Looking for a new challenge after growing your own produce and mastering decorative greenery? We asked the experts how to grow Ayurvedic plants, and the health benefits you can reap from using them.
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Becoming a plant parent is such a rewarding process. Whether you’re nurturing ornamental, insta-worthy plants, growing your own produce or stretching the life of store-bought herbs, the end result of your toil is always something to be proud of. If you’re ready for a new horticultural challenge that promises high rewards, Ayurvedic herbs may be the way to go.
Used in the ancient practice of Ayurveda – an Indian system of traditional medicine – these herbs hold medicinal properties that have scientific backing. Mina Khan, a pharmacist, Ayurvedic specialist and founder of Formulate Health says: “these herbs contain compact compounds that have an effect in our bodies. They can affect sugar levels, heart function and reduce inflammation in the body, much the same way modern medicines work.”
Although some Ayurvedic herbs such as turmeric and liquorice grow best in the hot climate they originate from, according to Lucie Giselle Ponsford, a horticulturist and gardening expert at Mimosa Garden Design: “We’ve got an amazingly lush environment in the UK. We’ve got lots of rain and we have fertile soil, we’ve just got to treat plants slightly differently if they come from hotter climes.”
All plants really need to grow is the right combination of water, sun and soil. With that in mind, we’ve dug up the dirt on four Ayurvedic plants with major health benefits that will help you grow an apothecary out of a plant pot.
How to grow aloe vera
Aloe vera is a succulent variety that thrives in drier environments. Its pulpy leaves are water stores, you’ll know if you’re under-watering when the leaves look noticeably dehydrated.
Lucie Ponsford suggests starting off with a small store-bought plant. When repotting she says “You want to make sure you’re trying to replicate, you know, a desert like compost that won’t let the roots sit wet. A free-draining compost will do the trick.”
Aloe vera plants need to have some light but not too much direct sun as the leaves can burn. It’ll thrive in bright, indirect light.
Lucie’s expert tip
Keep it indoors during the winter because it will not like frost, but “you can have it outside during the summer months as long as the weather’s warm and not too wet,” says Ponsford.
Health benefits from aloe vera:
To reap the benefits of aloe vera, cut an old leaf from the outer edge of the plant and stand it upright in a container to drain off the yellow sap. Once drained you can extract the pulpy jelly from the middle of the leaf to rub on wounds or burns, or blend into drinks for a digestive aid.
How to grow ginger
Ginger likes to be moist but not wet, so feel the soil before watering to ensure you’re not over-doing it. You’ll want to keep the soil slightly damp at all times.
The easiest way to grow ginger is from store bought ginger roots. Lucie Ponsford says, “Soak the root in order to stimulate the shoots in all the different nodules – these knuckles on the ginger are actually the growth points.”
When planting, opt for a two-litre pot filled with free-draining compost and plant your root deep.
Keep ginger plants in sunny spots as they thrive in warm, humid environments. Although your ginger plant will love being out for the summer, keep it indoors all of winter because it won’t like the rain.
Lucie’s expert tip
You might be anxious to see how your ginger root’s coming along, but avoid the urge to dig it up as you’ll be disturbing it. Ponsford says “You want to let the whole plant just grow and do its thing you know, for at least a year.” Once some of those roots become visible above ground – at the base of the stems – you can start digging them up to use as you like.
Health benefits from ginger:
Ginger contains a powerhouse antioxidant called gingerol. Mina Khan says “This compound has anti-inflammatory properties and can be used to treat all manner of ailments from arthritis and nausea, to high-cholesterol.”
how to grow Holy Basil
Holy basil loves a moist environment but hates to be waterlogged. Gena Lorraine, gardening expert at Fantastic Services advises you feel the soil and “water whenever you notice that the top inch of soil is dry.”
Keep the soil moist at all times during the warmer months, but reduce watering during the winter so that you don’t waterlog the roots.
Holy basil isn’t fussy, Gena says, “These plants can generally handle a full day of sun but they will also grow normally if they receive six hours of sunlight a day.” Any sunny spot will do, but if you choose to place it outside, make sure to bring it in from the frost at night and rain in the winter.
Holy basil can grow in most types of soil, however your plant will thrive if rooted in “light, well-draining soil, enriched with organic material.” Due to its dislike of waterlogged conditions it’s also best kept “in containers such as pots and planters, which offer proper drainage.” says the expert.
Gena’s expert tip
Holy basil grows quickly so don’t be shy about using it. Lorraine says, “Harvest it several times per week, making sure to remove up to 75% of its leaves each time. The leaves will continue to grow out!”
Health benefits from holy basil:
Although basil and holy basil come from the same family of herbs, the latter has a spicier, more peppery taste, and is an official sacred plant in India – hence the name.
Also known as tulsi, holy basil, is an adaptogen, meaning it contains compounds that counteract the effects of stress in the body. Using holy basil in salads or steeping it for teas will “reduce stress, as well as help to lessen anxiety and depression,” says Mina Khan.
how to grow lemongrass
Gena Lorraine says, “Lemongrass prefers rainfall and humid conditions,” so keep your plant well watered and ensure the soil is always moist. She also specifies a watering schedule of either early morning or late afternoon.
Your lemongrass plant should ideally be placed in a sunny area so that it receives a minimum of 6 hours of direct light a day. However, Gena says, “it will still grow if It gets three to five hours of sun a day – just at a slower pace.”
Lemongrass thrives in a moist, nutrient-dense environment. Lorraine advises a well-drained fertile soil with a pH of 6.5 to 7.0, with the aged compost added in will leave your lemongrass plant thriving.
Gena’s expert tip
This is a plant that doesn’t like to be confined. Gena Lorraine warns: “It can get very wide, therefore it’s best planted in a planter.” If you don’t have the room for a planter, though, a large pot will do. “Get yourself a five-gallon pot that is at least 14-inches across – if you plant lemongrass in a smaller container you run the risk of the roots breaking it,” says the expert.
Health benefits from lemongrass:
If you’re a fan of Thai food you’re probably used to adding fragrant sprigs of lemongrass to your favourite curries. According to Mina Khan, lemongrass has a lot more going for it than its zesty aroma, she says, “It’s a proven antimicrobial and an anti-inflammatory. It also helps reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol.”
Mina Khan, pharmacist and Ayurvedic expert
Nutrition expert and Ayurvedic specialist Mina Khan was brought up in a household where the kitchen spice tin was essentially the medicine cupboard. Mina believes passionately in the use of natural ingredients to help prevent and manage a range of health conditions and has unique expertise in both Western medicine – after working as a pharmacist for over 25 years – and traditional Ayurvedic medicine and practice.
Lucie Giselle Ponsford
Lucie Ponsford has over 10 years’ experience in the horticultural industry. Her flair for design and love of colour stems from her initial career path of a costume designer in the West End and Broadway. Mimosa Garden Design was born after having her first child in 2015. In 2019 Lucie made her first foray into show gardens at RHS Malvern, where she received a silver medal for the Grace & Dignity garden – a personal project for Women’s Aid.
Gena Lorraine is a gardening expert and horticulturist working at Fantastic Services. She’s been working in the horticulture industry for 6 years, but has been a keen gardener for many years after first discovering the pastime at a young age.