Category Archives: Gardening

all things kitchen gardening

Santa Rosa Gardens

I love this porch decoration.

This is next door to us.  Most of the houses on this street are either old or vintage (it’s an official historic district with signs and all).

I remember when this yard was lawn with some perennials.  Over the years more and more people have been getting rid of their lawns.  I don’t actually hate lawns – I mean I HATE having one myself because I loathe mowing and I think it’s a waste of space I could be using to grow food or flowers – but I think lawns are pretty, it’s just that I’m really bothered by the amount of water it takes to keep them up and how many chemicals people use to kill off the weeds in them and the unnaturally strong fertilizers used to feed them – both of which contaminate natural waterways.  So while I understand that having lawn is something many people enjoy – I can’t help but really enjoy seeing people rip them out to plant drought resistant plants or vegetables or flowers or trees.

I also remember this garden when it was just being planned and planted out many years ago.  It’s filled in beautifully.  The house that goes with it is also quite lovely and has had a lot of work done on it.

Really sweet front garden.

Mulching is really important in a dry warm climate.  This garden looks a little bare.  You have to be patient with gardens and let them fill in.  Sometimes you have to add more later to fill in gaps.

You know nothing makes me happier than to see people growing vegetables in their front yards.  Vegetables are beautiful and I object to the idea that they should be sequestered in the back like servants or the poor relations you wish no one knew about.  Now I sound like I think poorly of everyone who grows their vegetables in their back yards.  I don’t.  I promise.   Sometimes the back yard is the only good spot for them.  I just especially love to see them center stage.

You know I had to share the McMinnville style garden with you.  This is the view from my office and it makes me smile because it’s like the universe was making sure I wouldn’t forget my Oregon adventures and my antipathy* for miniature Japanese maples.

Well, I’m off to shower and make some more hamburger buns.  There aren’t any good ones on the market shelves.  I saw several with high fructose corn syrup in them.  Lordy lou – is nothing sacred?  Seriously, bread requires very little sweetener – just enough to feed the yeast beasts – there is no excuse in the world to be using HFCS in bread.  So.  Making my own buns.  I hope you have a wonderful Sunday!

*I don’t really hate them – I just got really tired of the formula for yards in Mac:

mostly lawn+ miniature Japanese maple+a sensible flowering bush+a tiny bed of annual flowers usually cut into the lawn (often in a kidney shape)=de rigueur.

And NO – not all gardens in Mac follow this formula – there are plenty of interesting and pretty gardens that are following their own stars – it’s just that there aren’t enough of them yet to distract me from the ubiquitous same-same.  Still, in the six years I lived in Mac I saw more and more gardens doing their own thing – so I think there’s lots of individuality to come.

Artichoke Math: home grown versus store bought

I still hear people asking if it’s really worth it to grow your own food.  Usually what they mean is “Is it cheaper?”.  In our country this is how we evaluate nearly everything.  By its cost in dollars.  There are aspects of growing your own food that are difficult to quantify such as the benefit of choosing the variety of food you grow, knowing exactly what chemicals (if any) were used in their cultivation, and getting your food directly from the garden to the table in a matter of minutes or hours rather than days.

The cost of growing your food is much easier to quantify.  You can make it as expensive or as cheap as you want.  There will be a cost but you control how much you spend on garden tools and purchased compost and the seeds or plants themselves.  Depending on where you live you may have to pay close attention to how much you spend on watering your garden.  When I consider the cost of gardening I don’t include and then add in the cost of tools every time.  You don’t replace your garden tools every year (unless you’re fighting off zombies with them) so I think of it like this: gardening requires an initial investment of some things like wheelbarrows, shovels, trowels, and clippers.

The cost of water is highly variable so it will be different where you live than where I live.  Here in Oregon it’s a lot cheaper to water your garden than it is in California.  You don’t have to start watering regularly until at least a month later than you have to in California.  The water isn’t rationed here and we get so much of it falling during the spring that spring crops rarely need watering at all.  In the southwest water is more expensive and precious than it is even in California.  So there are places where this is definitely a bigger cost and concern for growing your own food.  I will counter this with the fact that there are a few ways to cut down on watering your vegetables (drip lines, heavy mulching, and under-planting come to mind).

If you’re gardening smart then you aren’t buying compost for your garden, you’re making it.  Fertilizers can also be made from things in the garden such as comfrey (you make a comfrey tea to pour on the plants).  Depending on where you live you can also get free horse/cow/goat manure from people who keep such animals.  This might be hard if you’re gardening in a large city but even most cities have farmland not far outside of it where such things as free manure can be found.  When I set up a garden initially I do buy a large quantity of compost because I always do raised beds and I have to buy soil to fill them with.  After that I don’t buy compost and I rarely buy fertilizers or pest control products either.  So my yearly garden expenses aren’t very high once I’ve set my garden up.

I’m mentioning all of that because I want to acknowledge that there are a lot of costs to consider when gardening but most people with gardens are already spending all that money whether they’re growing vegetables or not.  So it seems silly to me to quibble over those costs because the person who is gardening but not growing any of their own food is spending the same amount I am (probably more if they have any lawn) but they also have to buy more food than I do.  So what if you were watering an artichoke plant where some lawn used to be?  Or where a rhododendron used to be?  How much would it save you to grow some artichokes of your own?

Here’s some artichoke math I was doing just yesterday:

I have 5 artichoke plants that I paid about $2.50 each for.  This year I picked and ate 24 artichokes of varying size from those 5 plants.  That means that each artichoke cost me .52 cents.

I saw some globe artichokes on sale at the store yesterday for $2.69 each.  I recall that last month they cost $3.69 each.

24 home grown artichokes cost a total of $12.50

24 store bought artichokes on sale cost a total of $64.56

Even when you consider that my home grown artichokes were much smaller than those enormous ones at the store – the math still works out in favor of home grown.  The truth is, I didn’t buy those artichoke plants this year.  I planted them last year and they did yield artichokes but I didn’t count them and I didn’t eat them because I was not paying attention to my garden enough and they flowered before I could pick them.  The plants died down and then they came back this spring.  And just for the record – I didn’t water them once.  So this year I actually paid nothing for those 24 artichokes.

One other thing to note is that size is NOT superior when it comes to artichokes.  It turns out that those small artichokes – the baby ones – they haven’t matured enough to develop the inedible choke yet – which means that more of the leaves are edible and tender.  I’m telling you – they are wonderful!

I love artichoke math.

Why not plant some artichokes for yourself if you haven’t already?

An Apartment Garden in Portland

I love how more and more people are turning their yards into edible landscapes.  I especially love to see this happening on the grounds of apartment buildings.  When I lived in the JC neighborhood in Santa Rosa I had a neighbor who was a great inspiration to me – he rented a small apartment just down the street and had almost no yard space but not to be discouraged he turned the sidewalk curb strip into a miniature garden in which he grew garlic and greens and tomatoes.  In his small place he was busying brewing wine and making cheese.

It’s so easy to be defeatist and assume that if you can’t grow lots of food or make lots of your own preserves that you shouldn’t bother growing or preserving anything.  My neighbor taught me that the important thing is to be doing whatever you can for yourself, that growing your own food, even if it’s a few heads of garlic and some salad greens, is an act of freedom and of self sufficiency.  It’s about keeping your connection strong between yourself and the soil that nourishes you.  It’s a little bit like a prayer or a meditation and it’s a lot like feeding yourself the highest quality nourishment you can even on a micro-scale.  Learning how to grow things and preserve food is tapping into knowledge that is at the core of the success of human beings as a species.

In a more pessimistic view it’s also what’s allowed us to overpopulate the earth and conquer nations and fight wars.  Growing things allowed humans to settle down and stay put through the seasons.  Agriculture allowed us to stop roaming.  The evolution of food preservation is what allowed humans to cross oceans and to cross masses of land to attack other people.  Without drying and salting foods armies couldn’t go far.  So in a weird way, while I’m eulogizing the wonderfulness of growing and preserving foods I’m also celebrating what has made humans the most terrible virus on earth.

Still, those humans who know how to grow their own food and how to preserve it for later use have truly valuable knowledge and in times of war or natural disasters this kind of knowledge gives you better chances of survival.  Plus, everyone will want to be friends with the person who knows how to make alcohol from apples and who can make sources of protein rise from the ground in plant form when there’s no meat to be had.  The person who knows how to pull wild yeast from the air and mix it with flour to make bread is like a magician when there is no bread and no packaged yeast in the stores.

I am happy every time I see evidence of humans getting into the soil to grow their own food.  City gardens are hopeful and resourceful.  I always stop to enjoy them whenever I see them.  This garden has some really big beets that are ready to pick.

It’s time for some lemony beet salad!

Blackberry Wrangling Progress

I’ve been working hard and looking like I tame lions for a living.  I have some thorns still stuck in my skin.  But it’s totally worth it and all the hours I’ve put into clearing the blackberries have been very meditative.  I’ve been meditating quite a bit about the evil neighbors who killed these brambles with pesticides without my permission.  Bastards.

I’ve also been meditating on cleaner and brighter thoughts too, such as how good it feels to be out there working in the plants and the fresh winter air.  Meditation for me isn’t about clearing my head of all thoughts, because that is impossible (I’ve tried many times), but about letting my thoughts come to me organically and letting them say their piece without interruptions.  I let the stream of consciousness be heard as it is formed.  Inevitably my mind settles down after a while into a theme and a flood of thoughts about something my mind has been chewing on gets released.  I always feel better afterwards.

I’m about a third of the way though the task.

Wait, no, more like a quarter.

Crap, maybe only like an eighth.  But who cares?  You can see part of the back fence again!

How To Remove Blackberry Bushes Without Pesticides

As I have written here before, I love blackberries and I have let them go wild in my yard.  The vines that are choking my porch to death produce wonderful berries in the summer and it was my intention to continue to let them cultivate themselves.  However, these vigorous vines crawl up onto the floor of the porch where unwary people are given an unpleasant surprise.

If we were training with Cato Fong to stay on our toes and be Kung Fu all the time, we would not let such surprises daunt us.  But, Inspector Clouseau we are not.

My mom told me that if I wanted to keep the blackberries I would need to get rid of the bushes underneath them and stake them in an orderly fashion so we can easily keep the blackberries off of the porch.

Wait.  I have bushes under there?!

If you’ve ever had blackberries muscling their way into your garden, then you know they are very hard to get rid of.  Most people soak them in pesticides and this works like a dream.  Plus, then you get to help poison the watershed in your area.  We choose not to use pesticides.  Admittedly, this is the hard road in the short term, but poisoning our water supply will make for a much harder road down the line and I don’t mind a little work.

Here are some tips for getting rid of brambles without using pesticides:

  • Don’t let them attain mass in the first place.  If you see a wee baby cane pop up in your garden anywhere, pull it up immediately.  If you do this religiously, you will not find it necessary to read any of the following tips.
  • If, like me, you engage in lazy gardening habits (otherwise known as a crazy busy life) and your brambles have become the size of trees, you will need to grab yourself the sharpest pair of long handled bypass loppers you can find, leather gauntlet gloves*, thick pants, and some really motivating music on a portable MP3 player.
  • First cut off any obvious and easy to get at canes.  Be sure to cut them in manageable pieces as you pile them up.  You will be thankful not to be whipped by recalcitrant canes when you try to gather up your pile of trimmings to the yard waste container or compost pile.  Speaking of compost piles, blackberries thrive in them and unless the canes are 100% dead before you put them in there (brown all through, no green in any part of them) they will take root with joy.  So unless your compost pile is very hot, let the county take them to the dump or let them die before adding to your compost.
  • You work your way from the outside of the blackberries towards the inner tangles. This isn’t a tip, so much as a fact.  If your blackberries are growing over other plants you actually want to keep, you must take care not to prune out the wrong branches.  As you work your way inwards, you may need to take a band-aid break.  Or, if you’re a tough broad like me, you can ignore the blood that is inevitably dripping from your arms and legs at this point.
  • Once you’ve gotten a third of the length of the canes cut back you will find yourself reaching into the shrubbery to find the origins and this is delicate work.  There are insects in there with all that foliage.  They don’t like you shaking them down.  If your blackberries aren’t growing on anything else you may, at this point, start digging up the roots. If digging up the roots – dig DEEP. Blackberries are hearty plants with scrappy tough roots that are hard to pull up so they can survive your attack.
  • If still struggling with a bush situation, you want to get as much of the blackberry canes cut back before you deal with the roots.  Don’t cut them all the way back though because you need some leverage when tugging the roots out.  They do not come out willingly.  Don’t mind that the thorns near the base of the root are big enough to impale birds.  I promise that you will barely notice the scars in a couple of months.
  • Clean-up is very important.  Do not leave any blackberry debris behind in ground containing 5% or more soil.  Leaves, stems, and canes can all root themselves if left for more than four hours**.  The only part of a blackberry plant that can’t root itself are the thorns.   (I think)  Be sure to check back in a week to continue pulling up surprise canes.
  • Continue to do this for the rest of your life.  Consider it a zen workout.  The blackberries aren’t your enemy and they aren’t evil.  They are a fecund plant that gives free luscious fruit to humans, birds, and other enterprising animals.  You do not eradicate them completely, the goal is to keep them in balance with the rest of your garden.  Good luck!

*I never have these on hand.  I bought a pair, as I often do, and then they sit around in spidery corners.  I have OCD and issues with gloves.  In fact, I keep my own pair of garden gloves inside where I can keep an eye on them.  Then I perform a thorough examination of them before putting them on my hands which involves not just shaking them out but also crushing the full length of the fingers in case any insects happen to be great at hanging on.  I then ignore the thought of crushed insects, compel my rising panic to remain quiet, and carry on.  In any case, the times I have used long gauntleted gloves I have found that thorns still find their way through.  Whether you bother to use them or not is up to you, I merely felt compelled to mention them in case you didn’t know you could get them.  You can.

**Inaccurate information.  It seems like only four hours when in fact, it’s more like 12.

August 2011 Garden Update


Thanks to my mother our garden is doing great.  She’s the one who’s been watering every other day (manually) and mulching and planting.  While I’ve been working and writing and preparing for my trip she’s been out there working hard.  These are Romano beans (Helda) and they’ve become my favorite now.  They can get quite big and still not be tough or develop beans inside too fast and they taste wonderful.  I’m done growing Blue Lake or Kentucky Wonder, both of which have performed poorly for me in the last few years.

I actually know a few people who don’t like tomatoes.  I’d be devastated if I became allergic to them.  I look forward to them every year with the same fervor some teens look forward to seeing Justin Bieber in concert.  (I know all about Justin Bieber because my ten year old son mocks him at every opportunity)  Everyone in my area keeps saying this summer is even colder than last summer but I don’t believe it.  I have lots of tomatoes and there’s plenty of time still for them to ripen.

Bee balm.  It’s such an outlandish flower.  We already had quite a lot of flowers to attract beneficial insects but my mom has added a lot more.

I don’t care what Oregon says*, Buddleia is gorgeous and definitely brings the butterflies and hummingbirds around.  I didn’t buy my  buddleia, I got it as a volunteer from the neighbors.  I will concede that it’s a bit pesty the way I keep finding more sprouts which get woody and dug in really fast if I don’t rip them up at first sight.

Squash!  Everyone jokes about it but for us it isn’t growing so valiantly that we must share it with anyone at this point.  The two crookneck squash plants died.  One of our zucchini plants is a little yellow and small and that leaves just one trooper that is giving us some promise but the delivery has been nothing to brag about yet.

Thank you mom!

*Buddleia is considered a noxious weed in Oregon and it is illegal to buy it.  One of those ridiculous laws that defy sense since nurseries are allowed to sell it.  Maybe the law is that you’re not allowed to grow it.  You can buy it but not grow it?  In the Master gardening program I asked some very keen questions about it but naturally the answers just went in circles.

Flowering and Fruiting in the May Garden

Lilacs are something I didn’t see that many of when I lived in California but here in Oregon the landscape is covered with them and May is when they flower.  I have several in my garden but since I didn’t plant them myself I don’t know what kinds they are.  I have two white ones and this is the first time this one has put off more than a couple of blossom clusters since I’ve lived here.  I love it.  Philip isn’t crazy for the scent of lilacs in the house, he thinks they’re overwhelmingly soapy.  I love it.  The scent on this one isn’t particularly strong, a disappointment to me, but at least it’s beautiful.

This is the first time my red currants have produced any berries.  The plants (I have two) spend an awful long time in their pots so it’s not surprising.  Now that they have a good deep spot of soil to reach into they are much happier and I’ve got several clusters of berries on them.  Not enough to do much with but it makes me happy anyway.

Borage is an amazing plant to have in the garden.  Bees love it so it helps the pollination of everything else to have it growing near all your fruiting plants.  This one’s very small but they do get enormous and they’ll seed freely.  Some people think this is a nuisance but I don’t.

This is my bed of tomatoes and calendula.  I’ve got: 3 Siletz, 2 Jaune Flamme, and a Sungold.  I need to have black tomato varieties too.  So I’d better get another bed cleared of quack grass.  Yeah, no problem.  I’ll get right on that.

I’ve never done square foot gardening but my mom is giving it a try in this bed.  She’s got it marked up and soon will plant it out with seeds.

It’s good to mulch your strawberry beds.  My mom covered ours with straw and with the sunshine we’ve been getting (not a lot, but enough) and the slightly warmer temperatures have given them an enormous boost of growth and though you can’t see it well in this picture, they are blossoming.  This is a bed of ever-bearing which means it doesn’t produce quite as large a berry or as large a June crop but will continue to produce for a few months.  Last year I was getting berries through October.  Just a few here and there.  If you want to make jam or pies with your strawberries you’re better off planting June-bearing varieties that tend to produce large amounts in a single crop and often the berries are of larger size.

Not pictured is my 8×4 bed of pole beans- the first few bean sprouts have emerged.  I love green beans and I don’t think you can have “too many” because if I can’t keep up with fresh eating I love to marinate and can them.

What’s going on in your own garden right now?

Getting Back into the Garden with Mom

Most people clean their gardens up (and “put them to bed”) in the fall.  The reason they do this is so that when spring finally hurls itself at them, they can simply dig in and plant their earliest crops without first having to remove all of last year’s dead tomato plants or weeding the quack grass that was allowed to root itself in firmly.  It’s a great tradition.  I haven’t done it for years.

It is taking so much work to do this ritual cleaning now, in the spring, that we are in danger of not having enough beds prepared for planting this year!

In spite of being so far behind in all my yard maintenance (roses haven’t been pruned in two years) it is shaping up and looking better than it has in a long time, thanks to my mom.  My mom has a way of getting me out in the garden even though I’m just embarking on writing the third draft of my novel.  I have barely been out in my garden for a year.  My mom moves in, I say “Hey, even though we might have to move this year, we should plant some things anyway.” and she takes up the idea and before I know it Philip is digging holes, I am wrestling with quack grass, and she’s planning and plotting for our next best garden move, without us knowing quite how it all happened so fast.

I love this about my mom.  She is whipping us into shape without actually bossing anyone around.  It has felt so good to get out there, to see what’s growing and changing every week rather than hiding out in my eyrie of an office looking down at it from a distance.  It’s not that I ever forget how much I thrive by getting my hands dirty and being around my plants, it’s more a question of finding the energy, the motivation, and of keeping in the habit.  I’m still tired all the time from parenting a special needs kid, writing a novel, working for money, and trying not to drop every other ball in my life, yet I am now also spending more time in my garden.

Some of the things we’ve been doing:

  1. Cutting back the rampant brambles.
  2. Fighting the good fight against the heinously encroaching quack grass.
  3. Mulching the strawberries.
  4. planting pole bean seeds (Helda, Lazy Housewife, and violet podded stringless).
  5. Transplanting mullein volunteers.
  6. Pruning the fruit trees.
  7. Mowing the lawn (a big deal because Philip and I LOATHE lawn but can’t afford to get rid of it until we can afford to hire a rototiller and the materials to plant the vast lawn with other things-not a project to undertake if we’re going to have to move in the next year).
  8. Planting herbs (finally got some comfrey and planted it, among other herbs)
  9. Putting down cardboard and straw between the raised beds.

That’s quite a lot for people with little energy and a lot of distractions!  Yesterday my mom informed me that this coming fall we’re going to properly put the garden to bed and avoid all this hard work in the spring that we’ve been doing.  I just know she’ll get me to do it, if she says it’ll happen it’ll happen.  So how does she do it?  Easy- she is not in great health and has limited energy and battles with vertigo so seeing her out there mowing the lawn in the surprise sunshine makes me realize that if she can get out there and do that, then I can get out there with my shovel and other dastardly tools of quack grass destruction and put in at least a half an hour!  (Yes, it’s guilt at its gentlest and most effective)

I have at least five more 8×4 raised beds to clear of solid quack grass and top up with dirt.  That’s a lot of really hard work.  Quack grass is a formidable foe, in case you haven’t encountered and don’t know.  If you don’t recall, last year I broke my shovel on the stuff.  I think a nice blessing to bestow on a new born child is “May she/he grow strong like quack grass!” (translation “Should he or she grow as strong as quack grass he or she will outlive all nuclear events in the future!  Mazeltov!”)

The more I do out there the more I want to do out there.  I try to have modest garden goals (just a bed of beans and a bed of tomatoes will be plenty for a modest year of gardening) but I always get carried away.  I want a big section of beets, carrots, pickling cucumbers, slicing cucumbers; plus I need lots of my own summer squash and winter squash and…

I forget that I can get all these things from the farmer’s market too.  But nothing, I think most gardeners will agree, is more satisfying than going out in your own garden to see what’s for dinner.  I want it all.  Oh, right, forgot about all the dark leafies I need and the lettuce and…

No matter how much or how little I get planted or harvest, the important thing is that I’m out there to see the lilacs budding up and then opening, that I see the ladybugs flood the yard like they do every early spring, and that I see the shape of my monastery garden re-emerge.

Thanks mom!

Dried Thyme Yield for Spring 2011

I harvested over 2 lbs of thyme from a total of 8 thyme plants and yielded 6 oz of dried thyme.  I had wanted this report to be more accurate but I had a minor setback because I dried batch after batch of tyme but failed to dry the final (much smaller) batch.  I should have weighed what was left but I didn’t.  Instead I let it sit in the fridge in a paper bag.  For a week.  I made a curious discovery by doing this:

Thyme kept in a paper bag in the fridge for a week will dry itself.

However, not to my satisfaction.  I would have kept it if I’d been desperate for dried thyme and that was all I had, but it was dry yet still slightly supple making it hard to remove leaves from the stems.  I could have put it in the dehydrator to dry it out more thoroughly, but I was lazy, and threw it out.

Please don’t throw rotten potatoes at me!

The amount that was left I estimate to be approximately 4 ounces.  Even though my numbers, this time, might not be precise I think it’s still useful information.  This is the first harvest of 2011 and there will be at least one more this year.  I have more than 8 thyme plants but at least 2 of them are dying and need replacing.  What I love about growing and drying my own thyme is that the quality is superior and though it isn’t particularly expensive to buy dried thyme, it is a fraction of the cost to do it yourself.  My thyme plants are two years old and have given me at least 6 big harvests already.  If you keep harvesting them regularly you keep them from becoming too woody.  Plus they look nice in the garden if you do a nice job trimming them.

Although I use a pretty wide variety of herbs and spices in my food, thyme is the one I use the most.  I especially like it in a French style lentil soup.

8 plants yielded 2 lbs 4 oz fresh thyme

2 lbs (approx.) fresh thyme yielded 6 oz dried thyme

Essentials for Every Medicinal Herb Garden

My mother has a certificate in herbology and a lot of experience growing, using, and foraging medicinal herbs.  She’s shown me how to make salves and at one time made me and my siblings all herbal first aid kits which included tinctures and salves she made herself.  My favorite item from that kit was her comfrey salve which I found very useful for many applications.

I believe everyone should grow medicinal herbs in their gardens.  You don’t need to be an herbologist to make use of medicinal herbs safely.  A couple of good herb books is all you need.  I am no enemy to modern medicine and depend on it for a number of things I could never find relief for with herbal medicines.  I believe in an integrated approach to medicines: take the best from the East and the West, take the best from the present and the past.

I always grow medicinals because they are generally gentle, cheap, and can be incorporated into your everyday health regimen.  There’s another reason I think everyone should grow some medicinals: what if commercially produced medicines were to become unavailable to you?

You should have on hand some herbs that you can use in emergencies to do things like reduce fevers, bring swelling down in sprains, heal cuts and bruises, treat burns, calm nerves, detoxify your liver, disinfect wounds, and reduce the symptoms of influenza.  Growing herbs to meet all these basic needs is neither difficult nor need it take up too much space in your garden.

How do you choose the essentials?  My mom and I love this game.  There is a dizzying number of medicinal herbs and plants that you can choose from to grow in your own yard, so how do you narrow it down?

  • Make a list of common issues you and your family experience: skin issues, headaches, colds, anxiety, persistent coughs… think of all the things you routinely find yourself needing to treat and include all first aid things you keep on hand.
    • Consult a reliable herbal book.  Look through the lists of herbs, read what each of them do, and discover which herbs are the most recommended for the needs of your family.  Most libraries will have several you can check out if you don’t have any of your own.  I will list some titles you can rely on for good information (these are all books I personally own and trust):

      “Herbal Remedies for Vibrant Health” by Rosemary Gladstar

      “Desk Reference to Nature’s Medicine” by Steven Foster and Rebecca L. Johnson  (published by National Geographic)

      “The Essential Natural Health Bible” by Nerys Purchon

      “The Complete Herb Book” by Jekka McVicar

      • When you have a list of all the herbs most likely to fulfill your family’s particular needs and those of general first aid, cull the list down to the ones that will grow well in your climate and ones you have room for.  Don’t exclude culinary herbs from this list, many of them have great medicinal qualities that improve your health simply by being used frequently in your cooking.  Thyme, for example, is a powerful antiseptic properties in addition to adding great flavor to soups and other savory dishes.

        While I believe choosing the herbs you grow should be based on your personal needs, there are herbs I believe everyone should be growing in their gardens regardless of who they are.  I’m going to give you two lists to start with.  The first will be a list of the herbs I think every single garden should be growing, this will be the bare essentials.  The second list is the one my mother and I have come up with for our own garden.

        Essentials for Every Medicinal Herb Garden:

        Comfrey – absolutely essential for healing cuts, bruises, burns, and sprains; the roots are great made into tea for your bath as it will soften and heal skin.

        Calendula – great for all skin issues (softens, cleans, heals), anti- inflammatory, antifungal.

        Thyme – strong antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal, and antispasmodic properties.

        Sage – sore throats, antiseptic, immune booster, colds, and treats nervous exhaustion (I should be drinking this every day!).

        Peppermint – stimulating, refreshing; good for relieving indigestion, tension headaches, and spastic complaints of the gastrointestinal tract.

        Aloe Vera – soothes cuts and burns, nourishes and moisturizes skin.

        Elderberry – reduces severity of influenza symptoms, immune system stimulant, reduces fevers, colds, and ear and throat infections.

        Rosemary – good for digestive ailments, increases circulation, colds and flus, mouthwash, dandruff, and may ease depression and fatigue.

        The only one from that list that not everyone may be able to grow in their own garden due to its size is the elderberry.  Elderberry can be kept pruned to a reasonable size but left to its own devices it will become a big tree.  If you have room: plant it!

        Here is a complete list of what I will have in my own medicinal garden with the items I already have planted asterisked:

        Echinacea, lovage, rosemary*, comfrey*, beebalm, arnica*, calendula, balm of Gilead, borage, sage*, tarragon*, winter savory, feverfew, peppermint*, nasturtiums, parsley*, thyme*, vervain*, elderberry*, mullein*, oregano*, marjoram*, plantain*, roses*(for rosehips), and lavendar*.

        There are so many amazing and useful herbs you can plant in your garden.  Aside from the benefits these herbs offer to you personally they are also great for attracting beneficial insects that will increase pollination in your other plants and help keep in balance the pests that hurt your soil and plant health.

        What herbs do you grow and what are you planning to add to your garden this year?  I want to know!