The use of herbs is almost as ancient as humankind

Herbs have been a part of human history even before we had a history. The earliest examples of humans using herb plants were found in cave paintings in France and Spain. Documented use of herbal plants goes back at least 25,000 years from those images. Quite possibly, humans using plants for flavor, medicine and spirituality go back even further. It is no wonder that people from everywhere and from all walks of life enjoy growing herbs. Herbs are usually tough plants that are hard to kill, so even someone with the brownest thumb can be successful if they have a plan.

Many herbs grow in a wide range of climates

A versatile herb garden has plants that flavor food, make teas and even soothes minor ailments. Depending on where you live, how much room you have and what kind of climate you enjoy, there are a number of options. Herbs are either annual, where they germinate, grow, set flowers and seeds, then die all in one season, or perennial. Perennial herbs come back year after year in the same spot. Some perennial herbs are even evergreen, or semi evergreen, depending on the climate. Most prefer a well-drained, sunny area and a number of herbs even grow well in containers. Deciding what flavors you like and what grows best in your climate and property is the first thing a new herb gardener needs to do. Easy herbs that grow well in pots or in the ground are calendula, basil, thyme and sage. You need an area with at least six hours of sun to grow them.

field of calendula

Calendula is good for minor ailments and attracts pollinators

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) does double duty as an attractive flowering plant, a pollinator magnet, medicinal and culinary. The bright yellow to orange flowers also give it its common name of pot marigold. The petals are a spicy addition to salads and they have long been used to give the yellow color to cheeses and butter and are a culinary substitute for the much more expensive saffron. An infusion of the petals and leaves is antibacterial and is a good wash for minor skin irritations. Sow the seeds directly in your garden or container after danger of frost has passed. The plants quickly germinate and reach about 15” tall and 12” around. They like regular water for the most flowers, however they can survive short periods of drought. Deadhead the blossoms to keep a continuous supply of flowers. They do best in spring and early summer before the heat of the season sets in.

basil plant

Basil is so easy anyone can grow it

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is probably one of the oldest herbs used in food and medicine. There is evidence of it being used as much as five thousand years ago in India and western Asia as a flavoring and medicine. Basil is most often used fresh at the end of a recipe as the flavor quickly deteriorates at high temperatures. It pairs well with tomato and olive oil, so features prominently in pasta sauces and pizzas. It is also a good flavoring for Indian, Thai and Chinese foods. Plant basil seeds after danger of frost has passed and it will germinate within a week. Keep basil well watered and give it at least six hours of sun each day. Basil plants do well in the ground or in containers. As the plant grows, pinch the growing tips to encourage branching and fullness. Keeping the tips pinched also prevents it from flowering, which turns the leaves bitter, so keep those leaves harvested for a longer season. Fresh pesto is probably the most famous basil use. Whirl about three cups of clean basil leaves, a couple cloves of garlic and a quarter cup of fresh, grated Parmesan cheese in your blender or food processor until, finely chopped. Drizzle in olive oil until you are satisfied with the consistency (about a half cup) and salt and pepper to taste. Use immediately, or freeze for later.

thyme growing in a pot

Thyme is a basic seasoning and a great garden plant

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is another herb with a long history. The Egyptians used it in embalming as it has antibacterial properties and it is also anti-inflammatory. Teas were used to help stomach ailments and as a pain reliever. It doesn't hurt that it is also a tasty addition to roasted vegetables or meats and in pastas and soups. I love to make my own seasoned salt with thyme and rosemary. I take Kosher salt and whirl it in my food processor with thyme and rosemary leaves, then spread it on a cookie sheet and dry in the oven on 250F for twenty minutes. This is great on everything from baked potatoes to roasted chicken. Thyme is a perennial plant that is easy to grow and thrives on sunshine and frequent 'haircuts'. It loves heat and well-drained soil and is even good in containers and rock gardens. It isn't very easy to germinate from seeds, however most garden centers will have small transplants at a reasonable price. And the good thing is, you'll only need to purchase it once, since it comes back every year. Keep it trimmed during the growing season, since the stems get woody if it is left to run. The tender stems and leaves are what you'll harvest.

sage in bloom

Sage does more than just flavoring the Thanksgiving turkey

Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a beloved herb in many cultures. The silvery leaves and stalks of blue to purple flowers are attractive in the garden and to the pollinators. It has a long and varied history throughout the ages and was considered a medicinal, spiritual and culinary plant. The ancients believed it could cure anything from sore throats to typhoid fever. In actuality, it is anti-microbial and has antioxidant properties. Native to the Mediterranean Basin, the Romans spread it across all of the lands they conquered. There are many species of salvia, some strictly decorative and others culinary and they can be found throughout the world. The culinary salvia with the familiar Thanksgiving stuffing aroma and flavor is the one we are focusing on at the moment though. Usually bought as a small transplant in the spring, plant your sage in a sunny, well-drained location and for the first year, keep the growing tips pinched to encourage branching and to prevent blooms. This lets your plant grow into a robust specimen that will live for years. Harvest the young leaves and use them in savory dishes. They dry well for later use as well. Culinary sage can grow to an impressive three feet tall and three feet around when it is happy, so most gardeners keep it in the ground. If container grown, your plant will be smaller.

Choose from many different herbs for your garden

There are many other herbs that gardeners have to choose from. These in the article are just so easy, they make a good start for a beginner. They have a long and colorful history and serve a number of purposes. They are happy just about anywhere there is a sunny spot and a bit of moisture. Fresh herbs add zing to ordinary meals, flavor oils and vinegars and are wonderful teas. There are so many more than the ones in this article and if you want to try a few others, rosemary, tarragon, chives, parsley and dill are all good options. If you are a beginner, do start small with just a few species. Once you feel confident, than add a few more. The choices are almost limitless. It's fun to learn the histories and ancient uses as well. An herb garden is a good way to get started with gardening and gives enjoyment for many years.