Tag Archives: herbal medicine

Create a Kitchen Herb Garden

Kitchen herb gardens pack a lot of flavor and value into a small space. Growing herbs is a great way to make your meals more flavorful and save money. Herbs can be planted right into vegetable gardens and make great companion plants. However, you’re more likely to include fresh herbs in your meals if you can step out your door and clip a few while dinner is on the stove. 

Planning Your Kitchen Herb Garden

Herbs are good candidates for various planting styles, allowing you plenty of flexibility for designing a garden that works for you. As I mentioned above, selecting an easily accessible site for your herb garden is my biggest recommendation. Being able to grab a few quickly will encourage you to use them more.

Permaculture enthusiasts may be familiar with planning your property in zones to maximize efficiency. In this layout, zone 1 is the closest to your home and typically includes herb gardens.

You should also consider sunlight when choosing a location for your kitchen herb garden. While a few herbs will tolerate some shade, most herbs thrive in full sun. If you have a partially shaded spot, you’d like to try herbs in consider parsley, mint, or lemon balm.

Here are a few ways to incorporate a kitchen herb garden into your landscape.

Herb Spiral

Using soil and stones, bricks, or another similar material, you build a spiral-shaped bed with the center being the highest. These spiral beds are both beautiful and efficient. The key idea is that the design allows water to flow down from the top of the spiral. Herbs that love it hot and dry like rosemary, lavender, and thyme can thrive at the top, while herbs that need more moisture, such as lemon balm, cilantro, and parsley, are planted near the bottom.

The rocks or bricks of the soil also help retain heat. It also creates little micro-climates, with some spots being more sheltered or shaded than others. 

Knot Gardens

Knot gardens are formal herb gardens that were first established in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Herbs like rosemary, lavender, marjoram, thyme, and lemon balm are planted in intricate patterns to create beautiful designs. You can use whatever herbs you choose; remember that some like lavender will retain their shape more readily than those like mint, which will tend to spread. Try to create your own design or gather inspiration from the internet.

Raised Beds

Raised beds are often good for herbs because they tend to heat up quickly in the spring and drain well. Additionally, they can be set up on any soil type and are typically easier to keep weed-free. If you’re considering building raised beds, we’ve discussed the pros and cons in more detail in a previous post. 

Container Gardens

If you don’t have a lot of space, you can grow herbs in various containers. Even some window boxes will afford you a small herb garden. Herbs generally do pretty well in pots as long as they have proper drainage and receive full sun. Various pots or containers can be used, including ceramic, terracotta, or even upcycled plastic containers.

Soil

Most culinary and medicinal herbs will do best in well-drained, rich soil. Broad forking your garden and adding a couple of inches of finished compost each year can significantly improve your soil health and herb garden yields. 

You should also consider having your soil tested. Most herbs will thrive in neutral to slightly acidic soil. Amending your soil so that the pH is between 6.0 and 7.5 is ideal. 

If you’re growing in containers, it’s generally best to use a potting mix. These mixes are designed to hold moisture and avoid compaction in container conditions. Without any additions, ordinary garden soil doesn’t provide optimal conditions for plant growth in containers.

Selecting Varieties for Your Kitchen Herb Garden

There are many herbs to choose from, whether you want to make soothing herbal teas or make your favorite dishes a little more fresh and flavorful. If you’re struggling to make decisions, the best advice is to start with herbs you already use or know you will use and add a couple more experimental varieties each year. Here are just of few of the many culinary and medicinal herbs you may want to include in your kitchen herb garden.

Culinary Herbs

  • Basil
  • Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Chives
  • Sage
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro
  • Rosemary
  • Dill
  • Lemon Balm
  • Borage

Medicinal Herbs

Note that many of the previously mentioned culinary herbs also have medicinal uses and vice versa.

  • Astragalus
  • Feverfew
  • St. Johnswort
  • Chamomile
  • Echinacea
  • Calendula
  • Catnip
  • Horehound
  • Valerian

Starting Herbs from Seed

Like flowers and vegetable crops, the requirements for starting herbs from seed vary from species to species. Some herbs like borage require light while germinating and should be pressed lightly into the soil. In contrast, others like echinacea have to go through a cold stratification to germinate properly. Be sure to carefully read each variety’s requirements for best results starting herbs from seed.

If you have other friends or neighbors that garden, you can also barter for starts of perennial herbs. Some like lemon balm and chives are easy to divide and transplant, saving you the work of starting them from seed. 

Grow Lavender From Seed

Lavender is a terrific addition to any perennial garden. It’s fragrant, beautiful, and can be used medicinally or to discourage moth damage and musty odors in woolens and linens. If you’re gardening on a budget, it can be much more cost-effective to start lavender from seed rather than purchasing plants. This advice will help you have success.

Starting Your Seed

Note that not all lavender cultivars will come true from seed. Select one that will like English Munstead.

You can use trays commonly used in vegetable gardening to start lavender. It’s best to use a light, slightly alkaline sterile, and well-draining potting medium. Lavender can be prone to rot if it stays waterlogged.

Lavender can take up to 30 days to germinate, so starting your plants early is key! Place your seeds in your tray and lightly cover them with soil. It germinates best in soil that is around 70°F. To ensure your soil is warm enough, keep your trays in a warm area of your home and use seedling heat mats if available.

Water your lavender regularly, especially as the seed is germinating but avoid overwatering and constantly wet soil. Use lights if you’re starting indoors.

Planting Out

After all danger of frost has passed and your plants have a couple of sets of leaves, you can transition your seedlings out to the garden. Harden them off, bringing them outdoors for just a little bit longer each day.

Plant seedlings in a bed with well-drained soil that receives full sun. Lavender is sensitive to wind. Depending on your garden, you may need to provide wind protection during the winter. Covering your plants with a breathable fabric like burlap is a good option.

Once mature lavender plants make excellent borders and are great for achieving a cottage garden style.

Lavender grows very slowly, especially in the first year. Your garden bed may take a while to look full and impressive.

Harvesting

During the first year, it’s best to let your lavender grow without cutting any. By year two, your plants should be larger and flowering. During the second year, you should be able to begin harvesting, if desired.

The best time to harvest lavender is when the buds have formed, but the flowers haven’t opened yet. Harvesting at this time will ensure the best color and fragrance once the lavender is dry.

Use sharp, cleans scissors or pruners to harvest your lavender. Always leave at least one set of leaves growing on the stem below your cut.

Bundle your stems into small bunches and hang them upside down somewhere out of direct sunlight to dry.

Using Your Lavender

After your lavender has dried, in about 2-4 weeks, you can use it for a variety of projects. Use your lavender to make wreaths or simply enjoy the bundles hanging or in vases throughout the house.

You can also easily strip the buds off the stems with your fingers. The buds can then be sewn into satchels for keeping with clothing or under pillows to help with sleep.

Use the buds for herbal tea and adding to lemonade. Lavender is a traditional herbal remedy used for stress-related headaches and as a carminative, antidepressant, and calming tonic for the nervous system.

Lavender buds can also be used to create infused oils for soap or salves or in bath salts for their pleasant, soothing fragrance.

Grow a Perennial Herb Garden

Having fresh herbs growing right out your door is fantastic for any food lover. They add so much flavor and save you money on expensive store-bought herbs.

Thankfully many great culinary and medicinal herbs are easy to grow perennials. Here’s how to start your own perennial herb garden.

Perennial Herbs

Here are a few of the perennial herbs you might consider adding to your garden.

  • Chives (Perennial in zones 3-10)
  • Sage (Perennial in zones 4-10)
  • Rosemary (Perennial in zones 7-10)
  • Lemon Balm (Perennial in zones 5-10)
  • Mint (Perennial in zones 5-10)
  • Oregano (Perennial in zones 5-10)
  • Anise Hyssop (Short-lived perennial)
  • Salad Burnet (Perennial in zones 4-10)
  • Fennel (Perennial in zones 6-10)
  • Bergamot (Perennial in zones 4-10)
  • Cranberry Hibiscus (Perennial in zones 9 and 10)
  • Lavender (Perennial in zones 5-10)
  • Sweet Marjoram (Perennial in zone 10)
  • Mexican Mint Marigold (Perennial in zones 8-10
  • Thyme (Perennial in zones 6-9)
  • Roselle (Frost-tender perennial)
  • Sorrel (Perennial in zones 4-10)
  • Echinacea (Perennial in zones 3-9)
  • Feverfew (Perennial in zones 4-10)
  • Catnip (Perennial in zones 4-10)
  • White Horehound (Perennial in zones 4-10)

Starting from Seed

You can start many perennial herbs from seed. However, some herbs can be trickier than vegetable crops. Be sure to read the growing instructions carefully. For example, lavender can take 30 days to germinate, echinacea requires cold stratification, and thyme germinates best between 55-60°F.

A few other tips:

  • For starting herbs indoors, be sure to use a well-draining potting mix.
  • To direct sow herbs, prepare your soil well. Add compost, fork, and rake the soil smooth.
  • Keep soil moist (a mister is great for small seeds) but not soggy.

Some perennial herbs are also easy to divide and transplant. If you know someone with a big patch of mint, lemon balm, thyme, chives, or oregano, ask if you can have a start.

Selecting a Garden Site

Generally, the best site for an herb garden is as close to your door as possible. Being able to quickly pop out to the garden and snag some fresh herbs will encourage you to use them.

Sunlight and drainage should also be considerations. Many herbs like rosemary and sage prefer full sun and well-drained soil. They may not thrive tucked away on the shady side of a home. However, some herbs like mint, bergamot, lemon balm, and chives will tolerate partial shade and thrive in moist soil.

Plant Care

While your herbs are getting established, it’s essential to water consistently. It’s best to water in the morning or evening. You should also keep them well-weeded. Even herbs as tough as mint can be overtaken by weeds when they’re first getting started. Mulching around them is a good idea.

Once your herbs start to take off, you may want to prune them a bit. When they grow above 8 inches, you can prune herbs’ tips like oregano, mint, rosemary, and sage to encourage root growth and bushier, fuller shape. Clip off the tops just above a set of leaves.

Harvest

Avoid harvesting until plants are displaying vigorous growth. They should be a least 6 inches tall and well established. You want them to become healthy plants for the long haul!

Never harvest more than 1/3 of a plant at a time and discontinue large harvests about one month before your first frost.

If you’re harvesting to dry herbs for storage, it’s ideal to do some around midsummer. This is when they’ll be the most potent and flavorful.

Check out these posts for advice on preserving and using medicinal and culinary herbs:

How to Properly Harvest & Preserve Herbs

5 Ways to Use and Preserve Herbs this Summer