Herbs should have a place in every garden for medicinal uses. Herbalists still use plants for natural healing, cosmetics, and herbal teas, the majority of herbs in the home garden are put to culinary use.
These days the gardener is likely to have planted horse-radish, fennel, angelica, dill, savory, basil and hyssop, six kinds of thyme, and a whole host of scented geraniums. Dried leaves and flowers will be used to make tussie-mussies and potpourri.
You can savor the true taste of herbs when they are picked and used fresh. While some of the more tender herbs like tarragon, parsley, basil, and dill may be frozen for future use, drying is perhaps the best-known method of preservation.
Harvested when the flowers first open, long-stemmed kinds like marjoram, rosemary mint, and sage are usually hung in bunches to dry naturally in airy shade. The leaves are then stripped and crumbled before being stored in jars.
Here are the 12 most common medicinal plants to grow at home:
A hardy annual plant. The seeds are aromatic and carminative and are largely employed in medicine, and the leaves are used for garnishing. The seeds retain their power of germination for three years.
The leaves of this perennial plant are used mainly for making balm tea or wine for feverish affections. It is valuable for its scent, which contains a peculiar volatile oil. The young shoots are sometimes employed in salads instead of parsley. This herb is also important as a bee plant. It is readily propagated by division of the root.
Basil is a herb with a long history; originally coming from India, it figures in Mediterranean cookery. There are many species differing slightly one from the other, but the two most commonly used are sweet basil and bush basil. Both are half-hardy annuals and should be sown in a reasonably light and somewhat rich soil.
Sweet basil has a rich perfume and dries very well. Under good growing, it will grow to about two foot high, while bush basil is smaller growing, to perhaps 9 inches. Sweet basil is the more popular for drying and keeps its flavor well when dried. It is used widely in tomato dishes, spaghetti sauces, and other Italianate recipes.
The flowers are used for garnishing and for a claret cup, and the young leaves as a salad. As bees are exceedingly fond of this when in flower, it should be extensively grown by beekeepers. It is a hardy annual.
The salad burnet is a perennial herb, easily disseminated and naturalized, particularly adapted for calcareous soils. It serves as a salad and imparts a cucumber flavor to dishes. It is suitable as a sheep fodder.
Cultivated for its seeds, which are used in confectionery and cakes, also in the distillation of spirits, and for medical purposes. The leaves are highly recommended for flavoring soups. It is a biennial.
A perennial herbaceous plant, which is still in considerable repute as a medical agent. It has both tonic and febrifugal properties. Sometimes it is planted under fruit trees for insecticidal purposes.
Coriander is another herb with a very long history, having been grown in Southern Europe and the Middle East for many centuries. It produces aromatic seeds that are used when fully ripe in a variety of dishes.
They are one of the ingredients of curry powders, have some use in potpourri, and are frequently used to give spicy flavors to soups, stews, and some sweets. It is an annual with delicate lace-like flowers. When ripe the seeds should be collected and stored in an airtight jar, where they can remain for several years without deterioration.
Dill is another annual plant related to coriander, and it too has been used for many years, particularly in Northern Europe. Medicinally it was used to make dill water, and used to soothe babies.
Today its use is mainly in flavoring cucumbers, in dill pickles. Apart from that, it is used in sauces, soups, and stews and in various vegetable dishes, particularly cabbage. It is often used in place of caraway seed for the flavor is similar but not as strong. The seed should be sown after the frosts and harvested when fully ripe.
Fennel is another plant from the Mediterranean area, and it too has a long history. There are two kinds, sweet fennel, and Florence fennel.
Sweet fennel is often found as a weed, for some unknown reason, in particular along railway lines in various parts of southern Australia. The leaves have an aniseed flavor, and the fine feathery foliage is often used in sauces, particularly cream sauce or white sauces for fish.
Florence fennel on the other hand is an annual vegetable which, in addition to producing finely flavored leaves, produces a somewhat bulbous base of the stem which looks vaguely like celery and tastes like aniseed. This swollen part of the plant is cooked or used fresh in salads.
Oregano is a wild species of marjoram with a somewhat sharper and more distinct flavor. It is used widely in Mediterranean cooking, particularly in Italian dishes.
Savory has both annual and perennial species. Winter savory, is perennial and has a somewhat pungent flavor. It is worth growing for use with tomato dishes, particularly tomato soup or sauce. Summer savory is an annual growing to about 18 inches high and has virtually the same flavor.
No garden should be without a few herbs for they are easily grown in pots or troughs or even hanging baskets. Where they are planted in separate beds more traditional shapes include knot gardens contained by edgings of lavender, germander, or box. Concentric circles, divided rectangles, among checkerboard paving and in wagon-wheel frames.