ADD SPICE TO YOUR LIFE: GROW YOUR OWN HERBS
Our climate in the Ozarks is almost perfect for growing most herbs. Herbs like Lavender, Sage and French Tarragon struggle to survive with the high humidity of the Deep South. Many Mediterranean herbs which survive hot dry summers drown with the tropical rains of the fall in that part of the country. The winters in the Upper Midwest and shorter growing season may turn perennial herbs into annuals and not leave enough growing time for others to mature and produce seed. Due to the climate changes we are experiencing in the Ozarks, many of our tender perennial herbs no longer die back in the winter or are available for harvest earlier in the season. Others like Rosemary are more likely to survive our winters if a few precautions are taken.
GROWING HERBS Herbs are classified as annuals, biennials, perennials or tender perennials. Annual herbs grow, produce seeds and die at the end of the growing season. Basils, dill, fennel and cilantro are some examples. They may drop seed and new plants will come up in the spring Tender perennial herbs are those which may grow year round outdoors in more tropical climates. Some may even die back to the ground but will leaf out in the spring. Some tender perennials would be cardamom, ginger, turmeric, lemongrass and Sweet Bay trees. Perennial herbs live outdoors for several or many years. Some examples would be thyme, oregano, chives, sage and sometimes Rosemary. If you’re growing herbs in the ground, you may want to get a soil test done prior to planting them. If not, well drained soil is essential with at least 4 hours of sunlight daily for many herbs. Lavender will do better in a slightly raised area. We added compost to our existing soil seven years ago and have rarely fertilized since then. If you fertilize herbs as you might other plants, you’ll get lush foliage but will sacrifice flavor. The oils in herbs are more concentrated when the plants are slightly stressed. The best way to get the full effect of an herb’s scent is to rub the leaves and smell your fingers. This releases some of their oils on the underside of the leaves. The scent of many herbs comes from a combination of several different essential oils found in them. Herbs grown in pots may require monthly fertilizing with half of the recommended dose and will require more watering, possibly twice a day in a very warm summer. We water the herbs in our garden only if we haven’t had rain in awhile, at planting time until the plants are growing well or if they look like they need it. Pineapple Sage can be used as an indicator that it’s time to water when its’ leaves start to droop. Mulching is useful but some herbs are more likely to die or have insect damage if the mulch is too close to the pant for good aeration. Fresh wood chips may prove too acidic for some plants. Many herbs cab easily be grown from seed with the exception of rosemary, lavender, French tarragon, bay trees or any varieties of specific herbs like lemon thyme or purple sage which are propagated by stem cuttings and can be purchased as established plants.
SPICE OR HERB? —An herb is a plant with aromatic leaves such as basil or oregano. Spices are the bark (cinnamon), root (ginger, garlic), buds (cloves), seeds (coriander, dill, poppy), berry (black pepper), or fruit of a tropical plant (paprika, allspice). Some plants like cilantro, dill, and fennel are both because leaves and seeds are both used.
BASILS— Annual. Native to Africa, Asia and India, arriving much later to Italy. Basil loves warm weather. Seeds will not germinate until the soil temperature is 50 degrees and even then, those plants will struggle to grow. Basil should be planted outside in mid May or when you put tomatoes out. Basil can develop damping off or Fusarium wilt from cool wet soil. If you see brown creeping up the stems of your basil and they don’t look well, you probably have the wilt and will need to destroy the plants and plant basil in a different spot. Look for varieties that are Fusarium wilt resistant. There are over 50 varieties of Basil including lemon, lime, Mexican cinnamon spice, licorice, Thai, clove, Purple Ruffles, Genovese, Greek, Bolloso Napoletano ( 4-5” leaves-good for wraps), Holy and many more. Basil is an annual though there are several columnar basils which don’t set seed and may survive over the winter indoors. Basil is best preserved in pesto. Consider planting again in August to ensure good harvest throughout the fall.
BAY LAUREL—Perennial. Sweet bay tree is the source of Bay leaves used in soups, stews, Cajun cooking etc. Bay trees are hardy to 20 degrees. They will grow well indoors in pots. If placed outdoors in the summer months, grow in the shade. Our Bay tree is now 35 years old and more of a shrub than a tree. Propagation from fresh seeds or cuttings can be difficult so it’s easier to purchase a small tree.
CHIVES / GARLIC CHIVES- Perennials. Chives have been used for over 3, 000 years but were not used in Europe until brought back by Marco Polo. Chives have a mild onion flavor and garlic chives have a mild garlic flavor. Both the leaves and flowers are edible. Chive seed grows slowly and may take 4-6 months from seed germination to table use. Chives prefer rich moist soil in full sun. Harvest chives by cutting them to within 1” of the ground up to 4x a year .Does not dry well. Freeze in ice cube trays. Harvest garlic chives by using the younger leaves. Garlic chives will reseed everywhere in your garden but plants can also be divided. Their blooms are a great butterfly attractor. Divide Chives every 2 years in the early spring.
CILANTRO TIPS AND SUBSTITUTE HERBS
CILANTRO— Annual. Brought to Mexico by the Spanish in the1600’s from the Orient. The Latin and Greek names for it translate as “Bedbug”. It‘s a cool weather plant and will go to seed in about 2 months in hot weather. The seed is known as coriander and has a lemony flavor. The harvest can be prolonged by planting a slow bolt variety of Cilantro in the shade, watering often and fertilizing monthly. Also if you use it often, plant seeds every 2 weeks throughout the summer for a continuous supply of leaves. Best preserved by freezing.
PAPALOQUETTE— Annual. Native to Mexico. Young leaves used as a fresh herb in salsa and added to foods at the end of cooking. Used before Cilantro was introduced to Mexico. Will also reseed itself, remaining in your garden for years. Lives for about 3 months. Has a cilantro- arugula flavor.
PEPICHA—Annual grass like herb with cilantro flavor from Centel America and Mexico.. Tolerates heat
CULANTRO— Tender perennial. Native to Central America. Grows well in hot steamy climates where cilantro will not thrive. Leaves are tough but tasty if sliced and chopped. Will stand some cooking and dries well. Cilantro- green pepper -parsley flavor.
VIETNAMESE CORIANDER— Tender perennial. Native to Southeast Asia. Good bog plant. Grows well indoors. Leaves are added at end of cooking. Will root in water.
DILL--Annual. Does not transplant well due to a long taproot. Cool weather herb. Plant when you plant broccoli with night time temps at 55 degrees and day time in the 70’s. Plant will go to seed early if temps are below 45 degrees or damage occurs to the root during transplanting. Place in partial shade if growing in pots and water regularly. Do not fertilize. Dukat and Fernleaf are best varieties to grow in pots. Will reseed and come back each year. Host plant for swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. It is a myth that you cannot plant dill and fennel next to each other because the flavor of each will be affected. f you let some dill go to seed, you’ll l have a permanent bed in your garden.
FENNEL—Semi hardy perennial with licorice/ anise flavor. Will reseed. Sweet fennel is used for its’ leaves and seeds. Florence fennel or Finnochio is Bulb Fennel and takes 80 days from planting small plants to produce a bulb. Used in sausages, fish, vegetables, herb butters and cheese. Ripe seeds are great to snack on, they taste like licorice. Plant in the spring in well-drained soil and water until germination occurs. Host plant for swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. Will not form seeds if planted near cilantro. Can harm tomatoes, beans, kohlrabi and caraway. When you see the bulb begin to swell on the Finnochio Fennel, mound dirt around it until it’s the size you want.
LAVENDER—Fragrant annual or perennial in our climate depending upon the variety. There is much confusion in the naming of Lavender varieties .There is no such thing as English Lavender because Lavender originated in the French Alps. L. augustifolia is the lavender most associated with England hence those varieties are often identified as such and are the most cold tolerant to zone 4. French Lavenders (L. dentata) have indented leaves and do not survive our winters outdoors usually but are the one variety that will live well in the house and bloom year round. Spanish Lavender (L. stoechas) are the most ornamental but not as fragrant and are tender perennials. Also known as French Lavender in the U.K. The lavenders grown commercially in France are actually Lavandins which are a cross between L. spika and L. augustifolia lavenders and known as L. intermedia. The Lavandins have 5x more oil, more blooms, later bloom time and larger stems than either of its parents. Lavender grown from seed may not always resemble the parent plant. A few lavenders like Elegance Purple or Lavender Lady which can be grown from seed may bloom the first year but most lavenders tend to bloom the 2nd year. It is a must to plant lavender in a raised well drained area with sufficient calcium in the soil. You can add a cup of gypsum to the hole before planting for that purpose. Avoid mulching close to plant. Placing white sand or white gravel around the plant will increase essential oil and flower production by 771%. Lavender needs full sun and must be clipped back by 1/3 each spring for the first 3 years when the nodes on the branches begin to swell and after blooming or the plant will die out in the middle. After that just trim it back after blooming is finished but not late into the fall. Lavender will live inside with daytime temperatures of 50-60 degrees and nighttime temperatures of 40-50 degrees. Water sparingly if the plant is indoors til spring. Once the plants are established, use a low nitrogen fertilizer if needed. A side dressing of bone meal before blooming may give the plants a boost. Lavender can be dried by tying bundles together and hanging them upside down or drying them flat for use in bouquets. Lavender wands may keep their fragrance for 20 years. The L. augustifolias or English lavender and pink blooming lavenders are the best for culinary use. Hidcote, Munstead,Provence, Pink Perfume and Melissa are some examples of culinary varieties.
MARJORAM /OREGANO— Marjoram is a tender perennial grown as an annual here. Has a mild oregano flavor. Oregano has a hotter flavor and is a hardy perennial. There are pink blooming Greek oreganos which are great bee attractors and very ornamental. However, their leaves have no flavor and the flowers are used instead for flavor. Greek oregano and Za’atar (Syrian Oregano) can be grown from seed but Sicilian, Kaliteri and Hot’n Spicy are grown from cuttings. Harvest and dry by hanging in bunches in June. Cut back when blooming and plant will produce another harvest .Divide plants every 2-3 years.
MINTS- Perennials- Hardy “weed”. Buy plants or obtain some roots from a friend. Seed grown mint has no flavor. Many mints are in the peppermint or spearmint families but there are 19 varieties of mint with many hybrids. Considered invasive and will grow anywhere. Mints can be grown in beds or large barrels. Grow in a bowl shaped pot if using a pot and occasionally remove and trim off roots which will wrap around plant and eventually kill it. Harvest for strongest flavor just as plants bloom. If growing more than one mint, you may get some inferior mints if cross pollination occurs. Remove flowers from mint to prevent cross pollination. Propagate by division or cuttings rooted in soil or water. Blooming mints are great butterfly attractors. Mint will grow in sun or shade.
PARSLEY— Biennial herb. Italian or flat leafed has more flavor than curly parsley. Seed can be sown in the spring when the soil temp is 50 degrees. Seeds may take 4 weeks to germinate but soaking the seed in warm water for 24 hours before planting will speed up the process. Curly parsley is slower to germinate and grow than flat leafed (Italian Parsley). Will grow in a cool sunny window. Flat leafed dries better than curly parsley. If parsley is put outside too early with temps below 45 degrees for several weeks, it may go to seed prematurely. Otherwise it comes back the next year with the purpose of producing seed and the flavor will not be as good. It is a host plant for the swallowtail butterfly.
ROSEMARY—Tender perennial this far North. May survive winter outdoors if placed in a sheltered location with some reflected heat as against a South facing wall. Varieties which are a little more winter hardy are Arp, Hill Hardy and Salem. Seeds may take up to 6 months to germinate so it’s best bought as a plant. If grown in a pot, a cactus perlite mix may be beneficial. Needs full sun and well drained soil. Prefers a cooler room and increased humidity to survive indoors. Humidity can be increased by using a humidifier or placing the pot on a saucer full of gravel with water added to it. You can also run a humidifier near it or place in bathtub twice a month and let the steam from the shower add humidity around it. Be careful not to over or under water it. Good with poultry, poultry, lamb, roasted vegetables, and beverages and as a hair rinse for brunettes. Dries easily by hanging in bunches. Rosemary will sometimes survive most of the winter but if there is warmer weather in the spring followed by a major cold snap, the plant may be heaved out of the soil due the ground refreezing. Mulch the plant heavily prior to the cold snap. Two year old plants are more likely to survive the winter outdoors.
SAGE—Hardy perennial. Used primarily in stuffing, meats and vegetables. Grows well from seed but seed does not store well. Dried sage has stronger flavor than fresh. Prune back every spring to prevent plant from getting woody and will need to replace every 3-4 years if it gets woody. Sage sometimes gets blight and will die off suddenly. Just rotate it to another area of the garden. Golden, purple, tricolor, Bergarrten and Greek sage all have the same flavor as garden sage. Spanish sage (also known as lavender sage) is best used in soapmaking. Pineapple, honeydew melon, wild watermelon and fruit sage are also edible and great hummingbird attractors in the fall with fuchsia or red tubular blooms.
SCENTED GERANIUMS—Tender perennials. Discovered in South Africa in the 1690”s by English sailors on a quest to find unusual plants for royal gardens. Thought to be geraniums because the leaves of some varieties resembled those of what most people call geraniums. We now know that they are a unique species (Pelargoniums), distantly related to the typical garden geranium. Each of the 200 varieties has a unique leaf and scent. Occasionally they will develop a sport (a different shaped leaf and /or scent as well) and a new variety is formed. There were 600 varieties at one time. Rose, lemon, lime, orange, ginger, black pepper, peppermint, strawberry, pine, apple cider are but a few. Many of them are culinary. Some are used in traditional African medicine or potpourri. Rose varieties are grown on plantations for their rose oil which is less costly than growing roses. They are great xeriscape plants. If grown in the ground, dig up 1 month prior to frost, cut back on watering and then cut back by 1/3 before bringing indoors. Prefer full sun unless variegated. Skeleton Rose and Mosquito Shocker have much more citronella oil in them than the Citronella one touted to deter mosquitoes. Most varieties are not known for their blooms which are small and sometimes rare.
TARRAGON, FRENCH---Hardy perennial. Taste like licorice. Fresh or frozen tarragon has better flavor than dried. Does not come from seed. Russian tarragon grows from seed, has no flavor and blooms. Prefers cooler temps. Needs 6-8 hours of sunlight but will tolerate partial shade. Needs chill time in the winter to do well. Grow in sun/partial shade and don’t overwater. Snip often to produce fuller and less straggly looking plant. Best preserved in vinegar or frozen. Used in fish, poultry, vegetables, eggs and salads. If unsure of variety, taste a leaf for the licorice flavor and numbing of lips.
THYMES-Usually hardy perennial but check hardiness zone before purchasing. Some varieties can be grown easily from seed .Needs well drained soil and mulch in winter. Used in soups, stews, Cajun cooking, poultry and even as a tea. Also comes in lemon and orange scented varieties. Easy to dry. Divide plants every 2-3 years.
GRAS STATUS This is an FDA abbreviation for generally regarded as safe which means that the FDA has done research on their safety for human consumption. There are many herbs which have been used for centuries that don’t have this status because no research has been done on them. There are some herbs that are dangerous for pregnant women to consume so do your own research from at least several reputable sites. Several herbs in this paper do not have GRAS status.
PRESERVING TIPS Harvest in the morning after the dew has dried but before afternoon when the sun depletes the leaves of color and fragrance. When freezing herbs, rinse, let dry, place in plastic freezer bags and squeeze the air out before placing in the freezer. You can also freeze herbs and pour more water over them. It’s best to boil your water first and cool it before use or use distilled water in a mold. First partially fill your mold or ice cube tray with water and freeze. Next add the leaves or flowers and top with water. These frozen molds can be added to soups, stews, punch or teas. For drying herbs either lay flat on a screen or dehydrator tray and air dry or dehydrate at 95 degrees. To hang herbs for drying, gather 3-6 stems and rubber band them together, tightening the bands as the bundles shrink in drying. Dry herbs in a dark airy place. You can also hang herbs for leaves or seed collection in brown paper bags with holes punched in for air. This will catch the seeds and keep dust off the plants as they dry.
END OF THE SEASON TIPS- Tender perennials that will not winter over outside should be gradually acclimated to the move indoors. Place in pots, water well and then decrease watering unless wilting occurs. After several days, move them in and out of a protected, warmer, darker area for several more days and then inside to an area that does not get below freezing in the winter. Plants require less water in the winter since they will not grow as much. To prevent overwatering indoors, push your finger into the soil around plant. If the soil is dry up to the first knuckle, water it. Water at base of plant til water runs out. Check to make sure that roots are not plugging up the drainage holes. If you live in an area with very cold winters, you may need to mulch some of your herbs with 4-6 inches of mulch. Remove annuals like basils after your last harvest. Take notes of what did well, what should have been in a different area and plan for the next year. If you see unusual things hanging on your plants, leave them alone. They may be the egg sac of the praying mantis or butterfly larvae.
PESTO—Any herb can be made into a pesto and frozen but Basil is used the most often. There are many recipes for Pesto. Place 2-3 cups of fresh basil leaves, 5-6 cloves of garlic, 6 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, ¼ cup pine nuts or walnuts into a food processor or blender. Combine at high speed til a paste forms and gradually add ½ cup of olive oil til smooth. Use then or freeze in ice cube trays. Place the frozen pesto cubes into a baggie, freeze and use as needed
GREEK CHEESE—Adapted from Southern Herb Growing book. Mince 1 garlic clove, ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley, 1tsp. dried dill or more if fresh, ¼ cup minced chives, 1 tblsp. fresh chopped mint, 2 tsp. chopped fresh oregano. Add 1 tblsp. Lemon juice, ¼ cup plain yogurt or sour cream, 8 oz cream cheese, 2 oz. feta cheese, dash of nutmeg and cinnamon. Blend in mixer and refrigerate for several hours to let flavors develop. Serve with crackers.
ROSE, ROSEMARY or LAVENDER LEMONADE—To 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar mince and add 12 rose scented geranium leaves or several sprigs of rosemary or 1 tsp. lavender flowers. Bring to a boil and remove from heat for 30 min. Strain and add 1 cup lemon juice and 6-8 cups of water. Add ice and serve with sprig of that herb in glass.
HERB MEAT BRUSHES-Tie sprigs of sage, rosemary thyme or all 3 together and use as a basting brush. Can also throw sprigs of these herbs on hot coals prior to grilling.
CALENDULA OIL-To moisturize very dry skin. Add 1 cup calendula petals to 1 cup olive or almond oil and place in glass jar. After 1 week, remove the petals, pressing the petals with the back if a spoon to extract all the oil. Refrigerate and use within 1 month. May decrease the amounts as long as they are in a 1:1 ratio,
VERBENA VANILLA SUGAR-Cut a 12 inch length of lemon verbena into 3’ pieces Place on bottom of 4 cup container. Add 2 cups sugar and 3 split vanilla beans, covered by 2 more cups of sugar. Remove the herbs in a week. Sift sugar if lumpy.
ROSE SCENTED GERANIUM SUGAR- Alternate rose scented geranium leaves with sugar. Remove leaves after 2 weeks. Use in cookies, cakes and teas.
HERBAL VINEGARS-Sterilize a glass container with anon metallic lid. Add herbs of your choice, pushing into bottom of bottle with a skewer or toothpick. and fill with apple cider vinegar.
SORE MUSCLE SOAK-Combine 4 ½ cups rosemary,11/2 cups dried chamomile, 2 cups dried thyme, 2 cups dried marjoram, 1 cup dried calendula petals, 1 cup dried spearmint leaves, 1 cup dried catnip leaves, 1 cup dried lavender and 4 cups of Epsom salts. Store in airtight container for a week. Pour 1 cup of mixture into a muslin bag; pour 4 cups boiling water over it. Steep for 10 minutes and then add to bath water
GARDEN TEA PUNCH-Place 2 cups water, 2/3 cup sugar, 3 tbsps. snipped fresh mint and I large stem of lavender into a saucepan. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Let it steep for 20 min. and strain. Add 1 cup orange juice, ½ cup lemon juice and 2 cups strong brewed tea to the syrup. Chill. Add 32 oz. club soda before serving. Garnish with a mint stem.
HERBAL INCENSE-Throw dried herb stems into the fireplace to scent your room.
HERB BUTTERS Soften 1 cup butter. Add 1 tsp. or more to taste of a dried herb like dill, garlic, chives or your choice. Spread on breads, fish poultry or vegetables. May also use a combination of herbs.
LEMON ICE CREAM—Add 1 cup finely chopped lemon thyme leaves and 4 tsp. lemon peel to your favorite vanilla ice cream recipe.
MISC.--- Be careful not to overdue rosemary in recipes. Remove bay leaves at the end of cooking. They are not edible and could perforate the intestines. Deep fried sage leaves as a flavorful garnish or fry til crisp with fried potatoes. Also great in potato pancakes. Any variety of lemon flavored herbs can be combined with different mints and /or stevia for unusual teas .Dried herbs have a higher concentration of flavor than fresh herbs. A good rule of thumb is to use twice as much of a fresh herb as a dried one if your recipe specifies dried herbs. After experimenting with herbs in cooking, I sometimes even triple the amount of fresh herbs when I substitute them for dried herbs.
These recipes were found in magazines, on line and in various books about herbs. There are great recipes to be found on the websites of many mail order herb nurseries.
Reference Books and Sources
Good reference books are at the library. The National Herb Society has a great website and the International Herb Association publishes booklets on growing and using the Herb of the Year. The Herb Society of America is also a good source with bonus info for members.
HERB BOOKS—Any books by Jim Long of Long Creek Herbs He has numerous booklets about herbs. Mints by Barbara Perry Lawton, The Lavender Lover’s Handbook by Sarah Berringer Bader, Lavender, The Grower’s Guide by Virginia Mc Naughton , Herbs in Bloom by Jo Ann Gardner, Growing Herbs from Seeds, Cuttings and Roots by Thomas DeBaggio, Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Herbs , The Encyclopedia of Herbs by Art Tucker and Tom DeBaggio and The Complete Herb Book by Jekka McViccar.
HERB COOKBOOKS—Any of Jim Longs’ booklets. Southern Herb Growing by Madeline Hill and Gwen Barclay Lemon Balm, ,Scented Geraniums, Bay, Dill, Calendula ( Herb of the Year booklets ) by the International Herb Association , Not Just Desserts Sweet Herbal Recipes by Susan Belsinger ,Essential Guide to Growing and Cooking with Herbs by The Herb Society of America, Edible Flowers by Donna Frawley, The Lavender Gourmet by Jennifer Vasich, and Jekka’s Herb Cookbook by Jenna Mc Vicar.
HERB NURSERIES-- Scented Geraniums of Nebraska, Richter’s Nursery, Nichols Herbs, Companion Plants, Well Sweep Herbs, Goodwin Creek, Pantry Garden Herbs and Mountain Valley Herbs are great sources for unusual as well as common herb plants or seeds. Seeds of Italy, Evergreen Oriental seeds, Johnny s’, Pinetree Gardens, Baker’s Creek, The Thyme Garden and Seeds of Change are good seed catalogs.
Red Barn Herb Farm
Can be contacted at 417-732-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org for herb related questions
Plant in well drained soil in full sun away from an automatic watering system. Some growers plant their lavender on a berm or slightly raised area. If you planted lavender last year, it should be clipped back by 1/3 each spring for the first 3 years when the nodes on the branches begin to swell in the spring and again after blooming or the plant will die out in the middle. After that just trim it back after blooming is finished but not late into the fall. Lavender will live inside with daytime temperatures of 50-60 degrees and nighttime temperatures of 40-50 degrees but may not bloom in a pot. Water sparingly if the plant is indoors til spring. Once the plants are established, use a low nitrogen fertilizer if needed. A side dressing of bone meal before blooming may give the plants a boost. Water until plants are established but avoid heavy watering. Lavender is a deer and drought resistant plant. Surrounding your lavender ( but not right up to the stem) with white sand or white gravel will increase the oil and flowerr production by 771%.
Growing and Using Scented Geraniums
In the 1600’s, with the discovery that the world was more diverse than previously known, English and Dutch sailors were sent to explore and find new plants for the royal gardens of Europe and to also find new medicinal plants. In the 1690’s or perhaps even earlier, English sailors discovered what they thought were geraniums with scented leaves in South Africa and the name was given to these fascinating plants. By the 1790’s Colonial plantsmen in the U.S listed at least 20 different Scented Geraniums. Thomas Jefferson even planted them at Monticello.Once, Scented Geraniums were reclassified as Pelargoniums, research into their medicinal value ended. When the leaves of these plants are rubbed the fragrant oils found on the underside of the leaves is released onto your fingers and into the air. Scented Geraniums come in rose, peppermint, apple, nutmeg, black pepper, lemon, lime, ginger, coconut, eucalyptus, orange, pine, vanilla, pungent varieties. Many have more than one essential oil present. They are known for their scented leaves not their blooms. Most flowers will have 2 upper petals and 3 lower ones. They bloom in shades of pink. purple, lavender and white.
Pelargoniums or Scented Geraniums, as they are often called, are members of the Geraniaceae family but far different from what we think of when we picture geraniums with large vibrant blooms and stinky smelling leaves. It’s sort of like oregano and basil both being in the Mentha or mint family but having little else in common to the eye and nose. As we learned more about the differences among different members of the Geraniaceae family, it was divided into six main groups. The largest groups within this category are: the storksbill or Pelargoniums which includes Scented Geraniums. Pelargonium comes from the Greek word pelargos or stork. The ripe seed head on these plants resembles the beak of a stork. Also included are the cranesbill or true Geranium and the heronsbill or Erodiums which are alpine Geraniums. Botanists and plant nurseries are starting to call Scented Geraniums, Pelargoniums since they really aren’t like true geraniums. They are perennials in their native countries of South Africa, Australia and a few other areas in the southern Pacific region. Some grow by the sea, some in sand, and some in shade. They are all drought tolerant plants. They tend to bloom the most from late winter to early spring and do not tolerate frost. If one dies back with a late spring frost and then comes back from the roots, it may not resemble what you had and often reverts back to one of its parents. Some are less than a foot tall while others may grow up to 7’ in their native lands. They will grow larger when planted in the ground.
There are probably 200 varieties of Scented Geraniums with another 100 of unknown parentage. It is thought that there may have been 600 different varieties when they were first discovered. Many have cross pollinated on their own and others are the results of hybridization by growers. Many are very complex hybrids. Some go by 2 or 3 different names and are identified only by genetic testing. This happened when different growers independently discovered a new sport, thought they were the first to find it and then named it. When you order Scented Geraniums, you may sometimes be sent a variety close to what you ordered but it may not be correctly identified. Lady Plymouth is often mislabeled as Variegated Mint Rose but it has no Mint scent unlike the V. Mint Rose.
Scented Geraniums are either classified by species or by scent. Unless you are doing research or looking for a particular one, scent is what most people are looking for when purchasing one.
Rose Scented There are over 40 cultivars of Rose scented ones. Some are very fragrant. Some have lemon or mint parentage as well.
Attar of Rose Strong or mild rose scent.Used in perfumes by the French. Repels Japanese Beetles
Atomic Snowflake Rose-Mild lemon rose
Snowflake Rose-Mild lemon rose
Cinnamon Rose-Rose spice-good for syrups
Crowfoot Rose-Rose-lemon rose-Heavy bloomer
Candy Dancer-Lemon rose
Old Fashioned Rose Strong rose. Grown commercially to make rose geranium oil. Used in deserts, jellies, cakes, cookies, sugars
Silver Leaf Rose-sport of Lady Plymouth-Rose Scent Culinary.
Velvet Rose-Strong rose-Culinary
Chicago Rose-Rose Culinary
Cocoa Mint Rose-Rose minty
Pink Capitatum-Mild rose. Sprawling plant. Repels Japanese Beetkes
Lemon Rose-Tomato shaped leaves. Strong lemon rose scent. Great for syrups, sugars. Repels Japanese beetles.
Lady Plymouth-Sport of Old Fashioned Rose-Rose scent with variegated leaves. Culinary.
Peppermint Rose-Peppermint rose
Skeleton Rose-Lemon rose Mosquito repellant
Mint Rose-Strong Mint
Variegated Mint Rose- Sport of Mint Rose. Minty.Green leaves with splashes of yellow and white.
Peppermint -Strong peppermint flavor. Culinary. Likes afternoon shade.
Pungent Peppermint-Strong mint.
Chocolate Peppermint-Sport of Peppermint. Peppermint scent with brown variegation on leaves. Needs afternoon shade.
Lemon Fizz Culinary
Lemon Meringue Culinary
Lemon Mabel-Rose lemon Culinary.
Lemon Fancy Culinary
Roger’s Delight Lemon scnet
Fingerbowl Lemon- Culinary
Prince Rupert -Culinary Topiary type lemon scented plant
Variegated Prince Rupert Sport of Prince Rupert
Citrosa- sold as Citronella by some merchants. Very little mosquito repellancy
Citronella- Not very mosquito repellant.
Orange Fizz Orange scent
Pink Champagne Lime scent
Dwarf Cinnamon-Cinnamon lemon
Old Spice spicy
Round Leaf Pine
Pine-Leaves with sap on themVery finely cut leaves. Distinctive plant.
Ginger Culinary spicy
Fernleaf spicy pine.
Apple Cider Culinary Apple spicy
Apple Fringed Culinary Apple spicy
Lillian Pottinger-Apple pie spice scent
Coconut Not culinary should not be used ever esp. not during pregnancy. Could cause miscarriage.
Mosquito Shocker Lemon Mosquito repellant
There are many other varieties available but most of these are what I’m currently growing. Some are very easy to propagate: others are quite difficult. Most prefer full sun either in pots or in the ground. Watering should be kept to a minimum. Overwatering will kill them. If planted in good soil, no fertilizing is necessary. If grown in pots, fertilize every two weeks with half strength. organic fertilizer or fish emulsion. Monthly watering with 1 tblsp of Epsom salts per gallon of water helps increase blooms. A few small varieties like apple or coconut may reseed but usually cross pollinate with other similar small ones. Propagation is done by tip stem cutting for most varieties. Place the cuttings in baggies in a cool dark place to callus off for 24 hours before planting. Hormone rooting powder is beneficial for some varieties to increase success.Will root in 2-3 weeks Do not overwater.
Dry for potpourri or winter use. Cut out tough muddle stem is using for cooking. Large leafed ones keep their color better for potpourri if cut into smaller pieces. Mince finely if mixing into batters, May lave whole if placing in bottom of cake pans. Remove after baking.
Simple rose syrup Mince 12 large Velve tR ose leave. Bring 21/4 cups of sugar in 2 cups water to a boil. Remove from heat. Add minced leaves. Strain after 30 min., pressing out all the juice.
Rose Lemonade Add 1 cup of the syrup to 1 cup fresh lemon juice, 6-8 cups water and add ice.
Rose or Lemon Scented Sugar Use in baking, teas, coffee. Layer leaves in sugar. Let stand for 1-2 weeks Sift out and store.
Lemon Geranium Pound Cake
1 cup butter 4 eggs 15-20 whole rose, ginger or lemon geranium leaves 1/4 cup finely minced lemon geranium leaves by hand or in a food processor 2 cups flour 1 tsp. baking powder 1/4 tsp. salt 1/8 tsp. baking soda 1 cup sugar 2 tablespoons lemon juice 2 tablespoons finely shredded lemon peel
Preheat oven to 325°F. Let butter and eggs stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Generously butter a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan; line the bottom with whole geranium leaves. In a medium bowl combine flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.
In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy, about 6 minutes. Beat in lemon juice. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating 1 minute after each egg. Gradually add flour mixture, beating on low speed until combined. Stir in lemon peel and snipped geranium leaves.
Carefully pour batter atop leaves in pan. Bake for 60 to 65 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool cake on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely on rack.
Serve with lavender gelato, or any fruit-based ice cream, sorbet, or fresh summer berries and whipped cream. Makes 12 to 14 servings. Recipe is from an old copy of Lady's Home Journal
Recipes can be found on multiple herb nursery sites. The Herb Society of America has an excellent garden guide on Pelargoniums with recipes. The international Herb Society has a booklet full of recipes and info. The St. Louis Herb Society has a great recipe book as well.
MARCH HERB GARDENING TIPS
When the weather has moderated, plant hardy perennial herbs like comfrey, sage, thyme and mints after hardening them off by placing in a protected area outside for a week or so.
Divide other hardy perennials if they have spread too much or weren’t doing well last year because they were older plants and had not been thinned out. This includes French Tarragon, thymes, oregano, yarrow, chives, marshmallow, chamomile, lemon balm, mints, comfrey, tansy, valerian and wormwoods.
Divide plants with your hands, scissors, knives or even a saw. Have more roots than
shoots. Water in dry spells until well established.
Sow basil, marjoram, nasturtiums, calendula, and parsley seeds indoors. NOTE: Pour hot water over parsley seed to speed up germination and let soak for 24 hrs. Look for herbs which have reseeded and thin or move if desired.
Sow seeds for borage, dill, fennel, calendula, nasturtiums sage, feverfew, garlic chives, and lemon balm outdoors. NOTE: If you want more nasturtium flowers, plant in deficient soil.
Repot herbs you intend to keep in pots, untangling and trimming off excess roots. Divide mints in pots, cutting off roots which will have wrapped around the plant. Pieces of roots can be planted for new plants to share with others.
Prune rue, sage, lavender, southernwood, savory back when new growth begins. Do not cut into old woody areas of plant. For the first three springs, do cut lavender back by 1/3 as the nodes on the stems start to swell. This shapes the plant and prevents the center from dying out.
Plant the calendula, cosmos, coneflower, buckwheat and flax for color and to attract beneficial insects.
5 Best container herbs are mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, parsley, chives and basil.
Herbs best for dappled shade are parsley, mints, chives, garlic chives, lemon balm, mint and thyme.
Herbs best for drought are borage, mullein, rosemary, sage, coneflower, lavender, yarrow, calendula and thyme.
Harvest lovage, oregano, thyme, sage, French tarragon, chives or any other herb that has started to return. Parsley that has come back for the second year will not have as good flavor as its goal is to set seed. It will be a host plant for swallowtail butterflies if you keep it until it dies this season. Don’t plant parsley outside until the night time temperature remain above the 40’s most nights. If parsley experiences 3 weeks of 40 degree temperatures or if the root is damaged in planting, it will prematurely go to seed the first year.
Basil will not tolerate cool wet soil. There is no advantage to placing basil plants in the ground until the soil is warm and night time temperatures are consistently in the 60’s.If the soil temperature is 75-80 degrees which can be achieved by using a heat mat, basil seed will germinate in a few days. Basil seed can be planted outdoors when the soil temperature is between 50 and 60 degrees and all danger of frost is past. We’ve had frosts on May 9 in recent years.. We usually put our basils in the ground in mid to late May
MONTHLY HERB GARDENING TIPS - APRIL
When the weather has moderated, plant hardy perennial herbs like comfrey, sage, thyme and mints after hardening them off by placing in a protected area outside for a week or so.
Divide other hardy perennials if they have spread too much or weren’t doing well last year because they were older plants and had not been thinned out. This includes French Tarragon, thymes, oregano, yarrow, chives, marshmallow, chamomile, lemon balm, mints, comfrey, tansy, valerian and wormwoods.
Plant basil seed and any others youhaven't yet planted. Pepicha is a great substitute and native Mexican/Central American herb for cilantro. It tolerates hot weather and grows rapidly once it's in the 70's at night.
Leave last years parsley which gets bitter and blooms the second year before dying for the swallow tail butterfly catepillar. Dill, fennel, lovage and anise are other host plants for them.
HERB GARDENING TIPS FOR MAY
Remove the dead wood on oreganos and thymes or any herb that is greening up at ground level and not on what looks like dead wood. Savories will leaf out on the old stems usually. Divide plants like oregano, chives, garlic chives and thyme if they’ve been in the same area for 3 or 4 years. Move plants if they would thrive in a different microclimate or didn’t fit into the area you placed them in last year.
Plant hardy perennial herbs such as sage, chives, thyme, oregano, parsley, mint, French tarragon, lavender, catnip in early May.
Plant Scented Geraniums, rosemary, pineapple sage, Sweet Bay trees, stevia and any tropical or tender perennial herbs outdoors after the last frost .
Plant Basil seeds or plants when the soil temperature is at least 50 degrees and night time temperatures are consistently in the 60’s.
Plant seeds like summer savory, calendula, nasturtiums, borage, thyme, fennel, dill, Greek oregano or sage if you didn’t plant them earlier in the spring.
Move herbs that were wintered over indoors in pots outside into a sheltered area at first to acclimate them and then either into the ground or a sunny area if they are a sun loving herb.
Plant cilantro every 2 weeks in shade for a continuous supply. Do water and fertilize this herb.
When oregano and thymes are ready to bloom near the end of May, harvest their leaves and cut them back to within several inches from the ground. After chives have bloomed, remove the blooms and cut the entire plant back to an inch or so from the ground. The blossoms in full bloom can be used in salads.
After lavenders have bloomed, cut them back by 1/3 but not onto any thick old wood.
Mulch but keep the mulch away from the base of plants. Water as needed perhaps daily for herbs in pots and when herbs are drooping in they are in the ground.
Fertilize with ½ strength organic fertilizers for potted herbs but only if necessary for those in the ground. Too much fertilizer leads to lush growth and decreased flavor.
HERB GROWING TIPS FOR JULY
Continue to plant the seeds basil, oregano, marjoram, borage, dill, fennel, chives and parsley either in the ground or in pots if you desire. Seeds other than basil can be slow to germinate in really hot temperatures so you may want to start some indoors.
Obtain cuttings from your favorite rosemary or lavender varieties but they may also be slow to root in hot weather outdoors.
Harvest dill and fennel seed as they ripen.
Lavender stems should be cut when the first flowers start to open if you want dried lavender bouquets. Lavender in full bloom is best cut to be used in sachets or cooking since fully opened flowers tend to fall off the plant when dry. After lavender has finished blooming, trim back your plant by 1/3 but not into any thick old wood.
Harvest your oregano when it gets ready to bloom and trim back to within several inches of the ground. Dry or use the newly cut leaves. Repeat this with the next bloom this summer.
Trim thymes back also after bloom time to within several inches of the ground. They’ll look great within about 3 weeks.
Harvest mint right as it starts to bloom. The flavor is the strongest then and best for drying for winter use. Then cut it back to within a few inches of the ground. If you have more than 2 varieties of mint near each other where cross pollination may occur, trim off flowers or new mints may have no scent or not resemble the parent plant next year.
If you want to save basil seed and have more than 1 variety, only let one type at a time bloom and go to seed or cross pollination may occur and that wonderful Genovese or lemon basil you had this year may not exist next year. For that reason, we only purchase fresh seeds each year.
Bouquet Dill is a smaller variety and more suited for growing in pots.
Plant cilantro seed in the shade every 3 weeks for a continuous supply.
Water newly planted herbs in the ground until they are well established. Older plants should be watered when dry. Remember that heavy rains kill more herbs than very dry warm weather.
Japanese beetle repelling herbs are catnip, lemon catnip, chives, garlic chives, rue, tansy, white blooming geraniums and scented geraniums like Attar of Rose, Pink Capitatum, Lemon Rose and any white blooming scented geraniums.
Mosquito repelling herbs are lemon balm, citronella balm, lemon thyme, catnip,lemongrass, citronella grass, Skeleton Rose and Mosquito Shocker Scented Geraniums.
Horseradish, comfrey, valerian feverfew, marshmallow and wormwoods can be trimmed back if they are getting tall and leggy or not pretty anymore.
Keep weeding as needed and mulch if desired but avoid wood or leaf mulches. They can be too acidic for herbs.
HERB GARDENING TIPS FOR OCTOBER
October is the last month for digging up and potting tender perennial herbs which may need to come indoors for the winter. It’s best to not wait (like we often do) until they predict a heavy frost and then frantically rush to dig pot and move them indoors. Usually it doesn’t frost, we’re out in the cold and dark, tired and asking why did we wait til now? The plants do not adapt as well if they have not had time to acclimate.
So the best thing to do is to identify now what you want to bring inside and which plants you are willing to risk because they have survived several of our milder winters. Dig up your plant, pot it up and fertilize with ½ strength fertilizer of your choice. Place in a shaded area outside and water sparingly. If frost is not imminent, leave them outside for several days and then move indoors.
Place plants in a cool sunny porch if you have one. Lavender prefers temps in the 50’s and often will not do well indoors. Decrease your watering until spring. If you put your finger into the soil up to the second knuckle and the soil is dry, water til water runs out of the pot but make sure your drainage hole is not plugged up by roots or hard soil. Herbs like some increased humidity so either place gravel with some water over it in the saucer, run a humidifier occ. or place in the bathroom with the shower on occasionally .for the same effect.
Collect dried seeds from plants now. Remove the chaff and place in containers or envelopes, label and keep in a cool, dry dark space. Mine are usually in envelopes in a cookie tin in the closet of our coolest room. Some herb seeds will keep for years while others only last for a season. If you planted several types of basil and they all bloomed at the same time, you may have developed new varieties of basil not true to the mother plant.
Some herbs should be cut to the ground after a freeze; others will be damaged by doing that so check a good reference book or reputable web site for specifics.
Start planning for next year. Decide what perennials you want to relocate in the spring. If your oregano or thymes are more than 3 years old and did not look well, they probably need to be divided next spring.
A good source for growing herb questions is the Richters nursery site. There is a section in which the answers to hundreds of herb related questions are given. In fact, many herb nurseries post all kinds of helpful info and recipes.
HERB GARDENING TIPS FOR NOVEMBER
If the weather is still mild, herbaceous and clump forming herbs such as lemon balm oregano, thyme and mints, can be divided to make more plants. The new plants can be placed in the garden or potted up to give away, or use elsewhere in the spring.
Sow seed of plants which require stratification.
Reduce watering of plants in pots and other containers.
Lemon balm, feverfew and garlic chives spread easily from seed. Cut back after flowering in the autumn and remove any remaining seed heads now to prevent it spreading all over the garden.
Protect non-hardy herbs such as lemon verbena, Vietnamese cilantro, bay trees, rosemary, pineapples sage and scented geraniums from winter frosts by bringing indoors into a frost-free greenhouse or sunroom.
Pot up culinary herbs, such as chives and mint in well-drained compost to keep on your kitchen windowsill for using throughout the winter. However, do be aware that this exhausts the plants and they will only be good for the compost bin by spring, so be sure to leave some dormant in the garden.
The following herbs can provide fresh flavors all through the winter if brought indoors.
Sweet Bay--An evergreen tree. Leaves can be picked and used fresh throughout the year, to flavor stocks, stews, soups, Cajun recipes, sauces and marinades, or in bouquet garni.
Rosemary—An evergreen shrub. Leaves can be picked all year round. Use when roasting meat, potatoes or other vegetables. It can be added to a wood fire to give off a lovely aroma. Do not overwater but increase humidity around the plant. Prefers a room with 50-60 degree temps.
Chives-- Lift clumps of chives and pot up for use throughout the winter. Place in a warm spot with lots of light, such as a kitchen windowsill.
Mints-- Lift clumps of mint and pot up for use throughout the winter. There are so many different species of mint available, with flavors ranging from chocolate to pineapple. It is a very versatile herb, suitable for use in drinks, salads and many other dishes. If the plant starts to look sick, pull out of pot, remove excess roots and repot. Mint gets rootbound in pots after 3-4 months. It prefers to be in a shallow bowl shaped or oblong pot to allow room for roots to spread.
Parsley-- Will grow well in lower light areas.
Save seeds from garlic chives, dill, fennel, calendulas, nasturtiums, feverfew and basil if you have just one variety. Place seed into a jar or envelope out of the light and high humidity and don’t forget to label.Hybrids will not come back as the same plant but will resemble one of its parent plants or in the case of more than two varieties of basil, cross pollination may occur.
Remove dead annuals after frosts or leave for good garden insects to winter over with some protection.
Do not prune anything back at this time of the year. The plant may not recover before our first freeze. On lavenders which bloomed late or weren’t trimmed back earlier, only remove the spent blooms, making sure not to cut into old thick wood.
Perennial herbs in pots should not be fertilized until the days are longer in the spring and new growth is noted unless the plant looks deficient. Then only use ½ strength fertilizer.
HERB GARDENING TIPS FOR DECEMBER
Harvest chives and mint since they will be dying back soon. Chives are best preserved by freezing. Pot up some chives and bring indoors or place in cold frame for winter harvesting.Harvest fennel or dill seeds. Rosemary, oregano and thyme can be harvested throughout much of the winter.
If snow or ice is predicted, cover sage and parsley with fleece to prolong harvesting time.
Remove seed heads from lemon balm and garlic chives if you don’t want them to reseed everywhere next year.
Don’t forget to water herbs in containers outdoors in the winter. They still dry out.
Wrap fleece stuffed with straw around containers to keep the roots from freezing if you have an herb you really want to save and can’t move it indoors.
Be sure that you have weatherproof labels by the herbs in the garden if you have more than one variety of an herb or draw a map of your garden so that if a label is missing in the spring, you still can identify the plant.
Plant any herbs that require stratification (a period of alternately freezing and thawing temperatures needed by some seeds to germinate.) Some examples of these are arnica, sweetgrass, sweet cicely, angelica, soapwort.
Continue with clean up or bed preparation for next year. Get a soil test if desired.
Plan for next year. Seed catalogs are already starting to arrive in the mail. Nichols Garden Herbs has a discount on seed packets for the next few days.
Good sources for herb seeds and plants are:
Companion Plants, Richters Herbs, Johnny’s Seeds, Nichols Herbs, Seeds of Change, Pantry Garden Herbs, Pinetree Garden Seeds, Bakers’ Creek, Mountain Valley Growers and Seeds of Italy. Most nurseries will no longer ship plants at this time of the year.