If this were a normal summer, I’d be using our doorstep herbal garden all summer long and take my sweet time in harvesting and processing the herbs. But this summer we are going to be away for several weeks visiting our families. So, I had an herbal extravaganza this past weekend, gathering as much of our herbs as I could and putting them to a good use… In fact, no fewer than five different uses! I want to share these projects to remind fellow urban gardeners who have limited space that even a modest container herb garden like ours can yield beverages, spices, food, medicine and cosmetics.1. Tea
Nothing says summer like an herbal iced tea, especially here in the South where, on particularly sultry days, as the ceiling fans lazily move the hot air around (we don’t use AC), a mason jar of cool refreshing tea travels with me as I go about my day. As far as beverages go, this one is hard to beat, especially if you get to pick the ingredients fresh at your doorstep. Mint is the classic herb for this purpose, of course; I like to add in some lemon balm as well. This is the easiest of all herbal preparations: pick, rinse, boil water, steep herbs, strain, cool, add sweetener if desired.2. Dried herbs
Now is also the time for me to pick and dry herbs to be used in the winter months — for cooking, for tea, and for medicinal purposes. Although little bunches of herbs hanging from the ceiling are aesthetically more pleasing, this time I used the dehydrator to dry a lot of herbs at once and quickly. In a matter of hours, a bouquet of sage, oregano, lemon balm, mint, basil and marjoram is ready to be packed into little jars for the coming year.3. Pesto
Note to self: next year, plant still more basil! Five or ten times as much. Even a sizeable plant really does get reduced to a few spoonfuls when you make pesto! (They’re tasty spoonfuls, though.) The food processor is a wonderful, wonderful invention, but when I have the time, I prefer to grind the pesto by hand. That’s when you get to watch the slow transformation of fresh leaves into sauce, and smell the aromas — some of my favorite ones: garlic, pine nuts, basil, parmesan and olive oil — in the process.
Last winter, I made a thyme syrup to help with a persistent cough. This time, I used honey as a base, since it not only extracts the healing properties of thyme, but also has beneficial enzymes of its own. The recipe I used is in Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide, and it simply involves gently warming honey to 100 F, adding fresh thyme leaves, and keeping the jar in a warm place for a couple of weeks after that.5. Medicinal salve
Lastly, I made a calendula salve. Calendula is an all-purpose healing plant for various skin problems, such as cuts and rashes, and I will be using this salve to treat and prevent diaper rash in our little one. This recipe, too, comes from Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide, and uses calendula flowers, olive oil, beeswax, and lavender essential oil. Come autumn, I intend to get more intensively into herbal medicine and will likely be writing about that here, so if that interests you, you’ll want to stop by.