Sunday, May 5, 2013


I have always been unduly fascinated with herbs.  I think it may be rooted in a vague yearning to be a pagan that I have and I associate growing and using herbs with pagans and witches.  And monks.  Maybe I secretly wish to be a monk?

Anyway, I am starting afresh with my herb garden this year because I tore the original bed out last fall.  Why did I do such a violent thing?  I'm pretty sure the herb garden was in the sunniest spot in the yard while the veggies were languishing in two less sunny beds.  So I decided to swap.

Front CoverWhich is kind of exciting because my original bed was kind of random.  I just threw plants in there as I came across them and thought they looked neat.  Now I could do a little more planning which will be necessary as I think I have less space. I have about 16 square feet. 

I spent a little time with Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs to begin my planning.  I bought this tome for about $1 at my local library's book sale and it has helped prove once again that library book sales are THE BOMB.  My edition is older - copyright 1987 - but it's still got a lot of great information.  It has extensive profiles of 80-100 herbs listed alphabetically which touch on the history, uses, cultivation and growing conditions.  The plant profiles are interspersed with instructive chapters on crafts from herbs, bathing with herbs, gardening with herbs, healing with herbs, teas from herbs, cooking with herbs etc.... It has an extensive section on companion planting - which herbs complement one another or other vegetables and those that are repellent. It's a really nice reference. However, my favorite thing about it is that each herb has a short introductory paragraph, and the authors of the book have chosen to embrace their creativity and whimsy in this short space. For example, here is the introduction for Betony:
You wake up on a cold winter day and peer outside. It snowed last night and inches of powder cover the ground, branches of trees and birdbath.  It's caught in the ridges of tree bark.  A good day to snuggle up under the afghan with a good book, a cup of hot tea, and maybe some chocolate chip cookies.
In the kitchen you set the kettle on the burner, open the cupboard and take down a teacup and the glass jar of dried betony leaves. You crumble some leaves into the tea infuser, then sigh contentedly, waiting for the water to boil.  Betony has great virtue. This tea is going to be good
It's charming, it sets the "mood" of the plant and of course I added betony to my list of herbs to be planted.  How could you not!

I'll likely need to cull before actually planting the garden but my initial list includes:

Perennials in Zone 4/5
  • Chives*
  • Mint*
  • Sage*
  • Lavender*
  • Oregano*
  • Angelica
  • Beebalm (Monarda didyma)
  • Betony
  • Chamomile
  • Dill*
  • Echinacea
  • Elecampine
  • Flax
  • Lemon Balm*
  • Tarragon
  • Yarrow
  • Horseradish
  • Hyssop
  • Mustard
  • Calendula
  • St. Johns Wort
  • Sweet Cicely
  • Thyme*
 Annuals or Fragile in Zone 4/5
  • Basil*
  • Parsley*
  • Pineapple Sage*
  • Rosemary*
  • Lemon Verbena
  • Bay*
The plants with asteriks are herbs that I have regularly grown in the past or am growing now and that will almost certainly be included.  My goal is to have a little bit of everything - to include herbs that smell good, have culinary value, and that attract insects and other wildlife.

What are your favorite herbs to grow?  Where do you normally acquire your herbs? What's your favorite way to use herbs?  Any not on my list that you would highly recommend?

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