How do you say it: herbs (pronounced like a man’s name) or (h)erbs (silent h)?
I usually say “(h)erbs,” (silent h) because I’m from the US. Still, when my family and I visited a lovely, family-owned plant farm near Lancaster, PA, Groff’s, the conversation in the car went something like this:
Husband: What are you getting at this place, again?
Me (wearing an overly giant smile): Herbs.
Husband: did you just say ‘herbs?’
Me: Hm. I did. …Maybe they sell ‘Herbs’…as in the guy. A garden of Herbs.
Husband: Who says ‘herbs’…the British?
Me: Yes. And Martha Stewart.
Well, I’m neither British nor Martha Stewart, so I guess I’m not supposed to say herbs. In honor of my mistake, I’m unofficially dubbing our garden: Herb’s Garden. Now, my kids are sure to have as much trouble remembering which way to say it as I apparently do. You’re welcome, kids. 🙂
Anyway, I left with a nice little haul of (h)erbs and companion plants, and thought I’d share some helpful info I’ve dug up on each. (Bad pun intended. Very sorry.)
*By the way, although the edible herbs I’ve mentioned below offer various health benefits, they can also have some pretty significant side effects, especially if taken in large amounts (particularly for pregnant/lactating women). I plan to eat them as part of my meals, in amounts typically consumed.
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Have any tomatoes? Mozzarella? Well, then. You need basil. In addition to tasting delicious, basil contains Vitamins K, A, and C, calcium, magnesium, and potassium, among other nutrients. It also contains DNA-protecting flavonoids and acts as an anti-inflammatory. It is antibacterial as well, and has been found to be effective in treating drug-resistant bacteria strains. Basil also acts as an adaptogen, to help the body fight the effects of stress.
Cilantro (+coriander seeds)
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Since it is high in antioxidants, cilantro not only benefits our health, but also prolongs freshness when added to other foods. It is also antifungal, promotes skin health and may help combat the effects of UV B radiation from sunlight. In addition, it is antimicrobial, and is believed to help detoxify the body. Coriander (the seed produced by cilantro) has anti-inflammatory properties, but studies have found that imported coriander is often contaminated by salmonella; I suggest growing your own.
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Due to the pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) it contains, comfrey is toxic to the liver and is not recommended for internal use. (*Note: the levels of PAs change, depending upon the time of year, age of the plant, and throughout the different parts of the plant–e.g. newer leaves have more PAs than older ones and the roots contain the highest amounts by a large margin.) However, comfrey serves many other purposes in the garden. It is a great healer and has been acknowledged as such for thousands of years (dating back to ancient Rome). This is due to the allantoin it contains, which is known to aid in cell formation. Though it shouldn’t be applied to open wounds, comfrey’s crushed leaves, poultices, or creams can be applied externally to injuries, to promote healing. *Note: the toxins present in comfrey can be absorbed through the skin, so care must be taken not to overuse. It is not to be taken while using acetaminophen or similar products, because of the heightened risk of liver damage.
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In addition to tasting delicious in pickling recipes and egg salad (which is how my grandmother used to make it–yum!), dill contains Vitamins A and C, as well as antioxidants. It is also a good source of calcium, manganese, and iron. Dill was once believed to harbor protective forces, which would help ward off witchcraft. Handy, no? Today, it is sometimes used to treat problems with digestion, menstruation, sleep, urinary tract disorders, and to help boost the immune system. Not for use by diabetics, pregnant/nursing women, or by those with allergies to plants in the carrot family.
I can attest to the fact that dill is highly prized by swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. This cute little guy and his buddies ate all of ours.
The parsley in the background survived the onslaught; the dill, sadly, did not.
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All nine known species of echinacea are native to North America and were used by Native Americans medicinally. All parts of the plant are used, and can be taken internally (as teas, tinctures, in capsules, etc.), as well as applied externally. Echinacea boosts the immune system, in order to help ward off the common cold and flu, and also to help fight infections. Its widespread popularity declined with the introduction of antibiotics, but appears to be growing once more, particularly in Germany, where it is approved for medical treatment by the government.
Longterm use has not be evaluated, and some individuals may experience an allergic reaction to echinacea. (It may also increase allergic reactions to other stimulants). Contraindicated for use by individuals with auto-immune issues and not recommended for use in pregnant or breastfeeding women.
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Fennel has a delicious, licorice-ish scent and flavor, which I love. I particularly love the coloring of the bronze fennel, so I picked some up to add to my garden. Its leaves are gorgeous and feathery (they look like actual feathers as they start to emerge). Fennel’s a perennial herb, which can be used in foods and teas. It’s not only attractive to the birds and the bees, but is also a host plant for the Anise Swallowtail and the Eastern Black Swallowtail butterflies. Cheers to more butterflies!
Holy Basil (Tulsi)
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This plant has been grown in India for over three thousand years and is revered as a symbol for the Hindu goddess Lakshmi. It is valuable medicinally because of its antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and pain-killing properties. It acts as an adaptogen, improving the body’s response to stress. It can be taken as a tea (safe for daily use), pill, tincture, etc. It is used to help regulate diabetes and also to promote wound healing. It is believed to help lower cholesterol, ease joint pain, and protect the stomach, as well. It should not be used by pregnant or lactating women.
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Sure, its fragrance is absolutely delicious, but it tastes good, too. Dried lavender buds can add flavor to your desserts, from ice cream to baked goods to yummy summertime drinks. (I found some great recipes from Country Living.) I love adding lavender to my soaps, and I often wear lavender essential oil on a clay diffuser necklace. Its scent is calming and soothing, perfect for combatting stress or promoting sleep. It can be brewed in a tea and cooled, then sprayed over burns, bug bites, or troubled skin, to bring relief and aid in healing. Lavender plants in your garden can also help keep mosquitoes and other pests away from the area. Bees and butterflies, on the other hand, tend to love it. I’m with them!
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Lemon Balm is an herb in the mint family, with a bright, lemony scent. It can add flavor to foods or teas and has been used since the Middle Ages to help relieve anxiety. Likewise, it works well in promoting sleep (often paired with valerian) and regulating stress. Lemon balm is also used to help treat stomach upsets, including cholic, and has shown promise in relieving some of the symptoms of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s Disease. In cream form, it is used to treat cold sores. Lemon balm seems safe to use medicinally in limited amounts and durations, even by infants, under the guidance of a physician. However, long term studies have not been done and, as with any herb, it is probably best avoided by pregnant women. It may increase the effects of sedatives, as well.
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Lemongrass smells like a fresh, sunny summer day, don’t you think? Go ahead and smell some; I’ll wait. Lemongrass is full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, flavonoids, and phenolic compounds. What’s not to like, right? Hang on, because there’s more. It’s also antifungal, antimicrobial, and can help regulate cholesterol levels, as well as detoxify the body. It is good for digestion and for regulating blood pressure, plus it also helps boost your body’s metabolism. Its vitamins benefit hair and skin, and its nutrients can help treat joint pain and fever, as well as colds and flu. Due to its ability to stimulate the uterus, it is not safe for pregnant women; also, because it can lower blood sugar, it should be avoided by people with diabetes.
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First and foremost: monarchs! Monarch caterpillars eat only milkweed, so without it…no caterpillars. No caterpillars means no adult butterflies. You get it. You know how this nature thing works. Second: they’re beautiful plants, and there are over a hundred species native to North America. Mine, however, are perennials, which seem to be more readily available (since native milkweed was often considered a “pest” and chased off the land. Shame on us humans, once again.)
Besides being essential for the monarchs, milkweed can be beneficial for us. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the strong fibers of milkweed were used to make rope and fabric, and the fluffy floss of the seed pods was used to stuff bedding or to act as tinder for fires. It was even used to stuff lifejackets during WWII!
As useful as milkweed is, the plant is mildly toxic, so only experienced foragers should ever consider consuming it. The juices of milkweed can also be a skin irritant, so wearing gloves while handling is recommended.
I hadn’t even planted my milkweed in the ground, when the first monarch appeared. She immediately started landing on the leaves and curling her abdomen around to lay her eggs on the undersides. Which means…we now have a monarch nursery!
Six babies in this pic and I found a dozen overall!
Cute, chubby baby monarch!
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What’s better than mint, I ask you? Chocolate mint, of course. While I love peppermint (and have some growing in a container, currently, because mint loves to spread), I thought my kids might be more apt to enjoy the chocolate variety. Truth be told, it smells more chocolate-y than it tastes, but I’m not complaining. I love mint and I love chocolate, so there can be no loss if the two are involved.
Mint is of course used to flavor foods, from savory dishes to ice cream. As a tea, it is said to help reduce stress. Mint compresses can help cure headaches and the herb can also be added to personal care products, such as a vinegar-based hair rinse or witch-hazel face toner, to increase their benefits. Dried mint also works well as a pest repellant. Use with care, though, because in large amounts, mint can affect the endocrine system, and like many herbs, over-use by pregnant or lactating women is warned against.
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In addition to adorning plates and combatting breath issues, parsley is also high in vitamins A, C, and K, folate, calcium, magnesium, and iron. It helps promote healthy bones and good vision, while boosting immunity. It is also believed to help prevent diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and even some types of cancer. It is not safe for pregnant women to consume large amounts, as it can promote uterine contractions.
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This plant has been used throughout history as an herb, although it is said to have some toxicity and should never be consumed in large amounts (it’s probably best for pregnant/nursing women to avoid it completely). So, like many others, I’ll consider rue an ornamental herb and just hope it brings all the butterflies and bees to the yard.
Rue works well as a companion plant, because its scent often keeps animals and pests like Japanese beetles out of the garden. (In fact, the dried leaves can be kept as a bug repellant.) It’s important to wear gloves when handling rue, because it can cause rashes and phototoxicity (which may create blisters in response to sunlight).
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Got ghosts? No problem. Do a sage rubbing and drive off any unsavory spirits. My tongue may be in my cheek right now, but many people value sage for this use. I’ve never had the need, but if I did? Point me to the nearest smudge stick.
In addition to being a ghost-fighter and a culinary herb, sage is also used medicinally. The leaves are said to help relieve digestive problems, menstrual issues, and possibly even combat the chemical imbalances that cause Alzheimer’s. It can be applied directly to the skin to help treat mouth and nasal irritation. Sage tea can be used to dry up breast milk during weaning. It can also darken graying hair (with repeated use), and be used topically to help combat oily skin or acne.
Because sage contains thujone, a chemical known to cause seizures and/or damage to the liver and nervous system, large doses or prolonged use are to be avoided. Not safe for use in pregnant women, those with diabetes, hormone-sensitive conditions, or blood pressure issues.
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I bought the creeping variety of thyme, hoping it will act as a ground cover in my garden. Anything that helps control weeds is a friend of mine! Also, though I don’t have any issues with deer, it acts as a deer repellant and may deter them from consuming nearby plants. Like other types of thyme, it is edible. Either the leaves alone can be harvested or sprigs can be snipped off and dried, and the leaves removed later. It smells and tastes fairly similar to mint and can be used to flavor foods or in teas. Last, but not least, it is loved by bees!
By the way, I was alerted to a fantastic post, featuring 11 Astonishing Benefits of Thyme Oil (<–click to follow the link), and wanted to share it with you. From chasing away mosquitos and acne, to boosting oral health and the immune system, and a whole lot more, Thyme is a rock star!
That’s it for now, as far as our garden grows, but how about you? Do you have an (h)erb garden or a Herb’s garden? What herbs do you like best? I’d love to hear recommendations!
**For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Sources and recommended reading: