The Herb Garden at Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary
The documentation of culinary herbs dates as far back as the first century. A cook book written by the Roman epicure Apicuis describes interesting combinations of herb flavors. For centuries, herbs were a staple of life. People added these plants to food and beverages to add flavor, increase palatability, ease digestion, and extend shelf life. Today, a revived interest in the culinary arts is popularizing herb use in cooking and many people continue to grow herbs to add flavor to food and beverages. Herbs can enliven the flavor of any meal, add texture and nutrients, counteract richness, and blend or add subtle flavors.
|Herb Name||Special Considerations||Historical Use||Culinary Use||Other Uses|
|Allium shoenoprasum— Chives (perennial)||None||Chives are native to the Orient, used over 4000 years ago in Chinese cooking. The ancient Greeks hung bunches in homes to drive away diseases and evil influences.||Chives have a sweet, mild onion flavor and the flowers and leaves are eaten fresh or dried. Chives sprinkled on food will stimulate the appetite and aid digestion. This is not an appropriate herb for home drying but it freezes well.||Household– decorative|
|Anethum graveolens— Dill (annual)||None||Ancient Egyptians used dill for its soothing properties; likewise, the common name originates from the Norse “dilla”, meaning “lull”. Greeks believed dill could cure hiccups, and war heroes returning home wore dill garlands. In the Middle Ages, dill offered protection from witchcraft.||The seed, flowering top, or leaves combine well with a variety of foods. Dill seed tastes stronger than the leaf, and generally is used as a pickling spice or in longer cooking recipes.||Medicinal; Household– cosmetic.|
|Artemisia dracunculus— Tarragon (perennial)||Tarragon does not tolerate acidic or wet soil.||The species name derives from the Latin “little dragon,” possibly due to its fiery taste or serpent-like roots. It was believed to cure the bite of venomous creatures and dulled the taste of medicine if chewed prior to administration.||The leaves are utilized in cooking, and have a strong mint-anise flavor, which may be domineering or compete with other flavors. It is best to use it sparingly without overcooking or it will get bitter.||Medicinal; Household– food preservative; Fragrance.|
|Borago officinalis— Borage (annual)||Borage is credited with improving the pest and disease resistance of neighboring plants, especially strawberries.||Borage traditionally had a reputation for invoking courage. Ancient Celtic warriors drank borage-flavored wine in preparation for battle. Additionally, it was prescribed by both Greek and Roman doctors for depression and a variety of other ailments.||Borage leaves and stems have a crisp cucumber taste and can be prepared raw, steamed, or sautéed– when cooked, they lose their bristliness. The flowers are added fresh to salads or candied for pastry decorating. Borage is best used fresh since it doesn’t store well.||Medicinal; Household– decorative, companion planting.|
|Coriandrum sativum— Coriander/Cilantro (annual)||The bad odor of the mature plant changes to a pleasant citrus aroma once the fruits fully ripen. Coriander inhibits seed set in fennel, so should not be planted in close proximity to it.||Coriander seeds were found among the funeral offerings in ancient Egyptian tombs. Hebrews used the leaves as one of the bitter herbs involved in the Passover ritual. It served as a medicine, spice, and meat preservative in ancient Greek and Roman cultures.||The leaves (cilantro) have a bold taste, combining a strong sage flavor with sharp citrus notes. The roots are similar with an added nutty flavor and are used fresh only. The seeds (coriander) have a taste of citrus and are used whole or ground. Store them separately from the dried leaves.||Medicinal; Fragrance.|
|Foeniculum vulgare— Fennel (perennial)||Fennel is known to inhibit the growth of bush beans, caraway, tomatoes, and kohlrabi and to hybridize with dill.||The 17th century British herbalist Culpeper wrote that fennel was used “..to make people lean that are too fat.” The seeds, considered an appetite suppressant, were eaten on fast days in medieval times. Bunches of fennel hung over doors of cottages supposedly prevented witchcraft.||Fennel is a softer and nuttier version of anise. Tender stems, leaves, and seeds are edible. Heat destroys its flavor so add it at the last minute to cooked dishes.||Medicinal; Fragrance; Dye; Household– cosmetic.|
|Hyssopus officinalis— Hyssop (perennial)||For optimal appearance, replace hyssop plants every 4-5 years. Prune occasionally and remove old flower heads.||Whether H. officinalis is the same plant referred to in the Bible is uncertain, but its use as a healing and cleansing agent is well-documented. Hyssop was strewn in the kitchen and sickroom to mask odors with its strong medicinal scent, and was taken medicinally.||Hyssop’s minty leaves and flowers flavor salads, soups, liqueurs, and stews and can be dried to make tea.||Fragrance; Medicinal; Household– companion planting.|
|Laurus nobilis— Bay (evergreen tree, grown as a tender perennial)||Bay must be taken indoors to overwinter.||Bay traditionally symbolized glory and reward. In ancient Greece and Rome, people wove wreaths of bay to honor scholars, warriors, and athletes who accomplished outstanding feats. Bay also was believed to protect from sickness, witches, thunder and lightning.||The leaves are used in cooking. In addition, the essential oil is extracted to flavor baked goods and other foods. Bay is better dried than fresh.||Medicinal; Household– insect repellent, decorative; Fragrance.|
|Levisticum officinale— Lovage (perennial)||Mulch lovage with 1/2 inch of compost or well-rotted manure in the spring.||Lovage roots and leaves most commonly served in medicine. The leaves were used cosmetically in the bath and to clear up skin blemishes. Bundles of lovage were worn around the neck as a deodorant. In the 18th century, the seeds were both candied and used as cordial flavoring.||The leaves, stems, and seeds all have the flavor of celery. Leaves can be used fresh or dried; stems can be cooked but due to their fibrous nature should be removed before serving.||Medicinal; Fragrance.|
|Mentha sp.— Orange Mint (perennial)||All mints tend to be invasive plants, spreading vegetatively through the roots. To prevent them from overwhelming the garden, plant them with barriers and divide them each spring. Also, mints interbreed readily, making species identification difficult.||The Pharisees paid tithes with mint, while the Greeks utilized them in herbal treatments and temple rites. Mint symbolized hospitality in Greek culture.||The leaves have a citrus mint flavor suitable for blending with jellies, desserts, and beverages.||None|
|Monarda didyma— Bee Balm (perennial)||Bee balm is susceptible to powdery mildew.||American Indians and colonists brewed tea from bee balm leaves, and used the plant for medicinal purposes.||The leaf flavor is reminiscent of citrus and is brewed in teas. The fresh flowers are edible added to salads, fruits, and as garnishes.||Medicinal; Household– cosmetic and decorative; Fragrance.|
|Ocimum basilicum— Basil (annual)||Prune basil to encourage bushy growth.||Basil originated in India, where it was considered a sacred herb. In Italy, basil signified love: traditionally a woman who placed a pot of basil on the balcony of her room was ready to receive a suitor.||Basil has a rich and spicy, mildly peppery flavor with a trace of mint and clove. Primarily, the leaves are used, but the flowers are edible too.||Medicinal; Household– cosmetic, companion planting, insect repellent; Fragrance.|
|Origanum sp.— Oregano (perennial)||The identification of oregano is difficult because the genus Origanum includes both plants bearing the characteristic aroma as well as plants without. Moreover, several plants which do possess the oregano fragrance are not in the Origanum genus. In general, it’s probably simplest to consider oregano a flavor rather than a genus or species.||Some confusion exists over which species was being referred to when oregano was prescribed medically or called for in recipes. Originally, its primary application was medicinal; only recently has that expanded to cooking.||The leaves are used for their hot peppery flavor.||Medicinal; Household– decorative, companion planting.|
|Petroselinum crispum— Parsley (biennial)||Plant parsley each year as an annual because it loses flavor in its second year of growth.||Romans consumed parsley during orgies to conceal the smell of alcohol on their breath and aid digestion. In addition, they sprinkled corpses with it to deodorize them. The belief that the god Hermes chose parsley for his garlands led to its inclusion in wreaths given to victorious athletes.||Parsley combines well with most foods except sweets. It has a mild taste, blends other flavors together, and has a high nutrient content.||Medicinal; Household– cosmetic; Fragrance.|
|Satureja montana— Winter Savory (evergreen perennial)||None||The Romans introduced winter savory to England during Caesar’s reign and it quickly became popular as a medicinal and cooking herb. The Saxons named it “savory” for its spicy pungent taste.||Today, winter savory is regarded almost exclusively a culinary herb, though it allegedly relieves the pain of bee stings.||None|
|Thymus vulgaris— Thyme (perennial sub-shrub)||Thyme tends to be invasive, so it’s important to keep its spread in check.||Historians postulate that the genus name Thymus originated from either the Greek word for “courage” (thyme invigorated the senses) or “to fumigate” (it was burned to repel insects from the house). Thyme had symbolic meaning in several societies through the ages, representing style and elegance in early Greece, chivalry in the Middle Ages, and the Republican spirit in France. It was used in cooking and medicine.||The fresh or dried leaves are added to a variety of dishes. The leaves are said to stimulate the appetite and aid the digestion of fatty foods.||Medicinal; Household– insect repellent, disinfectant, cosmetic; Fragrance.|
The substances most frequently used as mordants today are metallic salts of alum, chrome, iron, and tin, and are available in drug, chemical, or dye supply stores. Early mordants included salt, vinegar, soda, cream of tartar, and lye. Each mordant imparts a varying shade to the same fiber/dye combination. Using herbs to prepare fabric dyes no longer is done on a commercial scale, but makes an interesting hobby for the venturesome individual.
|Herb Name||Special Considerations||Historical Use||Dye Use||Other Uses|
|Alcea rosea— Hollyhock (biennial)||Hollyhock requires staking.||Hollyhock first reached Europe in the 16th century, after which it was employed both as a medicinal and a culinary herb. It is among the oldest cultivated plants.||The flowers are useful in coloring wine and provide the coloring matter for the indicator in volumetric analysis.||None|
|Achillea millefolium— Yarrow (perennial)||Yarrow spreads vegetatively through its roots and can be invasive if its growth is not kept in check.||Historical Use: See “Medicinal Uses of Plants”||The flowers of yarrow yield a yellow color in wool mordanted with alum. Using the whole plant, olive can be obtained in iron-mordanted wool.||Medicinal.|
|Alchemilla vulgaris— Lady’s Mantle (perennial)||Divide lady’s mantle occasionally to control its spread.||Alchemical virtues were attributed to the dew drops that collected in the plaits and cups of the leaves of lady’s mantle. In medieval times, it was considered a panacea for almost every kind of illness. The tannin compounds found in the plant give it astringent qualities, justifying its historic use to stop bleeding and vomiting, and heal wounds.||The above-ground parts of lady’s mantle generate yellow colors in wool.||Medicinal.|
|Allium cepa— Onion (annual)||None||Onions’ historical importance is obvious in that they are depicted in Egyptian tomb paintings more often than any other plant. Onions’ medicinal and health promoting qualities were exploited over the ages. Alexander the Great fed onions to his troops to give them strength in battle.||Onion skin dyes are well-known and provide a broad range of colors. Depending on the mordant used, yellow-skinned onions will yield burnt and bright orange, yellow, brass, and brown colors, while red-skinned onions will yield reddish-orange, gold, tan-brown, and dark tan dyes.||Medicinal; Culinary; Household–companion planting.|
|Anchusa officinalis— Alkanet (perennial)||None||An effective wound ointment was made by pounding alkanet roots with olive oil and earthworms. Ancient Egyptians created a face paint using the red dye obtained from alkanet roots.||The alkanet root produces a blood-red dye suitable for staining cloth, wood, and stone, or for coloring liquids and ointments. When mordanted with alum, a gray-green color is obtained.||Medicinal.|
|Anthemis tinctoria— Golden Marguerite (perennial)||The stems of golden marguerite are rather weak and tend to flop unless staked or cut back in mid-season.||None||The flowers impart a yellow color with an alum mordant and gold with a chrome mordant.||None|
|Baptisia— False Indigo (perennial)||None||Cherokee people drank a baptisia tea to sooth toothaches.||This plant creates a blue hue.||None|
|Calendula officinalis— Calendula (annual)||None||The ancient Romans bestowed this plant with its name because the flowers were in bloom on the first day (or calends) of each month. Calendula was imagined to have magical powers, allowing people to see fairies and helping women choose appropriate mates. During the Civil War, the plant was used to stop bleeding and heal wounds. It was also used extensively in cooking.||Calendula flowers make a yellow dye for wool mordanted with alum. It also piments butter, custards, and liquors.||Medicinal; Culinary; Household– decorative, cosmetic.|
|Carthamus tinctorius— Safflower (perennial)||None||Safflower’s importance originally resulted from its dye applications. For centuries, it was added to talcum powder to create a dry rouge and to color silks. In fact, ancient mummy wrappings unearthed proved to be dyed with safflower. In the 1700’s, the Portuguese utilized safflower as a saffron substitute in cooking as well as to color liqueurs. Today, safflower’s value primarily rests in its seed, which produces an oil high in polyunsaturated fats, credited with lowering blood cholesterol levels.||The flowers render either a red or yellow dye.||Medicinal (limited); Household– oil used for burning; Culinary.|
|Cichorium intybus— Chicory (perennial)||Chicory’s long taproot requires a deep soil to develop.||Chicory was cultivated in Egypt 5000 years ago and is mentioned in the oldest complete herbal written by the Greek physician Dioscorides. In the US, it served as cattle and sheep fodder and was added to salads and medications. Chicory is well known as a coffee substitute, coming into use after a coffee tax led people to seek other products to take its place. A scandal in the 19th century incited by dealers labeling chicory products as coffee led to legislation requiring the disclosure of product ingredients on the packaging.||Chicory can be used to furnish orange or blue colors in wool.||Medicinal; Culinary.|
|Crocus sativus— Saffron (bulb)||Saffron needs a protective mulch in the winter.||The Greeks and Romans made a royal dye color with saffron and wealthy Romans perfumed their baths and homes with it. In the 14th-18th centuries, saffron was used as a medicine and spice in Europe.||Dyeing is the oldest use of saffron. The yellow stigmata impart a deep yellow to fabrics. About 4000 blooms are required to produce one ounce of dye, so saffron has always been associated with wealth.||Medicinal; Culinary.|
|Digitalis purpurea— Foxglove (biennial)||Special Considerations: See “Medicinal Uses of Plants”.||Historical Use: See “Medicinal Uses of Plants”.||The flowers of foxglove produce a chartreuse color in fabrics.||Medicinal.|
|Helianthus annuus— Sunflower (annual)||None||American Indians cultivated sunflowers over 3000 years ago. Aztec sun priestesses were crowned with sunflowers and wore gold jewelry bearing sunflower motifs. The inner pulp of the stalk made both fast-burning candles (if broken into pieces and strung on a string) and chewing gum. Large scale cultivation first started in Russia.||A wide array of colors, including gray, green, orange, tan, and yellow, result from combining different plant parts with various mordants.||Culinary; Medicinal.|
|Isatis tinctoria— Woad (biennial)||None||Woad was the principle blue dye in Europe until indigo was imported from the Far East. It was a healing herb of the ancient Greeks and Romans and was used as a skin colorant in battles and religious ceremonies in Britain. World War II ended its commercial cultivation.||Woad leaves traditionally dye yarns blue, but pink shades can be obtained from the young leaves with an alum mordant. Mature leaves create blue-black shades, and weak solutions yield a green color.||Medicinal.|
|Potentilla verna f. nana— Potentilla (perennial)||None||The genus name Potentilla derives from the Latin “potens” or “powerful” and alludes to the plant’s reputed power to cure various ailments.||The crushed root will dye leather red, and color wool red-brown when mordanted with chrome or purple-red when mordanted with iron.||Medicinal.|
|Salvia officinalis— Sage (perennial sub-shrub)||Cut back sage plants every three years.||Sage was associated with immortality and longevity and was believed to increase mental capacity. American Indians used a sage salve for sores and colonists used it to cure epilepsy, insomnia, measles, seasickness, and worms.||The tops of the plant will color wool a yellow-buff with an alum mordant’ yellow with a chrome mordant’ and green-gray with an iron mordant.||Medicinal; Culinary; Fragrance; Household– insect repellent, food preservative, decorative.|
|Sanguinaria canadensis— Bloodroot (perennial)||None||American Indians dyed their bodies and clothing with the red sap of the root and treated sore throats, fevers, and rheumatism with the root.||Bloodroot will impart an orange color to wool and silk when used without a mordant, a rust color with an alum or cream of tartar mordant, and a reddish pink shade with a tin mordant.||Medicinal.|
|Solidago odora— Sweet Goldenrod (perennial)||None||Sweet goldenrod has long been associated with wound healing and masked the unpleasant flavors of other medicines. In British folklore, plants indicated hidden treasure and marked hidden springs.||The flowering heads create varying shades of yellow, depending on the mordant used.||Medicinal; Household– decorative.|
|Stachys officinalis— Betony (perennial)||Divide and replant betony every 3-4 years if its appearance starts to deteriorate.||The Egyptians regarded betony as a magical herb, while the Romans listed it as a treatment for 47 illnesses. Wild animals were even said to value the plant as a medicine and seek it out if wounded. People of the Middle Ages wore betony amulets and planted it in graveyards to repel evil spirits.||All parts of betony can be used to create chartreuse colors in wool mordanted with alum.||Medicinal; Culinary.|
The fragrances of plants probably evolved as essential to their survival. Many flowers produce odors that attract pollinators while other plant parts may produce essential oils. Essential oils are volatile substances (evaporating at room temperature) which impart the characteristic aroma or flavor to the plant. The function of these oils is not fully understood, but it is speculated that they may deter leaf-eating predators, act as defense mechanisms against pathogens, play a role in metabolism, or enhance the attractiveness of typically inconspicuous flowers.
Refinement of extraction techniques enabled more people to enjoy herb fragrances in myriad scented products. Three basic techniques exist for the extraction of essential oils: steam distillation, which evaporates the oils from the plant material via steam; expression, which forces oils out of the plant by pressure; or extraction, which employs solvents to draw oils from the plant.
The rising cost of perfume production coupled with a growing demand for fragrance compounds necessitated the substitution of naturally-obtained fragrances with synthetic aroma chemicals. These synthetics are added to stretch the limited supply of essential oils; however, in most cases some degree of natural material must be included to convincingly mimic the desired aroma.
|Fragrance Bed Herb Garden|
|Herb Name||Special Considerations||Historical Use||Aromatic Use||Other Uses|
|Artemisia absinthium— Wormwood (perennial)||Wormwood contains large amounts of absinthin, a water-soluble substance toxic to other plants. Rain water washes absinthin off the leaves into the soil, where it inhibits the growth of surrounding plants.||An Egyptian papyrus dating from 1600 BC described wormwood as a medicine to rid the body of worms. The leaves and flowering tops were used to make an addicting liqueur called absinthe. Vincent Van Gogh was allegedly under its influence when he cut off his own ear.||Wornwood leaves are added to sachets to repel moths.||Medicinal; Household– companion planting, insect repellent.|
|Iris X germanica v. florentina— Orris (perennial)||The rhizomes should be divided every 3-4 years in the summer after flowering, leaving half of the divided bulb above the soil surface.||Ancient Egyptians and Greeks discovered the potent violet fragrance of the orris root which must be dried for two years to develop. The root possess medicinal and breath freshening attributes. The name “florentina” originates from its history in Florence, Italy where commercial cultivation of orris for perfume making began in the Middle Ages.||Orris acts as a fixative, a substance that slows the evaporation of essential oils, prolonging the life of herbal potpourris. The violet fragrance of the roots is exploited in the perfume industry. The powdered rhizome or its essential oil flavors liqueurs, soft drinks, candy and gum; it is valued today as a base for dry shampoos and tooth powders.||None|
|Lavandula angustifolia cv. Munstead— Dwarf Lavender (perennial)||Lavender requires winter protection.||See “Household Uses of Herbs”.||Dwarf lavender possesses the same pleasant fragrance as Lavandula officinalis, and is used to scent sachets, potpourris, perfumes, toilet water, and hygiene products. Well-dried flowers retain their scent for a long time.||Household.|
|Mentha piperita— Peppermint (perennial)||None||Fresh or dried bunches of peppermint were hung about the house to freshen the air.||Peppermint makes a nice addition to potpourris.||Peppermint is known for flavoring candy. It is also used in teas.|
|Mentha pulegium— Pennyroyal (perennial)||None||Pennyroyal was rubbed on the skin to repel insects. Medicinally, it served as an abortive, laxative, expectorant, and emetic.||The peppermint-scented leaves are added to potpourris and sachets.||Medicinal; Household– insect repellent.|
|Pelargonium spp.– Scented Geranium (annual)||Scented geraniums may act as a trap crop for Japanese beetles.||Scented geraniums were introduced to Europe in 1690 from South Africa by sailors. In the mid-1800’s, rose-scented geraniums began to be substituted for attar of roses in French perfume making, thus increasing their popularity. In the Victorian era, scented geraniums had culinary, medicinal, and decorative applications.||Scented geraniums are grown commercially for their fragrant leaf oils which perfume tooth powders, soaps, sachets and potpourris, and ointments. Commercially produced geranium oils vary in fragrance depending on their country of origin.||Culinary; Household– decorative, cosmetic, companion planting.|
|Rosa sp.— Rose (perennial shrub)||Roses require 6-8 hours of full sun per day and do not tolerate crowding.||Romans crowned bridal couples with roses and placed them as banquet centerpieces. People often were sworn to silence with a bribe of roses, thus the rose became a symbol of confidences. The expression “sub rosa” (literally “under the rose”) means “in greatest confidence”. The American Indians used roses medicinally to treat sores, blisters, and as an eye wash.||Rose flowers scent perfumes, sachets, potpourris, bath oils, and hygiene products.||Medicinal; Culinary; Household–cleansing, decorative.|
|Rosmarinus officinalis— Rosemary (tender perennial evergreen shrub)||Rosemary must be brought inside to overwinter.||Students wore rosemary garlands while studying for exams to help their memory. It was useful medicinally and as a room deodorizer. During World War II, rosemary branches were burned to disinfect the air in sickrooms (this has an antibacterial effect). Rosemary traditionally is the symbol of remembrance, friendship, and love.||Rosemary oil adds a piney scent to hygiene products, lotions, perfumes, and toilet water. The leaves are added to sachets and potpourris.||Medicinal; Culinary; Household– cosmetic, disinfectant; Dye.|
|Ruta graveolens v. blue mound— Rue||Special Considerations: See “Medicinal Uses of Herbs”.||Historical Use: See “Medicinal Uses of Herbs”.||Glands distributed over the entire plant contain a volatile oil that is responsible for the characteristic odor of rue. Bruising the foliage will release the smell. Rue oil is obtained by distilling the leafy portions of the plant and is used in perfumes and in the manufacture of aromatic, toilet, hygienic, and cosmetic vinegars.||Medicinal.|
|Santolina chamaecyparissus— Lavender Cotton (perennial)||None||Lavender cotton originally was valued for its medicinal astringent properties. As it spread to England in the Elizabethan era, it was planted ornamentally as a compact hedge plant.||Lavender cotton has a musky fragrance which makes an interesting addition to potpourris and sachets.||Household– insect repellent, decorative; Dye.|
|Thymus X citriodorus— Lemon Thyme (perennial)||Lemon thyme is more tender than common thyme and needs protection from winter winds.||Historical Use: See “Culinary Uses of Herbs”.||The dried flowers and leaves of lemon thyme are used to scent sachets, colognes, hygiene products, and detergents.||Culinary.|
|Viola sp.— Violet (perennial)||Violets self sow readily.||Records of the violet date back to the ancient Greeks; the scribes Herodotus and Pliny wrote about its medicinal virtues. The theory that unpleasant odors are less potent after smelling a violet led to the violet’s use as a stewing herb in the Middle Ages.||The violet once played a prominent role in the perfume industry, but was superceded by synthetic aroma chemicals. It still is added to potpourris although the fragrance is not lasting.||Medicinal; Dye; Culinary.|
- Cosmetic and cleansing attributes of herbs were exploited through the ages and in all ancient cultures. By the time of the Renaissance, skin care had developed as a separate issue from medical disorders, and recipes for soaps, creams, and herbal waters were recorded in herbals and handed down for generations.
- The decorative value of a plant depends chiefly on its growth habit, foliage, and flowers. Many herbs bear inconspicuous or subtle flowers but possess interestingly colored or textured foliage. In addition to attractiveness in fresh arrangements, many maintain their color and form when dried, so are effective in dried crafts and arrangements.
- Pest control was a serious concern in the past due to poor sanitation and personal hygiene. Herbs were strewn on the floor of the house, releasing their scent when stepped on to freshen the room and repel mice and insects. People also hung herb sprigs in closets or placed them between layers of clothing before storage to repel moths and keep clothes fresh.
- Companion planting is based on the idea that some plants exert an effect on others in the garden. Depending upon the plant combinations, specific herbs are alleged to keep harmful insects at bay, attract beneficial insects, improve another plant’s flavor, or inhibit or encourage the growth of neighboring plants.
- Plant material once constituted the primary ingredients for household products such as disinfectants, furniture wax and polish, and cleansers were once made using plant material. Similarly, all clothing and household and commercial fabrics were manufactured using natural fibers, often obtained from plants.
|Herb Name||Special Considerations||Historical Use||Household Use||Other Uses|
|Artemisia abrotanum— Southernwood (semievergreen perennial shrub)||None||Southernwood was utilized in medicinal and aphrodisiac potions and perfumes. In the courtroom, southernwood was hung to protect against “prison fever”. It repelled moths from closets and ants from cupboards.||Southernwood contains the essential oil absinthol which repels insects. The leaves, when placed in linen closets, discourage moths. When added to the bath it is fragrant and soothing. It makes attractive dried flower arrangements and herb wreaths.||Medicinal; Dye.|
|Artemisia schmidtiana cv. Nana— Silver Mound Artemisia (perennial)||None||None||Silver mound artemisia is used decoratively for its interesting foliage color and texture.||None|
|Lavandula officinalis— Lavender (woody perennial)||Lavender needs winter protection.||During the Middle Ages, lavender was credited with inducing both passion and chastity. Lavender sachets protected linens from moths and freshened sick rooms. Other applications included embalming corpses, curing animals of lice, flavoring snuff, and treating various illnesses.||Lavender flowers in the bath or facial masks stimulate and cleanse the skin. The plant is suitable for fresh or dried flower arrangements. The leaves repel insects and make an effective household disinfectant.||Culinary; Fragrance; Medicinal.|
|Linum usitatissimum— Flax (perennial)||None||Flax fiber is the source of linen, the oldest known fabric. Ancient Egyptians cultivated flax for fine clothing and to enshroud mummies. The Lake Dwellers, living in Switzerland from 2000 BC to 500 AD, manufactured fish nets, ropes, clothing from the fibers and flavored bread with the seeds. Flax was used similarly in medieval times.||Flax continues to be a major agricultural crop in Russia, Canada, and parts of the US. In the US, it is grown primarily for seed to manufacture linseed oil and fibers for use in fine paper. Flax is woven into dried baskets and made into linen. Soaking the seeds in water creates a thick mucilage that can be applied to the hair as a styling gel.||Medicinal; Culinary.|
|Melissa officinalis— Lemon Balm (perennial)||None||Lemon balm originally served to attract swarms of bees to empty nests. The Arabs remedied heart disorders and melancholy with it. Likewise, American colonists used it medicinally and for flavoring.||At one time, lemon balm was a constituent of lemon-scented furniture polish. It repels insects if burned or rubbed on the table. It cleanses the skin; steamy lemon balm facials are recommended for people with acne.||Medicinal; Culinary; Fragrance.|
|Perovskia atriplicifolia— Russian Sage (perennial)||Stems allowed to persist through the winter will add winter interest. Prune back only 1/3 of the growth in the springtime.||None||Russian sage works well as a decorative element in both fresh and dried arrangements.||Fragrance.|
|Saponaria officinalis— Soapwort (perennial)||Soapwort is very adaptable and can become invasive if allowed to self-seed. To discourage spread, remove spent flower heads.||Soapwort was grown in cottage gardens before the start of commercial soap production to make soap suds for washing.||Soapwort’s merit rests in its cleansing ability. The leaf, stem, and root contain the compound saponin responsible for creating a soapy lather.||Medicinal; Fragrance; Culinary.|
|Tanacetum vulgare— Tansy (perennial)||Tansy is very invasive, so take care when disposing of old plant material. Divide it every other year to control its spread.||Tansy has a historical association with immortality. In Greek mythology, tansy was an ingredient in the potion that imparted immortality to Zeus’ cupbearer. Also, since the flowers do not wilt easily, it was placed in coffins to repel insects.||Medicinally, tansy leaves treated various disorders and acted as a digestive stimulant and a sedative. It was one of the strewing herbs of the Middle Ages. Household Use: Tansy lotions are recommended for skin cleansing and for controlling acne. It is used in fresh and dried flower arrangements. It acts as an ant repellent.||Medicinal; Culinary; Dye.|
The oldest and most significant use of herbs is medicinal, predating written records. Plants formed the crux of medicine for virtually all systems of healing. Approximately one-third of the more than one-quarter million known species of flowering plants were assigned some healing virtue at some point in history.
The advent of modern synthetic drugs curtailed the use of herbs in medicine, although an estimated 25% of modern medicine is still directly derived from plant material. Growing concerns about the side effects of drugs, clinical research on physiological effects which support some traditional uses of plants, and people’s desire to move toward a more natural and holistic approach to health have created a revival in herbal medicine.
|Medicinal Bed Herb Garden|
|Herb Name||Special Considerations||Historical Use||Medicinal Use||Other Uses|
|Achillea millefolium— Yarrow (perennial) Special Considerations:||Yarrow repels ants, flies, and Japanese beetles and attracts beneficial insects such as parasitic wasps and ladybird beetles.||Yarrow is speculated to have been used 3000 years ago by Achilles during the Trojan War to dress his soldiers wounds. Yarrow also played an important role in American Indian and Shaker medicine.||The leaves, stems, and flowers of white- and red- flowered yarrow facilitate blood clotting. Species containing the volatile oil azulene have anti-inflammatory properties, soothing external rashes, skin ulcers, and hemorrhoids. Yarrow’s flavenoid compounds have antispasmodic effects, and its salycilic acid derivatives make it useful in treating pain.||Household– decorative, cleansing, companion planting; Dye.|
|Arctostaphylos uva-ursi— Bearberry (perennial shrub)||Bearberry forms a groundcover and prefers dry sandy soil. It effectively stabilizes easily eroded soils.||Bearberry was smoked in peace pipes by American Indians to promote calming and mental clarity. People of the Middle Ages believed that since bearberry grew in sandy, gravely soils, it would effectively remove “sand” and “gravel” from the kidneys.||Bearberry is a diuretic and neutral tonic that decreases infection and swelling of the urinary tract, uterus, vagina, and prostate gland. The leaves contain the active compound glucoside arbutin, which is broken down in the urinary tract into hydrokinone, a powerful antiseptic.||None|
|Capsicum annuum— Cayenne Pepper (annual)||None||Cayenne was introduced to Europe by Christopher Columbus.||Cayenne treats a variety of ailments. The fruit contains the active ingredient capsaicin, a powerful stimulant having a soothing effect on the stomach and mucous membranes. Taken internally, it tonifies the stomach, intestines, and other internal organs and treats constipation; it stimulates the production of saliva and gastric juices and aids digestion. Prepared as a poultice, it treats chest and lung congestion, general lethargy and painful joints.||Culinary.|
|Chamaemelum nobile— Chamomile (perennial)||None||People were known to have used this herb in kitchens and in sick rooms to freshen the air. English people are known for their lawns of chamomile.||Extracts from the plant are used as anti-inflammatories for skin and mucous membrane afflictions. It is also used to treat ailments from indigestion and menstural cramps.||Flowers from Chamomile dry nicely for arragements. Their apple-like fragrance is a nice addition to potpourris.|
|Chrysanthemum parthenium— Feverfew (perennial or biennial)||Do not plant feverfew with flowers depending on bees for pollination– bees dislike its odor and will avoid the entire area it occupies.||Feverfew was used by the ancient Greeks to promote contractions to expel afterbirth and to lower fevers. It also has been used in confectioneries and wines, as an insect repellent, and to ward off disease.||Feverfew leaves alleviate the pain of migraines and arthritis. They contain the substance parthenolide which appears to lessen smooth muscle cells’ responsiveness to body chemicals triggering migraine muscle spasms.||Household– decorative, insect repellent; Dye.|
|Digitalis purpurea— Foxglove (biennial)||Plant foxglove each year so that flowers are always present.||Foxglove was cultivated in Europe as far back as 1000 AD to treat epilepsy, coughs, and swollen glands. It is speculated that Vincent Van Gogh took digitalis for epilepsy and that the yellow vision the drug creates may have influenced his art. Foxglove’s effectiveness in treating heart conditions was first documented in 1785 by William Withering in England.||Foxglove contains the powerful chemical digitoxin, which acts on the heart by increasing the force of contractions. It is used to treat congestive heart failure and hypertensive heart disease; it elevates arterial blood pressure, improves circulation, alleviates water retention, and reduces edema.||Household– decorative; Dye.|
|Echinacea purpurea— Purple Coneflower (perennial)||Divide the roots every five years.||Purple coneflower is credited with being used medicinally more often by American Indians in the plains states than any other plant . A solution of root juice and water was sprinkled on hot coals during traditional “sweats” for purification purposes. At one time, it was prepared and packaged as a drug.||The root of purple coneflower is highly regarded as a blood purifier and antibiotic, building up the immune system and conferring nonspecific immunity to disease. It contains caffeic acid glycoside, which also facilitates wound healing.||Household– decorative.|
|Gentiana lutea— Yellow Gentian (perennial)||None||An Egyptian papyrus dating from 1200 BC listed yellow gentian as medicant. The Greeks and Arabs used it in treatment of stomach and liver ailments, for prevention of pestilence, protection against and to kill intestinal worms, and for wound washing.||The bitter root stimulates appetite in people suffering from anorexia, old age, illness, or chronic indigestion. Similarly, it is a constituent of commercial bitters which increase appetite and initiate stomach secretions.||None|
|Nepeta cataria— Catnip (perennial)||None||Roman cooks and doctors documented their appreciation for catnip at least 2000 years ago. In the Middle Ages, it was considered useful against leprosy and colds. In 1754, the British horticulturist Philip Miller described cats rolling in and flattening a catnip patch and suggested thorn hedges as protection against cat pests. In 1796 America, catnip was a commercial crop where it escaped cultivation and invaded the landscape.||Catnip leaves and flowers combat various illnesses, especially colds, and act as a digestive and sleeping aid. Research shows that catnip contains a compound chemically similar to the sedative found in valerian, a well-known natural tranquilizer, supporting its application as a sleep inducer.||Culinary.|
|Ruta graveolens v. blue mound— Rue (evergreen perennial sub-shrub)||None||The Roman writer Pliny reported that rue improved the eyesight of artists, antidoted poisons, and repelled insects, scorpions, and serpents. During the Black Plague, it was hung or carried by people to ward off the disease. Rue symbolized repentance; in the early Catholic church, stems of rue were used for sprinkling holy water. The leaves served as an early model for the suit of clubs in cards.||Rue alleviates gas pain and colic, improves appetite and digestion, and promotes menstruation. Large doses are toxic.||Household– decorative; Fragrance.|
|Salvia sclarea— Clary Sage (biennial)||Clary sage requires a winter mulch.||The seed was used to clear sight and relieve eye irritations. Sixteenth century German wine merchants created Muscatel with clary sage and substituted it for hops in beer.||Clary sage is still recommended as an eyewash to remove foreign particles from eyes. The seeds are soaked until they become mucilaginous, then a single seed is placed in the corner of the eye. The foreign object will adhere to it and be cleared when the seed is removed.||Fragrance.|
|Stachys byzantina— Lamb’s Ears (perennial groundcover)||Lamb’s ears benefits from a winter mulch.||During the Middle Ages, the leaves of lamb’s ears provided bandaging for wounds.||Lamb’s ears foliage binds wounds and reputedly reduces the pain of bee stings.||Culinary.|
|Teucrium chamaedrys— Germander (woody perennial)||None||Germander was used in the 16th century for garden bed borders. Ancient Greeks considered it a cure-all, and in the mid-18th century, it served as a gout remedy.||Germander has been used to treat various conditions, heal wounds, reduce fevers, and aid digestion. However, it is best-known as a pain killer and a treatment for gout and rheumatism.||None|