The Green Thumb Almanac

YOUR ONLINE GARDENING INFORMATION CENTER

Herbs

What is an herb?  To botanists, an herb (or herbaceous plant) is any non-woody plant that dies back completely to the ground in winter.  To those interested in medicine an herb can be any plant used to prevent or treat an illness.  For the cooks among us an herb can be a plant (or part of a plant) that is used to preserve or flavor food.  For me, an herb is a plant that is used for a particular purpose.  Although the plant may have ornamental qualities, it is grown more for what it does rather than how it looks.
 

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On This Page!

  • Herb of the Year
  • The Herb Garden
  • Herbs for Cooking
  • Edible Flowers
  • Herbs for Fragrance
  • Lavender

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2017 Herb of the Year!

Coriander/Cilantro

Coriandrum sativum

Commonly known as Chinese Parsley, Cilantro is a popular annual herb used in Middle Eastern and Asian recipes.  Cilantro is a cool weather plant and quickly bolts (goes to seed) when the weather warms.  The seed is referred to as Coriander.    

Here are some past winners!

1995 - Fennel

1996 - Monarda

1997 - Thyme

1998 - Mint

1999 - Lavender

2000 - Rosemary

2001 - Sage

2002 - Echinacea

2003 - Basil

2004 - Garlic

2005 - Oregano & Margoram

2006 - Scented Geraniums

2007 - Lemon Balm

2008 - Calendula

2009 - Bay Laurel

2010 - Dill

2011 - Horseradish

2012 - Rose

2013 - Elderberry

2014 - Artemisia spp.

2015 - Savory

2016 - Capsicum spp.

 The Herb of the Year is chosen by members of the International Herb Association.  Their Horticultural Committee evaluates possible choices based on them being outstanding in at least two of the three major categories: medicinal, culinary, or decorative.

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The Herb Garden

Most herbs require full sun so choose an area that receives no less than 6-8 hours of direct sun.  You can set aside an area specifically for your herbs or plant them in mixed borders with flowers.  Herbs can also be grown in containers or window boxes.  Remember that you will be trimming and using your herbs on a regular basis so plant them where you can get to them easily.  An organically rich, well-drained soil is best.  Once established many perennial herbs are quite drought tolerant.

Herbs to Grow from Seed

Angelica (Angelica archangellca)
Basil (Ocimun basilicum)
Borage (Borago officinalis)
Catmint (Nepta x faassenii)
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea)
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
Dill (Anethum graveolens)*
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)*
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenum)
Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)
Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Lovage (Levisticum officinalle)
Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
*Resents being transplanted.

Herbs to Buy as Plants

Bay (Laurus nobilis)
Bergamot (Monardia didyma)
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
Lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylia)
Mint (Mentha spp.)
Oregano (Organum vulgare)
Rosemary (Rosmartinus officinalis)
Sage (Salvia spp.)
Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis)
Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)
Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)
Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
Thyme (Thymus spp.)

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Herbs for Cooking

The primary use of herbs has been to flavor or preserve food.  Below is a short list of herbs and their use.

Poultry & Game

Anise, Basil, Bay Leaf, Borage, Chives, Dill, Lovage, Marjoram, Onion, Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Savory, Tarragon, Thyme, Garlic, any lemon-flavored herb.

Fish

Anise, Basil, Borage, Chives, Dill, Fennel, Marjoram, Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Savory, Tarragon, Thyme, Bay, Lemon grass, Lemon Balm, Mint, Parsley.

Tea & Beverages

Mint, Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Rose Geranium, rose petals, Bay, Lemon grass, Borage, any lemon-flavored herb, Calendula.

Salsa

Cilantro, Garlic, Garlic Chives, Tomato, Tomatillo, Jalapeno Peppers.

Pesto

Basil, Parsley, Mint, Oregano, Cilantro.

Cakes, Cookies, & Breads

Chives, Dill, Marjoram, Sage, Savory, Thyme, Lavender flowers, Spearmint, Lemon grass, Rose Scented Geranium.

Fruit

Anise seed, Lemon Balm, Mint, Rosemary, Pineapple Sage.

Soups

Bay, Basil, Chervil, Garlic, Chives, Lemon Balm, Parsley, Rosemary, Savory, Sorrel, Tarragon, Thyme.

Peas

Basil, Chervil, Marjoram, Mint, Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Savory.

Cole Crops

Borage, Caraway seed, Chives, Dill, Fennel, Marjoram, Mint, Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Savory, Sweet Cicely, Thyme.

Eggs

Basil, Caraway seed, Chervil, Chives, Dill, Fennel, Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary, Tarragon, Costmary.

Salads

Edible Flowers, Chives, Mint, Dill, Lovage, Parsley, Sage, Oregano, Savory, Tarragon, Burnet, Costmary, Cilantro, Basil.

Edible Flowers

Yes, you can eat flowers!  Before you head to the garden, here are a few suggestions to keep in mind.
  • Eat only flowers that have not been exposed to pesticides.
  • Pick them early in the day and refrigerate the blooms between damp layers of paper towels.
  • Shake blooms to remove any unwanted guests.
  • Wash your flowers gently, as they can tear easily.
  • Eat blossoms in moderation.
Edible flowers include:  Borage, Calendula, Chive blossoms, Impatiens, Lavender, Mint flowers, Nasturtiums, Pansy, Viola, Snapdragon, Scented Geranium, Geranium, Rosemary, Day lilies, Dianthus, Fuchsia, Roses.

Herbs for a Salt-Free Diet

For Salad:  Basil, Parsley, Lovage, Marjoram, Dill, Tarragon, Savory

For Soup:  Basil, Lovage, Parsley, Savory, Thyme, Marjoram, Bay

For Beef:  Basil, Lovage, Parsley, Thyme, Marjoram, Savory, Sage, Rosemary, Lemon or Orange Zest, Garlic

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Herbs for Fragrance

Scented Geraniums

For old-fashioned charm, scented geraniums are easy to grow indoors or outdoors.  These plants prefer 4 - 6 hours of sun, morning sun is ideal.  They can be planted in the ground or in containers and over-wintered indoors.  The plants are in the Pelargonium family and originate from South Africa.  They are valued more for their scented leaves than for their tiny pastel flowers and generally bloom when the weather is cool, spring & fall.  There are about 200 varieties, about half of which have been used in horticulture since the 17th century.  The Victorians used them to flavor foods before artificial flavorings became common.

Medicinal Herbs

Herbs have for centuries been used to treat ailments, and herbal remedies are still popular today.  Many plants have healing capabilities when used properly but there is also the danger of misuse.  Only trained herbalists and physicians should prescribe herbal remedies.  Do not assume that herbs are harmless or underestimate the dangers of self-medication.

The gel from the Aloe Vera leaf is used for small burns, cuts, chapped skin, sunburn, eczema and poison ivy rash.  Compounds in the plant have shown anticancer activity.
Ways to use your Scented Geraniums:
  • Use in cut bouquets, table centerpieces and tussie-mussies as a natural ''air freshener."
  • Add to potpourri, sachet pillows for sheets and clothing after air drying the leaves.
  • Steep a few leaves in one quart boiling water for 15 minutes and add to a bath.
  • Place leaves in mineral or almond oil for a week in a warm place.  Remove leaves & repeat until the air has acquired the fragrance.
  • Many scented geraniums are used in making cosmetics and perfumes.
  • Add a leaf to your purse for a refreshing fragrance.
Scented Geranium leaves used in a bouquet to add fragrance.
Scented Geranium Care:
These plants are a zone 10 tender perennial.  They will not take temperatures below 45-50F at night so bring them indoors or take cuttings in August.  Place your scented geranium in a sunny south, east or west window.  Give them good air circulation and allow the soil to dry down 1" before watering.  Fertilizer is not necessary during the winter months.  During the growing season you may fertilize with a 5-10-5 or 15-30-15 water soluble fertilizer at 1/2 strength, every two weeks.  They are heavy users of magnesium so use 1 teaspoon of epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) to 1 gallon of water every 2 months during the spring & summer.  Pinch or trim the plant as needed remembering to cut, not tear, the leaves from the plant.

Lavender

For thousands of years people have been enjoying the pleasant scent of lavender. The ancient Greeks and Romans bathed in lavender's wonderful fragrance.  In fact the name 'lavender' is derived from the Latin lavare meaning "to wash."  The lavender scent comes from aromatic oil glands which cover all aerial parts of the plant but are most concentrated in the flowers.  This oil is distilled and then used in perfumes, soaps and potpourri.  The popularity of lavender oil peaked in the 1920's when approximately 100 metric tons of lavender oil was distilled.
(Spanish Lavender L. stoechas)
Lavender is a woody perennial or sub-shrub native to the mediterranean region.  It has silvery-green leaves, purple, pink or white flowers and grows anywhere from 6 inches to 3 feet tall depending on the variety.  The following chart lists the most common types.
 
Lavender Varieties
 Common Name
 Notes
Lavandula angustifolia
  English lavender
  'Hidcote,' 'Munstead,' good varieties, blooms June/July, produces finest oil, winter hardy
L. latifolia
 
  More tender than angustifolia, blooms July/August
L. x intermedia
Lavandin
  'Grosso,' 'Provence,' good varieties; cross between angustifolia & latifolia, produces most oil but not as fine as angustifolia
L. viridis
Yellow-Flowering Lavender
  blooms April thru summer
L. dentata
French lavender
  'French Grey,' 'French Variegated,' good varieties
L. stoechas
Spanish lavender
  early bloomer
Lavandula pterostachy
 
  very little fragrance
L. canariensis
Canary Islands lavender
  deep blue flowers
L. multifida
 
  divided leaves
L. pinnata Buchii
jagged lavender
  similar to multifida
L. x allardii
Mitchum lavender
  good for sub-tropical areas
L. heterophylla
 
 
L. lanata
 Wooly lavender
  wooly leaves, good for rock gardens
L. angustifolia x lanata
Silver Frost
  'Kathleen Elizabeth' good variety

Growing Lavender

Of all the herbs, lavender can be the most challenging to grow.  It prefers a light, well-draining soil with a pH between 6.0 and 8.0.  It is best to start with small plants.  Add organic matter, lime and fertilizer when planting.  Fertilize twice a year, right after dormancy breaks in early spring and again in mid-summer.  An all-purpose, balanced fertilizer works well.  If you have heavy soil try planting your lavender in raised beds.  Mulch with a light colored material such as white pumice or sand. This material reflects light back up into the plant, warms the soil and helps to dry foliage after a rain.  Although drought tolerant, lavender plants and flowers will be larger with regular waterings.

(above: L. stoechas, subsp. pendunculata, opposite: lavender oil)

Pruning & Harvesting

Prune your lavender to promote bushiness.  Never cut into old wood or cut more than half of the green growth.  To harvest for dried flowers, cut when the heads are partially open.  For oil, cut when 1/3 of the flowers are withered.  Bundle the stems with a rubber band and hang upside-down to dry.  Remember not to remove all of the flowers.  Leave some for you and the bees to enjoy!

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Herb Garden Inspiration

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