Easy-to-Grow Herbs and How to Use Them

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I love growing herbs, and we have quite a few growing in our yard at any given time. Some are perennial and we have them planted in the ground, but most are annuals and are grown in pots to save space in the ground. Most herbs are easy to care for, and they reward you with their many culinary and medicinal uses.


Many people think of herbs simply as something you add to dishes when you cook. While this is a wonderful way to use them, and perhaps the most common, it isn't the only way. In our house, we use herbs for medicinal purposes, too. I always reach for a natural remedy first when possible.


Note: I am NOT a doctor, and I do not pretend to be one online. Please use your own judgement when using natural remedies, just like you would when using any medicine. Consult with a physician, especially if you have existing medical concerns.


 

For this post, I'm going to do a basic profile of the herbs we grow. In future posts I plan to take a more in-depth look at individual herbs. Let's get started!


A sweet basil plant.
Our sweet basil.

Basil: We use basil as a culinary herb. It's wonderful picked fresh and added to sauces. We also add it to soups and stock, as well as mince it and use it as an addition to marinades. I also love to use it fermented. Fermenting basil leaves it with a much stronger taste than drying it does. Basil is easy to grow. We grow ours in a pot, and about once every two weeks I cut it back by about 1/3 to keep it growing and neat.


A rosemary plant
Our rosemary plant.

Rosemary: Rosemary is one of the hardiest herbs we grow. It smells amazing, and if it gets brushed against, you can smell it all over the yard. Rosemary is a great culinary herb. We use it on meat, in sauces and stock, and it's especially good on roasted potatoes. I've also used it and thyme before as a cleaner. All you do is cut several sprigs each of thyme and rosemary (a handful of each is fine) and make a strong tea. Simply boil a pot of about two cups of water, then toss in the herbs and let them steep for several hours. Pour the tea into a spray bottle and you've got a great, germ-killing cleaner that smells amazing and is all natural. Since ours gets used in less than a week, I've never had it go bad being stored at room temperature, but you could probably store it in the refrigerator for several weeks.


A parsley plant.
Our flat-leaf parsley.

Parsley: Parsley is also used mainly for cooking in our home. It's great in sauces and stock. It's also yummy minced and added to pan seared chicken tenderloins. Parsley tends to bolt once the intense summer heat gets here, though, so I try to cut it to dry before that happens.



A pot of peppermint.
Our peppermint plant.

Peppermint: We use peppermint for tea and medicinal purposes. I also enjoy adding a few leaves to my water for a nice, light flavor. Peppermint infused in honey makes a soothing throat syrup for an irritated throat. Peppermint tea does wonders for nausea. All you have to do is pick about two tablespoons of leaves, boil one cup of water, add the leaves and steep it for about 5 minutes. Sip it slowly and it should help ease an upset stomach. Another great option is to put a handful of leaves into a warm bath and lay back and inhale the soothing aroma.


A catnip plant.
Our catnip.

Catnip: Catnip is helpful for easing nerves and pain. I like to include it as one of the ingredients in the sleep and pain relief tinctures I make. I also like to grow it as a flowering herb to attract pollinators to our yard. Check out my post on creating a pollinator garden for more information on that.


Bee Balm (Monarda): Bee balm is a beautiful and showy plant whose flowers are reminiscent of fireworks. It comes in several shades including pinks, purples, and reds. As its name implies, bees love it. One of the reasons I grow bee balm is to attract pollinators to our yard. We also use it medicinally, as it can ease cold and flu-like symptoms. I like to add it to my cold and flu tincture. Another perk- hummingbirds love it! The pictures below show our bee balm. At left is the plant in nearly fully bloom. In the center is a bee balm blossom. At right is the plant before it bloomed. That's a rose-breasted grosbeak eating sunflower seeds next to it.




A lemon balm plant in a pot.
Our lemon balm.

Lemon Balm: I love the smell of lemon balm, and it's one of my favorite herbs to grow. I like to add it to my homemade insect repellent. It is also said to be beneficial to the skin, and I include it in my soap recipes (post coming soon on that). Our lemon balm is looking a little ragged; it's been a really hot couple of weeks.



A lemongrass plant.
Our lemongrass.

Lemongrass: Lemongrass can get quite large, so it should be put in a big pot or in the ground where you won't mind if it spreads out. Though it is tolerant, it prefers to be watered regularly. The leaves are sharp and can cut you, similar to pampas grass, and the oils in the leaves can be irritating to sensitive skin, When I cut it, I wear gloves and long sleeves to avoid any irritation. We use it primarily in cooking. Its leaves make a lovely addition to freshly brewed tea when brewed along with the tea leaves. One of our favorite ways to use it is in a chicken dish. For this recipe, you'll use the thick, white part at the base. You'll want alarge handful of these "stems". Dice them up and mix them with brown sugar and soy sauce for a mouth-watering chicken marinade. The ratio will vary depending on how much you need and your tastes, but I like to use about 1/4 cup each of soy sauce and brown sugar.


Sage: Sage is a perennial here, and ours is in the ground in the garden. I simply cut it back to the ground in spring and it grows in nice and full in no time. We use sage for cooking. Just a little adds a nice depth of flavor to meat, especially poultry. I also use it in my blackberry sage tea recipe.


A small rock garden with  sage and oregano plants, and a birdbath.
Our sage (left) and oregano (right).

Oregano: Oregano is also a perennial herb that is quite easy to grow in our area. It's also in the ground in our garden, and if we're not careful, it will take over. We use it in cooking, and it's amazing with any tomato based dish.


A hanging basket of English thyme.
Our hanging basket of English thyme.

English Thyme: We have English thyme growing in a hanging basket in our apple tree. It's a wonderful herb to season vegetables. We like to plant it in a hanging basket because of it's trailing nature. It's beautiful when it starts to cascade over the sides of the basket. It does not tolerate full sun in our area, so under our apple tree provides the perfect amount of shade.



A plantain plant.
One of the many plantain plants in the yard.

Plantain: This one is really more of a weed, albeit it a highly useful one. Just be very careful if you plant it, and keep it in a pot unless you want it all over your yard. Yes, I'm speaking from experience here! Plantain is immensely valuable in most any skincare preparation. It is soothing and helps draw out irritants. You can bruise its leaves and lay them over poison ivy to sooth it. Just recently our daughter was stung by a wasp, and I used it to soothe the sting. All I did was wrap several tablespoons of the dried leaf in a thin cloth, then run it under warm water and squeeze out the excess. She held this poultice to her arm for about ten minutes, and when she removed it, the swelling was visibly less and she said it felt "a lot better." This is one herb I will never be without. We don't bother planting it anymore, it's all over the yard.


Calendula: Calendula is a gorgeous and cheerful plant. It's flowers are bright yellow or orange. Each plant grows to around 18 inches or even higher, and they produce many blooms each day throughout the summer. The blooms close at dusk and reopen in the morning. To use the flowers, harvest them in the morning by gently cutting them off the plant with garden pruners or scissors. Lay them in a single layer in a tightly woven basket to dry. Once they're completely dry, store them in a tightly closed container, out of the sunlight. I use calendula for many skincare preparations, as it has strong soothing properties. When our daughter was an infant, I used it in the homemade baby wipes solution I made for her. It's in my "boo-boo cream," or homemade antibacterial ointment. I love it in soap, too.




A lavender plant in a pot.
Our young lavender plant.

Lavender: Lavender is another staple in our yard. We've grown it every year for the past six years or so. Just smelling it calms me instantly. It can be tricky to grow, and it does not like too much water. I only water ours about once a week, and they're in pots in the full sun. Water them at soil level, as the foliage doesn't like to be wet. I use the flowers for so many things from skincare preparations to tinctures to sleep pillows. They make a relaxing addition to a bath when wrapped in cloth and tossed in the water. I've even dried the stems and used them as a decoration, as they hold their color nicely when dried. They look great stuck into a small vase and displayed on a shelf.



 

While this is not an all-inclusive list of the herbs we've grown, it does include the ones we use most often. Everything on here is also pretty easy to grow, with lavender being the most finicky. Once you get them in your own yard, you'll figure out their likes and dislikes and help them thrive.


Before next growing season we plan to add two new herb beds. That should expand the amount of herbs we grow. If you don't have space to dedicate to an herb garden, you can always plant them among your vegetable plants in your garden, or even in pots. With some TLC, you'll be able to have a variety of fresh herbs for many applications.


When I first started growing herbs, I found a book called Homegrown Herbs* by Tammi Hartung. I cannot stress enough how much I learned from this book. I have read it cover to cover more than once, and I constantly refer to it. It's got recipes for foods, medicinal preparations, skincare preparations, and more. It has a section where each herb is profiled that includes its scientific and common names, where it grows, how much light and water it needs, its uses, and much more. I can't recommend this book enough. The pictures below show the book cover and an example of one of the herb profiles.




Growing herbs is fun, and using herbs you grew to cook your meals or make homemade goodies is extremely rewarding. If you are looking for something that is easy to grow, and that you will get many benefits from, I would say give herbs a shot. You won't be disappointed.


What herbs do you grow? How do you use them? Please share in the comments!


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