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Grow your own medicine cabinet

8 May 2022
Photo: Jane Ussher

One of the things I experiment with a lot in my garden is growing stuff that heals us. One year I made a comfrey oil, which works wonders on skin complaints and itchy bites. I also grow proper peppermint for peppermint tea, which is fantastic if you have an upset tummy. Lemon balm grows freely around my place – I use it to make a great stomach and nerve settler. Here are some healing plants you can grow at home. Words Wendyl Nissen


Kawakawa is a native shrub you will find growing in most native bush, and often in parks that have been nicely planted with natives. It likes to grow in dappled shade and has heart-shaped leaves. It has a peppery taste when crushed and eaten. Māori have used this plant for years to heal skin infections and stomach upsets. I use it as a poultice and a tea – the poultice will draw out a skin infection and the tea will help with stomach upsets.


Pick a couple of leaves, preferably with insect holes as they will be the strongest. Rip them up, then give them a good bash with a mortar and pestle. When they become mushy and you’ve released their healing oils, grab a teaspoonful of the mush and apply it to the infected area. Wrap with a bandage and replace it every 12 hours. The infection should begin to reduce within a few hours.


Collect four or five leaves and rip them up into a small teapot or a cup with a lid (you can just put a saucer on your cup if you like). Pour on boiling water and leave to steep for 10 minutes. Pour or strain into
another cup and add a bit of honey to taste. This tea does wonders for indigestion or nausea. It’s also a good anti-inflammatory tonic if you are under the weather.


This is very different to the English mint we all grow in our gardens to use in cooking and for mint sauce to have with lamb. Peppermint makes the most delicious peppermint tea and is well worth planting in your garden as it will come back year after year. Peppermint has many medicinal benefits, and I find that a strong cup can be quite soothing for an upset tummy.


Gather a large handful of peppermint leaves and put them in a teapot or cup. Pour over boiling water and leave to steep for 5 minutes. Add a slice of lemon if you like, or some honey to sweeten. You can also
add milk to make the tea creamy.

Lemon balm

I love having lemon balm in my garden simply so that I can squash a few leaves and inhale its wonderful smell. I use it primarily for colds. Like peppermint, it is also quite calming. Make a tea, using the same method as for peppermint tea, or try adding some leaves to fruit salads and cordials.


It’s not hard to find comfrey growing somewhere, as it thrives like a weed. I have some in my garden that I have to keep in check, but it makes a great addition to my compost tea for the garden. I also make a
terrific oil out of it; it’s well known for its skin-healing abilities. When I’m gardening I get a lot of scratches and insect bites and this oil has proved to be a winner for making sure they heal quickly and don’t get infected. In the old days, comfrey was used in many healing concoctions because it contains allantoin, which is thought to increase the speed at which wounds heal. This is such an easy oil to make.


• 1 large glass jar (Agee if you have it)
• Comfrey leaves
• Olive oil


On a dry day collect the comfrey leaves and chop up into pieces. Fill the jar with them, pushing them down so that they are quite tightly packed into the jar. Pour over the olive oil until you have reached the
top, then use a fork to push the comfrey down again to release any air and make more room for the oil.

Put on the lid and sit the jar on a sunny windowsill. In the summer with hot sun this will be ready in three weeks; in winter it will take about six weeks.

Strain the leaves from the oil and put the oil in a dark glass bottle. Use on any skin complaints or simply rub all over your skin as a lovely conditioner.

Extracted from Natural Care by Wendyl Nissen. Published by Allen & Unwin NZ, $45

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