Home And Garden: Uses For Your Herb Garden

Cooking spices, seasonings, medicines, fragrances, teas, vinegars, pest repellants, holiday decorations and skin and hair treatments are some of an herb garden's uses.

Herbs from your garden are so versatile, so varied and have so many uses around the home that even a comprehensive list is bound to be incomplete!

Cooking spices and seasonings, medicines, fragrances, gift baskets, teas, eye-pads, vinegars, pest-repellants, preservatives, holiday decorations, face creams and massage oils are just a few of an herb garden's many wonderful uses.

Here's a brief overview of the most common among them:

Cooking spices and seasonings

From the day I harvested my first batch of sage leaves 19 years ago, my kitchen has never been a day without fresh or fresh-dried sage for turkey, pork and sausage dishes. A year later, garden marjoram revealed its year-round culinary appeal to spice up soups, sauces, spaghetti, eggs and sandwiches.

Shortly afterward, garlic, mint, basil, chives and thyme joined the select crew. (Basil, chives and thyme will grow great, year-round, right in your kitchen window!) Tarragon, oregano, cilantro, borage, parsley, dill and rosemary soon joined the party, before the garden expanded again into new and different herbs for new and different uses.

Your herb garden needn't be large to produce an array of kitchen spices, and you can interplant many herbs with your vegetables and even among your flowers. Some, such as mint and lemon balm, are wildly invasive, so those are better off growing in containers next to or behind your herb garden ground plants.

Medicinal herbs

Herbal medicine is a well-respected and ancient art and skill. No herbal garden should be without:

-- chamomile and bee balm - fabulous in teas and steams for menstrual cramps and bronchial congestion

-- lavender - sweet herb dispels insomnia, anxiety and irritability, also an extremely effective musty-smell repellant

-- lemon balm - an antidepressant and very effective on bug bites

-- valerian - well-regarded for its roots' properties, alleviating nervousness, emotional distress and headaches caused by fatigue

-- winter savory - crush its leaves for relief of the pain of wasp stings

-- mint - an effective digestive aid

-- angelica - soothes arthritis and rheumatism

-- St. John's Wort - well-known for its abilities to relieve anxiety and restore a sense of well-being, its anti-inflammatory properties also relieve neuralgia and face pain

Herbal fragrances

Aromatherapy is firmly entrenched in the lore and knowledge that many herbs release healing scents that can alter our moods, relieve nervous tension, calm rattled nerves and cool heated tempers.

You can add the sweetness of summer to your laundry and bed linens, too, by simmering lavender leaves for 15 minutes in two cups of water, then straining it and adding the liquid to the final rinse for your clothes.

At Christmastime, there's nothing to match the glorious scent of oranges stuffed with fresh, whole cloves, then rolled in orris root (a fixative) and cinnamon. Hang them all over the house, on the mantle, put them on the tree and the holiday dinner table. They make wonderful, long-lasting gifts!

To help chase insomnia, try a little herb pillow stashed under your sheet-top or inside your regular pillowcase. Mix a teaspoon or two of dried chamomile, lavender, rosemary, pine needles and aniseed, add a drop or two of sweet rose oil, and place the contents in a small cotton bag or a hand-stitched sachet.

Try using the same mixture, or others of your choice, in a little piece of cheesecloth, tie it snugly at the top and loop it over your bathtub faucet when you draw your bath. The room -- and the bathwater -- will be filled with the most delicious, relaxing scents! When your bath is over, run the bag across your body to carry the sweet, fresh fragrance with you all day!

Skin and hair care

Always check for allergies before applying herbs from your garden to your skin. But some of the herbs that you should consider growing to make wonderfully healthy skin creams, moisturizers, lotions and astringents include:

-- aloe vera - its soothing properties are well-advertised in many commercial creams and ointments

-- marsh mallow - soothes dry, chapped skin and is a wonderful comfort on sunburn

-- peppermint - its astringency helps clear troubled skin

-- chamomile - a skin softener and soother

-- catmint and comfrey - to soothe itchy scalps

-- sage and lovage - to deodorize and sooth your feet.

A variety of herbs also add life and luster to dull hair! These include rosemary, watercress, nettles, nasturtium, sage and linden.

Greasy hair can be tamed by using rosemary, yarrow, lemon balm, lavender and peppermint.

Around the house

Herbs from your garden also make many of your cleaning chores a sweet pleasure! And they're good for the environment as well!

A combination of sweet marjoram, beeswax and olive oil-based soap makes a great furniture polish. You can substitute lemon verbena, lemon balm or even lavender for the sweet marjoram.

Rosemary is a well-known disinfectant. Just simmer and strain a few handfuls, stems and all, and use the cooled liquid to clean and freshen all your bathroom appliances. Added to your dish soap, it will quickly and gently cut through grease on dishes, stove tops and counters!

If you're bothered by tiny weevils in your dry goods cupboard, pick a few fresh bay leaves and slip them in with the flour, rice and pastas to chase the little critters away.

Hang bouquets or wreaths of elder leaves, mints, lavender, pennyroyal or rue near doorways and in the kitchen to repel flies.

Sweet cicely's fragrant, soft seeds, when pulverized and wrapped in a soft cloth, are a perfect wood polish!

Want a calming fragrance to pervade your study or home office? Collect and dry rose petals, lavender, meadowsweet, lemon balm and calendula petals for a subtle, soothing scent.

There are so many herbs and so little time to discover all of their marvelous flavoring, soothing and healing properties. It takes only one herb garden to transform a lifestyle in a hundred different enriching ways! Why not let the next transformation be yours?

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