San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Start a green pharmacy with potted herbs

Costa Rica’s trop-ical climate provides a year-round opportunity to enjoy working with nature in the garden. Creating a green pharmacy is one good example of what you can do. Imagine having the herbs you need at your fingertips to prevent and treat those common health issues we all have to deal with at times. Sound like a fantasy? Not at all. 

Ed Bernhardt

Ed Bernhardt

For more than 30 years, my family and I have used our green pharmacy with great results. For readers who would like to start a green pharmacy, I’ll be writing a series of articles on how to create one at home. You don’t even need a lot of space. Most of these wonderful herbs can be grown in pots or containers, both indoors and outside on the patio. 

To begin our green pharmacy, let’s start with a Mediterranean potted kitchen herb garden. When the Spanish colonists arrived in the New World, they brought with them four of their cherished herbs from the Mediterranean region: basil, rosemary, thyme and oregano. Centuries later, the tradition continues of growing and using these versatile herbs in the kitchen. 

These herbs play an important role in preventive health care, as well as having medicinal qualities that can be useful in treating many common ailments. From my personal experience over the years, I can say that one of the reasons I stay healthy can be credited to eating a fresh salad nearly every day, garnished with a homemade Mediterranean-style salad dressing. Olive oil, lemon and onion blended with any of the abovementioned herbs makes a salad complete. 

The essential oils of these four herbs aid in digestion and prevent unwanted microbes from colonizing your digestive tract, as well as improving your blood chemistry for better circulation. And of course, preparing your meals with these delicious herbs as seasoning also improves your health. 

A tea of rosemary stimulates bile and improves liver function and circulation. The same tea can be used as a rinse to improve scalp and hair health. Oregano tea can relieve nervous headaches, upset stomach, indigestion, colic, coughs, colds and flu. Some women also take an infusion during the three days before the onset of menstruation to ensure regularity and ease premenstrual symptoms. Thyme also helps treat colds and flu, sore throats and coughs, and is a strong antibacterial agent, which makes it useful in treating diarrhea and gastric infections. Basil tea is used as a mild nerve tonic and is useful for treating stomach cramps in babies. 

To obtain planting material for these herbs, visit your local farmers or municipal market, where you should find herb stands selling fresh cuttings that can be used for propagation at home. 

Take the fresh cuttings and plant them in recycled plastic cups with holes punched in the bottom and filled with a mix of sand and soil. Keep them in the shade and moist during the first stage, until they root and begin to form new foliage. When the plants are hardy, they can be transplanted to pots. 

These hardy herbs do well in average soil mixed with sand. Place them in a sunny location on a porch or under the eaves of the house to keep them out of the heavy tropical rains, which may cause leaf diseases. Water them when needed and occasionally use a soluble organic fertilizer to keep them strong and healthy. 

Good luck with your potted herb garden. If you have questions or herbal wisdom to share, or would like to receive a monthly newsletter on tropical gardening in Costa Rica, write me at

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