Expert Tips for Growing Herbs at Home and Their Uses
Growing Herbs at Home, Their Cultivation, Values and Uses
Almost without exception, fresh herbs are superior to bought herbs because the latter will have been cropped days, weeks, or months before they are sold and will have lost some of their flavour and scent; indeed, many fresh herbs are not marketable at all because they wilt too quickly. Although several hundred species of herbs are available in Britain, only a small proportion of these are in general use in our kitchens. Most herbs are easy to grow (some, indeed, spread and seed perhaps too easily); and although most need warmth and as sheltered a site as possible, they will often thrive in poorer soils than.
The following list of herbs is useful when deciding whether or not it is worthwhile for you to startat home:
Alecost – Tanecetum
This is a pleasant herb with a scent reminiscent of mint. The roundish leaves are greyish-green the button-likebeing yellow. Growing 60 to 90cm high this subject flourishes in a sunny position where the is rich. Finely chopped leaves are useful in salads. Ointment was once made from the leaves and used for soothing burns and bruises.
Alexanders – Smyrinium olustratum
Sometimes known as Black Lovage, this old wild plant can be found growing on waste places and on cliffs. It also grows well in ordinary garden soil and produces umbels of greenish-yellow scented flowers on 75 to 90cm stems. The leaves have a pungent flavour and can be chopped up for including in salads.
Alkanets – Anchusa officinalis
Not to be confused with borage, this is an ancient plant with long narrow leaves and branching stems of 45 to 60cm carrying heads of blue flowers from May to August. At one time a red dye was obtained from the roots and used for staining wood.
Allspice – Calycantha floridus
This shrub, growing 2 to 2.25m high, needs to be placed in a sheltered position. The carmine flowers appear in August. The wood of this shrub has the allspice scent which makes this subject worth growing. The commercial allspice comes from one of the pimentoes.
Angelica – Angelica archangelica
There are several forms of this plant some being wild. The true angelica of confectionery is a native of parts of Russia and Germany. This plant although a perennial, growing 90cm to 1.50m high usually dies after flowering well. It prefers partial shade and a cool moist but not wet, root run.
Seed can be sown in spring or autumn. The sculptured foliage has a stately appearance, while the thick hollow stems possess an aromatic scent which is retained when they are candied. The young stems are greatly valued when cut up and used in tarts with rhubarb, as well as in jams. A leaf added to salads imparts a pleasing taste, while both foliage and roots have certain medicinal qualities. A tale connected with this plant says that it holds powers against evil spirits.
Anise – Pimpinella
This annual plant grows about 60cm high. An ancient subject thriving in Mediterranean districts, it is referred to several times in the Bible. Sowings can be made in spring the round aromatic seeds being available from late August onwards. They must be properly dried off and can them be used for flavouring cakes, while they have some value for including in various liquers.
Balm – Melissa officinalis
Not particular as to soil, this plant growing from 90cm to 1.3m high, has lemon scented leaves and small white flowers in summer. Propagation of the balm plant is easy by division of roots in spring or autumn or seed can be sown in boxes. Thin the plants early and finally move them to their permanent places 60cm apart. Although of little commercial value, when dried, the leaves retain the refreshing lemon flavour which makes them useful for poultry stuffing. A leaf or two placed in the tea pot with the tea provides a pleasant drink. A useful bee plant, balm, also known as lemon balm, was once used to soothe the nerves and ‘drive away melancholy’.
This annual subject a native of India, is usually treated as a half-hardy. Seed is sown under glass in a temperature of 15°C the plants being moved to the garden in early June. Alternatively, sow outdoors in sandy soil in May. Germination is usually erratic. The irregularly shaped leaves have a pleasant clover—like flavour so useful for including either fresh or dried in soups and stews.
Basil has been cultivated for centuries and is said to ‘procure a merrie heart’ while at one time it was placed in water used for washing.
Bush Basil – Ocimum minimum
Growing herbs at home can be very useful and very rewarding – this basil plant grows about 15cm high. The so-called Sweet Basil, Ocimum basilica is larger but not quite so hardy.
Bay – Lawns nobilis
This evergreen laurel-like shrub should be grown either in the open ground or in tubs in a sheltered place. Sweet Bay is valued for its leaves both when fresh or dried. Since the flavour is so potent the leaves must be used sparingly. The yellow flowers are often followed by purplish berries. It is best to buy new plants in pots, since transplanting from the open ground is not always successful.
Bergamot – Monardtz
Often known as Bee Balm, this is a perennial plant of which there are many cultivars. Growing up to 90cm high, the plants like a cool root run and should never lack moisture in summer. Both leaves and flowers can be included in salads and the leaves may be used fresh or dry to impart an aromatic flavour to the usual Indian or China tea. One common name for bergamot is Oswego Tea. A few leaves chopped fine make a valuable addition to salads and are also useful in pot pourris as well as the scented garden.
Borage. Borago officinalis.
This attractive annual growing 45 to 75cm high, can be sown in boxes or pots under glass in spring or in the open ground after frosts are over. In addition, sown in well-drained soil in September and provided the winter is mild, the borage plants will flower the following spring. The whole plant is covered with greyish hairs, the flowers being an intense blue. At one time the young leaves were used in salads, the tender growths being boiled and eaten, while leaves and flower tops are used in drinks and the flowers were sometimes candied. An excellent bee plant, it has a -like fragrance.
Burnet. Sanguisorba minor.
This hardy perennial growing 45 to 50cm high, can sometimes be found growing wild. While not of striking appearance, the greenish flowers have red stigmas. Keep the blooms cut to encourage more leaves to develop. The foliage has a cucumber-like flavour with a nutty undertone making it useful for inclusion in salads, soups and cooling drinks. Sow the seed in prepared beds in spring and move the plants to their final positions at the end of the summer.
Camphor plant. Balsamita.
A hardy perennial producing white daisy-like flowers with yellow centres. The leaves emit a refreshing scent when bruised. This subject should not be confused with Cinnamonum camphora, the plant from which commercial oil is obtained.
Caper Spurge. Euphorbia lathyrus.
An ancient plant of biennial habit. This is another subject often found growing wild. The upright stems are clothed with stiff narrow leaves, the small greenish flowers being followed by fruits sometimes used as a substitute for capers. This plant is sometimes recommended to keep away moles. It is the liquid secreted in the roots that is effective for this purpose and therefore the plants are not really mole deterrents until their second season.
Caraway. Carum carvi.
A biennial plant about 75cm high. Seed is sown in well drained soil in spring, the umbels of flowers appearing the following year, the seeds ripening in summer. It is easy to lose seed if the heads remain too long. The stems should be cut as the seeds ripen. Hang them to dry over paper so that the seeds can be caught as they become ripe and fall. Caraway seeds are often used in cakes or for sprinkling on bread, while they have their uses for flavouring soups and cheese dishes.
Chamomile. Anthemis nobilis.
Chamomiles are known for their value for making dwarf lawns. A. nobilis is used for this purpose although it is the ‘Teague’ form which is the most valuable, since it does not flower and is propagated by division. The more chamomile is trodden on, the more it spreads, and emits its aromatic scent. Chamomile flowers are often used for making a ‘tea’. For this, up to l oz of fresh flowers are covered by a pint of boiling water, the strained liquid being a harmless sedative and a cure for indigestion troubles. The flowers can be used in the preparation of shampoos.
An annual, chervil grows to a height of between 30 to 45cm, of which seed should be sown in small amounts frequently. A fairly rich soil that does not dry out should be selected, sowing being done throughout spring. Allow 15 to 18cm between the plants. Chervil is included in mixed herbs for improving the taste of soups and salads.
Chenopodium. See Good King Henry.
Sometimes known as Succory, this is a hardy perennial, growing 90cm to 1-50m high. Closely related to the endives this pleasing plant produces pretty light blue flowers in summer. Seed is sown throughout the spring. For forcing lift the roots of Witloof chicory in November and plant closely in boxes of sandy soil. These should be placed under the greenhouse staging or other dark place where a temperature of 13 to 16°C can be provided. Apply water to keep the soil just moist. The blanched heads are used when they are 10 to 13cm high. In the open ground, the leaves can be blanched by placing inverted pots over the plants covering theholes. The Magdeburg chicory is the form grown for its dried roots which are ground and used in coffee blending.
This is a perennial onion which if chopped finely is excellent for use in salads and omelettes. Easy to grow, it can be used as an edging plant. It produces mauve-pink flowers which are useful for decorating the salad dish. It is best to prevent flowers from developing but if they do, never let them seed. Cut the plants frequently for this encourages a supply of young shoots. It is best to cut some shoots from each plant and not to denude individual specimens. Chives are excellent for growing in pots and window boxes, and the plants divide easily in spring or autumn while seed is sometimes available.
Clary. Salvia sclarea.
In this large family of plants there are a number of species that have long been recognised for their medicinal value and for flavouring as well as being decorative garden plants. One of the common names of the clary sage is Clear Eye since it was once prescribed as a herb to include in the making of eye ointment. The tips of the young shoots as well as the flowers have been used in salads and in various cooking recipes. In addition, the leaves of these decorative plants will impart flavour to soups and stews in much the same way as the more widely used sage.
A biennial, Salvia sclarea can be raised from seed sown in late spring. The wrinkled leaves can be gathered during the summer of the following year. The plant grows about 60cm high. The actual flowers are lavender and white but it is the striking mauve-pink bracts that make the plant so showy.
In seed catalogues the annual Salvia horminum is often referred to as Clary. This is a different plant but quite worth growing for its gaily coloured bracts, frequently referred to as ‘flowers’.
Comfrey. Symphytum officinale.
This has the common name of Knit Bone. It flourishes in shady parts of the garden and needs to be kept under control for the smallest pieces of root will grow. This was once a popular fodder crop, producing several cuttings annually.
At one time leaves, which when crushed have a pleasant smell, were used as an application to sprains, bruises and swellings in the form of a poultice. There is reason to believe that the leaves and roots contain properties helpful in the case of inflammatory troubles. Comfrey tea is an old cure for colds and coughs. Comfrey pills and ointments are now available. Investigations into the value of this plant for other healing purposes are continuing. Propagation is by root cuttings taken in autumn or clumps of fleshy roots can be divided in spring or summer. The clear blue flowers appear on 1.25 to 1.50m stems in late spring.
An annual herb, coriander grows up to 60cm high, the plants produce the round seed frequently used to flavour confectionery and curries. Sow the seeds thinly in a sunny situation. The pale mauve flowers appear in summer and once the seed begins to ripen, the stems should be cut and dried. A frame or other warm place is ideal for the purpose. Do not be disturbed about the unpleasant aroma which comes from the drying stems and leaves. This is temporary. The ripened seed has a pleasant perfume.
Corn Salad. Valarianella olitoria.
Sometimes referred to as Lamb’s Lettuce there are now several good improved cultivated forms of corn salad. Easily grown, it forms a useful substitute for lettuce during the winter for it is hardy. In appearance it is not unlike the Forget—me—Not without the blue flowers, and it makes an excellent cloche crop. It is eaten either raw or cooked. Sowings can be made at intervals during summer and early autumn which will provide supplies from autumn to spring.
Sow thinly in drills 30cm apart and since germination is sometimes erratic, sowing is best done in sflowery weather. The young plants should be thinned so they stand about 15cm apart. When harvesting, the leaves should be taken off individually. The broad leaves of large-leaved English Corn Salad is vigorous growing, usually producing plenty of leaves. The Italian strain is less hardy and most suitable for warmer districts. There is a form having greyish—green leaves but it is not so popular.
Costmary. See Alecost.
Cowslip. Primula veris.
This well known plant was once found growing in quantity in meadows in various parts of Britain. It has several common names, one being Paigles, another Key flower, the latter because the pendant flowers resemble a bunch of yellow keys. Seed can be sown in spring as soon as new crop is available. If not sown soon after it is ripe the seed is often slow to germinate. This plant was once used for a number of medicinal purposes. One was to make Cowslip syrup used to calm anyone suffering from nervous excitement.
A very ancient plant referred to several times in the Bible where the spelling Cummin is used. An annual, it grows wild in Egypt and other eastern countries. In mild areas, cumin can be grown outdoors in a sunny, well drained position, sowing the seed late spring. Alternatively, sow under glass a little earlier. The aromatic seeds can be harvested in summer. They are used for flavouring bread and cheese and in Eastern countries, they are added to curry. The leaves are fennel-like, the flowers a dull magenta colour.
Usually considered to be a nuisance in any garden, this plant is quite ornamental with its ragged leaves, brilliant yellow flowers and fairy—like seed heads. A medieval title for the plant was Priest’s Crown, the name dandelion being a derivative of Lion’s Tooth because of the dentate leaves.
The qualities of the plant exceed its appearance. In salads, the leaves which contain iron and other vitamins, impart a sharp taste. If the leaves are blanched by covering the plants with inverted flower pots they become a useful substitute for lettuce. Wine can be made from the flowers and after being roasted and ground, the roots can be used for making ‘coffee’. The whole plant is of value for its blood cleansing properties.
Another annual for sowing in spring. It will grow in ordinary soil and the plants should be spaced 20 to 23cm apart. The young succulent leaves of the Dill herb plant are useful in salads and they can also be used in soups and sauces. The seeds or fruits are also employed in the making of Dill water.
This is a showy hardy perennial plant often grown in theand reaching a height of 2 to 2.5m It likes sun and a well drained soil which should not dry out in summer. The stems are clothed with large leaves and clusters of shaggy yellow flowers in summer. Propagation is by division of plants in spring or autumn, or seed sown under glass in spring. At one time the roots of elecampane were widely used in the making of candies as a remedy for coughs.
Fennel. Foenoculum vulgare.
Hardy perennials, the plants grow 1.25 to 2m high and have finely cut foliage and heads or umbels of yellow flowers. These are often followed by aromatic seeds. Almost any well drained soil suits fennel although a sheltered position is liked. Fennel plants are raised from seed sown in spring and the foliage can be cut in early autumn, while individual leaves can be gathered and used during summer. The leaves have a pleasantly acid taste which is why they are used in and other dishes, while they have been included in the preparation of gripe water. It was once recommended to be eaten by people considered to be overweight.
Florence fennel is F. dulce finocchio grown for its swollen ‘bulb’ which has a delicate flavour when braised or used raw in salads. It is much liked in Italy and other European countries.
Good King Henry. Chenopodium bonus henricus.
An ancient plant of hardy constitution. While dormant this plant carries a number of crowns similar to those of rhubarb. In early spring they open to produce small green leaves, followed by light green fleshy shoots which bear at their growing points, clusters of green leaves. These should be gathered and eaten in the same way as asparagus which they resemble in flavour and for which they can be used as a substitute.
When young, these shoots are useful for including raw in salads. The more mature leaves should be cooked and eaten as spinach. Six or twelve shoots can be tied in bundles and gently cooked with just enough water to cover. The thick fleshy roots can be cooked and served with hot melted butter.
Good King Henry is sometimes known as Mercury or All Good. Seed can be sown in the spring, the plants being finally spaced about 30cm apart. Unlike asparagus, the plants can be cut the first year after planting. This subject is valued because it is rich in iron and other health giving properties.
A perennial growing 60cm high this plant has dead-nettle-like leaves and small white flowers. It grows in dryish positions but has no ornamental value apart from its greyish leaves. It has been used in the preparation of cough cures and for flavouring drinks. The so-called black Horehound has mauve-pink flowers.
Hound’s Tongue. Cynoglossum officinalis.
This is a biennial of which the foliage is greyish-green and the small flowers, crimson. Plants can often be found growing wild. It is the roots which were once used in the making of pills for curing coughs and colds.
Hyssop. Hyssopus offininalis.
An old fashioned shrubby perennial plant, this plant will make a nice low hedge 60 to 75cm high. A native of southern Europe, hyssop likes light soil and plenty of sunshine. It can be clipped annually to retain shapeliness but such action will mean some loss of the two-lipped gentian—blue flowers. Forms having pink or purplish flowers are sometimes available and seedlings from these, often exhibit intermediate colourings.
Propagation is by seed sown under glass in early spring or in the open ground in summer, while cuttings of strong shoots can also be secured in summer. Hyssop is not much used as a herb since the flavour is rather strong. Very few leaves finely chopped are sufficient to include with mixed herbs or in the salad bowl. Hyssop tea made from the dried flowers and used with honey is of value for chest troubles, while an infusion of the green tops is of use in relieving coughs and catarrh.
Lovage. Legisticum officinalis.
This hardy perennial has handsome polished foliage, the scent of the whole plant being reminiscent of celery and parsnips with an extra sweetness. A native of Mediterranean areas it has been grown in Europe for centuries, probably being introduced by the Romans. The plants grow best in semi-shade or sun, in rich moist soil, reaching a height of 1.25m the umbels of yellowish flowers opening in summer. Propagation is by seed sown in spring or division in spring and autumn. Lovage was once greatly favoured for use in the form of a tissane in cases of fever and colic. It can be used as a substitute for celery and is normally available fresh or dry.
Mace. Achillea decolorans.
The true mace is myristisa a tropical fruit, but the leaves of this achillea are often used as a substitute ‘mace’ for flavouring soups and stews. A hardy plant, growing 45cm high with cut-edged leaves and creamy daisy-like flowers, it flourishes in good soil in unexposed positions. The plants divide easily in spring or autumn.
This small genus of plants is valued for its colour, scent and in the case of some varieties, their culinary flavourings. Marjoram was once used as a remedy for eye troubles associated with poor health. Origanum marjarama the Knotted Marjoram, has small greyish aromatic leaves. A hardy perennial, it is often raised from seed sown under glass in early spring and planted outdoors in summer.
Origanum vulgare is the wild English species often known as the Pot Marjoram. Growing 45 to 50cm high, it has various forms. Origanum aureum is the golden marjoram with soft yellow, scented leaves and pink flowers.
Mercury. See Good King Henry.
Mint is the best known species. Often referred to as spearmint it is also known as mackerel mint, pea or potato mint, and green lamb mint. The leaves are sometimes infused and are frequently used for the troubles of infants. This species, growing 1.25m high, is distinguished by its pointed glossy, dark green leaves. Of invasive habit, it should be divided frequently or propagated from cuttings.
Mentha rotundifolia often known as the Apple or Royal mint, is fairly strong growing with large leaves, being excellent for mint sauce and for flavouring jellies. Less susceptible to ‘rust’ than other species it should be grown where that trouble has been prevalent. It is disliked by some people because of its rather hairy or woolly leaves.
Mentha peperita is seldom grown. It has several common names including Brandy Mint and Balm mint. It is from the distillation of the purple flower heads of this species that oil of peppermint is obtained. A number of menthas not suitable for eating, have for centuries been cherished for their aroma in sachets and for keeping moths out of stored linen. Particularly good is Mentha citrata Eau de Cologne, which when rubbed, can be mistaken for the well known perfume. Other mints include one with a ginger scent, and an other with variegated foliage which has a penetrating scent not unlike pineapple, which was much used by Victorian ladies in their posies of lavender and rosemary. Old herbals recommend mint infusions for stomach troubles and head colds.
Mint is of simple propagation easy to divide. Established plants are easy to split, quite small pieces of root producing sturdy plants in a short time. Succulent growths can be obtained during winter for the plants force readily.
Pennyroyal. Mentha pulegium.
A neat growing plant particularly suitable where space is limited. A dwarf carpeting subject with pink flowers, it can be grown in the rock garden or used as an edging. There is also a less common upright form which is the best for harvesting and drying. These plants like a cool, moist soil. The foliage is powerfully flavoured so that it should be used with discretion for culinary purposes. Plants of pennyroyal are easily increased by division in spring or autumn.
This is a herb which is much valued in Eastern countries, although it has also been grown in Europe for centuries. An annual with succulent foliage, it thrives in light soil, and likes the sun. The young leaves can be cooked or used raw in salads and sandwiches, while they impart a special flavour to soups. Sow the seeds in spring in small batches to ensure succession. Allow 15cm between plants with the rows 23cm apart. These plants transplant well but should never want for moisture.
Rampion. Campanula rapunculus.
A well known pot herb, this is a true bellflower a member of the campanula family. A biennial, it forms a tap root and in the first year produces a rosette of leaves. The second season the bluebell-like flowers appear on 60 to 90cm stems in summer. The tiny seed needs careful sowing in spring. Choose a light well drained site, the addition of peat or leaf mould being helpful in retaining moisture and encouraging the roots to develop to a good size. Growing herbs at home, some gardeners earth up the plants to provide winter protection. The roots can be dug in late autumn onwards and stored in dryish sand for use as required.
The flowers are quite ornamental although if not required they should be cut before seed sets, otherwise self—sown seedlings become a nuisance.
Rosemary is one of the best known herbs around which there are many legends. An excellent bee plant, it is the shrub of remembrance and friendship, the phrase ‘rosemary for remembrance’ being very well known. It is eulogised in old books, one stating that ‘it comforteth the heart and maketh merry and lively’.
It has a powerful flavour and one or two leaves are sufficient to add to soup and stews. Rosemary has a number of uses including the making of a hair wash and flavouring sugar, while dried leaves make a useful addition to pot pourri. The narrow dark green leaves are silvery beneath, the pretty blue flowers appearing in spring. The type grows about 90cm high and with regular clipping after flowering will remain in good condition for many years. Sun and good drainage suits these plants. There is a very rare variegated form and another known as Miss Jessops’ Upright. Of stiff upright habit, it is useful for hedges since it grows 1.25 to 1.50m high.
Rue. Ruta graveolans.
A well known shrubby plant concerning which there are legends attached to its uses. One is that it is a symbol of ‘repentance and regret’. It was once carried by judges at the opening of Assizes, in the belief that it kept off gaol fever. The plant has a penetrating scent appreciated by some people, disliked by others. A perennial growing 60 to 90cm high, in severe winters the foliage may be damaged but usually the leaves are attractive during the dark days. This applies especially to the forms having bluish-green leaves.
Seed can be sown in spring or cuttings of young shoots made in summer. Rue succeeds in a sunny site and in a medium loam. Chopped leaves are useful in salads while rue tea is said to have stimulating qualities.
Sage. Salvia officinalis.
There are three main types of sage, those with grey-green leaves, green leaves or reddish foliage. Under normal cultivation they grow 60 to 75cm high. The common sage, a native of Europe, has been grown in Britain since 1597. The greyish leaves are about 38mm long, the purple bell-shaped flowers opening in summer. The plants need a well drained soil.
Propagation is by seed or division. It is simple to pull off rooted pieces for growing separately. If the soil is drawn toward the plants, the lower parts of the stems will form roots and they can be severed from the parent plant and grown individually. While the broad leafed species is best for drying, the narrow leafed and variegated forms are also useful. There are some forms producing pink and white flowers. The aim should be to concentrate on non-flowering types which are best where leaves for drying, flavouring and stuffing are required.
Well known by name but little grown, there are two forms of savory, winter and summer. The former an annual, is raised from seed sown in spring in a sunny position in drills 30cm apart. Choose a light rich soil, and thin the seedlings so there is 15cm between them. Winter Savory is a perennial of which the roots are divided in spring, or cuttings of new shoots – can be taken in spring. This one does best on a rather poor soil. Fresh sprays of savory can be used for garnishing and as a substitute for mint when boiling potatoes or beans. The leaves can also be dried and used for stuffing.
Smallage. Apium graveolens var.
This is the wild celery once quite widely used medicinally as a remedy for rheumatism and other joint disorders. Seed is rarely if ever offered in catalogues but plants can sometimes be found growing in rough areas along the seashore.
Sorrel. Rumex acetosta.
This is plentiful in our fields and countryside, and can be used for salads. Rumex scutatus is the French Sorrel which is best, being much less acid and not running to seed so quickly. The plants are grown for their leaves which add a piquant flavour to summer salads. They can also be mixed with spinach and used in soups. Seed should be sown in spring in rows 45cm apart, the plants being thinned to 30cm Roots can be divided in spring since this is a perennial plant. The flower stems must be nipped out as they appear. A few plants potted and brought into the greenhouse in spring will provide early pickings. It is best to remove the leaves singly from the plants alternatively, they can be treated as annuals and the whole plant cut as soon as the leaves are of good size.
Sweet Cicely. Myrrhis odorata.
This is a decorative plant with large fern-like leaves. A hardy subject with a thickish tap root, it can sometimes be found growing wild in semi-shady dampish positions. It normally grows about 75 to 90cm high, but older plants grow taller. The umbels of white flowers are freely produced in early summer.
It is best to cut the flowers before they open if the leaves are required for flavouring. Both roots and leaves can be used in salads to which they impart a faint aniseed flavour. Chopped leaves are sometimes added to sugared, while they have some value in reducing the acidity in sour or tart fruit, lessening the quantity of sugar required. Propagation is by seed sown in spring, although it is also possible to carefully divide roots.
Flourishing under almost any condition and sometimes seen growing by the roadside, this perennial plant has feathery foliage brilliant yellow button-like flowers in summer and a refreshing lemon scent. Growing 1 to 1.5m high, it was once widely grown in cottage gardens for its medicinal and flavouring qualities. It is said to be one of the ingredients of the bitter herbs eaten by Jews at the celebration of the Passover. Tansy tea is still sometimes used as a cure for feverish colds and as a spring tonic.
This family of plants varies in size from the creeping form, Thymus serpyllum, to those making bushes of up to 60cm high. All like sun and to be sheltered from cutting winds, while well drained soil containing humus matter leads to the required leafy growth. Harvesting must be carried out before the flowers appear.
The common thyme is essential in any concoction of mixed herbs and in the past it has had the reputation of ‘promoting courage and vitality’. The flowers are attractive to bees and it is sometimes possible to obtain so-called Thyme Honey.
Used fresh or dry its flavour improves the taste of many culinary dishes and is invaluable in stuffing, although it needs to be used wisely. Oil of thyme is used for several medicinal purposes.
Thymus citriodora. The lemon Thyme has a refreshing, less pungent flavour, often used in stuffings and with fish. Thymus herba borona has scent reminiscent of caraway. Besides its culinary uses, it is excellent for the rock garden.
Valerian. Valeriana officinalis.
This is the true valerian sometimes known as All Heal, and not Kentranthus ruber, the plant commonly seen growing on walls, railway banks and in cottage gardens. The true valerian has greyish foliage and very pale pink flowers. Hardy perennials, the plants grow 90 to 105cm high and like a moist, fairly rich soil to encourage the rhizomatous roots to swell. These roots contain oil and alkaloids used in medicine chiefly on account of the sedative qualities, but also for nervous disorders.
Wormwood. Artemesia absinthium.
Also known as Old Woman and Mugwort, this shrubby plant has decorative gracefully cut, greyish foliage which provides a pleasing effect against the background of bigger darker leaved subjects. Growing about 45cm high, it has yellow flowers in summer.
Growing herbs at home can save you a considerable amount of money – buying herbs means you invariably don’t use the full amount in the packet and the rest goes to waste but growing your own means you can have a plentiful supply whenever you need it – herbs can be grown indoors very successfully too.