Culinary and medicinal herbs have had an honored place in gardens probably since gardens themselves were first invented. There was a time when what a family ate was largely what the family could grow or raise. If someone in that same family got sick, popping down to the local pharmacy was not an option. Even today, anything that makes food taste better, or the body feel better, is a sought-after commodity – so sought after that certain spices are quite expensive, as are most medications.
Herbs are versatile garden plants. They can be grown among landscape shrubs, flowers, or vegetables. Herbs can also be featured in their own garden. The easiest way to get started is to peruse your spice cabinet. Herbs like parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme are familiar to most people, but not only because of the Simon & Garfunkel song. These four herbs are staples in many dishes, and while they are perfectly fine in the dried form easily available in the supermarket, using them fresh will bring your cooking an entirely new level.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is a biennial, which means that it produces foliage the first year, and flowers the next, then dies. If you let the flowers go to seed, you’ll likely have new parsley plants the following spring, though they might not be precisely where they were before. Folks who prefer a lot of control over their garden tend to plant parsley as an annual, which means that they plant it new every year. There is curly parsley and Italian parsley. Both are flavorful, but many cooks insist that the Italian variety has a stronger flavor. Curly parsley has lovely foliage, which looks pretty in the garden and as a garnish on a plate. Parsley prefers full sun and reasonably good, well-drained soil.
Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a perennial, which means that it comes back every year. It will remain fairly compact during the first season, but will soon grown into fairly woody shrub. Sage likes full sun and well-drained soil.
Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis) is perennial in places where the temperature rarely falls below 20° F (Zone 8). In these places, it becomes a shrub that can be harvested year-round. In colder climates, rosemary can be potted up and brought indoors for the winter, or simply grown as an annual. Rosemary really needs good drainage, no matter where it’s planted.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a tiny evergreen perennial shrub that makes an excellent edging plant for a raised bed. It is quite hardy, and nearly bulletproof. Thyme prefers full sun, and really needs well-drained soil.
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to herbs in the garden. You might want to try growing basil and oregano, for pesto and pizza. There is something incredibly satisfying about going into one’s own garden to snip some herbs for dinner!