One of my fondest childhood memories is helping my grandma pick tomatoes and beans in her garden in southern Kentucky. She and I would pick big beefsteak tomatoes and sometimes take a salt shaker out to the garden and eat them right off the vine. I helped her pick beans and then string and break them while sitting on the back porch. I remember driving out to the mountain where my great Aunt Flon lived and we four (Aunt Flon, Grandma, Mom and me) picking blackberries, which my grandma would later craft into a delicious pie.
These memories were all the more precious to me because I only got to see my grandparents a few times a year, since we lived a few hours away. We lived in the suburbs and my parents only grew tomatoes, so my gardening education was limited. It was only about 10 years ago that I stopped and asked myself why I wasn’t gardening. I started with tomatoes, gradually added other vegetables, and have worked my way up to a garden that keeps me out of the grocery produce section for most months of the year. But this entry isn’t about my vegetable garden.
It’s my herb garden that I’m truly passionate about. Oh, the wonder of herbs! The history and the mystery of herbs! Of course, herbs contain unique antioxidants, essential oils, vitamins, phytosterols and many other plant-derived nutrient substances. From antiquity they’ve been used to heal. Herbs were the first medicines.
Of course, herbs have so many other uses – practical and recreational. They enhance our lives in so many ways. Sweet basil was one of the first herbs I started growing because I have always loved the smell. Today I have graduated to herbs like Echinacea because they are more useful and just as beautiful as flowers. Herbs really are therapy for our senses!
Every year I grow Echinacea, sweet basil, cilantro, dill weed, common sage, oregano, thyme, lavender, rosemary, catnip, peppermint, sweet mint, and chocolate mint. Over the years I have experimented with different herbs and have added or subtracted them based upon my growing experiences and how much I used them. A couple years ago I experimented with different types of sage. I made the mistake of growing Russian sage right along with my edible sages and found very quickly that it’s invasive and hard to control. It’s known to be a hallucinogenic (so do I really want it rubbing against my common sage that I plan to use in my Thanksgiving stuffing? Might make for an interesting blog post!) and leaves a waxy film on your hands that is practically impossible to scrub off. It’s pretty, yes, but I should have planted it for decoration only, and far away from my edible herbs. I’ve tried Thai basil and pineapple sage and though both were beautiful plants, I felt that I didn’t use them enough to sacrifice the space I needed for the herbs I use almost every day (e.g., sweet basil and cilantro).
An herb garden has brought more flavor to my kitchen and provides learning experiences every year. I dry my herbs and they come in handy all year. I’ve yet to use them in oils and tinctures, but plan to do that this winter.
Herb gardening has allowed me to learn about the miraculous growing process from seed to mature plant and back again. It has allowed me to view “weeds” (like dandelions) as edible plants rather than lawn pests. I have been amazed at all the “accidental” herbs I’ve grown as well (yes, just like my pumpkins). I’ve had several cilantro, dill and basil plants come up on their own in various places in my herb garden. I’ve also learned that herbs often make prettier “flowers” than flowers, and most definitely have more uses. I’ve seen more butterflies and bees in the past few years than I have ever, and that’s always a good thing!