Would growing herbs make me clever?

>> Friday, November 30, 2007

Gee, I want to be a clever gardener! Someone said that clever gardeners know about companion planting. I’ll have to look into this ‘simple technique’ just to see if it makes me feel clever. I’m already learning about putting perennials together for color, fragrance, and texture, so it seems learning about companion planting shouldn’t be any great stretch.

In the past, I have grown nasturtium and marigolds along side my tomatoes as a pest repellant. Not every year, since I’m not sure if it works or not. Sometimes I would find the dreaded Tomato Hornworm merrily chomping away on a tomato stem next to nasturtium, so I don’t think he was too bothered by that repellent plant. Maybe he didn’t know he was supposed to be repelled.

There are many plants that benefit from having companions around. People benefit from having companions, so why shouldn’t plants? Many of the companion pairings I have seen listed involve at least one herb.

Herbs are something that have both intrigued and mystified me for a very long time. I see herb gardens featured on TV garden shows and in magazines, etc and they either look manicured and formal or wild and unkempt. I like the wild, natural look myself. It just seems more inviting and alive.

I always think after viewing these gardens that I would like to have one of these but then I think “what would I do with all of those herbs?”

Herbs are that branch of the plant world that cries out to be used. And it seems there is an herb that can be used in almost every aspect of our daily lives. But when it comes right down to it I don’t know if I would or even could use them properly. Like I said earlier, they mystify me.

I have great admiration for anyone who can take a plant and make soap out of it or spice up a bowl of soup or add a sweet fragrance to a home. The utilitarian aspect of herbs is what, I suppose, appeals to me most. Maybe its my frugal upbringing that tells me that if a thing can be used for more than one purpose then it becomes more valuable. Herbs both look good and can be used for other beneficial and useful things.

Despite my few failed attempts to use herbs as an insect repellent, I still am motivated enough to expand my knowledge of how the plant kingdom can do more than just look good and feed us.

I have read plenty of books about the culinary and medicinal uses of herbs but I’m not sure where to start or what use I should go for. Using a plant for medicinal reasons just seems out of the question, what with all of the fast acting medications we have available to us. It’s not that I have overwhelming trust in the FDA when it comes to allowing only the best medications to reach the market, it’s just that I’m not sure I want to be experimenting with something that may not be very effective in ‘curing’ me when I’m sick and want to get well quickly. There are an awful lot of people who swear by herbal remedies and herbal preventatives, my wife being one. She takes these Wellness Formula tablets every cold season and urges me to take them as well. She never seems to get sick but I do every year just before Thanksgiving, just like clockwork, whether I take them or not. So, based on these two samplings of using herbs as preventatives, I’m not convinced they work all that well.

As far as culinary use goes, I know fresh herbs add a little something extra to foods, because I have tried them. We have bought basil, thyme, rosemary, etc from Farmer’s Markets and our foods do taste better as a result. But honestly, I don’t know just how much parsley or basil our family would use for cooking if we grew it ourselves. I suppose the excess could go to the compost pile or friends.

We lead pretty simple lives and are not given to extravagant or gourmet meals. Occasionally I enjoy testing my culinary skills by trying a new recipe that sounds especially tempting. Sometimes the recipe tastes pretty good, if I may say so.

I would like to make potpourri, sachets or soap, etc but that would take an awful lot of Lavender and I just don’t have that kind of space.

Making my own insect repellent seems, to me, to be the most practical reason for growing herbs. There are many herbs that can be ground up and mixed with water and used as insect repellent and/or fungicide. A few are elder leaves, chamomile flowers, chive leaves, horseradish leaves, feverfew flowers, etc, all of which can be interspersed throughout my perennial beds since they require the same growing conditions. And they put on a show of flowers as well.

So, let’s see, scattering them throughout the garden would add some fragrance, help fill in the odd gap here and there, attract beneficial insects and help feed birds. Maybe companion planting can make me a clever gardener after all.


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