Really good herbs for wet, clay soils

Posted on: July 6th, 2012 by
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Due to the spring finally bursting forth, the days getting longer, and the air getting warmer, it’s time to start thinking about planting seeds for the Cae Non herb garden. Nevermind thinking, more appropriately, it’s time to start planting the seeds.

As the raised beds are not built and will only come along later in the summer, I needed to turn my attention to plants I could put directly into the wet, clay soil that we have; of course, medicinal value is also considered. So, when a University assignment about researching plants and growing conditions came alone, it proved the ultimate excuse to turn my thoughts back to Cae Non.

The following plants have been selected for their tolerance to heavy clay soil, damp growing conditions, and ease of cultivation.

Many have seeds readily available, if not, cuttings, roots, etc are available and can often be ‘borrowed’ from the wild – or the local municipal park!

BarberryMahonia aquifolium.
This large shrub (3×5 ft spread) has many medicinal uses. It likes partial shade, heavy, damp soil and should do wonderfully as an architectural ‘feature plant’ – especially with it’s lovely yellow flowers in the spring!

Guelder Rose – Viburnum opulus.
Also known as cramp bark, the bark of this plant makes an excellent remedy for menstrual cramps, migraine/tension headaches, stomach spasm, etc. It has a similar growth habit as Mahonia, liking damp, heavy soil.

ElecampaneInula helenium.
Seeds sown into finely raked drills in the spring. Likes moist growth media and sun. Ht, 3 ft. An amazing herb for boosting immunity in the autumn!

BurdockArctium lappa.
Favourite of the northern drink, ‘Dandelion and Burdock’ this is a must grow herb for our location; It likes open fields and wasteland and grows to quite a height (5ft.).

BorageBorago officinalis.
This sturdy plant will be a great addition for its adaptogenic properties. Though an annual, it will be a worthwhile herb, and benefit the soil with its tap-root.

ComfreySymphytum officinalis.
Large (5ft.) plant with very deep set tap roots; it is rich in minerals and can be used as a green manure. More importantly, it is a phenomenally powerful tissue healing agent.

FoxgloveDigitalis purpurea.
A poison. I want it for it’s lovely flowers and deep taproot!

MulleinVerbascum thapsus.
The herb of choice for many respiratory complaints, this is also ideal for the virgin ground of Cae Non; it likes wet soil and has a deep tap root.

Milk ThistleSilybum marianum
Another large field plant. While planting thistles may seem a bit daft, this is actually an amazingly useful plant; protective to the liver and a great way to recover from a hangover! Again, tolerant of wet, clay soil and with a reasonable height (4ft.)

WoadIsatis tinctoria.
Not a medicinal herb, but one that is a source of an indigo like dye. I have always wanted to try making woad body paint. Maybe I’ll have the courage to make the dye (by peeing on the plant material to start a fermentation process that bonds the dye to the ammonia in the urine).


If you look up most of these plants, you’ll find a common thread. They are mostly biennial plants that like poor soil and waste ground. Apart from Mahonia and Viburnum they also all share deep-growing tap root systems. These are useful in our clay as the roots will grow down to the mineral and nutrient pockets in the clay that wouldn’t be accessible to shallower rooting plants. The roots will also help break up the soil aerating it and allowing bacteria to multiply and aid in breathing life back into the soil. These plants will grow in partial shade/partial sun and can probably all take full sun, some shelter is a boon.

I will be running a workshop one weekend in June 2012 on herbs and heavy soil – a chance to learn about planting medicinally useful plants in heavy, wet, clay soils that wouldn’t be suitable for the more normal perception of herbs needing dry, well drained environments. Date and price TBC, in region of mid June, priced around £20 for the day.

Perhaps you have thoughts or experience of these plants? Why not share it with us and leave a comment below?

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