Planting an Herb Garden
Before You Start
I love to cook, and nothing adds more flavor to a good meal like fresh herbs. Instead of spending outrageous prices at the grocery store, and having a limited selection, why not grow your own? It's actually pretty easy.
Pick an area of your yard for your herb garden. Keep it in an area away from your pets, as they may be inclined to either dig up or eat all those herbs before you get a chance to use them. Mark off the area, and dig up anything inside of the area you will be using. Make sure to get all of the weeds out of the planting area. From what I have heard, they don't get along well with other plants. Move them to a new area of the garden, if you are so inclined. Sorry, that was a bit of a joke, obviously.
If you compost, this is a great time to add some rich nutrients to your soil. Add in some fertilizer of your choice. Some people opt for a more organic approach, while others do not. I prefer to use compost or a commercially available compost-based fertilizer. I try to stay away from manure-based fertilizer, just for olfactory reasons. Stinky manure...
Now you need to decide what you want to grow. What do you use in the kitchen most? Are there other herbs you have wanted to try? Many herbs can be bought at a local garden center in seed form, or even in pots. Seeds require more work. Sometimes you have to germinate them inside, let them start to grow into seedlings, and let them grow a little before they can be planted in a garden. Sometimes you just toss the seeds in the ground, and let nature do it's work. I suggest starting from potted plants.
So, what to grow where? That all depends on your soil. Different things grow better in different areas of the country, in different types of soil, with different moisture levels. What you can grow in your herb garden depends on a lot of things. In addition, if you only want a small herb garden, you could easily do a container garden on your porch or patio.
Perennial Herbs For Your Garden
Perennials are any plant that will grow year after year. They do not need to be replanted, and generally don't need to be brought inside during colder weather. Perennial herbs are a great option, because they do not need to be replaced, and they require less work. They will generally get larger, and spread as the years go on, though, and do not grow as fast, initially as annual plants. Some perennial herbs you could grow in your garden are included, with growing information and uses for the herbs.
- Anis hyssop (Agastache foeniculum ) Grows 3-5' tall, space 12-24" apart. Needs sun to light shade. Grow from seed or propogate by division. Attracts bees. Edible flowers, use leaves for flavoring or teas.
- Bee balm (Monarda didyma ) needs rich, well-drained soil. Grows up to 4' tall. Propagate by division. Attracts hummingbirds. You can use the leaves and flowers.
- Chamomile (Chamoemelum nobile ) Grows 4-12" tall. Needs rich soil and full sun, except for hotter climates, where partial shade is prefered. Propagate by root division. Use flowers for tea or tonics and shampoo.
- Chicory (Cichorium intybus ) Grows wild in Europe and North America. Cultivated forms are grown for their leaves or roots. Used as a coffee substitute. Radicchio (those purple leaves in salads) is a form of Chicory.
- Chocolate Mint (Mentha X piperita 'Chocolate Mint') Needs sun. Grows up to 2" tall. Attracts butterflies. Use for teas, deserts or breads.
- Comfrey (Symphytum officianale ) The leaves, after blanching, can be eaten like asparagus. Also used in organic fertilizer and composts, as the roots absorb potassium from the soil, and the leaves are high in nitrogen.
- Common chives (Allium schoenoprasum ) The tops are used. Chop up "leaves" for use in cooking or on baked potatoes.
- Common wormwood (Artemisia absinthium ) the whole herb is used. Propagate by division. Can be used fresh or dry.
- Creeping thyme (Thymus praecox subsp. articus ) Grows 2-4" tall, great groundcover. Grows in all light levels, but tends to be more sparse in full shade. Propagate by division or cutting.
- English daisy (Bellis perennis ) Grows 6-12" tall, space 6-9" apart. Needs sun to partial shade. Propagate from seed.
- Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ) sow in the sun. Use the leaves for tea, and seeds are used for seasoning.
- Garlic (Allium sativum ) Plant in light soil in the spring. Use cloves. Takes around 6 months to mature.
- Ginger Mint (Mentha X gentilis 'Varigata') Grows 6-12" tall, space 12-15" apart. Attracts bees, butterflies and birds. Propagate by division.
- Golden oregano (Origanum vulgare 'Aureum') Grows up to 6" tall, space 9-12" apart. Needs full sun to light shade. Average water needs. Propagate by division of rootball.
- Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana ) Needs rich soil. Propagate by division of roots. The root is used for "horseradish" or "prepared horseradish", also used in soups.
- Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis ) Propagate by cutting. Needs sun and dry soil. It is an evergreen shrub with blue, pink or white flowers.
- Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia ) Needs sun. Grows in poor soil. Very fragrant. The flowers can be candied and dried. Use in potpourri.
- Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis ) Use leaves fresh or powdered in fish sauces.
- Parsley (Petroselinum crispum ) Needs damp soil and light shade. Used for seasoning. Flat leaf parsley is more flavorful that the curly variety.
- Peppermint (Mentha X piperita ) Needs rich, moist soil. Dry herb for flavoring sweets or peppermint tea.
- Rosemary (Rosemariunus officinalis ) Needs sun and porous soil. Use the sprigs as cut flowers in early summer. Use leaves as seasoning or for tea.
- Rue (Ruta graveolens ) Needs dry soil. It is a rounded evergreen bush.
- Saffron crocus (Crocus sativus ) Grows 4-6" tall, space 4" apart. The showy red stigmas are used as a flavoring. Saffron crocus is the source of saffron. Grown from bulbs.
- Sage (Salvia officinalis) Needs light, well-drained soil. Leaves are used in stuffings.
- Sorrel (Rumex acetosa ) Needs deep, moist soil. Use the leaves before the plant has flowered.
- Spearmint (Mentha spicata ) Needs shade and damp soil. Spearmint is often a basis for hair tonics, shampoos and skin creams.
- Sunflower (Helianthus annus ) The plants should be staked. Flower buds may be cooked and eaten as a vegetable like artichokes. Birds like the seeds.
- Sweet marjoram (Majorana hortensis ) Grow from seed. Needs a hot, dry place. Leaves are used in vinegars, soups, etc.
- Sweet violet (Viola adorata ) Violets may be candied and eaten. Use them to decorate a cake.
- Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus ) Needs sun and dry soil. Used in seasonings.
- Thyme (Thymus vulgaris ) Needs sun and dry, porous soil. Used as seasoning.
- Winter savory (Satureja montana ) Grows in poor, but well-drained soil(grows well in desert climates). Grows up to 1' tall. Propagate by cutting, seeds or division. Needs around 6 hours of sun. Use for turkey or chicken dishes.
Annual Herbs For Your Garden
Annuals are generally, any plant that does not grow back year after year. They occasionally include bi-annuals (plants that return for one year and then die off). This requires the gardener to replace the plants from year to year. Some of the plants listed may grow as perennials in your area, or may have perennial varieties.
- Angelica (Angelica archangelica ) Needs damp, rich soil and partial shade. Harvest from May to June. Start from seeds directly sown or begin seeds indoors. Use the leaves for fruit salads and fish dishes.
- Anise (Pimpinella anisum ) Needs porous, light, rich soil. Gather seeds in August, and dry and use. Start plants from seeds. Anise has a distinct liquorice flavor.
- Borage (Borago officinalis ) Grows in poor, sandy soil. Grows between 2-3' tall. The flowers can be candied and have a sweet, honey-like taste. Can be eaten as a vegetable and has a cucumber-like taste.
- Caraway (Carum carvi ) Needs sun, and grows in normal soil. The fruits (commonly known as 'seeds') are used for flavoring, and in rye bread and sauerkraut.
- Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium ) It is a relative to parsley. Pinch off the flower buds as they appear. Cut the leaves 6-8 weeks after sowing. Used to season poultry, seafood and vegetables.
- Coriander (Coriandrum salvium ) The leaves are commonly known as cilantro. Gather the leaves when they are young. Use seeds. Leaves are used for salsas and many other dishes. Seeds are used for Indian curries or for pickling.
- Dill (Anethum graveolens ) Grows between 16-24" tall. Seeds and leaves are both used. Often used for pickling.
- Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus ) Grows in poor soil. Grow in direct or indirect sunlight. All parts of the plant are edible. Use the leaves and flowers in salads. Has a slight peppery taste.
- Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum ) Grow in a sunny area. Low growing plant. Grows well in hot, dry climates. Used for seasoning a variety of foods.
- Summer savory (Satureja hortensis ) Grows in poor soil. Grows 1-2' tall. Propagate from seeds. Used for poultry, stews and sausages.
Tips For Drying Herbs
Now that you have a gorgeous, and useful herb garden growing, what do you do with all of it? Many herbs are great fresh, but how are you going to use all the plant material that your herb garden is producing? The answer is drying. Drying herbs is a great way to get more use out of your herb garden, and provides you with herbs for those long, winter months. Here are some great tips for drying those herbs.
- Herbs should be dried indoors.
- Necessary conditions include; a) good ventilation. b)shade, except for roods, which should be dried in full sun. c) steady initial temperature of about 90 degrees F.
- Dry herbs as soon as they are harvested.
- Spread plants or parts of plants in a shallow box without a lid, or on trays, cheese cloth or wire mesh.
- Space plants so they lie flat and do not overlap.
- Keep one kind of herb seperated from another.
- Some plants, such as artemisia and sage can be hung upside-down.
- Bunches should not be large or tied tightly.
- Temperature should remain at 90 degrees F for 24 hours and must not fall below 72 degrees F.
- Turn plants once or twice during the first 24 hours and once a day after that.
- Roots take the longest to dry and stems take longer than leaves or flowers.
- Herbs are sufficiently dry when they snap readily without much pressure.
© 2008 Anna Marie Bowman