Growing Herbs by Diane Sidebottom
Do you love herbs? Do you REALLY love herbs? Were you meant to grow Mint? Is there Dill in your will? Do you have a tattoo of your Basil or Rue? Have you penned a rhyme about Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme? Do you really love herbs?
Chances are you love them more than you realize. Human fascination with herbs began thousands of years ago. Neolithic man used herbs for food, healing and shamanic rituals. Some were believed to have magical powers and were burned for their scent to appease the gods. Others are thought to have medicinal uses and help cure illnesses, as in folk remedies used today by many different cultures around the world. Before refrigeration, herbs were relied upon by all cultures to preserve meats and to flavor dishes. They were used to protect linens from insects, make perfumes and deodorants, and to dye homespun fabrics. Today herbal fragrances are used in cosmetics, shampoos, and lotions. And let’s not forget the use of herbs in alcoholic spirits. It is said that Hemingway did some of his best writing after drinking Absinth, which is a Wormwood concoction.
People today are mostly interested in using and growing culinary herbs. Honestly, I have found these to be the easiest garden plants to grow, especially those pricy standards that most recipes call for. Amazingly most are not only perennial (come back annually), but they live all winter as well, even outside. My rosemary, oreganos, mints, cilantro, bay, garlic chives, thyme and parsley do just fine with nothing but a layer of leaves on the ground for protection. The cilantro, basil, chives, dill, and fennel will re-seed themselves if allowed to complete the seed producing cycle. How much easier could it be!
So, herbs can be grown in pots, as ornamentals in flower beds, in vegetable gardens, anywhere you have a sunny, well drained location. They prefer 4 to 6 hours morning sun, with some afternoon protection; after all, this is Texas. Add organic matter which improves drainage and texture in clay soils, since most herbs do not like wet feet. Apply a balanced fertilizer, but avoid high nitrogen. Water weekly with a good soak of at least one inch. Mulch well to conserve moisture and reduce weeds. Think of it this way, before cultivation herbs were probably someone’s weeds. You can’t neglect them, but most are not a prima donna either.
Most culinary herbs reach their peak flavor just as the flower buds begin to open. Gather herbs in the morning after the sun has dried the dew. Gather up to 1/3 of the plant at a time since more will weaken the plant. Small quantities may be wrapped in a moist paper towel and refrigerated. Larger quantities may be dried or frozen. Do some research to determine the best process for preserving your specific herbs. Don’t forget to dig up some of the basil to bring indoors during the winter. Just put it into a pot and care for it as any other house plant.
So get out there and start an herb bed, or pot, or whatever you feel comfortable with. Just try one or two and your successes will bolster your confidence and before long, you will be growing every imaginable herb, and haunting Nurseries for any herb you don’t already grow. You will have areas for Greek herbs, Mexican herbs, French herbs, Italian herbs. You will buy herbs you have never heard of and have no idea how to use but you buy them anyway because you have this weird obsession with herbs. You will run out of space and have to create additional beds for your new acquisitions and finds…or maybe that’s just me.
So as always, happy harvesting!