Cultivate an Herb Garden

One of my favorite springtime rituals is starting the annual herb garden indoors, and nurturing it until it is ready for the outdoors and warmer weather. What's the big thrill?

Just having a garden to cultivate is exhilarating after the winter months, but herbs are special because they smell and taste so good, look so green and grow so fast.

Herbs work well in any size container or garden and are not prone to insect problems. Especially if you are new to gardening, herbs are an easy and low-maintenance way to sharpen your green thumb.

How to Begin an Herb Garden

The simplest way to begin your herb garden is to start with small transplants from the nursery and plant them in a window box near full sun. If you are an herbal beginner, take the time to label each plant.

Fill the bottom of the window box with a couple of inches of potting soil. Then take each transplant out of its container and place it in the window box. Using a hand trowel, simply fill in the areas around the herbs with more potting soil. Now water, drain and bring the herbs inside to place on or near a sunny windowsill. Water them when the soil dries out, and then do so thoroughly.

Don't let these tiny little creatures fool you; they will grow like Jack and the Beanstalk, especially when you move them outside in late spring after the danger of frost has passed. By then they will need more space to grow, especially basil.

Consider planting herbs in your flower garden rather than keeping them separate. They bloom, too! Otherwise transfer them to a larger container or your designated herb garden space.

There are only three things you need to know about growing herbs:

  • Herbs need at least six hours of sun per day.
  • While good soil is not a must for herbs, they do require good drainage. Potting soil is ideal since it is light and will drain nicely. When and if you move the herbs into the garden, loosen up the soil and add composted leaves or some topsoil to improve drainage.
  • Harvest herbs right before they flower. You don't have to wait for this, but they are at their most flavorful right before they bloom.

The mainstreaming of natural foods has brought about a renaissance of herbal uses from culinary to medicinal. Herbs were used in ancient times for food preservation, for perfume and for burning as incense to please the gods. Now herbs are used to enhance the flavor of food and to boost the immune system. Some of the common herbs used medicinally are:

  • Catnip: for digestion (for you and your cat!).
  • Garlic: a natural penicillin and antibiotic to fight colds, fevers and respiratory ailments. It is excellent for boosting the immune system during flu season.
  • Echinacea: an immune-system enhancer.
  • Eyebright: for easing eye symptoms due to allergies and colds. Many believe that it also improves eyesight.
  • White willow bark: an herbal aspirin for aches and pains associated with the flu and for reducing fevers.
  • Feverfew: to lower fevers and relieve headaches, even migraines!

Before taking herbal supplements, make sure to consult with a qualified health professional and follow all of the directions on the labels.

In the kitchen, fresh and dried herbs offer a whole new world of culinary possibilities. The most common culinary herbs are basil, tarragon, dill, thyme (lemon and English), chives, mint, rosemary and cilantro. I prefer to use fresh herbs because I love the fragrance and the strong connection it gives me to my garden and the outdoors.

Pesto sauces made from basil in my garden are staples in our diet from May through September. There is nothing more gratifying than growing something yourself and using it to cook something incredibly delicious!

More to Explore