|Flowering Chives (Aren't they pretty?)|
Fresh Herbs from the Store are Expensive
In produce parlance, herbs are a value added commodity. They're cut and sometimes prewashed, a service that apparently justifies ratcheting up the price for them -- sometimes into the stratosphere. If you've ever grown basil, dill, sage or oregano, you know they can be big leaf producers, more than earning the space needed to grow them. It's likely that an herb marketer would explain that the high price is justified because herbs aren't staples, and as "specialty" crops, are grown in smaller batches so the "economies of scale" aren't there to lower the price.
One easy way to save money -- and send retailers a message -- is to grow these herbs yourself. If you've ever spent a sawbuck on a couple of fresh herb bundles, you'll be happy to hear that many herbs like basil, chives, dill and cilantro self-seed in the garden. This means once they're planted, they keep coming back year after year. Think of it as a twofer -- or a ten-fer. You pay once but reap the rewards indefinitely. I have a patch of chives that's been growing, seeding and persisting beautifully near our clunky old air conditioner for over a decade -- with very little help from me. I water in July and August and fertilize once a year, if that. That's it. Think of it this way: Lots of herbs are weeds with benefits. No work, but they're actually good for something.
Herbs are Natural Pest Control
Herbs have strong scents and flavors. That's why we like to use them in cooking, aromatherapy and crafts. Those characteristics also make many herbs unappealing to insects, vermin and even larger mammals like deer. If you grow roses or vegetables, planting herbs near your other plants can protect delicate specimens from predation. Here's an example I've used before: Rue and garlic planted near roses are effective at keeping bugs away without relying in toxic pesticides.
Catnip, garlic, chives, marigold, lavender, rue, feverfew, tansy, cilantro, mint and rosemary all help control different types of pests. If you have problems with mosquitoes, fleas, flies, ants -- to name just a few -- consider adopting some herbs to help keep marauders out of your garden. Once established, many herbs can hold their own with little help. Even better, reducing your use of pesticides protects the environment and beneficial insects like honey bees, lady bugs and praying mantis. These last two control destructive pests, so keeping their populations high is in your best interest.
Herbs Need Your Help
If you've been checking the seed catalogs lately, you've probably noticed the prevalence of designer plants bred for hardiness, taste or appearance. Many of these cultivars are proprietary products. They're either illegal to reproduce or their seeds (if there are any) aren't viable. I won't recap the new wave of worry over "big brother" agribusiness, but I will say that growing heirloom herbs is one way to protect plant varieties we may be seeing less of in the future. If this sounds alarmist, it isn't. Hundreds of vegetable varieties available a century ago have virtually disappeared through the widespread selection of marketable alternatives. Marketable doesn't necessarily mean more flavorful or healthier, either. It means more profitable for the growers. If you want to promote flavorful herbs and wonderful vegetables, grow your own and make a large percentage heirloom varieties.
Fresh Homegrown Herbs Just Taste Better
If you've ever grown sweet corn, you know that fresh picked ears taste better than anything you'll find at the store. Herbs can be like that, too. If you want to try making your own pesto, turkey stuffing or marinara sauce this season, grow the basil, oregano, sage, marjoram, garlic, fennel or other herbs yourself. It will make a difference in the final product. Instead of searching for the perfect recipe, focus on growing the best ingredients.
Herbs are Just Plain Fun
There's a certain mystique to growing herbs. It usually brings to mind the vision of a free spirited young woman in a broom skirt gathering bouquets of herbs at dawn -- barefooted. Sometimes that woman is older, wearing a hat and gathering an herb harvest in a wicker basket -- with her shoes on. In truth, the herb hobby is more than the sum of its parts because herbs resonate with many of us in ways that are hard to quantify.
When you grow herbs, you become part of a long tradition that's romantic, mystical and a little whimsical, too -- even if your wardrobe tends toward mommy jeans and bargain tees. Although I'd like you all to set aside a dedicated herb patch tomorrow and begin making your own aromatic sachets, candles and seasoned vinegars, adding just one catnip plant to supply your favorite feline with some unexpected amusement is a good place to start, and an interesting lesson, too.
Here's why: Although *catnip is probably best known as a cat intoxicant, that's not all it can do. It:
- Is a natural sedative when taken as a tea
- Can help treat stomach cramps, arthritis discomfort, headache and hives
- Is a natural ant, termite, cockroach, mosquito, squash bug, squash vine borer, flea beetle and cucumber beetle repellent.
- It's also a lush green plant in the garden that self-seeds readily.
*Catnip should not be used by children or pregnant women. For additional information, please ask your physician and review online educational materials at MedLine Plus (a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), The National Institutes of Health and WebMd.
Photo 1 - FloweringChivesMF.jpg http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/24345
Photo 2 TansyMF.jpg http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/757635
Photo 3 - CatnipMF.jpg http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/637800