A Garden of Herbs, Part 2

by Harold Schrock | Apr 3, 2023 | 0 comments

Last month we started with an herb used traditionally for tea. This month I’d like to do the same. Next to mint, chamomile is perhaps the most common tea herb grown in North America. Chamomile is a low-growing annual that produces prolific daisy-like flowers which are gathered and typically dried for tea. Chamomile tea is known for improving digestion and sleep.

There is also a perennial variety of chamomile, but the flower production is much less. The perennial version is interesting in the fact that it grows densely and low and tolerates light foot traffic, allowing it to be used as a blooming lawn cover. If you are interested in growing and harvesting a substantial amount of chamomile, fine-toothed hand rakes are available to greatly speed the gathering of the blossoms.

Borage is an annual herb that provides edible flowers. The flavor is described as mild cucumber. Use in salads to add flavor and color and also as a garnish for other dishes.

Bee balm, also known as wild bergamot, provides edible flowers with more of a minty flavor. It is a hardy perennial. Plant it where it can have multiple years of growth. As a blossoming perennial bush, it could be worth growing for the visual appeal alone.

When started from seed, it begins producing flowers the second year after planting. This herb has been used for soothing colds and other bronchial complaints. In our gardens, it has the additional benefit of attracting bees and other pollinators. When harvesting, be careful not to grab a flower with a bee inside.

Lemon balm is also a perennial, although not as hardy as bee balm. It has more of a low-growing, mint-like structure and can be mulched in colder climates to help it survive the winter. The leaves are edible and add a distinctive lemon flavor to teas and other dishes.

Parsley is a biennial plant that for culinary purposes is grown as an annual. Parsley is typically easy to grow and has many uses in the kitchen. Parsley is rich in vitamins and can be added to many recipes. It has some breath-freshening characteristics and can be added to raw garlic and onion dishes to help limit the lingering odor. Parsley also makes an attractive garnish. It is one of the easiest herbs to dry and store for later use.

Oregano is a perennial that may need some protection to get through the winter in northern climates. Tomatoes would only be half as popular without oregano. Oregano is the distinctive flavor in Italian tomato dishes. Pizza, lasagna, spaghetti, and others in their traditional form depend on oregano as part of the basic flavor profile. As with most herbs, using it fresh from the garden gives ultimate flavor, but oregano does hold its flavor well as a dried herb.

Rosemary is a tender perennial that will need to be protected from temperatures below about 10° F (-12° C). It is a slow-growing plant, so for northern growers, it is better to pot it and move it indoors for the winter rather than starting new plants every season. To harvest and use rosemary, strip the needles from the stems and chop finely before adding to dishes. If desired, rosemary can be turned into a work of art mimicking Japanese bonsai. The small bush can be trimmed into various shapes and forms. Since this is a slow-growing plant, the process requires patience. The trimmings, of course, can be used for cooking.

Sage is a very easy-to-grow perennial herb commonly used to flavor meats. Its flavor is predominate in breakfast-style sausage. Sage grows quickly but does not spread invasively. Plants can be divided every three to five years. You can also propagate from stem cuttings or seeds. Sage flowers attract hummingbirds and beneficial insects.

Thyme is another perennial herb widely used in cooking. It doesn’t grow as rapidly as sage, and it may not be quite as winter-hardy. It is great for fresh use and can also be dried for storage. Thyme has more succulent stems than some herbs, so the leaves should be stripped off before drying.

Chervil is an annual herb with a mild, sweet anise flavor. It is less common than most of the previous list, partly because it does not retain flavor when dried. It needs to be consumed fresh and raw. It is cold-hardy for an annual and fairly easy to grow. It will bolt in the summer heat, so, for maximum availability, plan for an early spring planting and a late summer planting.

Chives is a hardy perennial onion-like plant that grows in clumps of fine stems. Chives produce beautiful blossoms that are also edible. Harvest while actively growing, always leaving a few inches of stem behind to maintain the plant. Propagate by dividing clumps every few years. Chives can be dried or frozen, but have the most flavor when used fresh.

Horseradish is another hardy perennial that, once established, grows and produces very reliably. It propagates by root cuttings and can be somewhat invasive and hard to eradicate. To prevent its spread, you can plant it inside bottomless five-gallon buckets or other solid-walled containers.

To harvest horseradish, dig up the roots, wash and peel, and then grind with a meat grinder or heavy-duty blender. Horseradish puree is typically stored refrigerated in glass jars with vinegar until use. The processing operation is best done outside, as horseradish releases very strong gases when processed, causing eye irritation.

In this two-part series on herbs, we have mentioned some of the more basic culinary herbs that can be grown and enjoyed by the average gardener. There is a whole world of medicinal herbs that is outside of the expertise of this author. As was mentioned in part one, all these herbs, although typically used in cooking, also have medicinal value. Growing and using herbs fresh maximizes both nutritional value and flavor. May you experience good health and savory satisfaction in the world of herbs.

Browse Categories

Help Your Family Explore the Wonders of God's Creation

Full color magazine delivered to your door + digital access. Subscribe now for just $5 a month!

Buy Magazine: $5/month

Buy Magazine + Study Guide: $7.50/month

Buy Gift Subscription