EXTRACT from text of our new Herb Book -out soon
GARDENING WITH HERBS
Herbs have a history almost as old as man himself. Used as much for medicines and foods as their colours and scents, herbs have a practical charm unmatched in the world of plants. No garden is complete without them and no kitchen fully stocked.
The scientific definition of a herb is a plant which has no persistent stem above the ground, that is, the leaves and stem die back to the roots after a period of growth. By this definition, strictly speaking, you would call plants such as daffodils and dahlias herbs along with plants such as mint and garlic.
The more popular definition of a herb is any plant whose roots, stems, leaves or flowers are used for culinary flavouring, medicinal or perfumery purposes. Herbs then, are essentially plants which are grown because of the beneficial characteristics of the oils or other chemical components to be found in their tissues.
Herbs have been gathered or grown and used in all parts of the world for thousands of years. They are some of the easiest, hardiest and fastest garden plants to grow and there is generally little cost involved in growing them apart from your own labour. These factors, coupled with a growing preference today for natural alternatives to chemicals, have resulted in a revival of interest in the use of herbs.
Herbs have long been associated, in many different cultures, with things magical or supernatural; perhaps due to the seemingly miraculous healing power of some herbs.
The ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all used herbs as did most other early civilisations but most of the herbs we commonly use today were developed by European herbalists during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. By the mid 16th century, most European households grew at least 50 different varieties of herbs in the garden.
Many medicinal uses of herbs have been thoroughly tested over the centuries and their credibility firmly established. In recent years there has been considerable interest from scientists and enthusiastic amateurs in determining just what effects herbs produce and what components of herbs cause these effects. Much effort is also being spent in introducing new herbs into widespread cultivation.
GROWING HEALTHY HERBS
Herbs are among the easiest of plants to look after but that doesn’t mean you should plant them and forget them.
There is no one ideal set of growing conditions for herbs. They come from many different plant families which have adapted to different types of environments all over the world – consequently they all require different growing conditions. One of the things they do have in common, however, is that they generally have a scent, and in most cases a sunny position is needed to fully develop the oils or chemicals which give herbs their characteristic scent or taste.
The ideal growing conditions for most herbs are similar to those required by vegetables, namely raised beds, moist but well drained and mulched soil, full sun for at least part of the day but not too exposed to frost and wind, and generally fertile, weed-free soil. Some herbs, however, do prefer soils that are not over-fertile.
WHERE HERBS CAN BE GROWN
Herbs are quite versatile and can be grown in a variety of situations. These include:
Formal herb gardens.
Informal herb beds in the garden such as in may cottage gardens.
In containers such as baskets, herb pots, tubs and window boxes.
Amongst other plants such as in a vegetable garden as companion plants for insect control or as an additional crop.