SPECIAL TOPICS: HERBS

Mother Of Thyme

PLANTING HERBS

Since only a few plants of each herb are required for family use, a small space such as a section of the vegetable garden is sufficient. Some of the herbs live from year to year (perennials), so should be grouped together to one side of the garden where they will not interfere with the preparation of the rest of the garden. In general, most herbs will grow satisfactorily under the same conditions of sunlight and soil, and with similar cultural techniques as are used for vegetables. Therefore, check the appropriate vegetable gardening guides for details on soil preparation, liming, fertilizing, and watering.

Sage, rosemary, and thyme require a well-drained, slightly moist soil, whereas parsley, chervil, and mint grow best on soils retaining considerable moisture. Additions of organic matter to sandy soils are particularly beneficial to herbs since they are shallow rooting. Keep in mind that some of the herbs, especially the mints, tend to proliferate and become a weed if allowed to grow unchecked.

Most of the annuals and biennials ordinarily are grown from seed sown directly in place. Perennials generally are best started in plant beds or boxes using seed or cuttings, and then transplanted into the garden or growing containers.

A few plants: such as sage, balm, and rosemary, can be propagated best by cutting. Stems from new growth or the upper parts of older stems make the best cuttings for easiest rooting. Cut the stems into 3” to 4” sections, each containing a set of leaves or leaf buds near the upper end.
To prevent wilting, place the cuttings in water as soon as they are removed from the plant. A shallow box filled with 4 to 5” of clean sand, peat, and perlite makes a good rooting bed. Insert cuttings to a depth of ½ to ? their length in the moist mixture; then saturate the mix with water.
Place the box in a protected place and keep moist (but not sopping wet) until roots develop in about two weeks. Continue to water until the cuttings are ready to set out in pots or in the garden.

Such plants as thyme, winter savory, and marjoram can be propagated by simple layering, which consists of covering the lower portions of the side branches with soil, leaving much of the top of the plant exposed. When the covered parts of the stem have rooted, they can be cut from the parent plant and set as individual plants.

Older plants of chive, rosemary, and tarragon can be multiplied by dividing the crown clumps into separate parts. These subdivisions can be set as individual plants.

Mint spreads rapidly by means of surface or underground runners that may grow several feet from the parent plant. These runners, with roots attached, can be removed and transplanted to other locations.

For more information go to: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/VH020
Herbs in the Florida Garden. James M. Stephens. Horitcultural Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Revised March 1994; format updated March 1998.

GROWING HERBS

Most herbs can be successfully grown in containers attractively arranged outdoors along borders of drives, walks, and patios or on porches and balconies. Hanging baskets are especially suitable for herbs. A few can be grown fairly well indoors with special care. Attention must be given to providing plenty of sunlight. The culture of herbs in containers, including soil preparation and fertilizing, is similar to that for vegetables.

The seeds, leaves, flowering tops, and occasionally the roots of the herbs are used for flavoring purposes. Their flavor is due for the most part to a volatile or essential oil contained in leaves, seeds, and fruits. The flavor is retained longer if the herbs are harvested at the right time and properly cured and stored. The young, tender leaves can be gathered and used fresh at any time during the season, but for later use they should be harvested when the plants begin to flower and should be dried rapidly in a well-ventilated, darkened room. If the leaves are dusty or gritty, they should be washed in cold water and thoroughly drained before drying.

The tender-leaf herbs (basil, tarragon, lemon balm, and the mints), which have a high moisture content, must be dried rapidly away from the light if they are to retain their green color. If dried too slowly, they will turn dark and/or moldy. For this reason a well-ventilated, darkened room, such as an attic or other dry, airy room, furnishes ideal conditions for curing these herbs in a short time.

The less-succulent leaf herbs (sage, rosemary, thyme, and summer savory), which contain less moisture, can be partially dried in the sun without affecting their color, but excessive exposure should be avoided.

The seed crops should be harvested when they are mature or when their color changes from green to brown or gray. A few plants of the annual varieties might be left undisturbed to flower and mature seed for planting each season. Seeds should be thoroughly dry before storing to prevent loss of viability for planting and to prevent molding or loss of quality. After curing for several days in an airy room, a day or two in the sun will insure safekeeping.

As soon as the herb leaves or seed are dry, they should be cleaned by separating them from stems and other foreign matter and packed in suitable containers to prevent loss of essential oils that give herbs their delicate flavor. Glass, metal, or cardboard containers that can be closed tightly will preserve the aroma and flavor. Glass jars make satisfactory containers, but they must be painted or stored in a dark room to prevent bleaching of the green leaves by light.

For more information go to: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/VH020
Herbs in the Florida Garden. James M. Stephens. Horitcultural Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Revised March 1994; format


TYPES OF HERBS

Seed and planting stock of the savory herbs can be obtained from a number of established herb gardens, seedsmen, and vegetable-seed mail-order firms. Herb transplants are available at many local retail stores.

Anise: (Pimpinella anisum): A small (2’or less) annual plant grown for seed. Because of its many white flowers, attractive in flower garden or border. Leaves may be used fresh.

Sweet Basil: (Ocimum basilicum): A pleasant smelling annual plant with a spicy taste. Leaf colors from green to purple to variegated. The green, tender leaves may be used fresh at any time or dried along with the white flowers.

Borage: (Borago officinalis): Known as burrage and common bugloss. It has pretty blue or purple starlike flowers and is attractive in a flower garden. The flowers are used fresh to garnish beverages and salads. The plant has a cucumber-like odor and flavor.

Cardamom: (Elettaria cardamomum): A tropical, perennial herb. Leaves smooth and dark green above, pale and finely silky beneath. Small yellowish flowers produced near ground. Seeds used to flavor and give aroma to coffee, candies, cookies, and pastries.

Catnip: (Nepeta cataria): Cats like its aroma and taste. Leaf color is grayish green; flowers, formed in small spikes, are whitish dotted with purple.

Chervil: (Anthriscus cerefolium): An annual plant grown for aromatic, decorative leaves. Tastes and smells much like tarragon. Leaves garnish salads, soups, and other foods.

Comfrey: (Symphytum peregrinum), A hardy, herbaceous perennial. Drooping bell-shaped flowers are blue, white, purple, or pale yellow. Used more for its medicinal value than as an herb or vegetable. Both leaves and the long tap root are used.

Coriander: (Coriandrum sativum): A small-leaved flowering annual grown mainly for its aromatic seeds. Attractive in the flower garden or landscape due to its pretty flowers. The fresh foliage of coriander is also used in cooking, referred to as "cilantro".

Cumin: (Cuminum cyminum): A small annual plant grown for its aromatic seeds. Seedling structures harvested upon turning brown; dried; seeds are threshed and stored.

Dill: (Anethum graveolens) The flavoring plant whose young leaves and fully developed green fruits give dill pickles their name. Fruiting tops may be used fresh or dried, along with young leaves and portions of the stems.

Fennels: Common fennel: (Foeniculum vulgare) Grown for shoots, leaves, and seeds, used as flavoring agents in foods. Florence fennel: (Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum), also known as sweet fennel, fetticus, and finocchio. Grown mainly for the thickened, bulbous leaf base, which is eaten as a cooked vegetable.

Garlic: (Allium sativum): Similar to onion, except it produces a compound bulb consisting of groups of white or purplish cloves enclosed by purplish membranous skin. Garlic is propagated by division of cloves and planting each as a set.

Ginger: (Zingiber officinale): A perennial that grows from thick, white, tuberous, underground rhizomes that are very aromatic. After cleaning, scraping, boiling, and peeling, dry rhizomes in hot sun for about a week.

Ginseng: (Panax quinquefolium): A fleshy-rooted herb native to cool and shady hardwood forests. Reports indicate ginseng roots often decay when grown under warm, humid Florida conditions. From seeding to harvest takes 5 to 7 years. The main users of ginseng are Orientals. Beverages: tea, are sometimes flavored with ground ginseng roots.

Horehound: (Marrubium vulgare): A perennial herb, with hairy oval to near-round leaves. One of the main usages is in making horehound candy, thought to help relieve throat tickling and coughing. Curing (drying) leaves in shade preserves color and flavor.

Lemon Balm: (Melissa officinalis): A perennial, lemon-scented herb belonging to the mint family. Leaves and tender stems are used fresh or dried to provide flavor and aroma to drinks, salads, or other dishes.

Lovage: (Levisticum officinale): A tall perennial herb which smells, tastes, and looks like leaves of celery. The leaves and stems are used fresh as needed.

Marjorams: Sweet Majoram: (Origanum marjorana): Pot Marjoram (O. onites): and Wild Marjoram (O. vulgar ) (see Oregano). Sweet and pot marjoram are grown in herb gardens. Sweet marjoram tends to grow upright. Pot marjoram runs along ground. Leaves used fresh or dried. Marjoram is an attractive border planting for a flower garden.

Mints: Spearmint: (Mentha spicata): Peppermint (M. piperita): are two more popular with apple and orange mints. Leaves are dark green, small and pointed, with slightly notched margins. The leaves and flowering tops are the useful parts, both fresh and dried.

Oreganos: Mexican: (Lippia graveolens): European also called Wild Marjoram (Origanum vulgare): The two types dissimilar in taste, but alike in usage. The European is much milder. Cut the tender tops of both herbs just as flowers begin.

Parsley: (Petroselinum crispum): Curly-leaf type most common, plain-leaf and rooting types frequently included in gardens. Leaves are used fresh or dried as flavoring or as decorative garnish. Rooting types are useful as a cooked vegetable, particularly in soups.

Rosemary: (Rosmarinus officinalis): A small, half-hardy perennial evergreen shrub with a very spicy aroma. The fresh or dried mildly bitter-tasting leaves are used in cooking.

Sage: (Salvia officinalis): Medium-sized, hardy perennial herb with grayish green, oblong, pointed, 2- to 3-inch-long leaves. Leaves are used fresh or dried. In the landscape, sage is an attractive, low-growing border plant.

Savorys: Summer Savory: (Satureja hortensis): Annual seeds are slow to germinate. Small, pretty, pinkish white flowers make it compatible with the flower garden. Winter Savory: (Satureja montana): Woody but weak-stemmed perennial herb with narrow, pointed leaves. It branches considerably and forms blossoms. The zesty, peppery tasting leaves may be picked and used as needed, either fresh or dried.

Tarragon: (Artemisia dracunculus): A perennial herb with very narrow, pointed, dark green leaves. Fresh leaves may be used, or dry them rapidly away from light so they will not turn dark. Store in tight jars to preserve the licorice aroma.

Thyme: (Thymus vulgaris): A shrubby perennial herb with very tiny, gray-green leaves. Purplish flowers are formed at the ends of the stems. Remove top ? portion of the plant when in full bloom and spread on newspaper in a well-ventilated room to dry. Then, strip the leaves and flowering tops from the stem and store in tightly closed containers.

For more information go to: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/VH020
Herbs in the Florida Garden. James M. Stephens. Horitcultural Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Revised March 1994; format updated March 1998.