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.

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