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Cheat Sheet

Herb Gardening For Dummies

From Herb Gardening For Dummies, 2nd Edition by Karan Davis Cutler, Kathleen Fisher, Suzanne DeJohn, National Gardening Association

You can find lots of reasons to grow herbs in your home garden. Most herb plants are both ornamental and useful; most are fragrant, many taste good, and some are highly nutritious. Plus, herbs are just plain interesting — many have colorful names and equally colorful lore associated with them. Grow your own herbs, and you get the freshest harvest, you can control how they’re cared for and stored, and you can grow unusual varieties. Whether you’re growing herbs for cooking, using them in remedies and salves, or using them for crafts, you’re sure to find them a fascinating and rewarding group of plants.

Control Pests in Your Herb Garden the Ecofriendly Way

If you plan to harvest herbs for use in cooking or to make herbal remedies, you’ll want to avoid using pesticides. And even if you won’t be ingesting the herbs, it just makes sense to minimize your use of pesticides — even organic ones. The good news is that you can find plenty of ecologically sound ways to control pests without resorting to sprays:

  • Choose pest-resistant herbs that are adapted to your climate.

  • Keep plants healthy by making sure that they’re getting the right amount of sun, water, and fertilizer for optimal growth.

  • Plant a diversity of plants to invite beneficial insects into your landscape to help control pests.

  • Inspect plants frequently so that you catch problems early.

  • Use barriers, such as row covers, to prevent pests from reaching plants.

  • Trap pests, such as slugs, to reduce their populations.

  • Hand-pick insect pests or wash them off with a blast of water.

Avoid Dangerous Herbs

Here are some of the more common herbs to be wary of, including a couple that can “worke eternal sleepe.” If you choose to grow these herbs, be sure to carefully label each herb and plant them away from culinary herbs and edible crops. Avoid planting them if you have pets or young children that may be tempted to nibble them.

  • Aconite (Aconitum spp.): This herb, also known as monkshood and wolfsbane, deserves a skull-and-crossbones; it’s highly poisonous.

  • Comfrey (Symphytum officinale): Don't take internally. Laboratory research indicates that comfrey, even in low concentrations, is carcinogenic in rats.

  • Deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna): In folklore, this one is a favorite ingredient of witches’ brews. The common name says it all.

  • Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea): The source of a powerful heart medication, foxglove can cause convulsions and even death if used improperly.

  • Hellebore: Both American false hellebore (Veratrum viride) and black hellebore (Helleborus niger) are dangerous characters; they are major-league skin irritants and can be fatal if ingested.

  • Hemlock (Contium maculatum): Also known as poison hemlock. Think nausea, paralysis, and death.

  • Pokeweed (Phytolacca spp.): All parts of mature plants, including their pretty purple berries, are toxic.

Choose Herbs for Fragrance

The term “fragrant herbs” may be redundant, but there are fragrances and there are fragrances. Some gardeners love the scent of rosemary, for example, and others are less enthralled. Here are herbs whose leaves and/or flowers keep you olfactorily ahhhing and ohhhing.

  • Beebalm (Monarda didyma) foliage has a citrusy aroma.

  • Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) has a strong lemon fragrance with a hint of mint.

  • Catmint (Nepeta faassenii) has a minty, piney scent.

  • Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) has a clean and refreshing scent.

  • Curry plant (Helichrysum italicum) smells remarkably like curry, a mix of up to 20 different herbs and spices.

  • Rose (Rosa spp.) scents vary, depending upon the type — look for heirloom roses or varieties touted for their fragrance.

  • Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) have a stronger, spicier aroma than regular chives.

  • Thyme (Thymus spp.) can smell like citrus, orange, caraway, or nutmeg, depending upon the variety.

Herbs for Brewing Tea

If you’re growing herbs, it’s only proper that your cup of tea be herbal, either herbs alone or tea brewed with herbs. Here are the first ten herbs to put in your tea garden:

  • Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) has a minty/anise flavor.

  • Bee balm (Monarda didyma) makes a citrusy flavored tea.

  • Catnip (Nepeta cataria) creates a relaxing tea that soothes cold symptoms.

  • Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile and Matricaria recutita) makes a calming tea with a hint of apple aroma.

  • Scented geranium (Pelargonium spp.) can make a tea evocative of coconut, lemon, nutmeg or rose, depending upon the variety.

  • Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) makes a lemony brew.

  • Lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla) has a strong lemon flavor.

  • Mint (Mentha x piperita) makes a minty fresh tea that aids digestion.

  • *Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) makes a citrusy, somewhat sour brew with a beautiful rosy red hue.

  • Sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata) has a licorice flavor and aroma.

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