February 11, 2008

Favorite Reference Book for Herbs in the Garden

With warm, sunny winter weather here lately, I have spent some time cleaning up the flower garden to prepare for spring. The rosemary and lavender plants are still looking great. The groundcover rosemary is blooming with the tiny blue flowers. I've continued to use rosemary in my cooking all winter. At Thanksgiving, I used fresh sage leaves for the turkey. The lemon thyme still looks beautiful, green/yellow and is so fragrant. To my surprise, my curley parsley and chives are coming up! Many of my perennial flowers (in winter die back right now) are technically classified as herbs, too. While I don't have an herb garden per se, I have mixed herbs throughout the garden for design purposes or culinary needs. Inspired by the performance of the herbs, I pulled out my favorite book on growing and using herbs.

Jekka McVicar's New Book of Herbs is comprehensive...taking the reader from designing the garden through propagating, organically growing, harvesting and maintaining herbs in the garden. Additionally, she includes chapters on using the herbs in the home for the kitchen, home keeping and for health. Finally, McVicar includes her choice for the top 100 herbs. In her garden, she grows over 600 different varieties. Jekka's Herb Farm

While I don't have the right climate to grow all of the herbs (McVicar lives in the UK), the list includes a sufficient number of suitable herbs for my garden. There are also some herbs on the list that are unsuitable due to the possibility of invasiveness in some locations. The list is highly informative and educational.

The top 100 herb list includes photographs and descriptions of the herb, describing the flower, stem and leaf of each herb. This is a large format book, so the full-page photos are easily seen in detail. The sidebar for each herb includes cultivation instructions. There is a cross-reference color key for The Garden, The Kitchen and The Home with corresponding page numbers so that the reader can refer to those sections for more information on each herb.

McVicar's Top 100 Herbs includes some of my favorites and some that I'd like to try:

Achillea (Yarrow)
Agastache (Anise hyssop)
Alchemilla (Lady's mantle)
Allium (Onion family)
Allium (Chive family)
Aloe (Aloe)
Aloysia (Lemon verbena)
Cenaurea (Bachelor's buttons)
Chamaemelum (Chamomile)
Chichorium (Chicory)
Coriandrum (Coriander)
Cymbopogon (Lemon grass)
Cynara (Cardoon)
Echinacea (Echinacea)
Eupatorium (Joe Pye weed)
Filipendula (Queen-of-the-meadow)
Foeniculum (Fennel)
Galium (Sweet woodruff)
Ginkgo (Ginkgo)
Hypericum (St. John's Wort)
Lavandula (Hardy lavender)
Lavandula (Colorful bract lavender)
Lavandula (Tender lavender)
Linum (Flax)
Malva (Mallow)
Mentha (Peppermints)
Monarda (Wild bergamot)
Nepeta (Catnip or catmint)
Ocimum (Basil)
Origanum (Hardy oreganos)
Pelargonium (Scented pelargoniums)
Petroselinum (Parsley)
Primula (Primrose)
Rosmarinus (Rosemary)
Salvia (Sage)
Salvia (Aromatic sages)
Santolina (Lavender cotton)
Stachys (Betony)
Thymus (Creeping, mounding and upright thymes)
Tropaeolum (Nasturtium)
Verbena (Vervain)
Viola (Viola)

With an abundance of lavender in my garden (one can never have too much), I am especially interested in McVicar's detailed explanation of propagating lavender from soft wood cuttings in the spring.

I want to try some of McVicar's recipes for home fragrances such as making herbal room spray from fresh lavender flowers. McVicar includes helpful tips such as using pennyroyal as ant deterrent or sweet basil leaf as fly repellent. She also includes using herbs for relaxation in the form of bath tonics, foot baths and eye compresses.

There is a wonderful chapter on using herbs in the kitchen for dressings, mayonaise, mustard, sauces, soups as well as the traditional seasoning of meats and veggies.

This is definitely a book that I reach for whenever I am interested in adding herbs to my garden or using them around the house.

For design interest, I mixed purple sage for the leaf color with the flowers of Monch's aster.

In the above photo, hypericum Albury Purple leaves accent the coreopsis Heaven's Gate.

My favorite combination is lavender (front) with nepeta x fassennii (background).

Happy Gardening!
Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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