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Learn about my Top 10 Favourite Herbs

As a herbalist I have often been asked “what's your favourite herb”?

This question always makes me smile.

I love herbs!

A woman holding a marigold flower in one hand and crouching down next to some orange marigold flowers growing
Me amongst the Marigold Flowers

But it’s actually really challenging to choose one favourite. There are so many wonderful herbs!

Also, the answer is not fixed, it might change according to my mood, energy levels, the season, or which way the wind is blowing! Which is why I smile when somebody asks me this, I think, how long have you got?

It also recently occurred to me that this question is perhaps like asking a mother which is her favourite child. It’s difficult to answer because they are all unique with their own qualities to bring to the world.

So I decided to share with you what my current top 10 favourite herbs are (in no particular order!).

Make yourself a nice cup of herbal tea, and sit comfortably while you learn about these 10 incredible herbs...


1. Marigold is probably my all-time favourite herb. Seeing these jolly orange flowers immediately brings a smile to my face and really cheers me up, just like a bright and breezy friend!

A bright orange marigold flower
Marigold in a friends garden, by HB Healthy

Something I love about marigolds is that they contain a lot of a constituent called ‘mucilage’ (I love this word aside from anything else!). Mucilage is basically ‘plant slime’.

It sounds gross, but mucilage is actually really healing for the skin, and the mucous membranes inside the body. This is where marigold comes into its own…

· If there are skin irritations like eczema a marigold cream or oil can work wonders (depending on the type of eczema).

· When taken internally marigold can soothe inflamed mucous membranes such as in the digestive tract.

A bit of that cheerful sunshine flower can also lighten the mood when drunk in a tea during winter months, and the petals brighten up any tea blend which makes it a joy to look at!

A fun fact about marigolds (and probably another reason why a love them so much), is that in India they are made into garlands (and India holds a special place in my heart, just like marigolds do!), where I've seen them being threaded onto string in markets and outside temples.

Whilst writing this I've learnt that marigolds are actually often used in Hindu weddings, known as the 'herb of the sun' - I can see why! They are thought to represent creativity and passion, and given to bestow brightness and positivity on newlyweds!

There are many varieties of marigold, a favourite among gardeners as well because they attract pollinators and keep predatory insects off other plants (I think this is called companion planting).

The specific variety of marigold that herbalists work with medicinally is called Calendula officinalis (you may sometimes hear the names marigold and calendula used interchangeable to refer to the same plant).


2. Nettle I love nettles because they pop up everywhere. A common herb most of us are aware of, (mainly from trying to avoid getting stung by them!). But just because nettles are common it doesn’t mean they are not special – they have so many beneficial properties...

A stinging nettle
Nettle in the woods, by HB Healthy

What’s really fascinating about nettle is that even though it stings, it also contains a natural anti-histamine, which helps to stop itching when taken internally. This is an incredible creation of nature which combines these seemingly paradoxical properties!

A bit like a ‘herbal multi vitamin’ nettle is rich in vitamins and minerals, including iron.

This makes it an excellent tonic, if you’re feeling fatigued, you’ve got low iron levels, or just need a general boost for the system.

Nettle can be made into a herbal tea, fresh or dried.

It can also be added to food such as nettle soups, and even to green smoothies (if you don’t mind a tingling tongue!).

Fun fact: apparently nettle seeds were taken to England by Romans when they travelled there. Nettles were grown so that the plants could be used to thrash (and sting!) their limbs! This was thought to be a technique to reinvigorating the body in the cold damp weather!


3. Dandelion is a rebel herb and I love it for this! It pops up everywhere, in the grass, the cracks between walls, pavements, in the kerbside, anywhere it can lay its roots.

A yellow dandelion flower and green leaves growing in the soil
Dandelion in a friends flowerbed, by HB Healthy

Dandelion is despised by many gardeners because its roots spread easily (which are medicine by the way!), allowing it to grow everywhere, and keep on popping up with its cheerful flowers…it doesn’t give up!

It is this resilient and rebellious energy that I love about dandelion.

There is an old wives tale which I heard as a child, saying that if you pick a dandelion flower you will wet the bed (which worried me when I first heard it!). But interestingly there is actually a connection between this folklore and the medicinal properties of dandelion.

Dandelion leaf has a diuretic action, which means that it helps to promote the production and excretion of urine.

This diuretic action can be helpful in cases of fluid retention (oedema), or if you just feel a bit sluggish and want to support the body in cleaning out.

The leaf also has quite a bitter taste which can be beneficial for promoting digestive function. The fresh young leaves can be added to salad (if you are feeling brave like a lion!).

The root of dandelion has more affinity with the liver, and is a great support for sluggish digestion. It can also be beneficial as a support for skin conditions.

Fun fact: The leaf of dandelion has a slightly toothed edge, and the flower head looks like a lion mane, hence the name (as translated from French), means ‘dent-de-leon’ - tooth of the lion.


4. Cleavers is, in the northern hemisphere a sure sign that spring is on its way – usually starting to appear in hedgerows and scrublands in February.

Cleavers is a juicy herb – and I like life to be juicy, so alongside its heralding of spring, another reason to love cleavers!

Fresh cleavers plant growing up a fence
Juicy Cleavers on the fence, by HB Healthy

It supports the lymphatic system (which helps to clean fluids in the body and keep them in the right place!). Cleavers makes a refreshing springtime drink, supporting the lymphatic system to assist the body in a spring-time clean-out after the heaviness of winter. Think of drinking the colour green, the flavour of spring, this is what cleavers brings!

Cleavers also reminds me of a playful childlike energy. When you come into contact with the plant or seeds, they easily stick to you, as children we found it fun to stick this to each other!

Fun fact: Cleavers is the cousin of coffee, being in the same plant family, Rubiaceae. Even though it thrives in a completely different climate to coffee, these plants are still closely related. Apparently when you roast the cleavers seeds, they have an aroma similar to coffee.


4. Rose is a herb of the heart, the flowers symbolise romance and love, but its connection to the heart go deeper than that…

I actually used to be indifferent to rose, but writing this top 10 realised I that it is now a firm favourite herb.

Whilst studying herbal medicine, I had a very special experience with rose (which I share in my online courses).

This experience helped me to connect with and begin to understand the energetics of rose as a herbal medicine. But still our relationship did not progress for a few more years!

During my early 30’s I suddenly fell completely in love with rose! They were coming at me from everywhere.

I was living somewhere a lot of roses were growing outside…I was given roses to heal by a friend…I worked in a place where they sold rose skin creams.

Rose surrounded me, just when I probably really needed it. I began to smother myself with roses, and I haven’t stopped since!

I love just looking at rose flowers. This alone seems to change my physiology to a more relaxed mode.

A pink rose bud with green leaves in the background
Fresh Rosebud unfurling, by HB Healthy

It fascinates me how in a few days they can go from tight buds full of potential, to quickly blossoming into exquisite blooms. And then, just as quickly the petals begin to fall away (which is a great time to collect them!).

Rose teachers us the temporary nature of everything, including physical beauty.

The thorns of rose also teach us how pain and beauty can coexist. This is particularly interesting for me as rose is a herb very beneficial in grief, and sadness of the heart.

For most of us grief can be a time of feeling painful heart-aching loss. And in my experience, as the heart is cracked open by this pain, it can also generate a feeling of compassion and deep love (of course grief is far more complex than this, and is usually accompanied by a whole range of other emotions).

Rose seems to represent the bitter-sweetness that can sometimes come with grief (and in life overall), and can help us to navigate our way through this, knowing that no matter how prickly, sharp, and painful the exterior may feel at times, deep in our hearts there is a loving sweetness which we can eventually return to.

I love to drink rose petals as a herbal tea, or simmered in plant-milk (blended with other herbs). I also love to spritz myself with rose water (and sometimes clients at the end of a massage session).

Fun fact: rose is described as a herbal hug for the heart.


6. Hawthorn is, according to folklore, connected with fairies and magic - what’s not to love about that!

It is stated that hawthorn trees are to always be respected (which really ought to be so for all trees!), but in the case of hawthorn it is probably to do with not upsetting the fairies which are alleged to protect the tree!

A hand holding white hawthorn flowers with pink bits
Hawthorn Flower Posy, by HB Healthy

According to herbalist Nathaniel Hughes, just spending time with hawthorn can have a calming effect (I have had first hand experience of this, and tell the story in my online autumn course).

Aside from the tales of folklore, hawthorn is a wonderful herb for the heart and cardiovascular system.

The flowers tend to come into bloom in May (which accounts for its common name ‘mayflower’). These flowering tops with the leaves can be drunk in a pleasantly sweet tasting herbal tea. They contain flavonoids which are protective for the heart and cardiovascular system.

The berries appear in autumn, and their rich deep red colour are a sign that they are high in polyphenols, a plant constituent which is extremely beneficial for cardiovascular health. The berries can also be made into an infusion (fresh or dried).

Hawthorn helps to improve the efficiency of the heart muscle, and can be beneficial for lowering blood pressure.

Hawthorn is beneficial when concerns of the heart are associated with anxiety, as it also helps to reduce symptoms of mild anxiety.

Take care when harvesting because of the thorns (and the fairies!).

Fun fact: the berries of hawthorn have also traditionally been called ‘pixie pears’, probably because of their small size (but maybe to do with the fairy folklore!?).


7. Rosemary and I have recently reunited, and I am really enjoying getting to know her again! She has taught me how our relationship with plants can change drastically over time…

I have long appreciated rosemary for its wonderful qualities of helping to relieve muscle spasms when applied topically as an infused oil, and the incredible aroma this creates when making the oil.

Also as a cooking ingredient (roast potatoes with rosemary, yum!).

However, despite this love and appreciation, rosemary and I never really got on well when it came to taking it internally as a herbal medicine.

On paper rosemary ‘should’ have been a great herb for me!

It helps with circulation, especially to the brain, can improve concentration, elevate the mood, is a wonderful antioxidant, aids digestion, and liver detoxification processes.

But despite this array of wonderful qualities, personally, I did not have a positive experience with taking rosemary as a tincture (which is a herbal extract in alcohol). This was prescribed for me many times by a herbalist when I was studying herbal medicine.

Rosemary bush with tiny green leaves and purple flowers.
Rosemary by the Sea, by HB Healthy

The response that happened for me when the herbalist slipped rosemary into the mix (and I didn’t even know it was in there), was that I got headaches.

This is what happened for me every time, even though rosemary is supposed to help with headaches!

This taught me a wonderful lesson...

Despite what research says, and whatever the history of traditional applications of a herb might have been, this does not always translate as being true for every person.

We are all unique, and our bodies respond differently.

For this lesson I love rosemary, and am grateful for that experience which has definitely helped to inform my practice as a herbalist.

What’s happened lately with the relationship between rosemary and I?

It grows abundantly where I live and we’ve begun to reconnect as I explore new ways of working together.

This might be just passing by and brushing the leaf tips, inhaling the aroma, nibbling a few of the tiny leaves fresh from the plant...and making a strong infusion of rosemary tea which I will drink throughout the day.

The effects have so far been entirely positive, I notice feeling many of the benefits listed for rosemary including being clearer headed, better able to concentrate, somehow feeling fresher, and lighter in mood.

So, rosemary has been a great teacher for me, and our relationship shows just how this can evolve, and that the way we interact with and respond to herbs changes according to different phases of our lives.

Rosemary is easy to find growing in parks, it grows well in a pot so if you know a friend with a plant ask for a cutting and get acquainted.

Fun fact: Rosemary thrives by the sea, and the Latin name Rosmarinus actually translates from meaning rose of the sea.


8. Ashwagandha is for me, like a stable friend you can always come to when you need someone to bring you back down to earth. Someone who will tell you a few home truths about how you really are…

This herb has helped me greatly along the way. It is a root, and somehow feels deeply grounding (although not for everyone).

Ashwagandha is native to India and is often used in Ayurvedic medicine.

The properties of ashwagandha include being an adaptogen, meaning that it increases the body’s resilience to stress, regardless whether it is physical, mental, emotional, or environmental in origin.

Something I love about ashwagandha is that it is restorative for the nervous system, helps to increase energy levels, but can also encourage a deep sleep.

This paradox is what another one of those wonders of herbs shares with us!

It allows us to sleep at a much deeper more restorative level (rather than this light skippy sleep which can often accompany stressed states), therefore restoring energy levels.

Ashwagandha is also nutritive tonic, a sexual tonic, contains iron, and is often given to rebuild the strength and stamina for people who are convalescing.

For some people who are particularly frazzled and very depleted by stress, ashwagandha may feel too strong, making them feel strung out rather than relaxed. This again teaches us that not all herbs are for everyone all of the time!

Fun fact: Ashwagandha has a very distinct strong smell, and it is said traditionally to give the ‘strength and stamina of a horse!’


9. Liquorice and I have been having a long-term love affair! The benefits of liquorice go on and on, and it is a herb which I have enjoyed in so many forms (except the salty candy which you get in Scandinavia!)...

This herb has a distinct sweet taste which is usually a love or hate thing (I love it!).

A hand holding some liquorice root sticks
Liquorice Root by HB Healthy

Something I love about liquorice is that when added to a herbal tea blend (in the right quantity), it can add a subtle sweetness, and help to bring together the other flavours in a more rounded way, without tasting distinctly like liquorice.

With this method many people (friend and colleagues) who detest the taste of liquorice, have enjoyed a herbal tea blend which contained liquorice! When I’ve later told them that it was in there they’ve been surprised that they didn’t know, and it has changed their relationship with the herb.

From this experience people have become open to trying liquorice again, rather than immediately rejecting it just because of the name and association.

In this way liquorice teaches us about being non-judgemental, and about giving herbs (and people!) a second chance!

The benefits of liquorice include being anti-inflammatory for mucous membranes - think easing inflamed digestive tract, easing irritable coughs, and soothing sore bladders.

It also has anti-viral properties, and is an adrenal tonic (the adrenal glands produce stress hormones and can become overworked or depleted after prolonged stress).

Because of its effect on the adrenal glands, liquorice can improve the stress response and help to ease that feeling of being frazzled or exhausted all the time due to ‘burnout’ which comes with over-activation of the HPA axis (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal).

Liquorice is also a slight laxative so can help if constipation is an issue.

Please note that most liquorice sweets contain very little (if any) actual liquorice. You can get the root extract which is a very hard, brittle, black substance sold in sticks or pieces, which can be sucked on (as can the whole root), and is probably what the sweets have been modelled on.

Fun fact: The Latin name for liquorice Glycyrrhiza translates to literally mean ‘sweet root’.


10. Turmeric is a herb which I really love but probably take for granted! This is because I use it on an almost daily basis in cooking without really thinking about all the wonderful benefits it is bringing to me, and how far it has probably travelled to reach my kitchen (often being grown in India).

I love the vibrant orange-yellow colour of turmeric root, which can be found in powder form, and sometimes as the fresh root.

Fresh turmeric root next to turmeric powder in a white dish.
Turmeric Root & Powder, by HB Healthy

The fresh root or barely diluted powder tends to stain anything it comes into contact with, with its beautiful colour, I quite like this as it somehow shows the power of turmeric, but bright orange stains might not please everyone!

The benefits of turmeric are so many, including being an anti-oxidant which can be helpful as a preventative for cancer, it supports liver function and so detoxification processes, it reduces inflammation in the body such as in arthritis or systemic inflammatory disorders.

Fun fact: in India turmeric has a history of being used topically by women to lighten the skin. This has transferred to western cosmetics where it is included in some skincare products with claims that it can reduce skin blemishes and sunspots.


Thank you so much for reading!

I have really enjoyed writing about these top 10 favourite herbs, but just know there are always another 10 I would happily write about, and another, and another...

There really are so many incredible herbs out there to get to know.

To learn more about herbs, sign up to one of my online herb courses, find all the details here by clicking the link below.


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