herb garden information
Mountain Ash, Rowan
ROSACEAE Sorbus aucuparia
How often does nature not compensate for its bounty by imposing other strictures. The lovely Rowan is no exception to this phenomenon – its small white flowers have a most off-putting smell when approached closely. However, this does not detract from the great attraction of its fruit to bird life, who compensate for the feed by fertilizing and spreading the seeds in their droppings.
A small deciduous tree or shrub with a slender crown, shiny and smooth grey bark and sleek grey/brown twiglets. The alternate odd-pinnate leaves are dark green above and paler below, having 9—19 sessile, lanceolate and sharply serrated leaflets.
The edible fruits – rowan-berries – are small scarlet globular pomes. Their taste tends to the sour and astringent.
Rowan comes from the Old Norse name ‘raun’. Although not a true ash, its leaves are similar. The specific name, aucuparia (bird-catching) — refers to the berries being a favourite food of birds and were thus used by trappers as bait for their birding nets.
Rowan bark was used for dyeing and tanning and the flexible sturdy wood was prized for tool handles.
- The dried fruits or the pressed juice of fresh fruits is used for constipation and kidney disorders. Strictly avoid large doses.
- Ripe fruits are used medicinally. Ingredients include tannins, organic acids, sugars, pectin and vitamin C. These ingredients impart mild purgative, diuretic and general tonic properties.
- Fruits are a raw material for the manufacture of sorbose, a sweetening agent for diabetics.
- The fruits have been used as a laxative and to make drinks to prevent scurvy. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) has also been extracted commercially from them.
- The berries, particularly those of cultivated sweet-fruited varieties, can be used to make syrups, compotes, conserves and wines.
- Berries are also used in certain liqueur manufacturing processes.
Rowan is native throughout the cool temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, where it grows in woods, scrub, on mountain rocks and by mountain streams, but is rare in lowland areas. The greatest species diversity, with many microspecies occuring, is in mountainous regions of western China and the Himalayas.
Flowering time: May to June – N. hemisphere.
Marshmallow – also althaea root, mallow root, mortification root, Schloss tea, sweet weed, Hock herb.
MALVACEAE Althaea officinalis
A perennial botanical herb with a yellow, branched root, elevated, vertical, leafy stems and substantial alternating, lobed and irregularly toothed foliage.
The stems and foliage are velvety. The milky white or pinkish blooms of these herb garden plants, which are inviting to bees, are lined up in uneven racemes in the leaf axils. The disc-shaped schizocarpic fruit (a capsule) splits into one-seeded nutlets (mericarps). The fruits are usually referred to as ‘cheeses’ because of their rounded structure.
Homer’s Iliad - from 2,800 years ago, contains references to marshmallow root as a healing herb.
The familiar soft candy, marshmallow, was initially flavoured with Marshmallow root.
The familiar term ‘mallow’ is a corruption of the Latin term malva for this and similar plants in the Malvaceae family (see also PL 139). Both malva and Malvaceae almost certainly originate in the Greek word malakos (= soft), a reference to the softening and healing attributes of these herbs.
Among its various constituents are sugar, starch, an amino acid (asparagine) and pectin.
Marshmallow is a popular herbal remedy for diverse conditions and is cultivated commercially in certain countries.
The whole plant incorporates a healing action. But it has got to be without rust.
Marshmallow is regarded as the most vital mucilaginous medicinal herbs mainly because it contains a high proportion of mucilage (flowers around 20 per cent, roots near 30 per cent) and it is incorporated into branded medication and herbal preparations as an ointment, demulcent, antitussive and expectorant.
Marshmallow is employed internally for bronchitis and bronchial asthma and for indigestion and gastrointestinal difficulties.
It makes calming gargles and compresses and poultices for external application. It offers a number of cosmetic purposes too. The roots may be boiled and used like a vegetable.
Marshmallow boasts a wide-ranging distribution from western Europe to Siberia. In the British Isles, where it is native, it is commonplace in salt marshes and on banks nearby the seashore. It is now naturalized to the eastern United States and used for ornamental purposes - foliage and purple flowers.
Flowering period – Northern hemisphere: August to September.
Container and indoor growth
Herbs are probably the most suitable and attractive container plants and virtually every species may be potted with great success, whether initially propogated by seed or nursey seedlings. My first herb garden was indoors – cooking with herbs was just so convenient with a source close at hand. Since the first attempt – almost 30 years ago – I have dished out dozens of mini gardens to friends as gifts. Many of them got over the mystique surrounding herbs in days of yore and became keen herbies.
Herbs ideally suited for planting indoors include popular choices such as basil, chives, coriander(silantro), lemon balm, thyme, marjoram, parsley, stevia, sage and winter savory. However, small pots of many other varieties should certainly survive very well if indoor growing circumstances are favourable. (See below.)
Terracotta strawberry containers are particularly suited for herb growing, allowing taller and bushier herbs (hyssop, for example) to be grown in the top, and for trailing herbs (oregano, thyme) to grow down gracefully from the side openings. When selecting a pot or tub, be sure to check its has adequate water drainage openings and that it is thoroughly clean. Containers must permit good drainage to prevent waterlogging and consequent root impairment.
Besides satisfying these requirements, ensure that the dimensions and colour of the pot match the plant you are planning to grow: un-glazed clay-based pots are widely used and combine nicely with green foliage; timber containers also play a role in attractive presentation and can be utilized as window boxes or on a veranda.
Container plantings offer an array of possibilities to the herb garden enthusiast: a pot including a single species can be arranged with other containers for variety; or you can place several herbs together in a single large container, provided that the grouped herbs need the equivalent growing requirements.
A space-saving and appealing technique for growing is the hanging basket. This allows creeping foliage to cascade over the sides, while central positions can be filled by parsley or chives.
Herbs with invasive root systems (mint, lemon balm) are best planted separately as they tend to overcrowd the other species in a mixed planting. Check first with your nurseryman.
Potted indoor herbs need a well-lit, bright position but do not like the severe direct heat of the sun. A kitchen window-sill which receives several hours of sun each day is ideal. Even decent reflected light will suit such plants as chervil, chives, lemon balm, mint and parsley – none of which benefit from too much heat.
Indoor herbs ought to be examined on a daily basis for moisture and watered on a regular basis to avoid the soil from drying out.
Container-grown herbs do not need to be limited to window boxes or patio positions. In reality, some of the more delicate herbs are better cultivated indoors; certainly in places where winters are severe.
Indoor herbs flourish in a normal, and stable, room temperature of around 17 °C, but will endure cooler night temperatures as long as these do not fall too low. Dry heat is exceedingly detrimental, and relatively high levels of humidity ought to be maintained; this can be contrived by standing the pots on a layer of moist gravel in their drip trays. They will also reap the benefits of an occasional misting of their foliage, and they require decent air circulation. They should not, however, be permitted to stand in a draught.
Vervain is a perennial herb sporting a rectangular, stiff and erect stem, which is typically randomly branched. It is sparsely leafy in the top section, frequently with with semi-circular teeth;the diametrically opposed dull-green leaves are pinnately divided into oblong lobes, often with rounded teeth, the end lobe having a greater size than the others. The topmost leaves are smaller and sparsely divided. All parts of the plant are coarsely hairy. The small, double-lipped pale lilac flowers are displayed in elongated terminal spikes. Plants yield a foursome of nutlike burgundy coloured fruit.
The name, Vervain, comes from verbena, the classic Roman term for altar plants used in religious ceremonies. Vervain is native to much of Europe in sheltered spots spread around the countryside. Uncommon in Britain, where it is native, but principally in England and Wales. Vervain has a history interwoven with legends of sorcery, magic and its properties as a medicinal herb. Lovers used it in love potionsand the triumphant Roman soldiers carried it for protection.
- Vervain was once used to ward off plague.
- To this day it is a popular herbal remedy for nervous complaints.
- When worn round the head, it was believed to repel headaches and prevent poisonous bites from snakes, spiders and scorpions.
- The flowering stems are used medicinally. Their constituents include the glycosides verbenalin and verbenin, tannins, an essential oil, mucilage, saponins and mineral compounds. These substances give Vervain astringent, diuretic, stomachic, tonic, diaphoretic, antispas-modic, vulnerary, mild sedative and hypnotic properties.
- It is used internally in an infusion for various disorders associated with the stomach, liver and kidneys. It is great for stimulating the metabolism, treating general nervous exhaustion, insomnia and migraine.
- Externally Vervain is used in gargles and in compresses and bath preparations for skin disorders. An extract from the fresh plant is used in homeopathy.
Some herbal remedies ought not to be taken if there is a pre-existing kidney, liver or heart condition, or if an individual is diabetic. For example, Juniper should not be taken by those with inflamed kidneys and Rhubarb not by individuals with urinary conditions and kidney stones and uroliths.
Professional guidance should always be sought if there is any question about the toxicity of a plant or about the interactions of herbal remedies with other medicines that are currently being taken. Guidance should be sought if there is any doubt about the safety of a herbal treatment for a child. It is highly recommended that you seek the opinion of a medical assistant regarding the kind of medicinal herbs that can be safely ingested.
Compared to synthetic drugs very few herbal remedies have been clinically screened in a scientific way for both their beneficial and potentially harmful properties. It is hence inadvisable for expecting mothers to take any herbal reme’dy aside from very mild herbal teas (for example, Chamomile) and those prescribed by a qualified medical or herbal practitioner.
The collection and processing of medicinal plants are closely supervised and the resulting medications are prescribed meticulously by qualified professional medical personnel.
Some highly toxic plants provide such important medicines (alkaloids and glycosides primarily) that they are cultivated commercially for the pharmaceutical industry (such as, Ergot Fungus, Deadly Nightshade, Foxgloves and Opium Poppy). A selection of extremely toxic medicinal plants is listed below; keep in mind we have used what we consider the best known name, but for regional and language differences have also incorporated the scientific (Latin) name.
These herbs should NEVER be collected and prepared for use in the home:
- Biting Stonecrop Sedum acre
- Bittersweet Solanum dulcamara
- Black-berried Bryony Bryonia alba
- Box Buxus sempervirens
- Bulbous Corydalis Corydalis cava
- Castor-oil Plant Ricinus communis
- Christmas Rose Helleborus niger
- Cowbane Cicuta virosa
- Crown Vetch Coronilla varia
- Deadly Nightshade Atropa belladonna
- Erect Clematis Clematis recta
- Ergot Fungus Claviceps purpurea
- False Acacia Robinia pseudoacacia
- False Helleborine Veratrum album
- Forking Larkspur Delphinium consolida (= Consolida regalis)
- Foxglove Digitalis purpurea
- Hedge Hyssop Gratiola officinalis
- Hemlock Conium maculatum
- Hemp Cannabis saliva
- Henbane Hyoscyamus niger
- Iranian Poppy Papaver bracteatum
- Ivy Hedera helix
- Laburnum Laburnum anagyroides
- Large Yellow Foxglove Digitalis grandiflora
- Lily-of-the-Valley Convallaria majalis
- Lesser Periwinkle Vinca major
- Lords-and-Ladies Arum maculatum
- Male Fern Dryopteris filix-mas
- Meadow Saffron Colchicum autumnale
- Mezereon Daphne mezereum
- Monkshood Aconitum napellus
- Opium Poppy Papaver somnifertim
- Thornapple Datura stramonium
- Wild Lettuce Lactuca virosa
- Woolly Foxglove Digitalis lanata
- Yellow Pheasant’s Eye Adonis vernalis
- Yew Taxus baccata
If plant poisoning is suspected, medical attention needs to be sought straight away.
For commercial cultivation, increased yields of the medicinally active substances are obtained by breeding varieties with a continuous, high concentration of the desired substances or by special preparation techniques.
Occasionally the poisons occur only in certain elements of the plant — the leaves, fruits or rootstock. For example, the flowers of Forking Larkspur are not poisonous, but the other parts of the plant, particularly the seeds, are very toxic.
A curious aspect of poisonous plants is that the concentration of toxic substances in them is not consistent; it varies according to such factors as the locality, the time of year, the time of day, the temperature and whether it is damp or dry, sunny or overcast.
Remember also that the everyday Potato (Solanum tuberosum) tuber is normally quite harmless, as long as it is not green (when green it is poisonous), but the flowers and young leaves are toxic.
The small, creamy-white, fragrant flowers are arranged in a terminal corymb. The flowers have reflexed hairy sepals and numerous long stamens.
A perennial herb with a short, pink rhizome and a tough, erect, branched and leafy stem. The stem leaves are alternate, odd-pinnate, doubly serrate, dark green above and usually white-felted below; the stipules are broadly cordate and conspicuous.
The fruit, a one-seeded follicle, is spirally twisted. The scent of the leaves is quite different from that of the flowers.
Meadowsweet has been used as a medicinal plant since ancient times and it remains popular as a herbal remedy to this day. It was in the flowerheads that salicylic acid was first discovered in 1839. It was from this substance that aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) was later synthesized.
The common name, Meadowsweet, is said to be derived from the Anglo-Saxon word medu (= mead) because the plant was once used to flavour the drink made from fermented honey.
- The flowers, and sometimes the young leaves and rhizomes, are used medicinally. All parts contain the glycosides gaultherin and spiraein, traces of an alkaloid (helio-tropine), tannins, a yellow pigment, vanillin and free salicylic acid, produced by the splitting of gaultherin and citric acid. These substances give the plant antipyretic, weak antispasmodic, astringent and antirheumatic properties.
- The flowers are used in an infusion to treat influenza, and to alleviate headache and rheumatic and arthritic pain.
- Meadowsweet is gentler on the stomach than aspirin and it is one of the most effective herbal remedies for gastritis and peptic ulcers.
- Both the leaves and flowers are also strongly diuretic and are used to treat certain bladder and kidney disorders.
- The fresh root is used in homeopathic preparations.
Meadowsweet is common in damp woods and meadows, in fens and by riversides throughout Europe, including the British Isles.
Flowering time: June to September
All of the parts of the plant are strongly fragrant. A perennial herb with a strong, hollow, angled and branched stem and substantial, long-stalked, bi- or tri-pinnate leaves with shiny dark-green leaflets. The stem leaves are less divided. The smallish greenish-yellow flowers are structured in a compound umbel. The fruit is a yellow-brown, ovoid dual achene with winged ribs.
Lovage is probably a native of the Mediterranean zone but it is now naturalized all over Europe in meadows and other grassy places in many regions of Europe.
Lovage was available to the classical Greeks who chewed the fruit to assist digestion and to ease flatulence; the plant has remained a preferred herbal option.
It enjoyed a reputation in a number of European states as an aphrodisiac, thus possibly its popular name. Most likely though the name Lovage is derived from an old English word loveache, from the much earlier Latin name ligusticum, after Liguria in Italy where the herb grew in abundance.
It is regularly grown as a garden herb and is commercially grown on a small scale for medicinal uses in various countries
- The roots of two- or three-year plants or the flowering stems (collected before flowering) are employed medicinally. Their ingredients incorporate an essential oil with terpineol and butyl phthalidine as its most important components, furanocoumarins, sugars, esters of organic acids and resin. These elements impart Lovage stomachic, carminative, cholagogic, diuretic, mild expectorant, antidiaphoretic and anti-rheumatic properties.
- In herbalism an infusion is used mainly to relieve flatulence, as an appetizer, for dropsy and urinary disorders, rheumatism and nervous exhaustion.
- A hot infusion can be used as an inhalant and if added to bathtub water, it possesses a cleansing and deodorizing effect on the skin.
- If taken internally in excess Lovage may cause feelings of nausea and vertigo.
ABOVE ALL, LARGE DOSES SHOULD NEVER BE TAKEN BY WOMEN WHO ARE PREGNANT OR BY INDIVIDUALS WITH KIDNEY DISEASES.
Flowering period is July to August in the Northern hemisphere.
The lone flowerheads contain white to pinkish, ligulate ray-florets as well as yellow, tubular disc-florets that shut in the evening. Bees find the flowers highly appealing. Ail parts of the plant are sparsely hairy. The fruit is an oval, downy achene without a pappus.
The common name, Daisy, is made up of the Anglo-Saxon name daeges eage (= day’s eye), a reference to the plant’s resemblance to a ‘small sun’ since it opens and folds mornings and evenings.
Daisy is very common in the wild and in home gardens around the world. The generic name, Bellis, is said to originate from the Latin word bella (= beautiful) or from a dryad called Belidis.
The plant was at one time a preferred treatment for wounds and chest ailments and is even now incorporated into various contemporary herbal handbooks.
- Young fresh leaves may be used raw in salads or perhaps put into soups.
- In herbal medicine it is usually utilised as an infusion.
- Daisy makes an appealing addition to tea mixtures.
- Externally it can be found in compresses and bathtub preparations to treat skin disorders, wounds and bruises.
- A decoction from the fresh leaves is employed for the samel purposes.
- The flowerheads are utilized medicinally. The primary ingredients are saponins, an essential oil, tannins, mucilage, flavones and a bitter compound, these all give Daisy astringent and expectorant qualities.
- It has a useful influence on gastritis, enteritis and diarrhoea, and infections of the upper respiratory system.
The basal rosette of spathulate, bluntly serrate leaves stands up adequately to competition from other plants, such as grasses, and from spring onwards Daisy successively produces several generations of blossoms.
A perennial herb of grassland in addition to weeds in lawns.
Although it is always preferable to use fresh rather than dried herbs, there are times when fresh may not be available and gried herbs from last seasons crop need to be used as a substitute for fresh herbs.
Having said that, let me also say that properly dried herbs certainly offer a very viable and tasty alternative; especially when faced with a no herbs or dried herbs choice. It is not difficult to dry herbs for future use when done correctly. Observe the following commonsensical guidelines to get the most from your efforts:
Storage containers should be clean, lids matched and marked as to planned contents well before packing starts.
The working space should be large enough both to work comfortably and ensure that there is no inadvertant mixing of two different dried herbs.
Dried herbs should never be kept in a damp atmosphere, even when stored in airtight containers.
The optimal time for picking herbs for drying is when the natural oils are most prolific: this is the period between the appearance of flower buds and the time they actually open. Following this procedure will give your herbs a better flavour when dried.
If possible, wait for a warm dry day; pick in the morning after the dew has evaporated and before the sun has become hot enough to draw out the natural oils.
Small-leaved herbs such as thyme, savory, and tarragon can be picked branch by branch and dried in bunches. Do not use a kitchen or bathroom because of moisture; an airing cupboard works best. If left in a passage or other dusty location, tie them in a length of muslin. Within less than a week your herbs should be sufficiently dry. When the leaves are dry, strip them off the branches and store in airtight bottles or jars. Or they can be rubbed through a wire sieve.
Larger leafed herbs such as mint, basil and sages hould be picked individually from the growing branches.Each leaf should be perfect – no spots or blemishes should be visible. Place these on a tray covered with absorbent paper. Keep turning them so they dry evenly. When they are brittle enough, crush into small pieces before turning into airtight containers, or rub through a wire sieve.
Avoid direct sun or oven drying if possible. A dark area will allow them to retain their colour more successfully.