Last month, we took the dive and started off our Gardening for Beginners series to go in depth about all the different aspects of gardening. While we started out at the roots and talked about types of soil, we’ve decided that this month’s article is going to be dedicated to the background on everyone’s favorite herbs! If you’re not sure where to get started while you read through our tips and tricks, check out our Gardening in 2021 Guide for activities and tasks you can do each month to prepare for the warm season become the gardener you have always wanted to be!
Welcome to our second installment of Gardening for Beginners: All About Herb History!
Basil has been cultivated and grown for thousands of years, so many ancient cultures had their own unique applications for the herb. In Egypt, it was used during the embalming process; many mummies are still found with basil leaves in their bodies today. Ancient India believed basil to be a protector plant, so it was regularly grown around their temples and placed with their family and friends when they passed to protect them in the afterlife. In modern times, there are now over 150+ varieties of Basil, most of which prefer to be planted in full sun with well-draining soil and organic fertilizer.
The word Chives comes from the Latin word “ceva” which simply means onion, and for good reason – while they are related to onions, they are the tiniest of the family, making them a special, unique species all their own. Though they initially grow to look similar to a tall grass, it’s their spherical purple flowers that make them so recognizable. This herb is happy in loam or a mixture that is somewhat acidic, as long as it retains moisture well. Chives also appreciate plenty of shade throughout the season.
Going as far back as 5,000 BC, Cilantro is one of the first herbs to be used by humankind! The dried herb was found in Egyptian tombs going back at least 3,000 years. The delicate herb truly gained its popularity in Mexican and Asian dishes, though it has also been used to treat anxiety and insomnia in Iranian folk medicine. Cilantro prefers to be planted a couple weeks after the last frost to avoid the super high temperatures of Summer. It's best to sow the seeds in compost or worm casting-rich soil, adding a supplement of nitrogen after seedlings grow two-three inches out of the ground.
Dill is native to certain regions of Europe and Asia, but it’s reach has expanded all the way around the globe today. It was used for culinary purposes in Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, but was also known to treat a wide array of digestive issues; the Greeks also used this herb in perfumes and in tonics to make the muscles of their Olympic athletes more toned. Often grown as an annual, Dill loves well-draining soil in places of full sun. You can start these seeds indoors 4-6 weeks early and transplant into your garden or containers just after the last Spring frost.
It's believed that this herb is originally from the Mediterranean or the Middle East and is actually a member of the Mint family. Lavender was used for cosmetic, aromatic, and medical purposes by the Ancient Romans. This herb was cultivated by countries all over the world to become one of the number one favorite herbs in gardens all across the globe. With Lavender, it’s great to sow your seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the last frost. The first year of growth on this plant will be slow, but the following years will produce more flowers than you'll know what to do with.
This plant originally comes from parts of the Mediterranean and the name Mint was actually borrowed from the Greek tale of Minthe. The story goes that Minthe the nymph attempted to seduce Hades, but his wife Persephone was not about it and turned her into the garden herb we know today. In your garden beds, most types of Mint will do very well as a companion to tomatoes, oregano, and eggplants, but less so with other common herbs like parsley and rosemary. This aromatic herb can grow into massive bushes when given plenty of room and pH neutral, well-draining soil.
This super underrated herb is one of the earliest spices to appear in ancient records. Around 3,000 BC, this herb popped up in Sanskrit manuscripts and was continuously used throughout Middle Eastern and Asian countries. Mustard is even though to be one of the first crops to ever be domesticated, and this one done by none other than the agriculturally advanced Egyptians! Mustard is an easy growing plant and does best in well-draining soil, rich with a pH balance of 6.0 or more. As a great companion to Corn, Peas, and Dill, this plant can even survive in areas with occasional light frost.
Used most often in Mediterranean, Cajun, and South American cuisines, this herb is quite high in antioxidants. Its flavor profile tastes best with chicken and cooked in tomato sauces. Originally grown in Greece, it was believed that the goddess Aphrodite created the herb as a symbol of joy in her garden. The name for Oregano comes from the Greek words “oros” and “ganos,” translating to joy of the mountains. This herb is special it that its flavor changes with the amount of sunlight it receives. While it can live well with part sun, its classic taste intensifies when it receives long periods of full sunshine.
Parsley is originally from the Mediterranean portion of Southern Europe, extending even to Western Asia. This herb’s beginnings come from the Greek legend of Archemorus; when he was wounded in a fight, parsley grew from the location of his battle. From then on, parsley was held as sacred and never placed on their tables. Cilantro likes to have its seeds sown three or four weeks before the last frost; parsley can be started in containers indoors up to twelve weeks before the last frost then transplanted after! This herb does best as a companion when surrounded by carrots, onions, tomatoes, and even rose bushes.
This wonderfully-fragrant herb has been around for over 5,000 years – first appearing as adornments in Egyptian tombs then as a medicinal herb in ancient Greece and Rome. Greek students and scholars wore garlands made of rosemary because of its supposed memory benefits while taking tests. It has even been mentioned in five of Shakespeare’s plays! Rosemary is an herb that can grow well as a universal companion plant, as long as it is in a well-draining soil with a slight amount of sand included. While the act of planting rosemary by your garden gate may have come from a place of “superstition,” it has actually been shown that the smell of rosemary can deter pests like rabbits and deer.
While Thyme is most often found in North America, it origins trace back to Ancient Mediterranean; the name itself comes from the Greek word "thumus," which means courage. Knights and warriors would wear dried sprigs of Thyme on their person to signify their courage and belived that the scent of the herb would give them strength in battle. This herb grows best in areas blessed with more mild summer that never get extremely high temperatures or too humid. Thyme prefers full sun and a well-draining substrate with lots of bark or other organic material. You can start seeds inside 4-6 weeks before the last frost.
Is there any gardening subject you have questions about or would like us to cover? Let us know in the comments or message us on our Contact Page. We post more articles every other week, so check back for more tips and tricks every month!