicinal purposes too.
Calendula is a wonderful all-around herb for the skin; truly a workhorse in the medicine cabinet. It has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties, making it a great candidate for multiple skin issues and wound care.
Because calendula is considered a gentle herb, you'll find it in many natural products for children and infants. I infuse oil with calendula blossoms to make a homemade herbal wound healing salve, featured in my book The Made-From-Scratch Life: Simple Ways to Create a Natural Home.
Next up, we have chamomile, and it’s important to note that there is a distinguishable difference between Roman and German Chamomile.
Roman Chamomile is used more specifically for its calming, relaxing properties. You can harvest and dry Roman Chamomile to make herbal tea. It’s excellent when combined with lavender for ultimate relaxation.
You will want German Chamomile for its analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties. It has a higher concentration of essential oils, so it's considered a little bit stronger, and usually, it will produce more than the Roman does if you’re trying to decide which one to grow.
You can use German Chamomile as a compress or infuse oil and use the oil to make a salve or balm.
One of the great things about this pioneering lifestyle is foraging for foods that grow wild such as finding morel mushrooms or purple dead nettle. Have you ever observed dandelions growing in an urban setting? They are so hearty they will grow right between the cracks of concrete!
Because dandelions tend to grow just about anywhere, many people consider them weeds. Yet, this flowering powerhouse made my top list of medicinal weeds for a good reason.
Dandelion root aids digestion; traditionally, it has been used for liver issues and as a diuretic. It's also anti-inflammatory and helps with wound healing, which is why dandelion salves are effective.
Pro-Tip: Just make sure when harvesting dandelions that they haven't been sprayed with anything, as that can negate the point of using herbal medicine in the first place.
The great thing about dandelion is you can use every part of the plant. You can use the blossoms to make a dandelion salve, or you can even fry those bad boys up and eat them that way.
You can use the leaves like any greens in salads or sauté them up like spinach or kale. But with the leaves, you want to get them early in the season because as they get older and more mature, they can get really bitter.
Dandelion tea is made from the root. You can harvest the dandelion roots, rinse off the dirt, dehydrate them, and store them that way.
Some people prefer to roast the dandelion root and make an herbal coffee substitute out of it. But whether you roast it or not, just chop it up into small bits and use that to make your tea.
Echinacea is one of my favorite medicinal flowers to grow because perennial plants increase food production with less time by allowing me to plant once while providing a bountiful harvest year after year.
The echinacea plant is used for its ability to help support the immune system. You can use all parts of the plant. The leaves and blossoms are used for making echinacea tinctures, and the root is what’s generally used to make capsules or teas.
You typically wouldn’t want to harvest the root until the plant is at least two to three years old, and you harvest that in the fall after it's gone through its first hard frost.
If you plan to grow echinacea from seed, it needs to go through the cold stratification process. But there is no shame in grabbing a few starts from your local garden store.
Elderberry is a pretty perennial shrub to have in the landscape of your cottage garden. The berries boast immune-boosting properties that help combat colds and flu; some people also use the elderflowers for tea.
For consumption and medicinal purposes, you want the variety of elderberry known as Sambucus nigra. They are dark purplish in color. (You want to make sure that you avoid the red elderberries because they are slightly toxic and can result in a stomach ache if consumed).
Before jumping into growing elderberries, one thing to note is that they do best when they have another variety for cross-pollination, so I ordered two.
I got one with a striped variegated leaf because, as I said, I want these to do double duty to provide food and medicine for my family, but I also want them to look pretty in our landscape. Then the other variety I got just has a regular green leaf.
There are two varieties of fennel. Florence fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum) is primarily grown as a vegetable and used for culinary purposes. If you want to use fennel medicinally, look for Common fennel (Foeniculum vulgare).
Fennel can help soothe an upset stomach and boost metabolism, and it can also help to encourage or increase milk production for nursing mothers.
Fennel has a very similar taste to black licorice, and even if you don’t like the flavor of licorice, you may enjoy the milder taste of fennel tea. For chai lovers, fennel is a key ingredient in this DIY chai tea concentrate.
Hollyhocks are considered completely exchangeable medicinally for marshmallow root. Every part of the hollyhock plant is edible and can be used medicinally, cosmetically, or as a cut flower. And, of course, the pollinators just absolutely love it.
Medicinally, hollyhocks are very mucilaginous, which means they’re slimy. We don’t always think that’s a good thing, but it’s very soothing for a skin rash, inflamed bowels, a sore throat or a dry, raspy cough.
For medicinal purposes, you want the root of the plant. So you want to grow quite a few plants in your cottage garden. You need to pull up a whole plant, and the root will be really big.
Unlike drying the herb for teas and tinctures, you’ll want to make a cold infusion. Put it in a jar of cold water and let it sit overnight so it will get slimy.
When you harvest your hollyhock plant for its medicinal purposes, you can make the flowers into cut flower arrangements and use the leaves to thicken recipes like you use okra to thicken a soup or a stew.
Do you think you don’t like the smell of lavender? I didn’t either until I smelled real lavender. The synthetic scents used in perfumes, cleaning supplies, cosmetics, and air fresheners smell nothing like the real thing.
Lavender is probably the most common herb known for its calming and soothing properties. Lavender works well to help soothe the skin for use in preparations for burn relief and pain.
I make lavender sachets for my husband's truck and keep dried bunches around the house. I also use lavender in this DIY herbal face scrub and mask.
This perennial is excellent for attracting pollinators, is hardy and will grow well in poor to moderate soil. You’ll have the most effortless results in the shortest time if you get a cutting or a start from someone or just buy a small plant start.
Medicinally, lemon balm helps to ease stress, anxiety, insomnia and indigestion. It's part of the mint family, and like peppermint, the leaves dry well, and it still packs a great flavor punch even when using dried leaves.
I can’t resist pointing out that lemon balm’s official name is Melissa officinalis, so needless to say, this plant holds a special place in my heart! It has a subtle lemony flavor (big shocker, right?), so it tastes great when prepared as an herbal tea.
Pro Tip: Lemon balm can be grown to boost the health of your chickens too!
I'll be the first to tell you I can't stand licorice candy, mainly because I don't like the flavor of anise, and a lot of licorice candy is flavored with anise. However, licorice root has its place in an herbal medicine cabinet.
You can use licorice root for various ailments, from digestive issues and cold symptoms to helping support adrenal glands and many other conditions.
However, you should use licorice root cautiously, only for the short term and never in large amounts. You shouldn’t use licorice root if you have blood pressure, potassium issues, or liver or heart problems.
Marshmallow root is a perennial; some believe the name originated because it grows wild alongside marshes and damp areas. You can use its potent medicinal properties on humans and as herbal medicine for pets and livestock.
Marshmallow root keeps tissue from dying, making it suitable for topical application to soothe skin or gum irritations and promote healing in wounds. Prepared as a tea, it acts as a natural cough reliever and can help a sore throat.
Nasturtium is an annual, so you will plant it from seed yearly. But what's great about nasturtium is that it will grow anywhere to add beauty and attract pollinators to your cottage garden, plus the leaves and the flowers are edible!
Nasturtium has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. I don't dry them and use them in teas or other medicinal preparations. We just use them in our fresh eating. They're great in salads and make them look really beautiful. You can also throw them in soups for a little peppery flavor.
The scent of peppermint oil can be really great for relieving congestion. Just make sure you learn about essential oil safety and don't get peppermint oil on your skin, as it will sting and burn.
Peppermint also helps to support bowel function and soothes an upset stomach. However, it is important to note that if you have GERD or acid reflux, peppermint can help relax the sphincter muscle, allowing acid from your stomach to climb up to the esophagus, making symptoms worse.
Peppermint is a wildly prolific plant, most well suited to a container; just trust me on this unless you want mint plants gone wild all over your homestead!
Peppermint tastes great as an herbal tea, but it has more uses on my homestead. It’s one of my favorite flavors to pair with chocolate, so I always remember to whip up a batch of homemade peppermint extract when I harvest my peppermint.
Peppermint has a cooling effect, and making this easy mint water recipe is one of my top tips for staying cool in the summer without air conditioning.
Red Raspberry Leaf
The red raspberry leaf is generally considered the “women’s herb,” helping to balance hormones, ease menstrual cramping and heavy menstrual periods, relieve symptoms of morning sickness, tone the uterus, labor and delivery support and miscarriage prevention.
But don’t worry, guys, there are many other benefits, too, so you can absolutely drink it and benefit from it! Raspberry leaves are also known for boosting the immune system, improving energy levels, increasing fat metabolism, improving respiratory disorders, and helping with skin inflammation.
You can learn more about the benefits of using raspberry leaf and how to make raspberry leaf tea here.
I love sage’s flavor so much that you will find it in my top medicinal kitchen herbs to grow. It's one of my favorite things to add to any meat dish, into soups, stews, and even some casseroles.
I also like to use it in landscaping because it's got that really pretty, almost velvety touch to the leaves, and it's a silver green, so it can add some great visual interest wherever you plant it. It is a bit invasive, so I keep mine in a container. You want to make sure that wherever you plant it, you don't mind that it spreads.
Sage is best known for helping to aid digestion problems and supporting mind and mental performance. Sage can also help decrease secretions and extra mucous, and you can use it to help aid sore mouths, throats, and swollen nasal passages.
One thing to note is that sage can decrease milk when nursing. So if you're trying to wean a child, that can be a great thing, but if you're not trying to ween, you want to stay away from sage tea.
Stinging Nettle is commonly thought of as a weed, but it is so helpful that I have a separate post on stinging nettle benefits. Complete with foraging, harvesting and preserving tips.
Medicinally, stinging nettles help decrease inflammation and urine output. They also help with seasonal allergie. They’re fantastic to keep on hand if you suffer from allergies in the spring and fall.
You can take advantage of these benefits by making nettle leaf tea, adding nettle leaves to soups and stews, or even just sauté them with butter and garlic as a nice finish to over easy eggs. That’s one of my favorite breakfasts!
These bright blooming annuals provide multiple benefits to a cottage garden. You can use sunflowers medicinally or cosmetically.
Sunflower petals are a mild anti-inflammatory and good for bringing shine to your hair.
You can sprout the seeds to make delicious micro-greens. They're packed with antioxidants that protect from the development of heart disease and cancer.
Having those sprouts and micro-greens is a delight. Even though we preserve so much of our food, there's nothing like having fresh greens in the winter.
Even though yarrow grows wild in many areas, it makes a great addition to your cottage garden. Yarrow is another multifunctional, potent herb that pollinators love, and it's beautiful as a cut flower.
Yarrow has antiviral properties, so you can use it to help reduce a fever. It also has styptic properties making it helpful to stop bleeding. Yarrow is drying and cooling, so it can take down any skin inflammation, especially with a breakout.
Simply infuse yarrow into alcohol to make a tincture. Use the tincture directly on the spot you want to treat. You can spray it on or even use a roller bottle. Just be careful not to get it anywhere you don’t want it because it will dry your skin out.
Practical Home Herbalism
In my course, I'll teach you how to listen to your body. How to learn what remedies work best for you. Even how to make them in order to build up your own herbal medicine cabinet that you can feel confident using for yourself and your family.
The course will be available in the fall of 2023, but for now, you can join the waitlist and get my mini herb course. Then, when doors open for the Practical Home Herbalism course, you'll be the first to know.
- Episode #67 – 7 Herbs for Natural Remedies Your Grandparents Used
- DIY Herbal Face Scrub and Mask
- Verse of the Week – Hebrews 9:14
- Episode #167 – 8 Medicinal Plants You Need to Add to Your Garden
- How to Plan Your Best Garden & Harvest for a Year’s Worth of Food
- Perennial Plants to Increase Food Production with Less Time
- Edible & Medicinal Weeds in Your Backyard
- I order my elderberry starts online from Raintree Nursery.
- Verse of the Week – Philippians 1:9-10
- Episode #182 – 8 Medicinal Herbs and Their Uses for Growing an Herbal Tea Garden
- Episode #186 – How to Design a Cottage Garden
- Episode #199 – Plant These Medicinal Herbal Flowers from Seed Now for Next Spring
More Articles You May Enjoy
- How to Use Herbs and Natural Remedies at Home
- What is an Adaptogen (+ Adaptogen Herbs)
- How to Heal Stomach Acid Naturally
- Planning and Growing a Medicinal Herb Garden
- How to Prune Herbs and Perennials for Maximum Growth
- How to Harvest Herbs for Medicinal Purposes
- How to Dry Fresh Herbs at Home
- How to Boost the Immune System Naturally
- Medicinal Kitchen Herbs to Grow
- Herbal Home Remedies for Cold and Flu
- 7 Natural Cough and Cold Herbal Remedies
- How to Make Elderberry Syrup + Additional Add-Ins
- Herbal Medicinal Tea – How to Make Your Own
- 7 Ways to Use Medicinal Herbs at Home
- Homemade Traditional Fire Cider Recipe & Benefits
- Echinacea Tincture – How To Make It & Use It