An herb’s uses are what make the plant so valuable. Twelves centuries ago, Emperor Charlemagne compelled his citizens to grow herbs and declared, “An herb is the friend of physicians and the praise of cooks.” That statement is as true today as it was then. People continue to enjoy many of an herb’s uses such as its culinary and medicinal properties as well as the beauty and fragrance it adds to any home.
Ultimately it is a plant’s usefulness that classifies it an an herb. And herb uses are endless. Soothing teas, aromatic sprigs of lavender in sachets, thyme simmered in a comforting stew, and the multitude of ailments that can be healed with herbs remind us that nature has provided for our needs. In addition to their many practical uses, growing herbs can beautify your garden with their lovely foliage in soft grays and greens. Their delicate flowers compliment every plant around them. They also have pest-repelling abilities while attracting beneficial insects which will chase out other harmful insects throughout the rest of your garden.
Knowing the intended use of herbs will help determine which ones to grow. To minimize confusion, before planting read up on the different types of herb uses and make a list of favorites. Decide between an indoor or outdoor garden and the amount of space that will be needed.
Once planted, the herbs will begin to grow and soon it will be time to harvest them. Harvesting and using herbs is one of the most gratifying aspects of gardening. Harvest only the parts of the herb you intend on using. The herb parts used are leaves, flowers, seeds and roots. Some herbs utilize only one part while others use all four.
Harvesting Leaves: Most of the time it is the foliage and stems that are harvested. Use pruning shears to cut leaves midmoring after the dew has dried. Rinse them carefully and put them straight to use. If planning to store the foliage for later use wait for an overcast summer day and cut the foliage mid to late morning when their essential oils are at high levels.
Harvesting Flowers: The best time to gather flowers is just as they begin to open at midday. Snip each flower separately but for flowers on a stalk like the lavender herb, snip the whole stem. Be careful not to touch the flower petals being harvested. Do not harvest wilting or damaged flowers.
Harvesting Seeds: Ripe seeds are beige, brown, or black. They will have no green showing. Harvest them before they begin to fall off the plant by shaking, cutting or individually picking the seed heads and placing them into a paper sack or bucket.
Harvesting Roots: Loosen the soil around the plant and lift the roots out of the ground. Trim off the roots extending from the root ball. Wash them carefully to remove manure or compost to prevent E. coli or other bacteria.
The many herb uses available to us can quickly make us addicted to herb gardening! We may start by growing the smallest of culinary gardens and soon discover we’re expanding our gardens to accommodate the many different types of herbs we need for the many uses we have in mind for them.