Sage, Salvia officinalis.
By Sommer Cartier.
If there’s anything to be certain about in this time, it’s that COVID-19 is affecting every aspect of our lives. From telecommuting to distance learning and restaurants closing, new safety measures are rising almost daily. As we think about safety, now more than ever, it’s important to maintain, if not improve, our overall health. There are numerous habits we can adopt to address our personal health. Perhaps the most powerful is choosing to consume foods that keep our immune systems strong and in top shape. With this in mind, planting a wellness herb garden can be a very worthwhile and an enjoyable pandemic project for you and your family to do together. Growing an herb garden is simple and will not only benefit the body, it will heal the mind and soul during stressful times. Below are some tips to guide you in growing a successful wellness herb garden at home.
Selecting Your Herbs - Below are 6 popular herbs with incredible flavor and powerful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiviral properties:
1. Oregano is a popular culinary herb that can be found in many cuisines including Italian, Mexican, and Spanish dishes. Oregano is a perennial plant that is easy to grow and incredibly hardy. It prefers full sun but can thrive in partial shade. Be careful not to overwater. Oregano prefers soil to dry out between waterings.
2. Sage is an evergreen perennial subshrub that provides a musky, earthy flavor to foods and is one of the easiest herbs to grow. It prefers full sun but can tolerate afternoon shade. Sage is very drought tolerant and prefers soil to dry between waterings. If left to live in damp soil, sage becomes susceptible to white powdery mildew.
3. Rosemary is an incredibly versatile plant, often used in both edible and ornamental gardens and landscapes. Rosemary thrives in warm sunny conditions. Similar to the herbs mentioned above, it prefers soil to completely dry between waterings. If the soil is left too moist, the plant becomes susceptible to root rot.
4. Basil is part of the mint family and is largely associated with Italian cooking. Depending on the variety, their delightfully aromatic leaves can provide a range of flavors from lemon to cinnamon to hints of licorice. In cooler climates, basil is an annual plant that dies back with the first frost. However, in our warmer San Diego climate, it has a more perennial nature. To extend the longevity of your plant, begin pinching off the top set of leaves once the plant has reached a height of 6 inches.
5. Thyme is a highly aromatic Mediterranean herb that thrives in dry, sunny conditions. Similar to basil, there are a number of varieties that provide different flavors and scents from lemon to orange to coconut.
Thyme, Thymus vulgaris.
6. Garlic, while more of a bulb, is also considered an herb. It’s loaded with minerals and vitamins, making it incredibly flavorful. Garlic has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and helps our bodies to maintain a strong immune system for fighting off common colds and flus.
Choosing to Start From Seed or Transplant - Most annual herbs are easy to start from seed and grow relatively fast. If seeking a more economical approach, sow your basil, dill, cilantro and other annual herb seeds directly into soil. Contrary to annual herbs, woody perennial herbs establish better if planted as seedling or established cuttings.
Well-Drained Soil - To increase concentration of scent and flavor, plant your herbs in well-draining soil and limit heavy feedings with fertilizer. Herbs tend to become more pungent when grown in slightly leaner conditions.
Pruning and Harvesting - Periodically prune and harvest your herbs to keep them full and abundant. By removing leaves and stems, plants are encouraged to continue the growth stage and produce a more controlled shape, resulting in more bounty. Pruning also helps prevent disease and eliminates shelter for pests. When herbs become overgrown, they create the perfect conditions for white powdery mildew and pest infestations. By thinning over-grown herbs, air is allowed to flow freely through plants, creating a healthier growing environment.
The correct pruning technique is determined by the type of herb you’re growing. Some herbs, such as basil, are grown specifically for their leaves. If left unpruned, they quickly go to seed and die back. For these herbs, pinch them at the leaf nodule to encourage a bushier growth habit and direct energy towards producing new leaves for future harvests. Never remove more than a third of the plant at one time.
For more woody herbs, such as rosemary, sage, and thyme, it is best to trim them back about half their length to prevent more woody growth. This should occur in early spring when new growth is emerging.
With all the benefits and flavors herbs can offer, it’s no surprise to see them as a staple in most home gardens. And, for those looking to garden for the first time, why not start by growing herbs for your health. There is no better time than now.
Sommer Cartier is a certified Master Gardener with an MA in International Development and Social Change. Her specialty is working with local food systems and using gardens as a tool for community engagement.