What’s So Special About Herbs?
A Guest Blog Post by Judy Barrett

NOTE: Judy will be speaking at The Arbor Gate on March 12, 2013. We carry her books here at The Arbor Gate.

There is a certain mystery associated with herbs. What are herbs anyway? I like the definition offered by The United States National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.: “An herb is any plant that serves a purpose other than providing food, wood or beauty.” In other words, herbs are useful plants, not just ornamental or mundane. They have a lot of different forms, looks, smells, and tastes, but the one thing they have in common is their ability to serve at least one and most often more than one purpose.

Because of their diversity and also because of the mystery, a lot of people are a little bit afraid of herbs. And for some bizarre reason, we are more afraid of fresh herbs than we are of those little jars of dried stuff at the grocery store. But we need not be afraid. Herbs are our friends!

There are many misconceptions associated with herbs. Some believe they only grow in tiny pots on the windowsill. Others believe that they are difficult to grow and even more difficult to use. And then there is the belief that if you have herbs, you have to be doing something with them all the time. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Many herbs are large plants that grow beautifully in the landscape. Those little pots are almost always too small for a plant to grow happily in, and most windows don’t provide enough sunlight. Herbs are easy to grow and many grow like the proverbial weed. In fact, some are the proverbial weed! And finally, herbs do not come with any obligation. You can do stuff with them – cook, craft, cure – or you can just look out the window at them and enjoy the view. Herbs are the easiest plants in the world to enjoy.

In the garden herbs perform a wide range of jobs. They attract beneficial insects, repel pests, encourage growth of other plants all at the same time that they are lovely and/or tasty and/or fragrant in and of themselves.

Of course, you will want to grow your herbs without toxic chemicals. Organically grown herbs make perfect sense. Most herbs are pest-free anyway, and why add nasty stuff to your garden? Don’t use chemical pesticides, herbicides or any other -cides in your yard! Many herbs can be made into natural pest repellants that will serve nicely without endangering you, your family or your pets.

For example, Rosemary is an ancient herb that grew wild in the Mediterranean area and was used by ancient Romans and Greeks as a fragrance and as a medicinal and magical herb. It was one herb easily available to the poor since it grew wild and was widely used for all sorts of purposes. Putting it under the bed or pillow was said to ensure a good night’s sleep and pleasant dreams. It was also widely known as an herb that enhances memory – Shakespeare is famous for so many things, including saying that Rosemary is for remembrance. “There’s Rosemary for you, that’s for remembrance! Pray you, love, remember.”– William Shakespeare (Ophelia in Hamlet). And while it really didn’t work out too well for Ophelia, modern research is proving that the old belief has some merit. Rosemary does seem to contain properties that increase the memory and stimulate mental health.

Rosemary does very well in warm climate gardens. It likes heat, sun and rocky soil. Excellent drainage is a must. If you grow your Rosemary in a container, add large-grained sand or gravel to your rich potting soil to make sure the drainage is very good. Choose a spot with a lot of sun and good air circulation. This is particularly important in humid areas where mildew can becoYou me a problem.

You can use rosemary to cook, clean the house, decorate for Christmas, and simply enjoy in the garden. Like so many herbs, it is versatile and beautiful. If you haven’t grown herbs before, there is no time like the present to start. Perennial herbs love being planted in the fall. It gives them time to develop roots and get estabished during mild weather.

Parts of this article were excerpted from What Can I Do With My Herbs by Judy Barrett (available at Arbor Gate). To keep in touch with Judy, subscribe to her new online newsletter Homegrown by emailing [email protected] and asking for a free subscription or visiting www.HomegrownTexas.com and clicking on “Magazine Archives” and then “September issue.”