Herbs: plants with countless benefits and uses
As we continue the planting season, be mindful of the rewards of growing herbs.
These wonderful plants pull double duty in our gardens, giving not only beauty in landscaping but medicinal and culinary benefits.
“Growing herbs is something that is very rewarding to anybody that grows them,” Kathy Sanders, a local herb expert, said. “Even if you don’t pick them and eat them, they’re just rewarding for the landscape, the texture, the aroma they give. If you’re needing to save money, grow your own herbs because herbs are used in everything. What you would invest in one plant you can use year round, and you won’t have to go to that store and buy expensive herbs.”
Sanders, a resident of Caseyville, comes from a long line of women practiced in the use of herbs. Her great-grandmother and both grandmothers grew herbs and passed knowledge down to her. She is known as the “Herb Lady” and has given seminars for many organizations and business, most recently at Buds and Blooms nursery in Brookhaven. Sanders has given seminars on herbs at the nursery for several years.
Sanders said chives, parsley, rosemary, oregano and basil are best bets if you are new to growing herbs in your garden because they are relatively easy to grow and maintain.
“The key to growing herbs is do not overwater,” Sander said. “The best way to determine if your herbs need to be watered is to take your finger and stick it down into the dirt, and if it’s wet, don’t water.”
Sanders warned not to fertilize herbs because the result will be bushy plants with very little volatile oils, which give the herbs their aroma, flavor and medicinal benefits.
Herbs can be planted with vegetables and flowers to deter pests and increase flavor. Basil planted with tomato plants deters flies, worms and enhances flavor. Sanders suggested planting chives with carrots, summer savory with beans, and parsley and garlic with roses.
Herbs are great for container gardening if space is an issue, Sanders says.
“You can buy flowerpots, you can grow them in boots and shoes, you can grow them in buckets and baskets,” Sanders said. “I’ve even seen a lady grow thyme in a teacup. You can grow herbs anywhere and in anything that will hold dirt.”
Sanders said she has seen an increased interest in herbs since she began growing in 1997, particularly in younger generations.
“It’s not just my age or older generation, it’s the younger generation wanting to learn what to do [with herbs] and how to do it,” Sanders said. “There has been a resurgence of using herbs and growing fresh herbs.”
According to the American Botanical Council, the sale of herbs in food, drug, mass market, club and convenience stores increased by 7.7 percent in 2013. Sales of herbal dietary supplements in the U.S. increased by 7.9 percent, reaching a total estimated figure of $6 billion for the first time.
Herbal remedies have been used for a plethora of ailments and ills. Sanders noted some popular medications are derived from plants. Aspirin was derived from the bark of the White Willow tree and a class of heart medications was derived from foxglove. Volatile oils from thyme plants such as thymol are often included in over-the-counter cough remedies.
A recent study done in Greece found that drinking chamomile tea two to six times a week dramatically reduced risk of thyroid cancer. According to the study, 30 years of regular consumption reduced the risk by about 80 percent.
Culinary use of herbs is another great benefit of an herb garden. Sanders suggests reading ingredients of your favorite prepared meals to see what herbs are used in the product, and making a homemade version of the dish with your own herbs.
Mint can be used to flavor sweet tea and other beverages, as well as add flavor to fruit salad. Basil is popular in a tomato mozzarella salad and in Italian dishes along with oregano. Thyme, sage and rosemary are often used in meat dishes. Chives are a great addition to fish and egg dishes.
Herb infused vinegars and oils are priceless in your culinary pantry, Sanders said. To make a herbal vinegar, heat two cups of 5 percent acidity vinegar and add one cup of fresh herbs, such as rosemary. Cover with a lid, cool and let it sit for two weeks, shaking daily. Strain herbs from vinegar. To make infused oils, add herbs to a jar, cover with oil such as olive oil, add a lid and let sit for three to six weeks, straining before use.
To make a simple herb butter, add one cup of chopped fresh herbs to one cup (two sticks) of room temperature butter. Allow to sit overnight for development of flavors.
Herbs may have a multitude of uses, but Sanders said she would enjoy growing them even if she didn’t use them.
“I just enjoy the aroma because there is nothing like going outside in the afternoons sitting in a chair, and the breeze comes and I can smell my rosemary or lavender or basils – that is just so rewarding,” Sanders said.
Sanders is available for presentations and can be contacted at (601)-757-5615.