By Vince Picchiello, Master Gardener in Training
Perhaps one of the least celebrated plant family in our gardens is the herb. Many gardeners show their prize possessions of roses and hydrangeas, yet others will speak endlessly of their succulent tomatoes and robust peppers and of course others will offer baskets of pears and pints of raspberries. Few however, honour the forgotten herb.
Herbs are among the oldest cultivated plants. Their early domestication was due to their aromatic, culinary and medicinal qualities. Herbs are attractive plants and some even bear lovely flowers — such as lavender and chives to name but a few. For the home cook, the ease from garden or container to the kitchen provides the tastiest and freshest example of ‘local shopping’ and sustainability.
Maintenance and Care
- While most herbs will survive in virtually any soil, a well prepared soil amended with mature compost and organic material virtually guarantee success.
- Most are easily started from seed indoors and can be planted as seedlings in spring (or you can purchase from the nursery).
- Mulches help to retain moisture and prevent weeds when planted in the garden.
- There is no need for fertilizers as this may encourage ‘legginess’.
- Most enjoy full sun with moderate moisture requirements. Others though, may require more moist conditions such as dill, mint, and parsley to name a few.
- Many are also hardy, which make them tolerant of successive frosts. Some, however, are tender and don’t do well in frosty conditions. Examples of these are basil, marjoram and parsley.
Uses for Herbs
CULINARY : herbs are used in pesto’s, soups, salads, and flavours for vegetable preserves. Mint can be used as garnish in a drink or tea , parsley or cilantro on fish dishes
HEALING : Valerium and Chamomile are used as calming sedatives and for anti-anxiety, there are herbs for digestive issues, liver cleanses, anti-inflammatories, breath fresheners (mint or basil), first aid (plantain is great for scrapes and insect bites) and if you get industrious one can learn to make slaves, tinctures, and infusions all with many backyard/ container plants.
AESTHETICS: Lavender, lemon balm, roses, and lemon grass make great aromatics – Lets not forget their sheer beauty as some become lush with green foliage others provide lovely flowers
PRACTICAL: Many plants can be grown indoors or outdoors and in containers or in the yard.
In the coming days and weeks as you find yourself plotting and planning your garden/containers for an upcoming season, don’t forget the humble herb.