I’ve always had a kitchen garden, but when I moved into this house, I think I got myself a cafeteria garden. The astounding number of perennial herbs that like North Carolina sunshine and soil can brighten any weekend gardener’s life. I came into a house just rambling over with rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage, and mint. I was soon to discover that chives even grows wild in the lawns in North Carolina.
You’d think I’d be satisfied, but this only wetted my appetite for more: More knowledge, more herbs, more uses for herbs.
When I realized how low maintenance herbs were, I decided to plant tarragon, lemon balm, bee balm, roses, and more sage. I have a variety called pineapple sage, a tender perennial that dies back in the winter.
Having your own outdoor tea garden is really wonderful. Making fresh herbal teas (not from dried herbs) will also preserve the essential oils that give herbs their medicinal qualities. Lemon balm when steeped in water makes a tea that’s said to soothe the nervous system. Rosemary has long been used to improve memory and relieve stress. Bee balm flowers are not only pretty but were used by Native Americans for digestive and bronchial problems.
Some herbs need to be dried before they make a good tea – like rose hips. They have to be allowed to ripen on the bush until red and then picked and dried. However, once dried you can enjoy them all winter long in a rose hip tea just shock full of vitamin C!
Cooking With Herbs
Of course, fresh herbs make a culinary dish sing. Plant fresh basil annually, and you will have the richest and earthiest tasting pasta sauces in the neighborhood! Fresh tarragon makes exceptional chicken and fish dishes. And who cannot use a few fresh sage leaves to make the classic Saltimbocca? This is a simple dish of flattened chicken cutlets with prosciutto (an Italian ham), provolone cheese slices, and fresh sage leaves all rolled into it’s middle. The translation of Saltimbocca literally means: “jump in your mouth.” This dish will surely do that! Make the same dish with dried sage, and you will probably have a dish more aptly to be called “lay down and die in your mouth.” This is one dish that demands fresh sage. Making a pesto requires also the use of bunches and bunches of fresh basil, but it’s well worth the poaching of your kitchen garden. Besides, herbs just keep growing and growing during the summer.
Other Uses For Herbs
Some people like to dry the herbs, like lavender, and use them in sachets to hang in various places around the house, or use in a drawer. It’s claimed lavender and sage will keep the moths away, but I’ve never tried it. Potpourri is also a favorite use for herbs and can include ornamental dry natural products like pinecones to make it more interesting.
Others plant herbs with their vegetable gardens as some like borage will keep away tomato worms. People used herbs to make homemade hair rinses, toothpastes, and soaps. Native Americans used sage, rolled up into bundles, as smudging to clear the negative vibrations around a sick person or home.
The longer I stay in North Carolina, the more I want to explore herbs and their many uses. The one thing I would caution anyone who does want to grow herbs in North Carolina is not to plant mint in the ground: Use containers for mint. This herb is so invasive that it takes over everything and while I like mint tea, I don’t like it that much!