Herb Gardens

Herbs, taken by Tricia Weber

Herbs, photo taken by Tricia Weber

I recently taught a herb gardening class and emphasized how easy herbs are to grow. Friends always ask, “what should I plant?” The best way to get started is to make a list of herbs you want to cook or make medicine with.

Herbs can be used to make teas, tinctures, honey, or salves, all of which are easy to make. If you are not familiar with a particular herb, make sure to do some research so you know which plant parts to use as not all parts are edible. Also, know which species to use, for example black and blue elderberries are edible but, not the red. There are certain plants such as nettles that need to be harvested at specific times in the plant’s life cycle. Some herbs are best when harvested in year two of its life (typically true when harvesting roots).

See the lists below suggesting ways to use specific herbs. All the plants listed can be grown in the NW and in more gardens in the US. Many of them are perennials and will return the following spring. I recommend purchasing herbs in 4-inch pots to get your garden started. Some herbs are easy to grow from seed such as: calendula, borage, oats, nasturtium, sunflowers, and basil.

You don’t have to grow all the herbs you want to use as many are available at farmer’s markets, co-ops, herb stores or can be harvested from the wild. I have placed an asterisk next to the herbs that tend to be invasive and are best purchased at the store or vigilantly contained in your yard.

Herbs for an every day tea
nettles, chamomile, lemon verbena, peppermint*, spearmint*, oats, red raspberry (leaves), thyme, basil

Sleepy time herbs
catnip, chamomile, hops, skullcap, motherwort*, valerian

Herbs to promote relaxation and calming
valerian, skullcap, chamomile, catnip, wood betony, hops, oats, St. John’s wort*, lemon balm* , lavender, holy basil

Respiratory system herbs
elecampane, blue or black elderberry (not red),echinacea, garlic, cayenne pepper, marshmallow, sage, yarrow, hyssop, lobelia, eucalyptus, Oregon grape, mullein, fenugreek

Digestive system herbs
mint*, parsley, catnip, thyme, oregano, coriander, dill, chamomile, fennel*, rosemary, marjoram

Herbs for making skin salves
St. John’s wort*, calendula*, chamomile, peppermint*, arnica, plantain

Edible flowers
nasturtium, violet, borage*, calendula*, pansy, sunflower, hibiscus, chive blossoms

Herb vines
hops, passion flower, grapes

Wild foods to cook
dandelion*, nettles, horseradish, watercress, nettles, chickweed, amaranth*, burdock*

Edible berries
blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, huckleberries, kiwi, figs, gomi,aronia, Chinese wolfberry, akebia vine, blue or black elderberry, cherries, choke cherry

Herbal bath salts
lemon verbena, rose geranium, lavender, wild roses, rosemary, peppermint*

Herbal honey
roses, elecampane,cayenne pepper, blue or black elderberry

Pollinator attracting herbs
echinacea, bee balm, basil, yarrow, wild roses, calendula*, chamomile, mints*, borage*, motherwort*

Some of my favorite herb gardening books
The Family Herbal, Rosemary Gladstar
Growing 101 Herbs that Heal, Tammi Hartung
Herbal Tea Gardens 22 Plans for Your Enjoyment & Well Being, Marietta Marshall Marcin
Easy Growing, 
Gayla Trail
Designing the New Kitchen Garden, An American Potager Handbook,
Jennifer R. Bartley

Where to Buy Herb Starts in Portland, OR
Farmer’s Markets
Garden Fever
Portland Nursery
Livingscape Nursery
Dekum Street Doorway
New Seasons
Whole Foods
Blue Heron Herbary

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Stinging Nettles

FH050005March is Stinging Nettle Harvest Time

So why isn’t everyone growing stinging nettles? Maybe because they deliver an unpleasant sting when they come into contact with your skin. These plants have tiny little hairs on them that contain formic acid. This is the same chemical those pesky red fire ants that roam around the sands of the southeastern United States contain.

Nettles do not sting when they are cooked, steeped in teas, or dried. Nettles are rich in iron, calcium, Vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, chromium, flavonoids, histamine, and serotonin. These plants help to alleviate the symptoms of seasonal allergies. Since I have been drinking nettle tea for the past 9 years, I have been able to eliminate the need for allergy medication. The only side effect of consuming nettles is a mild diuretic effect, so don’t drink right before bed.

You can make nettle tea, nettle spinach pie, or saute them in a little olive oil and tamari sauce. This plant is not only beautiful in the garden, but the birds love to eat the seeds they produce in the late spring.

If you decide to harvest stinging nettles, you must do so before they begin to flower, which is typically in late spring. Once the plants flower, their chemistry changes and they form calcium concretions, which can be harmful to the urinary tract. Don’t forget to take a pair of gloves.

Painting by Amy Ponteri

Painting by Amy Ponteri

Herbs for Children

Herb Bath

Baby Gus Preparing for His Herb Bath

There is a special section of the garden where I am growing herbs for the baby.  These herbs include; calendula, chamomile, comfrey, mint, catnip, lemon verbena, roses, rosemary, and lavender. Not only are these herbs are easy to grow, but the pollinators love them and they can be added to drinks when a sleepy mama needs a cocktail.

Below is what I typically do with these herbs:

* calendula & chamomile for making herbal oils that can be used for massage oil or mix with beeswax to create an herbal salve

* comfrey is great for making oils to make a salve to cure the dreaded diaper rash

* mint & lemon verbena are refreshing to add to the baby’s bath

* catnip is for making a warm bath to soak the baby in to calm them and/or bring down a fever

* rosemary is a special herb to add to baths. The Mayans use this herb to clear “bad” energy

* lavender is for infusing in either olive, almond, or apricot oil to make a massage oil, which helps calm and relax the baby

Herbs I make herbal sun tea out of and add to drinks include: lemon verbena, lavender, mint and rosemary.

Lemon verbena harvested from the garden

Lemon verbena harvested from the garden