by Jan Cashman
In the past, all herbaceous (non-woody) plants were called “herbs”, but today the word has come to mean a plant whose parts are used for medicine, seasonings, or scent.Herbs are easy to grow; deer and insects avoid them.Used in cooking, they make food taste better.Some, like lavender are grown for their fragrance and flowers.Many herbs are used in “companion plantings” with vegetables, an organic way to deter pests and help each other thrive.For instance, tomatoes thrive planted next to basil or chives.
Herbs are either perennial—the roots stay alive in the ground over the winter and a new plant emerges in the spring—or annual—where the whole plant dies if left out over the winter.Chives, oregano, lavender, mint, tarragon, lovage, and thyme are some of the herbs that are perennial here; basil, rosemary, cilantro, and dill are not.Parsely is a biennial; it comes back the second year and then goes to seed.Some, such as sage, come back after a mild winter.
Where herbs originate gives an indication of the growing conditions they prefer.Most are native to the Mediterranean region or the Middle East.These areas have hot, dry summers, so pick a hot, sunny site with well-drained soil for growing your herbs.Herbs don’t like ‘wet feet.’
Plant your herb seeds indoors in the spring and grow them on until you can plant the seedlings outside.Or, buy herb plants already started.Plant hardy perennial herbs in your garden in early May.Wait until the danger of frost is past to plant tender annual herbs such as basil and dill.
Many of our employees here at the nursery raise herbs in their gardens, mostly for use in cooking.I asked them for some hints on growing and using herbs:
- Rebecca grows many herbs in her gardens and loves to use them in her cooking.Her mint, chives, tarragon, and oregano, to name a few, all “grow like weeds”, in other words, they reseed and spread.She grows them in raised beds to keep them contained.Plus, herbs like the well-drained, warm soil in a raised bed.
- Michelle uses “Wall-Of-Water” plant protectors around her newly planted basil to get it off to a warm start and protect from late frosts.She plants her herbs amongst her perennial flowers; herb plants are not just edible, but also beautiful.
- Denise grows her rosemary in a pretty pot and simply moves it inside in the winter.Bonnie has had the same rosemary plant since 2003, digging it up from her garden every fall, moving it inside, and replanting it outside again in the spring.
- Kevin plants his basil next to a large decorative rock in a sunny spot for extra heat.
- Nancy says, “always harvest your herbs before they bloom for best flavor. “However, if they do flower, the flowers, such as chives, can be used in cooking.
- Valerie plants lemon thyme, not because she wants it for cooking, but because she likes the aroma when she brushes by it.I feel the same about my lavender plants.
- I plant edible flowers like lemon gem marigold, nasturtiums, and violas amongst my herbs for some color.
Harvest leaves from your herbs whenever you need them.This keeps them pinched back so they fill in and don’t flower and go to seed too early.Tender herbs like basil should be completely harvested before the first frost.In the fall, when I’m ready to harvest, I simply cut the herb off at the ground, tie it in a bundle, and hang in my basement.They dry in a few days, and whenever I need them for cooking, I pick off a few leaves.Or, you can use a food dehydrator to dry the leaves of your herbs.Once dried, store them in plastic bags or glass jars in a cool, dark location.
A couple of old sayings are, “Plant rosemary next to the garden gate to ward off evil spirits,” and “Plant lavender for love and luck.” Whatever your reason, cooking, companion plantings, fragrance, even medicinal home remedies, plant herbs.