Before hospitals and grocery stores, there were herbs. Herbs are plants that are used for their medicinal quality, flavor, scent or taste. Humans have cultivated them for thousands of years, and most gardens today contain popular herbs like basil or oregano. But there are hundreds of rare and unusual herbs that you can plant alongside your other vegetables. Never use an herb medicinally without first consulting with your physician.
Sneezewort (Achillea ptarmica), also known as wildfire or adder's tongue, is a perennial ground cover native to Europe. This herb grows in almost any soil, and it is frost and drought resistant. Sneezewort is hardy to USDA Zone 5. People have chewed its leaves to relieve a toothache, and when dried its leaves can be used as a sneezing powder. Sneezewort's flowers are pure white double blooms on 2-foot-long stems, and they are good for cutting and drying.
Bloodflower (Asclepias curassavica), also called scarlet milkweed or wild ipecac, is an evergreen shrub that grows about 3 feet tall and wide. Its dramatic deep red and orange flowers attract butterflies. People have used its white stem sap to remove corns and warts. While it is called wild ipecac and was once used as an emetic, it is chemically different than the ipecac root. Bloodflower is native to tropical South America. It likes light, fertile soil and full sun. It is not drought or frost tolerant, and it thrives in USDA Zones 8b to 11.
Chinese Keys (Boesenbergia rotunda), also called lesser galangal and kra chaai, is a tender deciduous perennial herb that grows to 12 inches tall and wide. Native to Indonesia, the herb's shoots, young leaves and roots are used in salads. In Asia, the root is used to treat colic and diarrhea. It prefers a shady area with moist, well-drained soil. Chinese Keys can tolerate frost, but not drought. It blooms repeatedly through the year, with spikes of red, pink or white flowers. Chinese Keys thrives in USDA Zones 9 to 11.
Fairywand (Chamaelirium luteum), also known as false unicorn, is an herbaceous perennial that can grow 4 feet tall. Its white flower spikes appear in mid-spring, with male and female blooms on separate plants. Fairywand grows in rich, moist soil in USDA Zones 4 to 9. It prefers sun to light shade. Native Americans chewed fairywand's rhizomes during pregnancy and for female problems. It also has been used as a diuretic and to treat stomach disorders.