Herb talk series by Yvette Mulder

Herb garden introduction

Do you love the fragrance of fresh herbs, do you often touch an herbal plant to sample its fragrance and even sometimes taste a leaf straight off the plant? Do you become excited by the idea of a plant giving you health benefits, delicious teas and beauty? That is all you need to grow an herb garden. Enthusiasm and willingness to learn and explore with me. Join me for a series about herbs in this newsletter. You don’t need a huge garden.  A small space in your garden or amongst your existing plants will suffice. Vegetables also love herbs.  Herbs can be grown in pots too if you have a small space.  Most common herbs are safe for children to taste and a great way for them to learn about plants and their benefits and uses

Today we will touch on the growing and using of relaxing herbs such as chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, holy basil and lemon verbena. Even catnip is known for its anti anxiety properties and the prolific mugwort is a wonderful sleep aid. Our own indigenous Leonotis leonurus (Wilde dagga) is known to calm and relax when a tea is made from the leaves. Always take a tea herb or tincture for only one week and skip two weeks.

Wild dagga, lavender, lemon balm, holy basil and catnip can be planted now, as well as Roman Chamomile. These are all perennial plants which will give you much joy year after year. Mugwort should be kept in a large pot as they tend to take over.

Roman chamomile is a great little groundcover or great for planting amongst stepping stones. Holy basil becomes a big bush but the deliciously fragrant leaves can be trimmed right back. All these plants can be harvested as needed. The best time to harvest is when the dew has dried from the plants and before it has flowered. (Except for the chamomile and lavender, where of course, the actual flowers are used) or you could use them fresh in a tea, or dry them in a warm shady area for later use. After drying, (they should be crisp and crumble between your fingers) pack into dark bottles or paper bags and keep in a cool dry place. The dried leaves can be used to make a tincture or a tea.

Roman chamomile

Roman chamomile can be sown in spring, but plants can be separated and planted in your garden in autumn. The flowering stalks are harvested when fully open and fragrant in dry weather.  A teaspoon of dried flowers in a cup of hot water not only tastes delicious, but helps to calm, relax and aids sleep.

Lemon balm

Very fragrant, very effective against over excitement and anxiety and aiding sleep, make a delicious tea with the fresh or dried leaves. Leaves can be added to ice blocks for iced teas and other cool drinks. Lemon balm grows easily and prefers a slightly shaded area.

Catnip

Not only is catnip loved by cats, giving them a euphoric feeling, but it is also a great plant to have on the patio to discourage mosquitos and gnats. Used in a tea, it has a mild relaxing and sedative effect and helps to improve sleep when taken before bedtime. Remember to ‘cage’ your catnip if you have cats to stop them from completely destroying it. Catnip loves to grow in pots, but can become big bushes if left to grow unhindered in the garden. The beautiful white flecked with purple flowers in summer makes it a much loved bedding plant too.

In the medicinal world, herbs have been used for centuries to help with a variety of ailments. (Please note that it is important to check with your doctor before using any herbs for medicinal purposes.) ‘Old fashioned  remedies’ are for the most part herb based and have been used for generations to help with conditions from upset stomachs to anxiety and even strengthening the immune system. The first apothecaries (pharmacies) were stocked with botanical ingredients. This trend is returning as people are paying more attention to natural ways of staying healthy taking responsibility for their own health and well being by treating common ailments at home with the use of home grown or l ocally sourced herbs.

In followup articles we will look at some of the wise, old herbs, and their uses, as Sage and Rosemary amongst others are known.

My nursery and herb garden is in the Hermitage Valley of Swellendam and you are welcome to pop in for an herb chat and a cup of (herbal) tea.

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