Tag Archives: herbalism

The King of Herbs: Growing Basil

Once you start growing your own fresh basil, there’s no going back. While tomatoes may get most of the attention in America’s summertime gardens, basil is the king of herbs. The basil you can grow at home is also more impressive than in the store. It’s much cheaper too! Thankfully, it’s also quite easy to grow, and you still have plenty of time to grow basil in your garden this summer.

Direct Sowing Basil

This time of year, the simplest way to grow basil is to direct sow it. Basil is native to tropical and subtropical regions of Asia, including Thailand, Iran, Pakistan, and other countries. Due to its tropical upbringing, basil thrives in full sun and needs a mimic of 6 to 8 hours of sunlight to produce. It also grows best in rich, well-drained soil and germinates best when the soil temperatures are around 70-75°F.

To direct sow basil, plant 3 to 4 seeds every 12 inches. Lightly cover the seeds, no more than two times the depth of the seed. Basil takes about 5 to 14 days to germinate. When the plants have four leaves, thin them to 1 plant every 12 inches for fuller, bushier plants. You can transplant extra plants to another bed.

Transplanting Basil

Basil can also be started in flats or containers indoors. To get an early start next spring, start your basil indoors about four weeks before your last frost. In flats, space seeds ½” apart. Thin to two inches apart and transplant in 3-4 weeks.

Growing Basil From Cuttings

Interestingly, basil is also easy to grow from cuttings. Take a cutting from your own or a friend’s basil plant that has at least four sets of leaves. Remove the bottom set of leaves and place the cutting in a clean, filtered glass of water in a sunny spot indoors. Change or refill the water as necessary until the cutting has clearly visible roots. Then transplant the cutting to the garden bed with loose, rich soil or a container.

Basil plant growing in a potGrowing Basil in Containers

Basil is also a suitable herb for container gardens. Start your basil just as you would for the garden. Select a container with drainage holes (or make them) and use potting mix and some good-quality compost. Keep the container somewhere sunny and water consistently. Basil doesn’t like to be soggy but thrives with consistent moisture, and containers tend to dry out more quickly than the garden. 

Can you Grow Basil Indoors?

You can grow basil indoors, but it’s much trickier. As basil enjoys full sun, providing adequate light in a home year-round is hard. Here in the northern hemisphere, you may be able to grow basil in a sunny, south-facing window. Your basil plant may need more light if it seems weak or spindly. A grow light bulb placed close to the plant may allow it to thrive. Read the bulb’s instructions for the exact placement. Many bulbs must be surprisingly close to a plant, just a few inches from its top leaves.

Ideas for Using Homegrown Basil

If you ask anyone (or Google) what to do with basil, they’ll tell you to make pesto. Don’t get me wrong, I love pesto, but there’s so much more to basil than just pesto! If you haven’t worked with fresh basil often, here are a few of our favorite ideas for using it.

  • Chop it up and toss it onto homemade or delivery pizza.
  • Make a classic Caprese salad with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, salt, and olive.
  • Use it for refreshing cocktails or cocktails like bloody marys, watermelon coolers, or limeades. 
  • Top your morning toast or bagel with slices of fresh tomato, basil leaves, salt, pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil.
  • Take your grilled cheese up a notch by adding basil leaves in with the cheese.
  • Basil pairs well with lemon and strawberry. Try adding a new twist to lemon cake or strawberry shortcake recipes by topping them with finely chopped basil.
  • Add basil, garlic, and other herbs to your favorite bread recipe if you love baking.
  • Basil, cheese, white beans, salt, and pepper, make for a tasty, easy-to-throw-together pasta dish. 

Basil as a Medicinal Herb

Basil also has a long history of use in traditional medicine. Basil has been used as a carminative (to relieve gas), to help ease stomach aches, and to improve digestion and appetite. Research indicates that it may inhibit gastric acid secretion. As it’s also a culinary herb, experimenting with basil as an herbal remedy is fairly safe. You can try basil in food, teas, and tinctures

*None of this is intended as medical advice. Always consult your doctor. 

Basil’s fresh, gently spicy flavor makes it a must-have for the kitchen and the garden. It’s not too late to add basil to your garden this year! Start basil from seed, transplants, or cuttings in the garden or patio containers.

Herb Garden: Spring Maintenance

Spring is an exciting time! It’s easy to get caught up in the rush of starting annuals, building new gardens, and adding new plants to our spaces. It’s also important to remember to care for our existing gardens. Spring is an excellent time to look at and refresh our kitchen herb or medicinal herb gardens. 

Tidy Beds

While it was once common practice to tidy herb garden beds in the fall, many of us now hold off on this chore. Various pollinators and beneficial insects use our gardens’ dead leaves and plant materials as winter habitats. Insects like solitary bees, butterflies, and predatory beetles depend on these materials to overwinter or as a place for their eggs or pupae. 

It’s best to wait until temperatures are consistently above 50°F to do your cleanup to help support these garden helpers. Then you can remove any dead material and trim perennials like lemon balm.

It’s also an excellent time to go through and pull any early weeds before they get a chance to take hold. A stirrup hoe can be a handy and quick way to remove small weeds. 

Add Compost to Your Herb Garden

Compost improves your soil by adding nutrients and structure. Adding compost can help heavy soils drain better and help sandy soil to hold more moisture. For most gardens, adding 2 to 3 inches of finished compost is a good idea once you have everything tidied up. This will allow you to get new annuals off to a good start and give perennials essential nutrients to put on good spring growth. 

It’s important to know your plants. Some herbs, especially those from the Mediterranean, like lavender and rosemary, don’t generally need or enjoy rich soil. Around these types of plants, you may only need to add compost every couple of years. 

Compost should be spread on top and gently raked in. Be sure not to disturb the roots of perennials or cover their crowns with compost. 

Mint PlantDivide Perennial Herbs

Early spring is an ideal time to divide many perennials. Spreading herbs like hyssop are good candidates for this. Take a sharp shovel and cut a clump in half or smaller sections. Try to damage the roots of each section as little as possible. Fill in around any section you leave with compost or good soil.

Dividing is easy but is a lot like transplanting annuals. There are a few essential steps to make sure your plants thrive. The first step is to stress your plants as little as possible. Avoid sunny days and transplant on cool, overcast days if possible. Transplant them into loose soil and add compost if needed. After transplanting, water your plants thoroughly and keep them moist while they get established.

You may also need to move plants to rearrange your garden or those that have self-seeded in less-than-ideal spots. Moving plants is very similar to dividing. You want to use a sharp shovel or trowel and try to get all the roots and disturb them as little as possible. 

Your divided or moved plants may wilt initially but will quickly recover if you’ve followed these steps. 

Mulch Your Herb Garden

We use mulch in all of our gardens, and it has many benefits. Mulch can help suppress weeds, keep the soil moist, and add organic matter as it breaks down. You can use whatever type of mulch you wish, but it’s best to avoid using dyed ones, especially around edible plants. 

Generally, you want your mulch to be about 2 inches thick, but some find 3 inches works better with coarser material. Don’t use too much mulch, as it can block air from the soil. Avoid putting mulch directly over the crowns of plants, as this can prevent new growth and cause crown rot in some species. 

Carefully Plan Any Changes and Additions

While completing your spring chores, taking stock and making a plan is a good idea. Did all of your perennials make it through the winter? What annuals did you enjoy most last year, and which did the best? What herbs did you run out of this winter?

Careful consideration can help you maximize your gardening efforts this season. When adding new beds, drawing them out on paper is a great idea. You can also use stakes and string to mark out their location.


Spring is fun, but we must remember essential maintenance. Completing these five tasks can help ensure you have a beautiful herb garden this summer. 

5 Edible Spring Weeds

Spring will come sooner than you think, and it’s a beautiful but challenging time! We’re busy in the garden in the spring, prepping beds, sowing, transplanting, amending, and weeding. However, it will still be weeks before most crops begin to produce. Traditionally, many folks would’ve foraged wild greens this time of year to help fill the “hungry months,” when last year’s stores are running out and this season’s crops have yet to mature. This spring, if you can’t wait to start harvesting, keep these five edible spring weeds in mind!

A Safety Note

None of this information is intended as medical advice. Always consult with a doctor. Avoid consuming any of these plants if you’re taking medications, pregnant, or breastfeeding until you’ve consulted with a medical practitioner. 

Foraging Tips

Harvest sustainably. Don’t take a whole patch or more than you need; try to leave root systems intact. This advice isn’t applicable if you’re pulling weeds from your garden. 

Avoid harvesting any wild edible from areas that may be contaminated, such as roadsides or lawns that have been sprayed with pesticides or other chemicals.

Follow local rules or guidelines if harvesting in public areas.

Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum)

You’ve likely seen purple dead nettle before, even if you didn’t know what it’s called. Purple Dead Nettle is a common herbaceous plant that has naturalized throughout much of North America.

Once you know what you’re looking for, Purple Dead Nettle is easy to recognize. It has fuzzy heart or arrow-shaped leaves attached directly to a square stem. The leaves transition from green near the base to purple or pink near the top of the stem. The flowers are tiny, tubular purple flowers near the tip.

Purple Dead Nettle can be consumed raw or cooked. You can use the young leaves and the tops of the flower spikes in soups, salads, pestos, and stir-fries. You can also dry it for later use as you would other herbs.

Herbalists also employ purple dead nettle for various reasons. It’s believed to have anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, diuretic, and antibacterial properties. Traditionally, herbalists use purple dead nettle in teas, tinctures, salves, and poultices to boost the immune system, treat minor wounds and irritations, alleviate joint pain, and help ease colds.

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Native to Eurasia, chickweed has naturalized throughout the world and is a common sight in spring gardens, lawns, and waste places. It’s an annual in most areas but may be perennial in warm climates. 

Chickweed is sparsely hairy with oval, opposite leaves. The lower leaves have stalks or petioles, while the upper leaves are attached directly to the stem. It has dainty white flowers, and if you look closely, you’ll notice that they’re composed of five deeply lobed petals. Chickweed has green seed capsules that may appear hairy or fuzzy.

As the name suggests, it’s often grown for poultry, but it’s pretty tasty and nutritious for humans too! Unlike many wild greens, I’ve found chickweed to be mild and tender. It makes a wonderful addition to salads and pesto.

Chickweed is also sometimes used in folk medicine. It’s rich in iron and is a popular choice among herbalists for treating anemia. Historically, herbalists also employed chickweed to treat mild skin irritations like bug bites, sunburn, bronchitis, arthritis, and period pain.

Cleavers (Galium aparine)

Cleavers is known by many common names such as velcro plant, catchword, bedstraw, stickyweed, and hitchhikers, with most referencing the seeds’ ability to cling to people and animals. It’s native to North Africa, Europe, and Asia but has naturalized worldwide.

Cleavers is a low-growing annual with stems that creep along the ground and may become three feet or longer. The stems are angular or square-shaped and have hooked hairs that allow them to climb over other plants. It has simple narrow lance-shaped leaves borne in whorls of six to eight. 

In early bring or summer, cleavers produces tiny white or greenish, star-shaped flowers. The flowers are followed by spherical burrs forming clusters of two or three. The burrs are covered in hooked hairs that allow them to stick to fur and clothing, aiding in dispersal. 

Despite the hooked hairs, cleavers is edible. The stems, leaves, and flowers can be eaten before the seeds form. They’re best when cooked in dishes like soups and stews. Interestingly, cleavers are in the same family as coffee. The seeds can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute. 

In herbal medicine, folks have used cleavers as a diuretic tea and salve or poultice to treat minor wounds, burns, and rashes. As the common name bedstraw indicates, dried cleavers were once commonly used to stuff mattresses. Cleaver roots were once commonly used to make a permanent red dye. 

Some people experience a skin rash when coming in contact with the hairs of cleavers.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Taraxacum is a large genus of plants commonly known as dandelions. While this includes many species, for this post, we’ll focus on one of the most common species worldwide, Taraxacum officinale often referred to as common dandelion or dandelion.

It’s likely that you already know how to identify the common dandelion. The leaves form from the base and are oblanceolate, oblong, or obovate and narrower near the tip. They are usually shallowly or deeply lobed and have sharp or rounded teeth. Dandelions form yellow flowers, followed by seeds attached to silky pappi, which create parachutes allowing for wind dispersal. Dandelions have large taproots.

The leaves, roots, and flowers of dandelions are all edible. The young leaves and buds are often eaten raw in salads. Older leaves get more bitter and are better for use in cooked dishes. The roots can be eaten like other root vegetables or dried and ground into a coffee substitute. 

Dandelion flowers are often used to make dandelion wine or are sometimes added to baked goods. Recently, there has been some concern about using so many flowers and how this may harm bees. In reality, dandelions are not bees’ earliest or preferred food source. Many other species provide good early nutrition for bees, like willow blossoms and violets. Additionally, pruning dandelions encourages growth. 

Herbalists use dandelions internally and externally to help treat various ailments. They are believed to help with indigestion, support a healthy liver, treat inflammation, heal mild skin irritations, and more. 

Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album) 

Native to Europe, lambsquarters is now naturalized worldwide and is known by many names, including goosefoot, white goosefoot, fat-hen, wild spinach, and meld. Although it’s a cultivated plant in some areas, it’s considered a noxious weed in many others and can significantly impact crop yields. 

Lambsquarters leaves are widely varied in appearance but are generally more or less diamond-shaped and toothed. They grow in an alternate arrangement on the stem and often have a mealy white coating, especially on the underside. The stems have conspicuous grooves and are hairless and branched. The flowers form in clusters at the stem ends and are green and unassuming. They give way to shiny, black to brown seeds encased in star-shaped papery coverings.

The leaves, young shoots, flowers, and buds of lambsquarters are all edible and make an excellent cooked green. However, lambsquarters are high in oxalic acid and should be eaten in moderation. The seeds can also be eaten like a grain. Archeologists have found them mixed with other grains at Roman, Viking age, and Iron Age sites. It is also used as animal feed.

Herbalists often use lambsquarters to create a poultice for insect bites, sunburn, rashes, and minor wounds. Historically it has also been made into a tea to treat or prevent scurvy, diarrhea, gout, and rheumatic pains.