An herb can be defined as a plant that is valued for its medicinal properties, flavor, scent or cosmetic use. However, as a young garden designer I often focused more on an herb’s visual merits than how it could be used. Age and experience taught me that this narrow approach results in bushel baskets of a few select herbs with no plan for how to use them.
Now when selecting herbs for my garden I also think about the ways I would like to put them to use indoors. My herb garden is not only beautiful, but practical.
If I were to encourage you to try your hand at growing something this summer, it would be herbs. The plants are the perfect combination of beauty and function so you can plant herbs anywhere in the garden. Mix them with flowers, grow them along paths, by the kitchen door, or plant them in containers both indoors or out. They are also extremely easy to grow. Really all they need are average soil, good drainage, consistent moisture and sunlight. The beauty of growing herbs is the more you harvest the leaves, the more the plant grows!
COMMON HERBS and THEIR USES
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) – In my mind there is no better companion to home grown tomatoes than fresh basil. The leaves dry well for saving for winter use. Clip and dry the flowers for use in potpourri. The scent of basil is said to be restorative and warming. The leaves, stems, flowers and seeds can be used. Annual.
German Chamomile (Matricaria redutita) and Roman (Chamomile) –German and Roman Chamomile are useful herbs that have similar properties. German chamomile has a milder flavor making it better for tea, while Roman Chamomile has a stronger aroma. Both can be used to make a hair rinse for blonds, infused in oil to soften skin and alleviate aches. and a cup of chamomile tea will help you sleep. The flowers are best used fresh as the volatile oils degrade quickly. Annual.
Lavender (Lavandula spp.) – I recommend planting lavender in abundance because it is so useful. It can be used in recipes, potpourri, sachets and as an infusion with vinegar that works as a facial toner, hair rinse and all-purpose cleaner for your home. A bath scented with the flowers and leaves of lavender will help sooth nerves and treat insomnia. Harvest in early morning. Perennial.
Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla) – The only way to describe the scent of this herb is lemon perfume. Dried leaves will retain their scent for several years. Lemon verbena can be used to make lemon sugar and invigorating sachets. Leaves are used fresh or dried. Tender perennial.
Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis) – Rosemary will sooth aching muscles, relax stressed nerves and makes an ordinary roasted chicken extraordinary. Rosemary infused oils can be used as a lotion to relieve joint pain or as a hair treatment to condition and add shine.
There is a lot that you can do with herbs beyond cooking. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Lemon and Lavender Bath Sachet
Scarlet O’Hara described her mother as smelling of lemon verbena. What a wonderfully clean and comforting scent. You can smell like Mrs. O’Hara too with this bath sachet.
Fresh Lemon Verbena
Place herbs and oatmeal in the center of a piece of muslin. Fold the sides up and tie with string. Hang from the faucet as you fill your bath tub.
Stale Air Freshener
These little baking soda tablets are perfect for freshening up garbage cans, musty hampers and stuffy spaces. You can also drop one in the washer to add fragrance to your laundry.
Your Favorite Essential Oil
Make a paste with baking soda, a few drops of essential oil and water. Scoop into a muffin tin and set aside to dry.
Chamomile Hand Oil
This chamomile oil will soften cracked cuticles and rough hands that can be a by product of gardening.
1 Cup Sweet Almond Oil
1/4 Cup Fresh Chamomile Blooms
2 Sterile Glass Jars with Screw-On Lids
Combine the sweet almond oil and chamomile blooms in the jar, screw the top on the jar. Place in a warm spot, out of direct sunlight for 3 weeks. Shake the jar daily. After the oil is infused with chamomile, strain the oil into another clean jar. Use to moisturize your hands.
Lavender vinegar can be used as a fragrant fabric softener, a bath fragrance, glass cleaner or when diluted in water (8 parts water to 1 part vinegar) as a facial toner, hair rinse or deodorizing body splash.
Enough lavender leaves and flowers to fill a one quart jar half full.
Sterile, Glass One Quart Jar with a Screw-On PLASTIC Lid
Place the lavender in the jar and fill with vinegar.
Screw on the lid. Vinegar will react with metal so use a plastic lid. If your lid is metal, cover the top of the jar with plastic wrap before screwing on the lid.
Place the jar is a dark place for 4 weeks, shaking occasionally.