SIDNEY — Herbs are durable plants requiring little attention, generally pest free and have multiple uses. So what is an herb? According to Wikipedia “In general use, herbs are plants with savory or aromatic properties that are used for flavoring and garnishing food, for medicinal purposes, or for fragrances…” Herbs reward us with flowers, fragrance and delicious flavor. Many herbs serve to help us in the garden, in the kitchen, in the craft room and for pure beauty.
Herbs come in all forms. In west central Ohio thyme, savory, oregano, sage, chives (garlic and onion), and mint are hardy perennials and appear year after year. Rosemary and lavender are examples of tender perennials. Parsley for example is a biennial, meaning that the first year it begins growing but reaches maturity and produces seeds the second year. In Ohio many of our herbs are treated as annuals. These include basil, borage, dill, and cilantro. However, some will self seed and provide you with a bounty of herbs the following year.
As a general rule herbs like sun and well drained soil. Prepare the soil with organic matter and loosen compact soil before planting. Consider locations with at least six hours of sun a day. Keep in mind fences, walls and buildings that will influence the herbs’ exposure to wind, heat, cold and rain. Containers and raised beds are an excellent choice for herbs.
Herbs are available as plants or seeds. Potted herbs are likely to mature in less time than seeds. Rosemary, sage and thyme are examples of herbs that are quicker and easier to start with a plant. However parsley, cilantro borage, chives and basil are easy to grow from seeds. Follow package directions for specific preference. Parsley and cilantro for example, benefit from soaking the seeds for 24 hours prior to planting. Basil hates cool temperatures, so plant after the dangers of frost or use a cold frame.
Plant herbs in containers or directly into the garden. Herbs perform outstanding in planters, allowing you to move the container for the optimum environment. Consider that they are more susceptible to drying out during the heat of summer and to damage during the winter. Planting directly into the garden is a perfect choice for the many of the herbs. Sage, thyme, oregano and chives can live for multiple years once established. Another choice is to create a specific herb garden or herb container. They can be planted in an informal garden bed or with vegetables and/or among the flowering plants. For indoor enjoyment, some herbs may be brought indoors. Do not expect them to flourish as they did outdoors. They love being outdoors but are much more particular indoors.
Understand the plants characteristics. Many herbs require very little care but do benefit from occasional weeding, pruning, deadheading and staking. Many herbs need little supplemental watering if planted in their preferred conditions. Fertilizing in the spring is a good practice but over fertilizing will result in leggy plants. Be knowledgeable about the herb that you plant. For instance the plants from the mint family have a tendency to spread so plant in a container or in a tile buried in the ground to curtail its invasion. It is not unusual for some herbs to self seed allowing a new growth the following year. The plant can be dead headed if this is undesirable
One of the purposes of growing herbs is to harvest for culinary purposes. The best time to harvest is when the plant’s oil is at its maximum. This time is generally when the flowers are soon to open. Also harvest early in the day after the dew has evaporated. Add to your recipe at the very end of cooking to capture the full flavor. You can substitute fresh herbs for dried herbs by multiplying times three. For every 1 teaspoon of dried herb used 3 teaspoons of chopped fresh herbs.
Experiment with new recipes, infused water, basil pesto, and chimichurri. Herb butters can be frozen for use all year long. Vinegars infused with herbs and stored in refrigerator have a long shelf life. Freeze chopped herbs in ice cube trays with olive oil is another option. Of course they can also be dried but lose some of their flavor.
But herbs are not just for eating. Many make excellent companion plants. Bees, hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted to many herbs. The black swallowtail butterfly uses the herbs from the parsley family as its host plant. Incorporate herbs into crafts such as infused soaps, pressed flowers, floral bouquets and even fire starters. And lastly herbs are attractive plants to add to your landscape.
Is it “thyme” to bring herbs to your garden?
For more information about herbs and other gardening topics, contact Shelby County Master Gardeners at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the OSU Extension office at (937) 498-7239.
The writer is a master gardener volunteer with the OSU Extension Office.