The herb garden
The foliage and flowers of herbs offer fragrance, texture, flavor, and beauty that awaken our senses. Botanists define an herb as any plant used for its culinary, cosmetlc, medicinal, or aromatic qualities. Although most herbs are used for cooking and fragrance, there is a resurgent interest in medicinal uses, such as chamomile tea for relaxation and peppermint for gastric comfort.
From ancient Egyptian ointments and perfumes to Victorian herbal fragrances and floral displays, people have used herbs for centuries. The Egyptians used fennel, coriander, and thyme around 1555 BCE. In 162 CE, the Greek physician Galen used herbal remedies that contained up to 100 ingredients— he was the first compounding pharmacist!
Culinary herbs can be found garden-fresh, store-purchased, or dried. Fresh herbs have a life expectancy of one week, if refrigerated. Dried herbs are more concentrated than fresh and can be kept fromsix to 12 months in a cool, dark place if stored in clean glass jars.
Cosmetic use of herbs dates back six centuries. Mixtures were used to whiten the face in several cultures, with some claiming that white skin made users look pretty and elegant. Today, herbal cosmetlcs come in many forms.
Herbs have roles in many religions. Frankincense is used in numerous Christian churches. Siberian shamans use herbs. Puebloans use herbs to induce spiritual experiences such as vision quests. The folklore and superstitions associated with herbs are quite fascinating and merit further study.
In New Mexico, herbs are limited to neutral or alkaline soils. A 10- by 12-foot area offers ample space for an average-sized family’s herb garden. To prepare, amend the soil in the early spring with a well-balanced organic fertilizer and plenty of compost. When planting, space herbs to allow for the the mature slze of each plant. Drip systems offer the best irrigation. Mulching with wood chips, straw, pecan hulls, or other organic material is important in our hot, dry climate. Mulches cool the soil, reduce water evaporation, discourage weeds, and reduce the amount of soil splashing onto leaves. Depth and distance between plants vary with each herb. Happily, insects and diseases are rarely serious problems.
The Santa Fe Master Gardener Association has an Herb Demonstration Garden on the campus of the Santa Fe County Extension Office at 3229 Rodeo Road that is available when offices are open: Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. All of the herbs in the garden tolerate poor soil, little water, and moderate neglect! Some attract pollinators and benefit all the local gardens.
A numbered list of herbs is located in a plastic box at the entrance to the garden. Each planted herb has a numbered rock placed next to it that corresponds with the list. While on campus, visit the Cactus Garden, the Xeric Garden, the Earth Kind Rose Garden, and the compost project. A demonstration vegetable garden project is in progress. The Santa FeMaster Gardener Association will sponsor a free, “Let’s Grow” session at the Herb Garden on Saturday, Sept. 10, from 9 a.m. until noon. Bring shovels and gloves for a morning of hands-on herb harvesting. Santa Fe Master Gardeners will help you learn to propagate by dividing herbs and replanting in pots to take home to enjoy! All are welcome.
Carole Owens has been a Master Gardener for five years. She is a retired Famiy Nurse Practitioner and now devotes some of her volunteer time providing TLC to all things green.