It’s Herb Time
December 9th, 2005
Herbs have been cultivated, used, and treasured by men and women for thousands of years. Many are ornamental as well as useful. Even a few of them can add charm, history, and mystique to any garden. You can grow enough culinary herbs, such as parsley, rosemary, thyme, sage and marjoram for your Christmas turkey, or plant a whole garden of herbs, but wait until spring to plant them outdoors.
You can now, if you wish, plant culinary herbs in individual pots and grow them indoors on a sunny kitchen windowsill. Pot the 2-inch nursery size into 4-inch containers when you purchase them; then pot them on into 6-inch containers as soon as their roots fill the smaller size container. When you grow herbs indoors they grow fast at first, then slow down. You can keep them to size by pruning off leaves now and then for cooking. Too much fertilizer makes herbs overgrow and lose their flavor, but when they’re grown in containers they do need occasional light fertilizer, because potting soils are low in nutrients. Be sure to use a good organic fertilizer, such as Dr. Earth Organic 5 Tomato, Vegetable, and Herb Food, when growing anything edible. Since you are going to be eating the product of this plant, you want to stay away from chemicals.
In spring, plant culinary herbs outdoors in the ground in your vegetable garden. You can mix them in with ornamental garden plants, plant them in a special herb garden, or even put them in pots in a small space right outside your kitchen door.
An herb is any plant used for medicine, fragrance or flavoring. (In botany the word ‘herb’ means any nonwoody plant.) In cold winter climates all these plants die down in winter, but many biennial and perennial herbs are evergreen when grown in warm climates.
Not all herbs are edible. Some medicinal herbs such as comfrey, rue and tansy contain toxic chemicals. They must not be taken internally by anyone, especially pregnant women. You must take care in thoroughly researching medicinal herbs and consulting a doctor before deciding to use them.
Fresh culinary herbs from your garden are not only tastier than the dried herbs you can buy but safer. (Dried herbs purchased in markets are often imported and have frequently been sprayed with chemicals not allowed in the US.)
Herbs adapt to most soils, but they prefer good drainage, and you can provide it by growing them in rock gardens or raised beds.
Unless you grow your herbs in containers, as described above, don’t fertilize them; it makes them less flavorful. (An exception is an herb like sage that’s been in the ground for several years, has often given its leaves to you, and shows an obvious decline in vigor. You can pull it out, amend the soil, and replace it; or you can feed it lightly and mulch its roots to bring it back.)
Some herbs, such as mint and watercress, need lots of water. Others, such as rosemary and society garlic, are useful drought-resistant plants; these two are grown as ornamentals more often than as culinary herbs.