Written and compiled by Fred Jaicks
Herbs have been used for thousands of years by all cultures across the world, with each having its own favorite culinary, aromatic, medicinal, and ornamental herbs. People grew their own herbs for household consumption until grocers began to carry commercial herbs. Large pharmaceuticals also began to manufacture medications made from herbs, medications that were stable and consistent in quality and strength.
Interest in growing herbs has increased with the growing popularity of natural foods and medicines. With modern technology like the Internet and cable television cooking shows, today’s home cook has become quite sophisticated in making ordinary foods taste like gourmet treats by using more exotic herbs than old standbys like garlic and oregano.
Most natural medications are made from herbs, and there is growing interest in self-medication with herbs by people without pharmaceutical training. This can be a dangerous path to take and those who are so inclined should check with a doctor or pharmacist before taking any herbs, especially with prescribed medications.
Until recent years, buying herb plants locally was difficult, and most potential growers had to purchase seeds and plants from catalogs or from someone in the community who grew herbs. Today, most garden centers and large retailers sell a wide variety of herb plants ready for the garden.
Herbs are not difficult to grow. Plants can be purchased ready for the garden or grown indoors from seeds. When all danger of frost is gone, most herbs started indoors can be transplanted outdoors to a garden spot with southern or western sun exposure. Seeds can also be planted directly into the ground, covering with only a slight amount of soil. All herbs prefer well-drained soil and most do not require fertilizer. In fact, plants that are fertilized produce more foliage, but at the expense of good flavor. Herbs can be perennial, biennial, or annual.
With over 73 types of herbs available, which ones should be chosen for a beginning herb garden? Most sources agree that personal preferences should determine choices. Among the most popular herbs are the following:
1. Basil is an annual used in soups, stews, sauces, salads, and for flavoring vinegars.
2. Chives are perennial and good in dishes that call for onions.
3. Dill is an annual that is used for flavoring in pickles, salad dressings, sauces, soups, and fish.
4. Parsley is a biennial with high amounts of vitamins C and A. It is used as a garnish, in soups, meat dishes, sauces, and salads.
5. Marjoram is a perennial used to flavor meats, salads, vinegars, egg dishes, teas, and sauces.
6. Oregano, also a perennial, is a favorite herb used to flavor Italian dishes and sauces.
7. Mints are perennials and are used for teas, flavoring some meat dishes, and sauces. It is available in many varieties from spearmint to chocolate.
8. Thyme, a perennial, is highly scented and is used to flavor many foods, from poultry to sauces.
9. Sage is also a perennial and its fuzzy leaves are used to flavor soups, poultry, stuffing, and vegetables.
10. Rosemary, a perennial, is used in meat dishes, vinegars, vegetables, breads, and many other dishes.
The resource list below offers many informative sources on growing and using herbs.