Herbs For Kitchen & Crafting
Dream assignment time! I’ve recently been asked to design an herb garden to surround a small craft cafe, a place where visitors can drink herbal teas, taste herb salts, herb butters, and herbed breads. The menu will change often but will always offer fresh herb omelets as well as daily soups and salads. In the crafting classes, people can make lavender wands and herbal sachets, bath salts, hand lotions, shampoos and body wash. What’s not to love? I’m already angling for a day job when it opens, assuming it ever does; this delicious idea is the dream child of a very busy woman. That’s so healthy! There have been several studies showing that accumulating the materials for crafting can be every bit as satisfying as actually making the whatever. If the cafe part of this dream project turns out to be just a hope for the future, the owner will still have a marvelous garden, filled with beautiful, fragrant and edible plants. Oh, and a beautiful gazebo, of course. Right?
Making up the lists of must-have plants has been delightful, not least because my own tiny garden doesn’t have space for some of my favorites, all of which I now get to use again. Like what? So glad you asked! For potpourri, cooking and crafting, we’ll need more than just the usual culinary herbs, though we’ll also have those in rich and wonderful variety. For fragrance and flavor we’ll also need roses and gardenias, meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) and santolina, as well as annuals from calendulas to salvias. We’ll also plant some Iris pallida and Iris germanica, not for their looks or scent but for their roots. Dried and finely ground (in a dedicated coffee grinder), they combine to make violet-scented orris root, a traditional fixative for potpourri and herbal sachets.
Dual Duty Herbs
Most of the herbs we’ll be using can serve both as culinary treats and as ingredients in all sorts of useful concoctions, from sachets to body care products. I hope it doesn’t need to be said that no pesticides can be used in an edible garden, or one designed to attract pollinators. Right? Please say yes. Thank you. My friend’s first request was for especially fragrant and flavorful lavenders. English lavenders (Lavandula angustifolia) make good border plants; compact and mannerly, they’re long blooming and produce the most potent essential oils. Of these, I’m especially fond of Cedar Blue, Hidcote Blue, Munsted and Vera, all excellent performers. So-called French lavenders (L. x intermedia) need heat and dry, well drained soils to give of their best, which makes them great candidates for warm-winter regions. Phenomenal, Grosso, and Provence are my top angustifolia picks, along with Fred Boutin, an especially long-stemmed form that’s fabulous for crafting.
I’m extremely fond of rosemary, not least because of the old Italian proverb; where rosemary flourishes, the women rule. Where the
herb garden needs a strong upright to mark a corner, we’ll use Tuscan Blue rosemary, a tall, slender form with bright blossoms that dry well and retain much of their color and scent. Spice Island is a pungent rosemary that’s prized for cooking, as are Perfect Skewer and Barbecue. Blue Gem has soft, azure flowers and a vivid flavor that’s popular in cocktails, while Sudbury Blue might be the most aromatic of all, great for bread and herb salts as well as crafting. We’ll be using vigorously trailing, prostrate rosemaries to cover an unfortunate rock wall, notably Benenden Blue, Huntington Carpet, Santa Barbara, Irene, and tender but tasty Corsican.
Must Have Mints
Mints definitely get a bad rap and it’s true that they can race around a garden, but they’re also useful, beautiful, and delicious. Ask a bee or pretty much any pollinator about mint and you’ll get enthusiastic approval. My new garden was initially infested with a gang of thugs, from implacable bishop’s weed to bindweed to sweet woodruff and mint. Relentless weeding has the first two under control (I think), and I’ve chosen to let sweet woodruff run in a shady area. The mints turned out to be delicious so I’m using them to fill several hard-to-reach spots. They also make terrific little shovels, breaking up hardpan by delving deep, so my heritage mints are also hard at work in a couple of extremely compacted places where I’ll eventually grow raspberries and blueberries. We’ll definitely plant mints in large containers for the cafe garden: For herb teas and cookery, Butter mint has a soft, lush spearmint flavor, while Chocolate combines a peppermint bite with velvety milk chocolate. Julep and Kentucky Colonel are classic tea and cocktail mints, while spritely Swiss Ricola is used in the classic cough drops. US native Mentha spicata offers a smooth spearmint flavor, while brisk Orange Bergamot blends mint and citrus notes, perfect for iced or hot teas.
For herbal teas, German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is an essential master ingredient, the perfect blender with almost everything. Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) is another; this pretty US native with gently fragrant flowers and foliage likes moist meadows but makes itself at home in gardens too. Thyme is another necessary ingredient in teas, herb salts and butter blends, potions and lotions. I chose aromatic French Summer and Lemon Variegated, both wonderful in savory dishes, and English thyme for teas and salad dressings, as well as Red Creeping for covering that pesky wall. Sages like Berggarten and Holt’s Mammoth add brisk notes while Pineapple and Honeydew Melon sages offer sweet flavors and scents.
Living The Dream
Though work is barely starting on the garden, I can already dream into it, so much so that I’m sometimes surprised when I see only soil and rocks on the site. In my mind’s eye, I’m smelling the roses and honeysuckles, seeing washes of color from calendulas and salvias, watching happy bees browse on borage and lemon balm, lemon verbena and oregano, sage and santolina. It’s important to keep our dreams alive, especially when it’s impossible not to feel dread and so much grief because our nightmares are coming to life as well. When we feel depleted and distressed, we need to nurture and revel in every source of renewal and resilience we can find, for ourselves and others. So let’s sit down for a minute and fully relax. Join me in a cup of tea and dream with me of roses and hummingbirds, of bees and blossoms and bright warm days. Onward, right? Because the only way through is through.