Hobbies come and go- whether your schedule is too tight, or you just don’t feel like continuing something you started anymore. Both are completely understandable reasons to consider but there are times where you just want to find something to do with your hands.
Starting an herb garden can sometimes sound like a difficult feat but once you get the hang of it, it can come easy. With the right tips, tending to an herb garden will become easy-peasy in the long run- and it can also be very gratifying!
As all good things go, we must start small. Other plants and crops can come later, if you find yourself really getting into gardening and horticulture. For now, though, we can start by planting herbs. They take less effort to care for but can do so much for you. They are easy to grow, beautiful to look at and even add flavor to your dishes!
What is an herb, exactly?
Herbs are plants that have many different uses that range from medicinal, culinary and sometimes even spiritual. Almost all an herb’s parts- from the leaves to the bark, have beneficial properties.
For cooking, usually the leafy part of the plant is coined as the herb itself, while the seeds, root and bark are called spices. Herbs add that extra kick to dishes that satisfy not only the taste buds, but they add aesthetically as well making for a great plate presentation and their olfactory impact can have positive effects on your nervous system and mood.
For medicinal purposes, rather than using a small amount of the herb, the whole plant is usually used, including the bark, fruit, root and the seeds.
How did herbs become mainstream?
The use of herbs dates back to the start of the civilization of man when they discovered the benefits and uses of various plants. Cave paintings in France that were carved as early as 7000 B.C depicted ancient people using herbs as healing ointments. According to the paintings, they used to mix herbs with sesame and olive oil to come up with healing salves and medicine.
At around 2500 B.C. writings about herbs and their uses by the Sumerians was discovered, and by 700 B.C., history shows that Athens was trading herbs like thyme and sage.
During his time, Hippocrates, who was also coined as the father of medicine, was documented to use many herbs to treat diseases. His catalogue was shown to have about 400 commonly used herbs back then.
From then on, the development of using herbs as medicine continued over the coming centuries. Some notable roles of herbs throughout history were:
● Aristotle wanted to learn how other cultures were using the Aloe Vera plant in their daily lives and requested Alexander the Great to figure it out. Alexander the Great then sent out cuttings of the aloe plant to his friends while he was traveling around the world.
● The use of herbs was frequently mentioned in the old and new testaments of the Bible.
● European settlers brought the most important seeds to the New World–the western hemisphere or America. Due to the colonists’ chosen mode of travel (sea travel), they were allowed a limited number of personal belongings as they boarded their ships and prioritized transporting large amounts of seeds like mint, lavender, parsley, roses, dandelion, chamomile, and thyme.
● Settlers started planting herb gardens just outside of their homes. During this time also, they turned to the Native Americans to learn more about herbs. With this, they were introduced to cayenne, goldenrod and echinacea.
● At a time when doctors and hospitals weren’t as accessible as they are now, herbs were used to treat many different diseases and ailments. History has shown that research and advancements in the use of herbs as medicine was done by trial and error and was passed on by word of mouth in the past.
● Thomas Jefferson was also an active gardener, keeping a journal of his garden’s contents at Monticello. Some of his most noticeable plants were lemon balm, sage, mint, thyme, chamomile, rosemary, and lavender.
● During the 20th century, herbal medicine was pushed to the sidelines as synthetic medicine went mainstream and was used more for health treatments. Nowadays though, more and more people are looking for more organic and natural ways to live and deal with illness, hence the resurgence of herbal medicine.
What will I get out of having an herb garden?
It’s a question we ask ourselves about most things–what good will it be for me? Planting herbs in your home could mean not only flavorful dishes and a means to have readily available natural remedies, but also gaining a fun and relaxing hobby that will also beautify your home.
● Growing fresh herbs means a sustainable supply to make dishes look, taste and smell great! Just cut a couple of leaves from your herb garden and you’re good to go!
● It saves you money — keeping your cupboard stocked with processed herbs can be a bit heavy on your wallet–and frankly does not taste as great when used. Why not save up by having your own spices within reach? It’s one less thing to scratch off your grocery list.
● It is a stress reliever – sometimes we just need quiet moments away from the stress of work or school, or maybe need some time to just relax and spend some time alone. Tending to a garden is a simple but calming task to find some semblance of inner peace.
● Makes for a good gift choice – running out of ideas for gifts for your friend? Gift them with the knowledge of herb tending. Give them their very own plant you took care of yourself and show them the ropes. Giving herb plants as gifts are also more meaningful because of the time and effort put into growing them.
● Bring some color to your life – Having a garden in your home makes your whole house brighter and healthier. Plants not only look great; they also help clean the air in your home.
● The healthier choice – introducing fresh herbs in your diet is a great way to go about the journey of achieving a healthier you. Not only that, actively gardening could help you do a little bit of exercise every day.
● An easy hobby – Sometimes starting a hobby can take up most of your time just by practicing the craft. Let’s say you want to try knitting- it would take a lot of time and patience to master it. One of the good things about growing your own herb garden is how easy it is to get started, it’s much easier that tending a flower garden or any other garden since most herbs are hardy plants that need very little tending.
How do I start?
Taking care of herbs can be easy once you get the hang of it. It takes no more than a little time, love, and care to make them flourish and thrive. Remember these tips before committing to be a plant parent.
Like all things, you have to start simple and start small
Buy a pre-potted plant first so you’ll get used to taking care of a plant that is already stable and hardy, rather than starting from the seed where germinating and taking care of a young plant may be more challenging.
Be careful of pests though and remember to check it thoroughly before buying. Once you get the hang of it, then you can try your hand at buying seeds to plant on your own.
Get an herb of your choice
There are different types of herbs for you to choose from. Start with those that you are most familiar with and will most probably use. Do your research, too, and learn how best to tend to each type of herb.
Choose their home
Pots are vital to how your plant will grow, so make sure to use one best suited for the herb. There are a lot of choices but the best ones to choose from are the window box, grow bags, and terracotta pots.
Don’t forget to hydrate!
All living things need water to live — the same goes for plants. Remember to water them every day and if the temperature is much higher than normal during the day, it is best to water it at night, so it doesn’t dry up immediately.
Remember to drain them
To maintain healthy herbs, proper drainage is also important. If not, the roots may rot, the plants may drown and lose the chance to grow beautifully. On cooler days, water them a bit less. Know how much water herbs need and keep them healthy.
Shed some light
Plants in general need a great deal of sunlight to be able to grow well. If you choose to grow herbs inside your own living space, opt to place them near a windowsill where they can get direct sunlight for a few hours a day. Just a tip though — east-facing window sills are, more often than not, the best sources of sunlight for plants.
Give them some space
Allow some space between your plants for them to grow out. The windowsill is the best choice to put your plant and remember to put a great deal of space between pots to let them grow freely.
Trim them regularly
Planting herbs aren’t just for show, use them regularly and they benefit from regular trimming. You will benefit too, as herbs are great at adding flavor to your dishes!
Picking your herbs
One of the most important decisions you will make when starting with your herb garden is picking which ones you’ll start with. There are so many herbs to choose from, so take your pick and see which ones you want try out.
● Soft herbs — Herbs like chives, marjoram, coriander are considered to be soft because they are quite delicate and need some special care.
● Woody herbs – These grow best in dry and sunny areas. Although they can grow better than soft herbs during dry and hot weather, they need water too. Examples of woody herbs are thyme, rosemary and sage.
● Annual – Herbs like basil, coriander, parsley, dill, and chervil are best grown during the spring and summer and will continue to provide a fresh supply all year round.
So, which herbs should you start with? Obviously, there are a lot of varieties to choose from but let’s see the most popular ones.
● Basil – The herb is most common and very widely used in a variety of dishes. This herb loves to bask in heat and sunlight, so make sure to put it where it can have its fill of natural light
● Bay leaves – Dishes with thick and rich sauces taste great with a few bay leaves. West-facing windows absorb the most heat and light from the sun so placing your bay leaf pot there is best, so they thrive well. Tip: the oldest leaves have the strongest bay leaf flavor.
● Chives – This herb adds an extra little kick to bland tasting food like eggs and soups. Give it a trim every now and then to keep it tidy and do not allow it to get overgrown.
● Parsley – This herb thrives in direct sunlight so make sure place it where the sun’s rays hit it for long hours. Harvest it near the base to get the best flavor out of it.
● Mint – Mint makes for an attractive houseplant as well as a fragrant one. The soil must always be moist, and you have to keep them bathed in moderate sunlight.
● Oregano – As an herb related to mint, make sure you give them the same treatment. Assure that they have a moist soil almost every time you check on them and never let them stay in direct sunlight.
● Thyme – This herb may have tiny leaves, but they pack a punch in flavor! This herb absorbs moisture fast so make sure the soil doesn’t dry out for too long. Place it in a warm place but not in direct sunlight.
● Rosemary – Rosemary is a versatile herb that can tolerate both sunny and cool temperatures as long as it has some exposure to sunlight. Harvesting a few twigs can do so much to your dishes already which makes it for an herb worth tending to.
Extra tips for a beginner plant parent
● If you prefer to grow your herbs outside, consider the weather. If you’re planting during the summer, keep an eye out for fast drying herbs and if you’re planting in winter or in a chilly weather, water your plants less to keep them from drowning and the roots from rot.
● Acidity in the soil you’re planting them in should be considered. At best, herbs tolerate soil with a high pH level.
● When choosing pots, consider a slightly deeper one for herbs that are shrubs such as bay and rosemary.
● Loam-based fertilizers work best for your herbs but don’t give them too much as it can affect the plant’s flavor.
● Choose pots that have holes to make sure that your herbs have proper drainage. Remember that keeping the soil slightly moist rather than soggy is a key element to how it will grow.
● Keep a look out if your herbs are drying out more quickly than usual, it could be a sign that they should be repotted.
● Herbs can be kept in your freezer once you harvest it, it will only store more flavor in it. Best examples of these are parsley and dill.
● Harvest your herbs in the morning before any essential oils evaporate as the day goes by.
Things you might not know about herbs!
● During the ancient times, the Greeks acknowledged rosemary as a great help to one’s memory and energy. Academics were seen to incorporate the herb into their garlands, be braided into their hair and they go even as far as smearing the herb’s oil on their foreheads to improve their performance while studying.
● Herbal bouquets don’t sit well with insects, its aromatic smell drives them away. Assembling one that consists of hibiscus, lavender, lemongrass and basil can help keep pesky insects off your table.
● The first pharmacies (called apothecaries back then) were stocked with a large number of botanical medicines that consisted of mainly herbs.
● Aromatherapy stems from the healing properties of herbs.
o Lemon balm and lavender have shown to help reduce anxiety and calm nerves.
o Chamomile, sage and oregano are few of the most known relaxing herbs that can be made into a tea.
o Peppermint can soothe stomach pain, boost your mood, and ease your nausea
● Sage and Rosemary are known to be the “wise, old herbs”
● Ancient Egyptian folklore regarded herbs to be symbolic. Borage was given to those who needed courage before going into battle while rosemary was given to others for remembrance.
● Thyme was embroidered into scarves that the Middle Age knights got from their lovers.
● Catnip is not only for cats; its mellow aroma provides relief from headaches and anxiety even for humans.
Before diving into the plant parent life, double check if you’ve got the chops to become one. Like most hobbies, a bit of trial and error is inevitable but reading up and researching can lead to a fruitful herb planting journey!