May 16, 2016

Learning about my herbs

I was lucky in that when I moved into my home, there was already an established herb garden.  Though I have added to it some, my main job, it seems, has been to keep it weeded and under control.  This spring I painted the old bell post at its center to match the chicken buildings.  Now it has a nice pop of color at its center.

You can see that it is thriving and lush now in early spring.  Let's look at some of what I have...

This pretty pale green mound is Golden Oregano.  I also have the more typical darker Sweet Oregano (no picture of that).  The Herb Society of America says the following about uses for oregano:
"Oregano and marjoram are essential ingredients in Greek, Italian and French cuisine. ... Fresh and dried leaves of oregano can be added to soups, casseroles, sauces, stew, stuffing, eggs, olives, teas, tomato-based dishes, chili and pizza. Flowers have a flavor similar to the leaves and can be a flavorful and decorative addition to vegetables, salads and other foods. Sweet marjoram has a mild, sweet flavor that compliments mushrooms, carrots, cauliflower, spinach, squash, peas and asparagus, and leaves, flowers and tender stems can be added to stews, poultry, stuffing, syrups, dressings, cheese mixtures, seafood, omelets, pizza, salad, sausages, ice cream, custards, pies and fruit desserts. ... Both oregano and marjoram have been used in folk medicine to treat colds, coughs, gastrointestinal problems and a variety of other conditions, and several plants in the genus reportedly have antibacterial, antifungal and antimicrobial properties due to the phenol carvacrol. The oils of both O. majorana and O. vulgare are used commercially to scent soaps, lotions and colognes. Both plants have also been used to make dyes. The colorful purple flowers of O. vulgare subsp. vulgare are ideal for everlastings, wreaths and swags, and the leaves and flowers of sweet marjoram, O. vulgare and O. onites can be included in potpourris." (

Last year I planted one tiny Tarragon plant because I like to make Tarragon Chicken Salad in the summer.  This year, it has grown and grown and grown.  It has easily quadrupled in size.  The Herb Society of America says the following about uses for tarragon:
"The leaves are popular in French cooking, usually in mild-flavored dishes, such as chicken and fish dishes, eggs, sauces, salads and pickles. Tarragon is indispensable in sauce BĂ©arnaise, and makes a fine flavoring for vinegar or mustard. In traditional folk medicine, tarragon has been used for digestive problems and intestinal worms, and externally for joint pain. ... Tarragon is also used as a commercial flavoring and in perfumery." (

My little German Thyme plant is also mounding with vigor.  Just this week it began to flower.  I use a lot of thyme in my canning recipes.  For example, my Spicy Pickled Carrots get a few sprigs of fresh thyme in each jar.  The Herb Society of America says the following about uses for thyme:
"Thyme has many uses: in chicken broth or stuffing; in clam chowder and marinades for meats or fish; in sauces; with onions, carrots or peas; in egg dishes with other sweet herbs; even in a baked apple dessert. The flavor can be captured in oils or butter. ... Thyme has been used since ancient times for its antibacterial and antifungal properties (it was one of the Egyptian mummification herbs); it was used as a fumigant and as temple incense and medicinally in many ways. Today, the essential oil thymol is used extensively in mouthwash, toothpaste, and anti-rheumatic ointments. Thymus vulgaris has been used as an antispasmodic ingredient for herbal sore throat and cough preparations, but some sources suggest that it should not be used during pregnancy." (

My chives come back year after year and they also came into bloom recently.  I love their big purple flowers, which taste onion-y as well and can be a fun addition to a salad.  The Herb Society of America says the following about uses for chives:
"The linear leaves are snipped and used primarily fresh, stirred into uncooked foods, such as soft cheeses or salads; or added to cooked foods during the last few minutes of cooking, or as a garnish. Overheating will destroy the flavor. Garlic chive flowers are edible in the bud stage or freshly opened (try in stirfry). The opened flowers are attractive cut flowers with a sweet aroma; flowers of both types dry well for winter bouquets. Snipped chive leaves should be used to flavor butter or oil, which must be frozen if kept more than a week or so (in the refrigerator); or seal in plastic bags and freeze. It is not worthwhile to dry chives." (

I have four varieties of mint growing in my garden: Apple Mint, Pineapple Mint, Chocolate Mint and Spearmint (not pictured).  It is a constant battle to keep them from taking over the world but I do love to make cold summer drinks flavored with fresh mint.  The Herb Society of America says the following about uses for mint:
"Use fresh mint leaves to garnish fresh fruit, iced tea, hot chocolate, and mint-flavored desserts. Steep 1 tablespoon fresh or 1 teaspoon dried mint to one cup of water to make mint tea. Experiment using different varieties of mint in recipes such as orange, apple, ginger and pineapple. Keep mint in a handy location near the kitchen and favorite places to sip iced tea by incorporating mints into container gardens and hanging baskets." (

I just planted a few new dill plants as these are annual herbs, unlike everything else I've shown so far, which come back as perennials.  I use dill in my pickle recipes and in a favorite Greek pasta dish with a rich feta cream sauce and fresh tomatoes.  The Herb Society of America says the following about uses for dill:
"Dill is a favorite culinary herb, both in leaf and seed, and is popular in northern European cooking. The fresh greens blend well with fish, eggs, potatoes, meats, breads, salads and sauces; dill seed is used in pickling and to make a dill-flavored vinegar. Seeds of Indian dill, A. sowa, are used in curry mixtures, and the leaves are used in soups and rice. Dill, along with trefoil, vervain and St. John's-wort, was once said to 'hinder witches of their will.' It is used as a digestive agent for the treatment of colic, flatulence and hiatus hernia. The oil is used commercially in medicines, soaps, detergents, and foods."  (  

I have two varieties of sage in my herb garden.  The first is a common culinary sage and the second is a more ornamental, bushy Russian Sage.  I like to use this herb when making broths, potatoes or chicken. tells us that Sage is good as an anti-inflammatory, an antiseptic, to reduce muscle tension, to relieve indigestion, as a relaxant, and as an aid to memory.  Wow, what a useful plant!  Read more at  

Lemon Balm is something that was here in my herb garden, which - I'll be honest - I have never really used.  Rita, my herbalist neighbor, tells me it is great for use in homemade lotions and cosmetics, but I haven't gotten that adventurous yet.  I do love to pick a few leaves and rub them between my fingers to smell it's fresh lemon scent while I'm out working in the garden.  The Herb Society of America has much to say about the various uses for Lemon Balm.  It has culinary, craft, cosmetic, medicinal, garden and general household uses!  I've been missing out on this versatile herb.  You can read the whole "Lemon Balm Guide" on the Herb Society website:

This one surprised me by coming back, Curled-Leaf Parsley, but in reading about it, I see that it is actually a biennial.  I use parsley in cooking a lot.  One of our favorite summer dishes in sweet southern coleslaw, which uses vast quantities of fresh parsley.  Here is what the Herb Society of America says about parsley's uses:
"Leaves can be added raw to salads, or sprinkled onto a sandwich. It is good in salad dressings, sprinkled over soups just before serving, or added to tomato, potato or egg dishes. It is used in the preparation of meats, stuffings, soups and stews and as a garnish. Parsley serves as a fl avor enhancer when cooked. It is best if added towards the end of the cooking time. Root parsley can be grated raw into a salad, added to soups or stews or cooked and served as a root vegetable. Mix leaf parsley with other herbs into butter to create herb butter. Parsley is one of the herbs in “ nes herbes”, along with chervil, chives, and tarragon. Parsley is best used for fl avoring during its fi rst year becaus e second year is a seed-producing year and the leaves tend to take on a bitter fl avor. Parsley grown with roses is said to improve their scent and keep them healthier. It is also a good companion for tomato plants and attracts honeybees when in bloom.  Leaves infused in water make a good hair tonic and conditioner or can be added to body lotion for dry skin.  Eating parsley leaves serves as a good breath freshener. A digestive tonic can be made by infusing leaves. Parsley tea improves circulation. Root decoctions can be used to treat kidney ailments, or as a mild laxative. Topically, leaves can be used in a poultice as an antiseptic dressing for wounds, bites and stings. Also, applying juice from the roots will reduce swelling. Note: Caution must be exercised when using Petroselinum infusions or decoctions internally. High concentrations may cause in flammation, abortion, or damage to the digestive or urinary systems."  (

I also put some berries in with my herbs since this is a garden that gets less disturbed than my bigger vegetable garden.  A rogue elderberry flew across the street from Rita's garden and planted itself by my mailbox last year.  I moved it up into the herb garden and it is really flourishing there.  It has sent out two shoots to either side, which are quickly growing into new bushes.  I may need to find a spot where these berries will have more room to spread.  Rita gave me some elderberry jam last year, which was divine, so that's what I'm hoping to use mine for when it begins to produce.  I read up a little on the nutritional properties of elderberry juice, and found it is chock-full of good stuff.  Here is a snippet of info that I found:
"Elderberry is used for its antioxidant activity, to lower cholesterol, to improve vision, to boost the immune system, to improve heart health and for coughs, colds, flu, bacterial and viral infections and tonsillitis. Bioflavonoids and other proteins in the juice destroy the ability of cold and flu viruses to infect a cell. People with the flu who took elderberry juice reported less severe symptoms and felt better much faster than those who did not."  Read more at

I also added some strawberries to my herb patch, which have taken off this spring and are filling up the corner where I put them.  The strawberries are my gardener's treat: something I enjoy by myself as my reward for hard work and dirty hands.

Same with the few blueberry bushes I added... nothing like fresh fruit picked and eaten in the same instant.

I hope you have learned something new!  I know I have.  I was most intrigued by the many uses for Lemon Balm.  I can't wait to get home and pick a bunch to bring inside and try out.

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