As you saw last week, I'm currently in the midst of planning out my garden spaces for the year and getting everything planted up. Realistically, this also means that I've been trying to keep my wish-list down to a manageable selection of plants and refrain from purchasing every pretty little bulb and seedling I see when shopping around town. (Our local garden centers are full of fragrant hyacinths and lilacs at the moment. They're practically irresistible!) Quite a task for a plant lover! I've been looking forward to being able to grow more of my own herbs this year.
As I narrowed down my seed selections, I realized that I had a few herbs on my "must have" list. These plants are so easy to grow and so versatile that I think every herbal enthusiast ought to give them a try.
HERBS YOU SHOULD CONSIDER GROWING THIS YEAR
+ A FEW WAYS TO USE THEM
Note: I could obviously add more to this list, but I think that these 12 herbs encompass plants that can be put to use by almost everyone, so they're the ones I'm choosing to feature today. Which herb(s) would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments section at the end of this post.
Calendula is a beautiful, sunny, flowering, skin healing herb. It's often infused into Aloe or carrier oils and used in salves, lotions and creams meant to help support the skin as it deals with irritation, inflammation, injuries, or other skin issues. It's an ingredient well suited to skin care products for all skin types. It's also excellent for the lymphatic and digestive systems and can be taken as a tea. It's easy to grow in the garden and the freshly harvested and dried blossoms look lovely in the apothecary.
Reputed for its affinity for the digestive system, Peppermint is one of those delightful perennial herbs that is very easy to grow. It's best to propagate via cuttings and is one of those "leave it and it'll spread" type plants. If you don't want it to take over your garden, plant it in a container where it has a little bit of extra room to grow. Harvest leaves as needed for fresh Peppermint tea and for use in fresh salads and dishes that need a little something extra. Chewing on a leaf of Peppermint mid-afternoon when you're longing for a nap might be just the thing you need to feel refreshed and energized once again.
Another plant easily grown from cuttings, Rosemary is a hardy perennial herb in many parts of the US. It's obviously perfectly suited to cooking, but it's also valuable for memory and concentration, improving circulation, and is known for its ability to tone the nervous system. It's strengthening to the heart muscle and is also used in skin care products and hair products. Reputed to stimulate hair growth, it's often employed in herbal hair rinses its essential oil is included as an ingredient in natural shampoos. I love it because it tastes wonderful, smells amazing, and is so willing to be included in formulas. The smell of fresh Rosemary with fresh Lavender is probably my most favorite aroma.
Who wouldn't want to grow Lavender? The plant is absolutely beautiful (even my German Shepherd adores it) and the flowers can be used in so many different ways. Lavender honeys, lemonades, cookies, teas, and other dishes often include this herb. I like to dry the fresh flowering stalks and use them to make wreaths. The dried buds are perfect for herbal pillows - I make them for our family to use in the bedrooms and keep one for use in the car for my pup. She is an intelligent, high energy dog and the pillow helps her to stay calm when we need to drive for a longer period of time. An uplifting nervine, Lavender can be employed for relaxation and supporting sleep. I like to use it in eye pillows and foot baths when I have a headache and I include it almost every skin care formula I make.
A pretty culinary herb, I like to include Dill in potato salads and homemade sauerkraut recipes, as well as in herbal digestive aid formulas (it's a great carminative). I also think the plant itself is quite lovely, with its delicate fronds and cheery little yellow flowers. I like to rub its leaves to release its essential oils when I pass it in the garden - its smell is so refreshing.
Thyme is another culinary favorite of mine. It pairs well with Rosemary in many dishes and has an affinity for the respiratory system. Refreshing and uplifting, thyme stimulates the thymus gland, a significant part of our immune system, and is also well suited for coughs, sore throats, and related complaints. I like to infuse it in olive oil or honey with garlic and a few other culinary herbs and take it when I've been around people who are sick to boost my immune system and help me stay healthy. The freshly made tea, tincture, and essential oil are all employed in various cleaning formulas.
Pesto, pizza, caprese salad... Basil has so many uses in the kitchen that it's almost silly not to grow it. It's a beautiful plant and the more you use, the bushier it seems to grow. It's uplifting and antispasmodic. I've seen it included in formulas for the digestive system and for supporting restful sleep. The essential oil is well suited in blends for focus and concentration. It's sometimes included in herbal hair rinses to promote hair growth and bring balance to oily scalps.
I love to include antioxidant-packed Oregano in Mexican food dishes and things like quinoa or rice. It's sometimes included in skin care formulas and is also known for its value in remedies for the digestive system. A potent antimicrobial, it's used in natural 'antibiotic' type preparations and is also employed for its anti-inflammatory properties in formulas used to address painful and inflammatory conditions. The herbal infused oil is said to be effective at keeping creepy crawlies away (among many other things), though I haven't personally tested this yet.
Ah, Hawthorn. If I had to choose an herbal best friend, it would probably be this plant. The berries, flowers, leaves, and twigs are used in herbal medicine as a heart tonic, bringing balance and strength to even the healthy heart, but especially to the heart with some sort of ailment. If I could only use one herb for the rest of my life, it would probably be this one (but oh, how I would miss the flavorful others!). It works excellently on both physical and energetic planes and, because it is considered a tonic herb, should be used consistently over time for best results. It grows as a shrub or tree and can be employed in herbal teas (and other herbal medicine forms) and in culinary preparations (the berries are perfect for jams). I like to combine it with Hibiscus and Milky Oats for tea.
- Aloe vera
If you're not in a sunny, warm growing zone, Aloe vera can be grown indoors, potted up on a sunny windowsill. The fresh juice/gel are used internally for all sorts of digestive complaints and externally for all manner of skin issues. A highly versatile first aid plant, I think everyone ought to be growing it. (Though it should be avoided by nursing mommas and women who are pregnant.) Freshly harvested leaves are squeezed into morning smoothies and green drinks, slathered onto acneic skin, and used in skin-healing creams. Its rare flowers (usually produced once per year after the plant reaches maturity) are a delight as well.
Chances are you won't need to actually cultivate this plant. It's probably trying to spring up in your garden pathways and through cracks in the pavement right now. Well known for its skin healing abilities, it's also employed for a variety of digestive and lymphatic complaints. It's a drawing herb that can be used to draw out splinters and is also valuable for irritated, inflamed skin. I've written about it in more detail here.
Another tenacious herb that won't need to be cultivated if you allow it to grow when it appears, Dandelion is an herb supreme for for the liver and kidneys. The entire plant is used medicinally and its leaves are high in vitamins and minerals. It's used as a food herb as well, often included in dishes where a bitter green would be suitable: stir-fries, soups, salads, etc.
Other favorites to consider: Parsley, Cilantro, Sage, Garlic, Ginger, Turmeric, Pepper (the trees are so beautiful), Rose, Hibiscus, Feverfew, Red Clover, St. John's Wort
WHICH HERBS ARE YOU GROWING IN YOUR GARDEN THIS YEAR?
Let me know in the comments section below this post. If you're interested in purchasing organic herb seeds (or veggie seeds) for your garden, click here to read about some of my favorite seed sources.