Herbs in the Garden
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Today herbs are frequently taken for granted and barely given a thought except when cooking and gardening. In the past, most people had an intimate relationship with the plants around them. They gathered many wild plants for use as food and medicine and passed the uses of the plants down to the next generations.
As society changed, plants began to be studied and records kept of their usefulness. As early as the tenth century, information on herbs was put together in written form and shared. Herbs were cultivated and sold to the limited few who could afford them. Over time the need for plants was met by available medicines, dyes, cosmetics and other materials. More than twenty five percent of our modern drugs contain plant extracts as active ingredients.
Today herbs are commonly grown for their ornamental value. Some still use them for great flavorings, fragrances and attracting all kinds of pollinators. Here are just a few I enjoy growing:
Fennel has a feathery light green foliage and prefers a soil that holds moisture and a location that has limited exposure. Try to disturb the roots only as little as necessary when transplanting. Many gardeners grow fennel to feed the caterpillars of black swallowtail butterfly. You might need several plants so you have enough to share with the hungry caterpillars. Fennel is an excellent source of vitamin C. It is also a very good source of dietary fiber, potassium, molybdenum, manganese, copper, phosphorus and folate. It has a slight licorice flavor and is used on chicken and pork and in stews.
Lemon Balm is a member of the mint family and is a vigorous grower. It was once selected as the Herb of the Year by the International Herb Association. It has numerous uses including: fresh or dried leaves make tea or fragrant potpourris, garnish a drink or salad with leaves or stems, ingredient in smoothies, as a syrup, to infuse lemon flavor into honey, mixed with fruit salad or in homemade jam. Lemon balm is rich in antioxidants and is a main ingredient in liqueurs.
Chives are a member of the onion family making them easy to grow. They are rich in vitamin A and C, contain potassium, iron, calcium, folate, niacin, riboflavin and thiamine. Chives are often used in salads and sauces, on grilled fish, baked potatoes, or in combination with other herbs. The flowers are also long lasting although small in size and strongly scented.
Herbs provide many benefits so consider adding several to your landscape this spring.