Herbs: An Overview

When thinking of gardening, cooking, eating healthy, one cannot get away from the beauty and necessity of herbs.  Regardless of your goal- to grow healthy food for you and your family, to attract butterflies, to make your gardens beautiful or to simply delight your senses- herbs fit the bill.

For the most part, herbs are perennials and hardy.  Even in our erratic weather patterns in Texas, herbs have performed very well for me and have brought me much satisfaction and joy.  As with most fresh food, when you have tasted the flavors of fresh sage, thyme, rosemary and more- you can never go back to the herb dust you can purchase off the shelves in the supermarkets.  The taste is just so amazing.  And by fresh, I also mean the herbs harvested and dried by your own hands.

And just to clarify a few terms:

Herbaceous– means that a plant dies back to the ground in winter, but comes back each spring.  You can have plants that are not herbs but are herbaceous and Herbs that are not herbaceous!

Perennial– a plant that returns year after year, can be evergreen or herbaceous.

Below is a tip sheet that will help you get stated in the wonderful world of herbs.

Many more articles on particular herbs and gardening are located in the Herb Category and in the Organic Gardening Category.

basil in the crate

Herbs- From Garden to Table

What To Plant Where

A large majority of herbs are perennials and biennials, so they will be with you for quite a while when choosing herbs:

  1. Consider their origin- did they come from wooded areas, desert areas, wet areas etc. and group like plants together.
  2. Consider water requirements of each plant
  3. Consider growth habits: height, cold hardy, heat tolerant, upright or rambler, etc.
  4. Consider their function:
  • For culinary use- what and how do you cook
  • Attract pollinators or repel insects
  • Or just for looks
  • Medicinal

Each of these points will help you determine where in your garden to locate the plants.  Obviously, a water loving herb does not need to be planted with Rosemary and Lavender as these herbs prefer a very dry climate.  If you consider these aspects before you plant everyone will benefit.

What Herbs are good for our area of Texas

  • Thyme- creeping lemon*
  • Sage- Salvia Officinalis*
  • Italian Oregano*
  • Lavender- English and Fern Leaf*
  • Parsley
  • Citronella
  • Basil- all kinds
  • Aloe Vera
  • Lemon Balm*
  • Mints*
  • Salad Burnett *
  • Rosemary
  • Lemon Grass
  • Catnip
  • Stevia
  • Sweet Woodruff
  • Garlic (plant in September)
  • Roses

The list goes on as there are so many, but these will get you off to a good start!

*- good for planting in fall as they grow all year long

 Now To Table

  1. Use Fresh- simply snip and use- sprinkle chopped herbs in your dishes while cooking or on top as a garnish.
  2. Dried
  • Cut and tie in bundle (rubber bands work great!)
  • Hang to dry or dry in oven on low or a hot car
  • Grind and store- chop in blender, store in jars in a cool dark place like a pantry.

Herbed Oils or Vinegars-  place herbs in clean jar and cover with oil or vinegar and let steep for 3 weeks. Strain and store in a cool dark place.

So How Do You Move A Beehive?

With great care!

Of all the moving we have done since March relocating the herb farm, family, and animals- the thing that concerned me the most was moving the bees.  For obvious reasons of safety to us humans but also for the safety of the bees.  We have had our hives for 3 years and they have been so healthy and vigorous.  The idea of disrupting their lives or causing them serious damage weighed on my mind.

Savannah, my 18 yr old, started us on this course of bee keeping when she received a scholarship from the East Texas Bee Keepers Association.  Included in the scholarship was an in depth class on bee keeping, a new hive, and bees.  We did have to buy her bee suit and a few tools and then I purchased a hive and bees as well.  A funny thing about the two hives, Savannah’s hive is made up of very calm bees who just chill and go on their way and my hive is rather aggressive and do not appreciate any interference in their business.  These hives completely mirror the personalities of their owners.  Savannah is just like my husband in temperament and we get along really well.

Not only was physically moving the bees a challenge, the distance we were going was a concern.  Bees are very habitual beings and if you move their hive a short distance they will be so confused that they will die.  So, if you are going to move a hive it must be several miles away from the current location.  Well, our new farm is about 5 miles away by car on the roads but as the crow flies (or bee in this case) we were not sure it was really all that far.  One good thing is that the Canton City lake is in between us and it is quite large.  Hopefully this great expanse of water will keep the bees from being so confused that they go back home only to find the hives gone.

The night before we moved the bees, Savannah went over with her dad and stuffed towels in the entrance so that the bees could not leave at the crack of dawn.  The idea is that any bees left outside the hive will die and leave you alone when you go to move the hive.  It seems harsh, but there are only a few bees that did not go up at night.  However, they also did not die.  They were alive and well buzzing around the hive working to chew their way through the towel.

Bees At Hollyberry Herb Farm

Since Savannah had been up late helping her dad with other stuff the night before, I had gotten up just as the sun was rising to help Tony.  All zipped up in her suit, I checked the towels to make certain they were in good and tight- the last thing we wanted was for the towel to slip out while we were moving them and have to deal with thousands of angry bees.

We then slid the dolly up under the first hive and ever so gently wheeled it to the trailer and up the ramps.  Then we repeated the action with the second hive.  I was concerned about the loose bees giving us trouble, but the were so focused on getting into their hive that they didn’t really care what we were doing.  Once the hives were on the trailer, they were strapped down tight and we slowly made our way through town with me sitting up in the front still suited up looking like something from a sci-fi movie.

Bees on the trailerThe extra bees either couldn’t keep up or got up under the hive and made the trip with us.  There were plenty on the bottom of the hives when we got to the farm.  Now, we repeated the dolly process in reverse.

Using the dolly to move bees

Bees in their new homes

Removing the plugs from the entrance

 

The only challenge left in this parade was to remove the towels plugging up the entrances.  I must say I was a bit aprehensive about this part.  After all, I was about to release thousands of bees ready to die to protect the hive.  My fear was unfounded, I slipped the towels out and moved briskly but calmly away.  In all of this, not one bee sting was had between the two of us!  Now the bees are sitting pretty on a heavy duty pallet feeding on all the bloom herbs.

The underside of a bee hiveWhile Tony had the hive tilted back on the dolly, I snapped a picture of the bees on bottom.  I wish you could see the activity on the other side of the screen and hear the low drone of the bees- it is a beautiful sound.

Blooming Lemon BalmLemon Balm, or Melissa which is Greek for Bee, blooming for the bees.  There is plenty blooming in the gardens for the bees to feed on.  All of the herbs are blooming late due to our unusually cold spring.

What are you planting to feed the bees?  You are planting something for the bees, aren’t you?  After all, the bee is responsible for 2 of every 3 bites of food you eat!  We need the bees.

 

 

 

 

How To Make An Herbal Tea

Passion Flower makes a wonderful tea that can really calm the nerves.
Passion Flower makes a wonderful tea that can really calm the nerves.

When talking with folks about herbs I find that one of the big mysteries of growing herbs is how to get them from the garden to the table- especially in regards to medicinal herbs.

Well, the simplest way to use an herb to make you feel better is to make a simple tea.  The directions below will seem overly simple but that is the point- it is simple.

Tea using fresh herbs:

A tablespoon of selected herb

1-2 cups of boiling water

Place herb in heat-proof container and pour water over the herb.  Place a lid on the container and allow to steep for 10-15 minutes.  It is important to keep the container covered as the essential oil (where much of the herbal goodies are) will evaporate in the steam. Strain herb matter out.

Enjoy- that is it.  I like to sweeten mine with honey and add lemon.  The honey will also help with healing if you are ill.

Tea using dry herbs:

The same as above except the fresh herbs will be replaced with 1 tbsp of dried herbs.

If you are new to herbs, you probably think I am pulling your leg.  But it is that easy to use herbs.  Below is a blend of herbs I like for any winter illness that may be going on, this will make you feel much better.

Winter Illness Herbs

Dandelion Greens, Sage,  Lemon Balm, Peppermint, Catnip, and Rosemary- dry these herbs and process them in a food processor then use as above.  In regards to the amounts- there is no right or wrong.  I prefer the Lemon Balm and Peppermint to be in larger amounts due to the good flavor.  Rosemary should be used in moderation as a little goes a long way and the flavor can overpower the others.