Every mother in early America knew her herbs. She was schooled from childhood by her own mother to recognize the useful plants to grow in the wilderness farm. Not only could she cultivate the plants, she knew how to prepare them as well. She could conjure up a potent tonic, create warm soothing teas and season each meal with pinches from the garden or her stores of dried preserved plants. This is the knowledge handed down from mother to daughter since the earliest times. It's knowledge every woman should strive to learn today so that she too may carry on this herbal legacy.
Consider a Mother's Day gift of herbs. Gifting Mom a flat of assorted container-grown herbs is the best way for her to learn more about them. She will plant them all, then spend the summer watching each one mature into beautiful, fragrant adults. In the meantime, you'll enjoy the scents and flavors in your meals inspired by the fruits of your gift.
For dads and kids, facing a display of herbs can be daunting though, because when young, many appear identical to the untrained eye. Therefore, the best way to sort out this huge group is by their life cycle. Annual herbs grow from seed each year. Perennial herbs are soft herbaceous plants that return from roots or stems every spring. Shrubby herbs such as sweet bay produce long-lived woody twigs just like a boxwood.
To assemble a flat of herb seedlings for Mom, strive to blend both annual and perennial herbs. If you live in the West where conditions are warm and dry, then load up on the Mediterraneans that are both ornamental and used in the kitchen. The more diverse your selection, the more she'll love each one as an individual, just as she does her children.
ANNUAL HERBS - NEW EVERY YEAR
Cilantro is the herb that gives salsas their signature punch. Basil is essential to pesto and many other Italian dishes. Both are annual herbs grown from seed each year just like tomatoes. Medicinal chamomile is equally as quick to grow and produce the flowers that make an outstanding stomach ache remedy. Though technically a biennial, add parsley to this group, too. These fast-growing annual herbs are all grown in the vegetable garden to provide a plentiful supply to pinch, cut and finally harvest to dry for winter. Seed-grown herbs may self-sow in Mom's garden to sprout next year if conditions are right.
PERENNIAL HERBS - RETURNS EVERY YEAR
The majority of herbs we use today are herbaceous perennials that die back to the ground with the frost of fall. They are the most cold-hardy and make beautiful plants for the garden with lovely flowers and diverse leaf color. Many gardeners grow these within their flower borders when unique varieties such as purple fennel result in a unique new foliage color. In this group are the mints, marjoram, oregano, tarragon, thyme and fennel.
WOODY HERBS - FOR LANDSCAPE
A few exceptional herbs are trees or shrubs with woody stems and branches. Many are of Mediterranean origin, such as bay laurel, lavender, rosemary and sage. They may prove difficult in colder northern climates or wet ones with abundant summer rain unless grown in pots moved under cover.
When you divide herbs into these three categories, it helps to narrow your range of options to something a bit more manageable. Clip this story and carry it with you to the garden center to help select the right ones. If you're shopping for Mother's Day, start with annuals and perennials to make sure there aren't any cold climate challenges. Recycle an old basket and line it with cloth, tissue or moss to create the perfect presentation to Mom or Grandma. Rest assured it won't end up forgotten in the closet because no woman, be she a pioneer wife or a modern mom, can resist plants from child or husband that touch her heart in such a useful way.
CLIP AND SHOP HERBS
Annuals: cilantro, basil, chamomile, parsley
Perennials: mints, marjoram, oregano, tarragon, thyme, fennel
Woodies: bay laurel, lavender, sage, rosemary
Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at www.MoPlants.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 891, Morongo Valley, CA 92256.