How To Choose Herbs For The Garden

island bed garden with herbs

Of all the plants we have sold over the years, herbs definitely draw the most attention.  And for good reason, the uses are too many to list, most are extremely hardy, and they are beautiful.  For a beginner gardener, herbs are a great place to start because of the ease of growing.

Before I get into the different aspects of herb gardening, I would like to clarify some vocabulary words:

Herbs are generally grown in all temperate regions of the planet.  For the most part, it is the aerial parts, roots, and blossoms of these plants that are used for cooking, medicine, and fragrance.

Spices, on the other hand, are grown around the equator and it is the seeds that are used for the fragrance, cooking, and medicinal qualities.  But then to muddy the waters, you have some plants that are both.  Cilantro is an herb as you use the leaves in your cooking but, if you let it go to seed then you have Coriander- a spice.

Now, some herbs are herbaceous and some are not.  Herbaceous means that the green plant parts die back to the ground each winter and the roots put out new plants each spring.

Now, let’s get planting.  Regardless if your yard or garden is shady, full sun or somewhere in between, there are herbs for you to grow.  The things to consider as you choose you plants are their origin, water requirements, growth habits,  and their function.  Each of these factors will determine what plants you choose and where you put them.

Understanding where herbs come from will tell you a lot about the growing conditions they will need.  If a plant originates in the Mediterranean region, you can bet it will be a tough plant that has relatively low water requirements, sun loving, and tolerant of poor soils.  Lavender, Rosemary, and Oregano are examples of such plants.  I had a Rosemary plant that doubled in size in the worst drought in Texas history with no extra water.  Needless to say, when folks come to me asking about tough shrubs that will tolerate our heat- I recommend Rosemary.

On the other end of things, if a plant is naturally found in moist woodlands, you will need to provide a shady spot with rich soil for that herb.  Goldenseal is an example of just such an herb.  Their origins also point to their water requirements.

Obviously, you don’t want to put a plant that likes dry conditions with a plant that needs regular watering.  Thus, mint and lavender are not good roomies.  Mint with Calendula or Pineapple Sage are good choices for a container.  Lavender, Sage, and Rosemary are good buddies with greek oregano acting as a ground-cover in a sunny spot.

Just as you would plant a flower garden with tall plants being at the back and low growers being located at the front, these same considerations need to be given to the growth habits of herbs.  There are so many sizes and shapes to choose from along with blossom color, scent, and function.

Let your imagination be free, there are no rules.  If you like the formal gardens with clipped boxwood as edgings, then plant that type of garden.  For those of you with free spirits drawn to the rambling, free forms of plants then plant away and enjoy the seed heads blowing and nodding in the breezes.  Joy is one of the great harvest reaped from herbs.  Some things you plant will die.  Don’t let that discourage you, plant again.  If it lives and thrives, plant more of it.

Beans, and Texas natives make good companions with herbs.

Herbs I love in Texas:

Thyme- creeping lemon, Sage (Salvia Officinallis), Italian Oregano, Lemon Balm, Citronella, Mints, Salad Brunet, Parsley, Texas Tarragon,  Roses, Lemongrass, Anise Hyssop, Borage, Dandelion, Dill to name a few.

t with an herb
Grandbabies are great at choosing herbs! Tansy is a little plant in the cup, but it will grow to a large shrub with lots of flowers for pollinators!

Lemon Verbena- An Herb That Should Get A Lot More Press!

Lemon Verbena:

Aloysia citrodora is a species of flowering plant in the verbena family Verbenaceae, native to western South America. Common names include lemon verbena and lemon beebrush.[2] It was brought to Europe by the Spanish in the 17th century and cultivated for its oil.

Lemon Verbena  was/is used by those believing in magic and spells.  Lemon Verbena is for love- to make yourself attractive to the opposite sex.  I don’t know about all that, but after one growing season I am in love with lemon verbena!

lemon verbena 2

“This is my favorite herb,” Jonathan will reply when a customer asks him which herb he likes.  And who can blame him, Lemon Verbena has a wonderful citrus scent, bright green, glossy leaves and it grows with little or no care.  This herb is a friend to your immune system, nervous system and to your kitchen- making wonderful teas and jellies.  And of course, lets not overlook the the sweet serenity caused by dropping fresh lemon verbena leaves in your hot bath!

At first introduction, many people hear “verbena” and think of the low growing perennial with clusters of brightly colored blooms.  But lemon verbena is quite different as you can see by the pictures.  It does bloom once a year with long conical spikes bearing clusters of tiny white flowers.  The flowers are lovely and a great help to the butterfly and bee populations.

About 20 plants encircle my herb garden providing me with plenty of material for using fresh and drying.  One or two plants will serve the average home well, our home is not average given that is houses our herb business.  The plant itself will grow quite large- 4-6 ft tall, but the more you cut on it, the more compact it will stay.  It is a lovely shrub, dropping its leaves after the first hard freeze and budding back out as soon as the days get longer and the earth warms up.  With low water requirements and heat and drought tolerance, this is a great herb to grow in Texas.

The leaves of lemon verbena can be tossed in with any tea while it steeps or it can stand alone as an herbal tea.  The dried herb can flavor breads and muffins or saved as tea for the winter months when your mood and immune system need a boost.  Lemon Verbena Lemonade is a great refreshing drink on a hot day.   I also like to place fresh stems with the leaves in tact directly on the grill and lay my fish on top- this infuses the fish with a mouth-watering flavor.  I also made apple jelly with lemon verbena last week- all I can say is wow!  This recipe is well worth the time and effort.

apple jelly with lemon verbena

For health, Lemon Verbena is a heavy hitter as well.

WebMD states

Lemon verbena is a plant. The leaves and the flowering tops are used to make medicine.
Lemon verbena is used for digestive disorders including indigestion, gas, colic, diarrhea, and constipation.  It is also used for agitation, joint pain, trouble sleeping(insomnia), asthma, colds, fever, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, skin conditions, and chills.

In foods and manufacturing, lemon verbena is used as an ingredient in herbal teas, as a fragrance in perfumes, and as an ingredient in alcoholic beverages.
How does it work?

Lemon verbena contains a substance that might kill mites and bacteria.

 

 

Any time you make a lemonade, tea, or cook with lemon verbena, you are making your own medicine.  The more herbs you eat, the healthier you will be!

lemon verbena in the herb garden