Herbs, Herbs, and more Herbs

Herbs, Herbs, Herbs. The more you know about herbs, the more you’ll like them. Not just something to spice up your foods, herbs can be beneficial to your health, help chase away unwanted insects, and add fragrance to a room or garden.

What is an herb? It’s sometimes hard to define just exactly what herbs are. You can look up various definitions, but somehow one definition does not fit all herbs. You just kind of have to know an herb when you see one.

Don’t all herbs grow best in full sun? Most culinary herbs (used in cooking) need a lot of sunshine. But there are a few you can grow successfully in the shade. They include: Parsley, chervil, fennel, tarragon, lemon balm, sweet woodruff, and any of the mints should do well if they can get at least a few hours of morning sunshine.

Aren’t all herbs short, stubby plants? Far from it. If you would like a cottage garden effect in your borders, there are several varieties of herbs that will give you the height you need toward the rear of your planting. They include: Dill (of course), lovage, angelica, fennel, caraway, and even chicory, which has the added benefit of giving you lovely blue flowers. Valerian is also a good choice and it has pink flowers that smell like vanilla. And if you can find it (a catalog perhaps?) elecampane is an enormous plant with huge leaves that can reach 7 feet in height.

valerian is one of those herbs, herbs, herbs
valerian is one of those  lovely herbs

What are some fragrant herbs I might try?  A lot! Lemon balm, tansy, catmint, mint, sage, peppermint, spearmint, thymes, lemon verbena, rosemary, bay, lavender cotton, scented geraniums, heliotrope, basil, dill, and even marigold. (I like the smell of marigolds but some people don’t. Just crush a leaf at the nursery and give it a sniff if you aren’t sure of the fragrance).

What herbs can I grow to make tea with? Chamomile, fennel, hyssop, bergamont (bee balm), betony, lemon balm, applemint, peppermint, spearmint, and sage all make good teas. There’s also verbena, geranium, rose hips, and raspberry and blackberry leaves. I have also read you can make tea from elderberry leaves and linden leaves. With some of these you use both leaves and stems, and some just leaves. Experiment by crushing with your fingers and you’ll figure them out fairly quickly.

herbs, herbs, herbs, ready for the teapot

What herbs are considered hardy? The hardy culinary herbs include chives, garlic, fennel, sage, tarragon, thymes, winter savory and mint (if you mulch their roots). The hardy medicinal herbs include arnica, catnip, echinacea, feverfew, valerian, and comfrey. (Read up on these carefully before using. Some are internal, some are to be used only externally). And as a bonus, not only are some herbs very hardy, but they self-sow like crazy. Just let these go to seed and you’ll never be without them:  Borage, dill, chervill, and coriander.

rose petals are great in potpourri--herbs, herbs, herbs
rose petals are great in potpourri

Make Your Own Potpourri? It’s really just as simple as picking the fragrant flowers and stems, drying them, and blending them all together in a bowl or pot. Just wander through your herb garden and pick the aromas that appeal to you. Make sure you dry them all thoroughly (so you don’t get any mold or mildew) before mixing. Your mix probably won’t be as fragrant as those you buy, because they use a special fermenting process to enhance the aromas. Nevertheless, yours will be free and fresh. And just add a few drops of an essential oil to enhance the fragrance.

© Wade Kingston

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