An herb is defined as a plant or any part of a plant that is used for medicinal, aromatic or culinary purposes. For at least 5,000 years, herbs have been used by virtually all cultures for these purposes, and many modern medicines are derived from the very same plants. In today's world, an herb garden can be useful for quick remedies, to add a different taste sensation to an old recipe, or to ward off moths or ants.
History of Medicinal Herbs
Pottery fragments from as far back as 3150 BC indicate that the Egyptians added herbs to beer and wine as curatives for various ailments. Tablets discovered from Babylonia in 3000 indicate use of therapeutic herbs, and it is thought that the Chinese, Egyptians and East Indians were using them also.
Famed Sheng Nong, a noted herbalist around 2737 BC, discovered the medicinal uses of green tea leaves, an herb that only gets more popular as time goes on. Cinnamon was also discovered in this time period and was used as a flavoring in foods as well as medicinally.
Wormwood was discovered and became a popular cure for parasitic infestations from roundworms and pin worms around 1600 BC.
In 1626, Paris founded a medicinal herbal garden which became the Botanical Garden, which still exists. Physicians Jean Herouard and Guy de La Rousse planted the herbal garden to study the herb's medicinal uses, and it became known as the Royal Herb Garden. Today, the 28-acre site is known as the Jardin des Plantes and is open to the public.
Herb studies for medicinal uses proved to be the backbone of today's modern medicines, as many of today's prescriptive and over-the-counter medications were derived from herbs.
Virtually any herb you wish to purchase for use as seasonings in cooking can be grown in a home herbal garden; the most expensive and rare, such as vanilla bean and saffron being a few of the exceptions. Common herbs used in cooking, including parsley, sage, rosemary, cilantro, dill, garlic, thyme, mint, chives and oregano are easily grown almost anywhere in America. Some seeds, pots and good soil are the only ingredients you need to grow your own fresh herbs in a sunny area in your yard, on your deck or on a small porch.
Aromatic Herbal Uses
Aromatherapy--the use of specific essential oils from herbs--has become immensely popular in the past 10 years. Many people find use of the essential oils to be preferable to taking a pill or drinking an infusion (tea). The oils of specific herbs are blended in a carrier oil, such as almond or jojoba oil, and can be used in a variety of ways, including massage. Sometimes, the essential oils are inhaled via diffusers or by breathing in the scent of oils added to bath water. Essential oils can be added to bath salts, soaps, natural lotions and candles.
Herbal oils do different things. For instance, lavender relaxes, while peppermint invigorates.
Household Uses of Herbs
Many herbs have strong scents that can repel insects from the home as well as dissuade moths from eating woolen clothing. Sachets of sweet-smelling herbs can keep drawers and closets fresh, and sprigs of fresh or dried herbs can make the air in a room pleasant and fresh.
Planting herbs around the vegetable garden can deter insects and rodents from munching on your seedlings. Some of the well-known companion plants for vegetables include lavender (repels ticks), basil and rosemary (repels mosquitoes), chives (deters aphids), tansy (repels ants) and rosemary (deters bean beetles).
To keep deer from eating your landscaping, plantings should include basil, oregano, catmint, sage and rosemary.
General Care of an Herbal Garden
As with most plants, herbs require water, sunlight and pruning. Generally, herbs will do fine without additional fertilizer, but a late season boost of garden fertilizer will keep them producing longer. Any time a herb produces flowers, it is trying to end its cycle of producing new leaves. Snip off the base of any flower spikes, and the plant will keep producing and will keep its mounding shape.
Herbs grow very well in pots that allow ample root growth and offer at least partial sunlight. Water only when the soil appears dry or the plant shows signs of stress by drooping. The best time to water plants is after the sun goes down since it allows the roots all night to soak up and utilize the water.
Perennial herbs, such as chives will do well with little human interference of any kind.