ith their delicious fragrance, attractive foliage and culinary properties, herbs bring a pleasing



ith their delicious fragrance, attractive foliage and culinary properties, herbs bring a pleasing blend of beauty and practicality to any garden.
And that's not all.
Many herbs have medicinal uses and some even help to repel pesky, potentially dangerous mosquitoes.
So what are you waiting for? Get outside and plant an herb garden.
"Herbs are very popular now because people are searching for simpler, more natural ways of doing things, and herbs can provide natural alternatives to everything from replacing salt in cooking to replacing some medications," said Deanna Clifford, a member of the Holborn Herb Grower's Guild of the Mahoning Valley.
But before you head to the nearest garden center to buy a bevy of herbs, Clifford suggests forming a plan.
"Ask yourself if you want to use herbs primarily for cooking, or if you want to use herbs to make potpourri or soaps, or if you simply want to enjoy herbs as part of your flower garden," she said.
If you want to incorporate fresh herbs into your favorite recipes, Clifford recommends planting basil, rosemary, parsley, thyme, chives, sage and oregano.
CULINARY GEMS
Here's the lowdown on seven herbs coveted by cooks:
*Basil: Basil boasts a fresh and spicy flavor and likes full sun and plenty of moisture. Since basil is an annual, it must be started each spring from seed.
Basil won't tolerate frost, so make sure to plant seeds outside after the danger of frost has passed.
Native to India, South Asia and the Middle East, basil has been cultivated for thousands of years and comes in several varieties including sweet basil, bush basil, lemon basil and purple ruffle basil.
Basil makes a nice addition to salads and soups and works well in meat and fish dishes and any recipe that calls for tomatoes.
Basil is also very aromatic and will help relieve symptoms of the common cold if inhaled.
Basil also repels flies and mosquitoes.
*Rosemary: Although it's classified as a perennial, Rosemary is a native of the Mediterranean and isn't tough enough to hack the harsh winters of Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Some gardeners grow their Rosemary in pots and then bring the potted plants inside for the winter, but Clifford said Rosemary will suffer indoors if the air is too dry.
Rosemary is happiest outdoors in a dry, sandy soil and plenty of sunshine.
Its silvery foliage and purplish flowers make it an attractive addition to flower gardens.
Some varieties of Rosemary can reach heights of about 2 feet.
Most cooks use Rosemary in meat, chicken and potato dishes or in marinades and salad dressings.
*Parsley: Although it's an annual, parsley readily reseeds itself, so there's a good chance it will show up in the garden year after year.
Many cooks prefer Italian flat leaf parsley instead of the curly leafed variety because the flat leaf parsley has more flavor.
Parsley tastes great with potatoes, carrots, scallops, shrimp, lobster or pasta.
It's also high in vitamin C and is a natural breath freshener.
The delicate flowers of mature parsley plants will attract butterflies.
*Thyme: A hardy perennial, thyme likes sandy soil and sunshine, and with its low-growing, tiny foliage, it compliments borders and rock gardens.
Native to the Mediterranean, thyme comes in many varieties including common thyme, lemon thyme and wooly thyme.
Today thyme grows wild from Greece to Great Britain thanks to the Romans, who introduced the herb abroad many moons ago.
The best time to harvest thyme is when it is in bloom. Clippings dry well or they can be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag.
Thyme is terrific in salads, stews and marinades.
Thyme also repels cabbage worm.
*Chives: A sweeter, gentler cousin to the onion, chives taste great sprinkled atop a baked potato or steak. They're also good with eggs, chicken, soups and vegetables.
A persistent perennial, chives are extremely easy to grow and will live happily in a pot on the kitchen windowsill or a sunny spot in the garden.
The spiky stems of mature plants produce purplish flowers that add color to the garden.
Chives don't dry well, but they freeze just fine.
*Sage: With its fuzzy, gray-green leaves and purple flowers, sage is both beautiful and useful. Plants reach a height of about 2 feet and prefer sunshine and alkaline soil.
Sage ranks as an essential ingredient in many poultry stuffing recipes, and sage tea is recommended as a gargle to relieve sore throats.
Pineapple sage has a delicious pineapple scent and flavor.
It attracts hummingbirds and its sprigs make a refreshing addition to cool summer drinks.
Unfortunately, pineapple sage originated in Mexico and must have mild winters.
*Oregano: Since it's native to the Mediterranean, oregano likes well-drained soil and sunshine.
Although it's classified as a perennial, it will not tolerate harsh winters.
Potted plants can be moved outdoors in the spring only after the danger of frost has passed.
When cooking with oregano, add it during the last few minutes of cooking since it can become bitter if it's cooked longer than 30 minutes.
Oregano tastes great in soups, salads and rice and poultry dishes.
FRAGRANT HERBS
*Lavender: For gardeners who gravitate toward sweet-smelling herbs, Clifford recommends lavender.
"Lavender is my favorite herb," Clifford said. "The scent is so wonderful that it can put you in a better mood."
Lavender not only smells good, it looks good too with its silvery-green foliage and pretty purple-blue flowers.
Some types grow low to the ground and never reach a height of more than 6 inches while others develop into mature shrublike plants of more than 4 feet tall.
A hardy perennial, lavender loves sunshine and needs well-drained soil.
"Many people plant lavender near the path to their door so each time they come and go, they can brush against the plant and smell its fragrance," Clifford said.
Lavender also repels moths.
*Spearmint and peppermint: Gardeners prize perennial mints such as spearmint and peppermint for their refreshing fragrance as well as their culinary uses.
Since mints grow wild in our area, they will easily endure harsh winters and rapidly regenerate in the spring.
But be careful, mint plants can take over if not kept at bay.
Phil Wilhelm of Hartford Greenhouses in Hartford recommends planting mint in a large pot and then burying the pot in the ground. Although mint will still spread, this trick will help keep it confined to one area.
Mint repels aphids, flea beetles and cabbage moths.
*Sweet Marjoram: A tender, sweet-smelling perennial, marjoram likes well-drained soil and full sun.
Plants grow about two feet tall and the small, fuzzy leaves should be cut back once or twice during the growing season.
Marjoram is often used in perfumes but it's a favorite in the kitchen as well. It lends subtle flavor to egg, meat, fish and poultry dishes and can be used in soups, stews, marinades and salads.
HERBS THAT SOOTHE
Some gardeners cultivate herbs that calm their nerves.
*Chamomile: A favorite ingredient for tea or bubble bath, chamomile helps people relax.
Roman chamomile is a perennial that reaches a height of 9 to 12 inches, while German chamomile is an annual that grows 2 to 3 feet tall.
*Echinacea : Also known as purple coneflower, Echinacea is sold over the counter to help fight everything from depression to the common cold.
Its large, daisy-shaped magenta flowers make it a favorite among flower gardeners as well as herb gardeners.
THE PERFECT SOIL
Since so many herbs prefer sandy, well-drained soil, the heavy, claylike soil common in northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania can spell trouble for herb gardeners.
Clifford recommends adding mushroom compost to improve soil quality.
"Mushroom compost is what mushroom plants are grown in. It doesn't smell very good, but it gives the soil the consistency it needs," Clifford said.
PREPARING FOR WINTER
Harsh winters also spell trouble, but Wilhelm said mulching around herbs during the fall will help protect them from Old Man Winter's bitter onslaught.
"It's best to mulch during late fall when herbs are going into a dormant state. The mulch will help protect the more tender perennial herbs," Wilhelm said.
Early fall is the best time to harvest herbs if you want to cook with them during winter.
Some herbs can be cut back entirely, but others need to be trimmed more carefully.
Early fall is also the time to bring herbs that won't survive the winter indoors.
But Philip Steiner of Mellinger's in North Lima said potted herbs tend to be fussy.
"You might be able to grow rosemary, sage, oregano, chives and basil inside the house during the winter, but they may not like the dry air or the lack of bright, intense sunlight," Steiner said.
KEEPING BUGS AT BAY
With West Nile virus making headlines, everyone wants to know natural ways to keep mosquitoes away.
"Anything that smells lemony will help repel mosquitoes," Wilhelm said.
Favorite lemon-scented herbs include lemon verbena, lemon thyme, lemon basil, lemon mint, lemon-scented geraniums and lemon balm.
Other insect-repelling herbs include tansy, which repels flies; sage, which repels cabbage moth, carrot fly, flea beetle and slugs; pennyroyal, which repels flies, mosquito and fleas; and feverfew, which attracts aphids away from roses.
Catnip attracts cats, but repels flea beetles and ants.
XAdditional source: www.gardenguides.comk

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