The modern medicinal garden pays homage to the renaissance era "physic gardens" of Europe where early botanists collected medicinal plants from all over the world. Although physic gardens were recorded as early as the 1330's the most famous medicinal plant garden was the Chelsea Physic Garden, started in 1673 in London. The most famous botanists of the era, whose names today are echoed in countless garden plants, worked at these gardens with their primary goal being the collection of medicinal plants used by apothecaries of the time. People such as Joseph Banks (Banksia), John Bartram (US explorer), Mark Catesby (as in Sarracenia x catesbaei), Samuel Doody (Doodia), William Forsyth (Forsythia), Carl Linnaeus (creator of modern plant taxonomy), William Houston (who discovered Buddleia and had Houstonia named for him) and John Miller (author of "The Gardener's Dictionary") all studied medicinal plants at the European physic gardens.
Read More About Medicinal Plants
On the other side of the world from the European physic gardens, traditional Chinese herbalists also used local plant species as medicinal plants. Plants were used to balance yin and yang and to manipulate the five cardinal functions of the qi. Today, in the Far East, there is a branch of medicine called "traditional Chinese medicine" (TCM) that uses oriental herbs to heal, revive and restore balance. There are 50 fundamental medicinal plants in TCM, and thousands of minor ones. Many of these plants are wonderful ornamental garden plants that can be used strictly for their looks or as part of a traditional Chinese medicine garden…an oriental physic garden if you will. Similar herbal histories developed throughout Asia, Japan, India, and other exotic locales.
At the same time in history, across the Pacific, Native Americans used many North American native plants to heal various new world maladies, and when the Europeans first arrived, the Indians shared their medicinal plants with them. Some of these plants were sent back to the European physic gardens, completing the global circuit. Wherever humans have lived, they have employed local medicinal plants to treat illnesses.
In the era before modern science…controlled experiments, hypotheses, statistical analysis, etc…humans often used the physical appearance of a plant to determine its medicinal use…whether it actually worked or not. Primitive cultures assumed that the "creator" imbued plants with signs or clues as to how humans should use them. For example, a plant with spotted, lung-shaped leaves was used to treat tuberculosis and was given the name Lungwort (Pulmonaria). Aristolochia was often called birthwort because the oddly shaped flowers reminded some medieval apothecary of a birth canal…unfortunately this plant is quite toxic and poisoned countless pregnant women. This philosophy is called the "Doctrine of Signatures" and many historical medicinal plants were given names based on the heavenly "signs" in them. Many plant names today still bear these doctrinal names…Hepatica (Liverleaf). Sanguinaria (Bloodroot), Eupatorium (Boneset), Dicentra (Bleeding Heart). However, the doctrine of signatures is nothing more than the wishful thinking of medieval cultures. Many traditional "medicinal plants" actually have no effect or are extraordinarily toxic (Sanguinaria, Digitalis, Aconitum, Convallaria).
Today there are thousands of species of plants that are popular in ornamental gardens that unbeknownst to their owners also have a history of use as medicinal plants. We have culled through our enormous plant catalog to gather a list of the medicinal plants for sale here at Plant Delights. Some of these plants are no longer used for medicinal purposes, having been supplanted by less expensive synthetic medicines or less toxic compounds. Our advice regarding how to use medicinal plants is to plant two and call us in the morning. If you click on a genus name below, you will be taken to a genus information page where you can read detailed information about the medicinal uses of each plant.
List of medicinal plants at Plant Delights Nursery
When you are ready to buy Medicinal Plants for your garden, check out our online list of Medicinal Plants for sale below.
Since 1988, Plant Delights Nursery has been the choice of serious gardeners and plant collectors looking for the best and rarest perennial plants. We are pleased to have received the Perennial Plant Association Retail Award in 2011, the American Horticulture Society Commercial Award in 2002, and to have been selected as one of the Best Mail Order Plant Nurseries - Garden Design Magazine 2010. Welcome to our family of plant lovers!
In our winter hardiness trials, Abutilon 'Bartley Schwarz' (named after the late California plantsman, although incorrectly spelled "Schwartz") has been one of our best performers. The slightly pendent branching habit of this Abutilon megapotamicum hybrid makes a 4' tall x 4' wide clump clothed with small, fuzzy green serrated leaves and adorned from early summer through fall with 1.5" wide, salmon-orange (RHS 24B) bell-shaped flowers that dangle from the outstretched woody branches. As a houseplant, this mallow relative is everblooming (should be the same in an apartment)...just watch out for hummingbird droppings. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
Abutilon 'Canary Bird' is a marvelous hummingbird plant that has survived 6 degrees F in our garden. This hibiscus relative has maple-like foliage on a compact 6' tall x 3' wide plant. For us, Abutilon 'Canary Bird' starts flowering in early summer with large, dangling, 3" wide, canary yellow, bell-like flowers and continues until the first frost. For those in more northerly zones, Abutilon 'Canary Bird' makes a great centerpiece for a container planting. Good winter drainage is key for maximum cold tolerance in the ground. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
Abutilon 'Fool's Gold' is an upright abutilon, clothed with 2" wide, fuzzy green leaves and adorned from early summer until fall with 2.5" wide, hanging, orange (RHS 24B) lantern-like flowers, each highlighted with dark orange veins...a hummingbird delight. This 4' tall x 2.5' wide flowering maple has proven to be reliable in our climate since 2004, but is also a great summer container specimen plant. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
Abutilon megapotamicum is a fun and easy-to-grow Brazilian native that makes a great hummingbird magnet for the perennial border, spreading to several feet wide in a single season. If you're into container gardening, a flowering maple also makes a great hanging basket plant. In the wild, Abutilon megapotamicum reaches 8' tall, but in temperate climate cultivation, it rarely exceeds 5' tall. From late summer until frost, the plants are laden with very cool 2" hanging red lanterns, carefully placed between the thumb-sized green leaves. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
This vigorous hummingbird favorite makes a 5' tall x 5' wide upright mass of woody stems adorned with fuzzy, dark green leaves. During the summer, the outermost branches are laden with dangling parchment-yellow flowers, each highlighted by a dark red calyx. This has been a superb performer in our winter hardiness trials. Although we list this as a selection of Abutilon megapotamicum, its vigor and leaf shape suggest its baby-daddy is instead a close relative. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
I longed for an abutilon with pastel flowers and plantsman Luen Miller of Monterrey Bay Nursery came to the rescue with this fabulous selection of Abutilon megapotamicum. The 3' tall x 4' wide clump of Abutilon 'Pink Charm' is adorned from early summer until fall with small pink dangling bells that line the stem...simply charming for both the gardener as well as nearby hummingbirds. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
Thanks to Luen Miller of Monterrey Bay Nursery for sharing his splendid 2005 introduction...a hybrid of Abutilon megapotamicum. The 3-4' tall mass of stems is adorned with pointed green leaves and, from early June until fall, with hundreds of dangling bell-shaped flowers. The flowers are clear orange, highlighted by red bloodshot eye-like veins. Each flower is held tight by a dark burgundy calyx (the thing the flower sits in). Abutilon 'Orange Hot Lava' has been a standout in both our summer flowering and winter hardiness trials. Nine out of 10 hummingbirds agree, Abutilon 'Orange Hot Lava' is a top choice! Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
This Jon Dixon hybrid has been an amazing performer in our garden trials. Not only did Abutilon 'Voodoo' continue flowering into the upper 20s, but it kept green stems and leaves down to 20 degrees F. Abutilon 'Voodoo' makes an upright 6' tall x 3' wide clump, adorned, starting in late summer and continuing into late fall, with large 2", blood red, bell-shaped flowers dangling from the top half of the plant. This hummingbird favorite is one of the best performers of the large-flowered, upright flowering maples we have ever grown. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
In 2011, while Israeli nurseryman Moti Kopilovitch was visiting and discussing our acanthus selections, I explained that most Acanthus mollis we tried did not survive our hot, humid summers. Moti was kind enough to share seed of a form that thrives in Israel's hot, zone 10-11 climate and we are thrilled to share the plants with you. We planted several of this Acanthus mollis in the ground to watch, so we'll all grow them for the first time together. Acanthus mollis makes a 2' tall x 3' wide clump of broad, glossy-green, deeply indented leaves that goes into a midsummer lull but kicks into high gear with the return of cooler nights. The clumps are topped with 4' tall spikes of spiny purple and white flowers. Acanthus is propagated from root cuttings, so if you dig around a mature acanthus, you will create cuttings. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
I spent years lusting after the breathtaking variegated Acanthus 'Tasmanian Angel', so finally, not only do we have it, but we have enough to share. This unusual selection of the European Acanthus mollis comes via a gardener in Tasmania. The bold-textured, dark green leaves with deeply scalloped edges are highlighted by an irregular border that emerges creamy gold, then changes to white as the leaves mature. The older leaves eventually lose most of the coloration. When the 3' wide deer-resistant clumps mature, they are topped with 5' tall spikes of true pink flowers...simply stunning! Acanthus 'Tasmanian Angel' must have some sun to survive...also a rich, moist soil is preferred. Bear's breech is an evergreen perennial at the southern end of its range. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
Anthea yarrow is a 1993 introduction...a discovery by the late Alan Bloom of England, who found it growing in a patch of Achillea 'Moonshine'. Achillea 'Anblo', marketed under the equally strange name 'Anthea', is a noticeable improvement over most of the yarrows we have tried...it actually survives here without trying to take over the garden. The basal rosette of cutleaf silvery foliage is topped in late spring with very erect 30" stalks, holding nice flower clusters of light butter yellow. This is a great addition to the softer colored parts of the border. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
We've tried many yarrows through the years and most have struggled through our hot humid summers, with the exception of Achillea 'Strawberry Seduction'. This Achillea millefolium hybrid (possibly with Achillea clypeolata) was selected in 2001 by Holland's Michiel Zwaan, who bred it from the Achillea Summer Pastels seed series. Achillea 'Strawberry Seduction' is a long-flowering selection that begins flowering in June with strong 2' tall well-branched stems, topped with clusters of colorfast red flowers, highlighted with small yellow centers. I've experienced strawberry reductions before, but admit that I find the imagery of a strawberry seduction...berry interesting. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
Acorus calamus 'Variegatus' is an aroid relative and former member of the "family" before being ousted by the molecular taxonomy mob. Acorus calamus is now in the horticulture protection program disguised as a dramatic, upright deciduous iris. The vivid white and green banded, deer-resistant leaves of Acorus calamus 'Variegatus' make this one of the most strikingly beautiful vertical accent plants in the garden! Variegated sweet flag spreads slowly by means of a very thick above-ground rhizome. Sweet flag loves a moist spot such as a bog but will also grow in ordinary garden soils...a real easy-to-grow, carefree prize! Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
Despite the long, tongue-twisting name, the dwarf golden sweet flag is one of the most striking and certainly the cutest of the acorus. The tufts of tiny, golden, ornamental grass-like, evergold foliage make a slowly spreading patch to 2' wide in 5 years. If you get out the magnifying glass, you'll notice the tiny aroid-like tan spadices (flowers) in early summer. Acorus 'Minimus Aureus' is a bright, deer-resistant, dwarf evergreen perennial groundcover in moist shady areas where it makes either a feature specimen or a killer filler between dark stepping stones...a real highlight in the woodland garden. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
Actaea 'Misty Blue' is a fabulous Mt. Cuba selection of the native East Coast woodlander, Actaea pachypoda (no, we're not lumping them with cimicifuga, which we find ridiculous). Actaea 'Misty Blue' has glaucous, pewter colored, pinnate foliage compared to the typical green. The 18" tall clumps are topped in spring with short stalks of white flowers, followed by really cool ornamental white berries attached by bright red stems. You're going to love this amazing actaea selection...if you plant it in a light shade site with moist, but well-drained soil. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
Although the name indicates this fern is from the Aleutian islands, Adiantum aleuticum is native throughout the western United States and into northern Mexico. Adiantum aleuticum can also be found in a few eastern US states (Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Wisconsin). Adiantum aleuticum is similar in form to Adiantum pedatum with its fan-shaped, finger-like fronds atop a thin black stalk. The cultivar Adiantum aleuticum 'Imbricatum' is a dwarf form of this lovely clump-forming fern that matures at 10" tall, which is about half the height of the typical species. Like Michael Phelps, Adiantum aleuticum is much more robust in a moist environment with a few hours of morning sun. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
(aka A1FL-113) This selection of the worldwide native Adiantum capillus-veneris comes from Washington Co., Florida, about an hour west of Tallahassee. Adiantum capillus-veneris 'Falling Waters' has made a splendid patch in our garden with frond pinnae (fern leaflets) that are slightly smaller and narrower than what we typically see in other regional southern maidenhair fern forms. Our five-year-old clumps have spread to 2' wide and so far have survived single digit temperatures with no problems. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
(aka: Adiantum capillus-veneris A3T-022) We discovered this wonderfully cut leaf form of the southeastern native Adiantum capillus-veneris along Wasp Creek in Kendall County, Texas. Unlike most forms of southern maidenhair fern, the pinnae are shaped like narrow Japanese hand fans. For us, Adiantum 'Fan Dance' forms a tight 6" tall patch that expands to 2' wide in 5 years. We are pleased to finally be able to share this special form of southern maidenhair fern. Moist soils are best. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
(aka: Adiantum c-v A1CR-090) In 2010, we discovered a small patch of Adiantum capillus-veneris growing in a wet seep at 1680' elevation on the south slope of Crete's Mt. Ida...very near an amazing population of white-flowered Dracunculus vulgaris. Our spore collections germinated well enough that we are able to share. The parent clump was more compact than most of the US native forms, maturing around 6" tall. We expect a 2' wide patch in 5 years...we'll find out together. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)
(coll. #A2T-034) This form of the wonderful southern maidenhair fern, Adiantum capillus-veneris, comes from spores that we collected in 2000 in the Edwards Plateau region of Texas near the town of Rock Springs. Not that you are interested, but we were stopped three times by border patrol agents who searched our backpacks for illegal aliens...glad I carried a small backpack. Plantsman Scott Ogden showed us this population of southern maidenhair fern growing along a small creek in a very alkaline soil. Our 5-year-old clump is 1' tall x 2' wide and, as you can imagine, quite heat tolerant. Pot Size: 3.5" (24 fl. oz/709.77 ml)