I was looking at a beautiful book this week that has pictures of formal herb gardens from around the world. Many of them use classical designs and are carefully planned. And I was reminded of my mom’s backyard garden. It wasn’t formal by any stretch of the imagination, but it was useful and full of wonderful vegetables – and herbs. You see, mom canned many of her vegetables and we ate them all year long. The herbs were useful, and often essential, to the process. Kitchen gardens, as they were called, were popular in much of American history, and had every sort of vegetable and herb which one might want for both culinary and medicinal purposes.
For many years now I too have had backyard herb gardens. They have taken the form of a small plot surrounded by landscaping timbers, to an assortment of pots on the back porch or patio, to just using herbs as borders or focal points in my flower beds. Most herbs are “cultivated weeds” and few of them need special attention. We can grow a variety of tasty herbs in the Oklahoma Summers and enhance both our meals and our health. Here are some plants which most of us regard as culinary herbs. Yet many of them have wonderful health benefits in addition to their delectable flavors.
That staple of Italian cooking is easy to grow. It is an annual which often re-seeds itself. A single plant will grow to about two feet tall and provide most families with all the leaves they need. What is left over at the end of the Summer can be dried and used all Winter too. As a medicinal herb, its uses are usually associated with the stomach and its related organs; it helps stop stomach cramps, alleviate constipation, and stop vomiting. It is also useful for drawing out poisons when applied to wasp and hornet stings or venomous bites.
Dill is a prolific producer. It readily re-seeds itself so be careful to plant it where you won’t mind it coming back year after year. While dill is necessary for making dill pickles, it is also very useful for stimulating your appetite. Dill tea is a popular remedy for upset stomach, nursing mothers can use it to promote the flow of milk, and you can chew the seeds to get rid of bad breath. An added bonus to dill in the flower beds is that it is one of the plants that butterfly larvae love to eat, so butterflies will be present to lay their eggs in a dill patch. Use it to attract more butterflies to your garden.
Sage is a wonderful addition to sausages. And many a mother has used a sage dressing for holiday feasts. It’s a perennial bush that will grow to about three feet and should be pruned back like a rose bush every fall (otherwise it will get very woody). It is well known for reducing perspiration making it useful for conditions which produce night sweats, and a nursing mother who has weaned her child can use it to help stop the flow of milk. For occasional use, a tea made from sage has been prescribed for nervous conditions, trembling, depression and vertigo. As a gargle, it is useful for sore throats, laryngitis, and tonsillitis. And the crushed leaves can be used for insect bites. Many a woman has used infusions of sage to color silver hair, and as a hair rinse to help return hair to its original color.
Rosemary is a popular perennial, but will not usually survive the Oklahoma Winters outdoors. So plant it in a pot and bring it indoors for the winter. You’ll enjoy the wonderful aroma it will impart to your kitchen. Two of its most popular culinary dishes are leg of lamb and herbed potatoes. Medicinally, rosemary has been in use for many years as a heart strengthener that helps reduce high blood pressure. It is a blood cleanser and an antiseptic; it is useful for sores around the mouth, and it makes a wonderful mouthwash to freshen the mouth. A tea made from rosemary has been effective as an eyewash to clean eyes that are sore due to allergic irritation.
Parsley is another herb that the butterflies love. It was used by the ancient Greeks and Romans as both a flavoring and a garnish for foods. While most of us see it as a token garnish on restaurant plates, it is really edible and its high chlorophyll content makes it a natural for breath sweeteners. It is diuretic and is frequently used in formulas to build internal organs including kidney, thyroid, liver and prostate. Rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals, it is especially known as a digestive aid, improving digestion and reducing cramping and gas after meals.
We could list many more herbs that you can grow this Spring: thyme, garlic, onions, any of the mints, oregano, etc. But you get the picture. Why not pick up a few of your favorites at a local nursery and enjoy them fresh from your own yard. You’ll add taste to your food, joy to your soul, and health to your body.
Enjoy good health and God’s richest blessings. Gen.1:29.
– Randy Lee, ND, Owner, The Health Patch, 1024 S. Douglas Blvd, MWC 73130, phone/fax: 736-1030, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org