When planning the ultimate garden with beautiful plants of every type, there’s always room for cannabis. Fruits, vegetables, rows of kitchen herbs and medicinal aids are one thing, but are there plants to include that could actually help grow optimal cannabis?
The current legal climate means that only a few states allow legal home cultivation — even among states with adult-use programs — so cannabis flower is typically produced by itself in contained systems.
In the future of fully realized cannabis use, concurrent gardening and collaborative herbal medicines will be part of the norm. People who have been growing all-star gardens all along will be able to devote a bit of their expertise to cultivating cannabis for fun and personal use, as well as fitting it into permaculture.
What To Plant To Help Your Cannabis Flourish
Cannabis is usually grown in a monoculture situation — necessary at this juncture for consistency and commercial control over the plant — but hobby growers likely won’t use such methods in a backyard kitchen grow op. Store-bought cannabis is being evolved and stretched to different heights by producers, and it’s unlikely that regular people will stop trying to have a few plants in their typical garden.
Although you can’t grow cannabis next to just any plant, there are a variety of complementary herbs that can aid in preventing pests, attracting bees and even increasing terpene production — something even large-scale licensed producers will be looking at.
Common pests that could cause problems for cannabis growers include aphids, spider mites and traditional plant predators like snails and caterpillars. Side-by-side planting isn’t necessary to keep those mites from getting near your goods; it’s the aromas that do the work. Taco lovers and Indian food aficionados will be happy to know that cilantro not only prevents spider mites during its lifespan, but it can also be brewed into a topical tea to take out the problem bugs directly.
Novice hobbyists should keep their plants in moveable containers rather than in the ground so any herbal co-growing experiments will have limited risk by not sharing root territory and soil with your cannabis plant. Also, the ability to shift the cannabis plant’s position to allow for more sun at various stages of its growth is another advantage to starting in a container. Growers will advise to always place taller herbs out of the sun periphery of your cannabis plants — never mess with the light access to all parts. Not all growers use containers, in which case the cannabis has a much more intricate relationship with the terroir in which it’s grown.
Aster Farms in Northern California weathered the 2018 wildfire season with some losses, but its in-ground cannabis operation is still going strong, and co-founder Sam Campodonico-Ludwig has been working some herbal protection into the farm’s Northern California operations. “Mostly aromatic herbs to attract pollinators and discourage pests, like rosemary, thyme, borage flower, garlic, sage and peppermint,” he says.
As Campodonico-Ludwig can attest, garlic is more than a delicious aromatic: It’s simple to grow and bountiful, and its stalks and bulbs have gustatory pleasure. Spider mites don’t stand a chance against this potent plant, and it won’t threaten the growth of other plants. If you like pickles, try planting a nice block of dill and fennel in addition to your row of garlic.
Flowers are an additional boon to plants that will bring around good bugs while scaring away destructive ones. Yarrow is a particularly excellent choice for the cannabis cultivator. Its perennial nature gives you a one-time planting plan, and its presence stimulates terpenes in nearby plants. It can even help soil stay balanced.
Brittany Carbone, CEO and founder of CBD producer Tonic, has been working with different plants to grow her CBD hemp and to help its efficacy in the finished product. And flowers are part of her battle plan.
“Companion plants are important for outdoor grows, especially if you want to maintain organic growing practices,” she tells Big Buds. “Companion plants and herbs can be great for natural pest control and soil health. We grew basil near some of our hemp plants this past year because the strong smell can help repel garden insects. Marigolds are also great for protecting your cannabis plants from garden pests because they are attracted to the marigolds over cannabis. Marigolds act as the ultimate sacrifice to protect the integrity of your cannabis.”
Plants That Will Help Fix Your Soil
Flowers like those on basil and yarrow plants will do more than boost the aromatics in your cannabis — they help process soil and infuse vital nitrogen, which cannabis can deplete. It’s important to leave the soil in great shape for the following year’s harvest, so choosing plants that not only grow during the cannabis offseason but that grow quickly can be an excellent soil remediation strategy.
Growers like Carbone and Campodonico-Ludwig have strategies to improve their soil in the winter when there’s no cannabis happening. Campodonico-Ludwig says they go for nitrogen replacers that even have local roots as deep as cannabis cultivation.
“Our main winter cover crop is winter wheat, peas and beans — to add organic matter to the soil, prevent compaction and erosion, and recycle nutrients in the garden,” Campodonico says. “There is a famous heirloom bean from Lake County called Blue Lakes green beans, and we plan to incorporate those local favorites as well.”
When the plants are growing, Aster Farms also uses these strategies to keep its high-altitude, low-humidity soil happy and cool. “I like to plant winter squash and melons between the plants,” he adds. “They thrive in rich garden soil and form a ground cover that shades the soil surface. And they’re tasty.”
Project CBD went in-depth on preventing the many threats to cannabis monoculture. Alfalfa, with its 40-day harvest, is one recommendation. “Alfalfa is another example of a companion plant with therapeutic as well as other benefits. Alfalfa acts as a nitrogen-fixer and it also stabilizes terraces to prevent soil erosion. A cultivator can harvest alfalfa for making compost. Or it can be brewed and consumed as a mineral-rich medicinal tea,” Project CBD reports.
The guide also suggests that outdoor cultivators practice crop rotation, adding culinary and medicinal herbs like basil, dandelion and comfrey to work on the nitrogen numbers. “Following a heavy cannabis rotation, it’s good to grow restorative nitrogen-fixing plants,” the article states. “These botanical friends have symbiotic bacteria in their roots, and they pull nitrogen from the atmosphere and transfer it into the soil in a way that benefits the surrounding plants.”
“Experimenting with growing beans could be a really great, natural way to up the nitrogen content of your soil,” Carbone says. “Nitrogen levels are a vital component of any cannabis grow, and beans have the ability to pull nitrogen from the air and convert it into nitrites that can, in turn, be used by your cannabis plants.”
Having a triplicate purpose to each herb is not as difficult as it sounds, as many of the same plants that have the strong aromas we crave in cooking also poison pests and infuse the earth with sustenance. The ability to eat a plant, dose yourself with it, wield it against insect foes, and aid your cannabis grow is as multipurpose as it gets.
Which Herbs Are Good For Smokables?
Society has primarily valued cannabis and tobacco for smoking, but there are dozens of other smokable herbs, plants and flowers. It’s common to see lavender, rose and red raspberry twisted up into herbal joints, and people have been breathing mullein smoke for centuries to treat respiratory issues.
There could be a future demand for organically grown herbs and smokables as companions to cannabis as regulations shift in the years to come. Lavender in particular provides various medicinal benefits aside from perfuming a joint. Like the other organic herbs used for pest control, lavender can disrupt would-be pests from getting to your stash, securing the perimeter of your garden like no pesticides can.
Tricolla Farms, Tonic’s source farm in upstate New York, works in companion herbs for their non-combustion products, but many of those are compatible with cannabis.
“Lavender, mint and basil are great complementary herbs to combine with your cannabis consumption post-harvest,” Carbone shares. “I personally use all of those plants in their essential oil forms in Tonic’s topicals. You can also brew a calming tea with them and use them to cook if you are making some gourmet edibles. They all have great anti-inflammatory abilities. Mint can really help complement the anti-nausea effects of cannabis as well.”
Red raspberry, mullein and marshmallow root are useful beyond garden-boosting and wellness purposes: they’re smokable, they add flavor or a unique property when blended with cannabis, and in the case of red raspberry, they produce delicious food you can harvest.
Which Herbs Are Best For Medicinal Use?
Dr. Lakisha Jenkins, a traditional naturopath and registered master herbalist, is also a teacher of the endogenous cannabinoid system. She treats various illnesses and helps clients maintain nutritional efficiency. Patients seek out Jenkins for her synergistic approach to using cannabis as another healing herb.
“There are many herbs that can be combined with cannabis,” Jenkins tells Big Buds. “The combination would be dependent on the symptoms. I would advise that people interested in making herbal concoctions with cannabis should enroll in an educational program that can teach you proper technique.”
Naturopathic practitioners can’t ignore the anti-inflammatory benefits of internal and topical cannabis, and when combined with other healing plants, the potential is immense. Jenkins says she uses a bespoke approach: “My chosen method for incorporating herbs into cannabis products would be dependent on the patient and condition. I have close to 400 proprietary herbal blends that are very condition specific.”
The demand for these services and this approach to wellness thrives in our national climate. People look for this old knowledge when they are underinsured, but also when they are quite privileged, a telling indicator that the practice of mixing herbal concoctions should be commonplace. According to Jenkins, more patients are seeking out her treatments, including those with cannabis, as the natural health industry continues to grow.
Many tinctures on the market use this blending of disciplines to create unique products like Carbone’s Tonic OG tincture, which combines her expertise in health and wellness coaching with devoted cannabis development.
“I really love the adaptogenic qualities of ashwagandha [Indian ginseng],” Carbone says. “Once I started to dive deeper into CBD supplementation, I started to connect the dots and see the similarities in ashwagandha and CBD’s adaptogenic abilities. I realized that they both work for very similar goals, like homeostasis and anxiety relief, but get there through different pathways. I started to experiment with combining the two to see if they would double down on each other’s effects — and that is exactly what happened. The results were life-changing, and that is how I decided to start Tonic.”
Whether you’re a boutique grower looking to add value to your products and a sustainable permaculture strategy to your operation, or you’re a septuagenarian master gardener who wants a salve supply for aches and pains right next to the tomatoes, growing and harvesting healing herbs — cannabis included — is an incredible investment in self-care. Properly maintained soil and pest-free flower is the goal, and one day we will know all of the companion plants that help us achieve those.