Although my mother always had a small herb garden, I have never cooked with herbs much. I made a lot of pesto out of basil, arugula, and garlic scapes, but that was about the extent of my herb usage. I never even liked to drink tea until I was 20. Before then, I thought that tea just tasted like some grass thrown in hot water.
Young Peppermint and Lemon Balm Plants in the Community Garden
After attending the Organic Growers School Conference (http://www.organicgrowersschool.org/) last March with a few Grow Appalachia participants I became excited about herbs. Grow Appalachia participants attended sessions on herbal medicine and growing herbal tea gardens. These participants inspired me to grow a tea garden in the Pine Mountain Community Garden, as well as plant culinary herbs. I used the wonderful hand out from the tea garden workshop as the basis for what I grew this season. This hand out can be found on the Organic Growers School spring conference library webpage (http://www.organicgrowersschool.org/content/1522). Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (http://www.southernexposure.com) also has good information about herbs in their seed catalog.
One Grow Appalachia family lent me the Making Herbs Simple DVD from Bulk Herb Store. This DVD shows how to identify, harvest and dry herbs, and make poultices and tinctures. Another Grow Appalachia family grew their own small tea garden at their home and made Holy Basil tea and tinctures to help with health problems, while others grew a little bit of peppermint and lemon balm for tea.
Herbs increase the flavor in any meal and have real health benefits. Why was I missing out on these tasty plants before? I found them easy to grow, easy to harvest and dry (although somewhat time consuming) and easy to collect seed from. I have many jars filled with herbs for cooking and tea this winter. I will definitely be growing herbs again next year!
Some of the herbs I grew this summer are listed below with a brief description and ideas for use:
Basil! in the Community Garden
Holy Basil: Holy basil is highly aromatic and antimicrobial. The leaves and flowers are used as a medicinal tea for colds, coughs, asthma, bronchitis, sinusitis, headaches, arthritis, diabetes, stress & anxiety. Culinary uses: fresh leaves can be added to salads and are used as a more pungent version of basil
Sweet Basil: One of my favorite herbs! Delicious as pesto served with pasta, vegetables, and meat. I put basil in almost everything (scrambled eggs, homemade pizza, mashed potatoes, even a few leaves on top of chocolate cake is nice!)
Lemon Basil: Rare basil with deep lemon fragrance. Use for fish dishes, herb vinegars, and tea.
Rosemary: Used for seasoning vegetable or meat dishes. Rosemary has diverse medicinal properties, the most notable being its use as a circulatory stimulant. Extracts of rosemary have strong antioxidant and preservative properties.
Anise-Hyssop: Delicious licorice/anise flavored medicinal and tonic tea, digestive soother and fever breaker. Very attractive to bees and butterflies.
Cilantro: The leaves (cilantro) and seeds (coriander) are used in Chinese, Indian, and Mexican cuisine. Medicinal: the seeds are used to increase perspiration and appetite.
Parsley: Great with pasta and vegetables
Chamomile: The sweet-scented flowers of chamomile are used to make chamomile tea which has a distinctive apple-like flavor and fragrance. Medicinal: Chamomile has long been used as a gas suppressor, and as an anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer remedy. It also suppresses muscle spasms, and is anti-microbial.
Peppermint: Easy to grow aromatic and tasty tea plant. Peppermint is employed medicinally as a mild and safe remedy for indigestion, insomnia, colds, fevers and colic. I made a pitcher of iced peppermint tea almost every week. It was the most refreshing treat after working the garden all day. I also made mint jelly this summer which is good on meats, beans, peas, and cream cheese. Rubbing peppermint on your skin also helps to keep insects at bay.
Lemon Balm: Delightfully aromatic, delicious as tea. Medicinally used to treat depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Lemon balm has anti-viral action, is a sedative, and gas suppressor. Fresh leaves offer a lemony addition to salads, soups, sauces and vinegars. This hot tea is so sweet there is no need to even add honey (unless you want to add some local honey for health benefits!)
Dill: Leaves and seeds can be used to flavor dishes and pickling. I have found it difficult to find dill seed in the groceries to make pickles with (and I do not like using dill weed or pickling spice mixes in my pickles), so growing my own has become a necessity.
Sage: A flavoring herb for meats, dressings, and sauces. It can be used as a digestive and nerve tonic. It is astringent and antibacterial.
Thyme: Great with greens, rice, and black eyed peas or greens, pasta, and feta cheese