Joseph E. Meyer - Herbs for Your Garden and Kitchen Pharmacy

Growing herbs is popular and deserves to be more popular. Many annual and perennial herbs grow well in Oklahoma, their flowers provide nectar for butterflies and they are useful in the kitchen.

Photo: Black and Blue Salvia, Jewels of Opar and Basil bloom together in a nectar garden.
Before science brought us modern chemistry, the scarcity of physicians and money led to self-medication using herbs.

Today, many people sip mint tea to calm their stomach, drink basil tea to calm ulcers and nerves, apply an Aloe Vera leaf to a burn, and eat garlic as an antibiotic.

Chicago botanist Joseph E. Meyer (1878-1950) founded the Indiana Botanic Garden in 1925. There, his family, including 8 children, harvested, dried and packaged herbs.

His 1918 book The Herbalist described herbal remedies known at the time. Then, from 1925 to 1979 his company published a free annual Herbalist Almanac based on customer testimonials and recipes. His son, Clarence reprinted 50 years of the Almanacs in The Herbalist Almanac: A Fifty Year Anthology which is available online for around $5.

Meyer wrote about the basics of botany, where herbs grow, how to gather and prepare them for use as medicines, teas, spices, flavoring, dye, dentifrice, cosmetics, etc.

In Herb Doctor and Medicine Man Meyer said that As a matter of fact, an honest doctor will admit that the latest medical science is not more uniformly successful in the treatment of many ills and maladies than the remedies discovered and used for centuries past by numerous tribes.

In The Old Herb Doctor Meyer reported, "Inorganic substances disturb the proper functioning of the organs … Organic substances, however, such as are found only in plants, are easily and quickly assimilated and do not disturb the system. "

A 1933 Indiana Botanic Garden catalog offered herbs with advice. The directions provided are simple and short: Just place a heaping teaspoonful of any herb or herb mixture into a cup of boiling water; let it stand until cold. That's all. Drink one or two cupfuls a day; a large mouthful at a time.

The products listed in the catalog provide a window to common treatments of the day. For example, Circus Oil (fifty cents for an unknown quantity and unknown ingredients) is an old and tried liniment extensively used by acrobats and circus people.

Mate tea is popular today as a healthy substitute for caffeine beverages. Meyer's catalog said Mexican Mate is beneficial in many ailments where ordinary tea is prohibited. It is often used externally as a wash.

Before listing a variety of laxative herbs, Meyer weighs in on the common cold, "But while waiting for the medical profession to decide … we need not allow this ailment to go unchecked … faulty elimination of the waste products of the body is at least a contributing or aggravating influence … . "

The preparation for growing hair contained Haar Wurzel, Jabora, Sage, Chamomile and Peach Tree Leaves. The catalog said, "The results are astonishing". The leaves were placed in a gallon jar with 2 quarts of vinegar, strained two weeks later and water added. The potion was used instead of washing the hair.

Meyer wrote about Arnica cream, which is used today for sprains, bruises, wounds and sore feet. He said, For irritation of the nasal passages and chapped lips there is nothing superior.

Many new hybrids of old herbs are available for today's gardener to mix with flowers and vegetables as well panting in mixed pots.

Clarence Meyer, also a lifelong herbalist, published several more books through Meyer Publishing. All of Joseph Meyer's books are available on the Internet.

Indiana Botanic Gardens still sells herbs through the mail and the Internet (

Meyer’s Castle ( built in 1929, as the family residence is now open as a setting for dining, weddings and parties.


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