Some Blurbs About Herbs

Just a quick chat about some of my favorite herbs to grow & why. Also which new herbs I chose to grow this year & why.



5/28/202212 min read

This past week while taking a bit of a mental health break from writing, editing, blogging, and making (only a small percent of my day job since I can't really take a break from parenting, amiright?!) I tried to capitalize on the nicer weather and the long-awaited arrival of actual spring here in the PNW (freaking finally!). Besides getting many of my seedlings repotted or transplanted into the garden, I got to start filling my purpose-built terraced herb garden that I asked my handy husband to put together many weeks ago - when I was fooled once again by Upper Left USA's 'false spring' - Mother Nature you sneaky sorceress, you.

After putting so much time into this, I decided that I wanted to write a little bit about my favorite herbs; some I have grown for as long as I can remember, and others are brand new this season or last, but have quickly become favorites.

Chives - I've grown these longer than I've known my husband...way back when I was just a 20-Something baby gardener in a small 900 sq ft apartment that I shared with my best friend and all I had was an 8x4 foot "deck" with a SE exposure, the two plants I had were chives, and tomatoes. If you like that onion/green onion flavor added to things, without the room to grow onions these are great as they pack a large amount of flavor in a skinny little frond. They also happen to be one of the first herbs to flower and pollinators LOVE THEM.
New thing to try: Chive blossom infused vinegar - just wash, then soak a bunch of chive flowers in white, champagne or apple cider vinegar for 1-2 weeks in a sealed mason jar (1 for subtle flavor and 2 for stronger flavor). Delicious in salad dressings and marinades where using raw onions might be too heavy handed. As a bonus, it usually produces a most gorgeous watermelon colored vinegar that looks like summer in a bottle!

Lavender - Did you know that lavender is a member of the mint family? Yeah, neither did I for a long time! This flowering herb is native to the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern part of Earth and dates back as far as 2500 years! Back then, it was considered a holy herb, while today it is widely regarded as being excellent for relaxation, meditation, sleep, and stress relief. Lavender as a plant is relatively low maintenance, can be pruned and kept smaller in a pot or put into landscaping and left to sprawl. There are many different varieties that you can grow as well, some with different shades of purple flowers and some with frilly foliage too. It can be grown from seed or from a start (from a nursery) and again, pollinators LOVE IT.
New thing to try: Mixing lavender with bergamot and vanilla - bergamot is the prominent herb scent and taste in Earl Grey tea, and pairs well with vanilla in a traditional London Fog Tea Latte (made popular in the PNW in the 90s) but a new take on this popular beverage and scent combination is adding lavender either when steeping the tea or with lavender simple syrup, the latter of which can also be used for a new twist on some cocktails. Here's my favorite recipe for DIY Lavender Syrup.

Basil (Genovese & Amethyst) - Oh, basil, where do I even begin?! Pesto! Pastas! Pizza! A staple in practically all Italian and Mediterranean food, it too is a member of the mint family (say what?!). My only beef with basil, is that it can never overwinter unless it becomes a house plant! Basil isn't just freaking delicious, it's also full of vitamins, minerals, and some antioxidants. Basil's most common use in magick is for prosperity and protection - leaves can be added to sachets and a few drops of the essential oil can be added to baths or even cleaning solutions for your home. Fresh basil plants in your home and garden can bring added joy and tranquility to you and your family. And of course, my personal favorite use - what with all the varieties of tomatoes I grow - is layered with thick slices of heirloom tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella, then drizzled with my blueberry or strawberry infused balsamic vinegar.
New thing to try: Basil muddled with a citrus vodka or other herbaceous spirit and topped with bubbly water and a squeeze of lemon for a refreshing summer cocktail.

Lemon Balm - Melissa officinalis, or sometimes commonly referred to just as Melissa (Greek for honeybee) ...and yet another member of the mint family...hey, I'm sensing a trend here. This is possibly my favorite herb (tied with lemon verbena) and lightly pinching its leaves produces such a pleasantly herbaceous light lemon scent that I could get lost in smelling it for hours...if I had nothing else to do of course! And when it blooms, it's white flowers are full of nectar that pollinators LOVE, but don't confuse it with bee balm which is a different plant all together! Great for insomnia, stress, anxiety and even indigestion, lemon balm can grow (and coincidentally will take over) just about anywhere but is native only to the Mediterranean basin and South-central Europe. Like lavender, its use dates back over 2000 years in Greece and Italy and was a favorite of The Tudors in England who scattered it on their floors. It compliments peppermint nicely, and is frequently included in peppermint teas, but my favorite use is as an essential oil combined with just about any other scent as it goes so well with earthy, floral, citrus, or herbal notes.
New thing to try: Lemon Balm Pesto - that's right, you can take your favorite pesto recipe and completely substitute all or some of the basil for lemon balm leaves depending on how much lemon fresh taste you'd like.

Sage (Common and Pineapple) - Oh look, another Mediterranean culinary staple herb...and another member of the mint family?! I'm just going to stop pointing that out because there's obviously so many of them! Salvia officinalis is a somewhat shrubby/bushy herb with grey-green leaves and lavender flowers when it blooms (to see my beloved plant just scroll all the way up to the header of this page <3). Its cousin, Salvia elegens or Pineapple Sage is one of my absolute favorite herbs despite being somewhat obscure - its leaves are much greener and even become maroon tinged on the edges, and its flowers are a deep magenta red rather than lavender. While the leaves are what humans usually covet - the blooms are full of nectar that attracts a variety of pollinators from bees to butterflies. Sage is another very old (Middle Ages) herb that was prized for its healing and nourishing abilities back then, just as much or more than it is now. For magickal use it is most popular for "saging" (cleansing) tools, spaces, crystals and the like, but is also associated with celebrations during Mabon, Samhain and Yule.
New thing to try: Muddle Pineapple Sage leaves in a normally sweet or tropical cocktail/mocktail like a Julep, or a Mai Tai to add herbal notes and tone down sweetness. Bonus points if you use the crimson blooms as a garnish!

Cilantro - With the large number of tomatoes, peppers, onions, and garlic I usually grow, cilantro is usually a requirement because who doesn't love a fresh pico de gallo made entirely from garden vegetables?! I also really love to make salsa verde with my tomatillos and cilantro is excellent in that endeavor as well! The only downside I've found with cilantro is that it usually bolts (goes to seed) rather early in the season, and I haven't found a fix for that yet, but when I sense that it's going to do that, I harvest almost everything and freeze it! In my practice, this herb uses are purely culinary, but everyone's craft is different and if you're a kitchen witch - cooking is part of your craft, so it works.
New thing to try: Lots of people love chimichurri and that is an obvious and excellent choice for cilantro, but something I've seen recently is mixing it with grits or polenta. One recipe I intend to try this summer involves cilantro chimichurri and heirloom tomatoes over buttery, creamy polenta. Add butter, creme fraiche and just a little parmesan to some cooked polenta to make it super creamy. Then make the chimichurri and the heirloom tomato fresh salsa (tomatoes, red onion, herbed olive oil, salt & pepper) and add liberally to the top of your bowl of creamy polenta. Yum! Another new and interesting recipe is this Watermelon Salad that includes cilantro also!

Lemongrass - Also known as citronella grass, cymbopogon is a genus of plants in the grass family that are native to Asia, Africa, Australia and other tropical regions. The lemongrass that is most commonly grown for culinary and medicinal purposes (and the kind I am growing in my herb garden) is known as Cymbopogon citratus and can be grown in most regions these days, even those that are not tropical - but it will not withstand frost so if you want it to "winter over" it will need protection or to be brought inside depending on the severity of your frosts. It is well known for adding a fresh herbaceous note to broths and soups and goes particularly well with seafood and in Asian cuisines. It is most abundant in Indonesia, and I honestly can't imagine a bowl of Tom Kha soup being nearly as delicious without it! When I was pregnant with my son, ginger/lemongrass or ginger/lemon balm tea were easy ways to settle indigestion (as long as it's consumed in small amounts due to containing citral and myrocene). Lemongrass is great for deterring bugs in your garden or backyard, but appears to have no popular magickal uses, but I like to collect it and use it in my herbal smudge bundles anyway.
New thing to try: Ginger + Lemongrass bubbly water on a hot summer day. Just add a thin slice of ginger, and a slightly smooshed stalk (it releases the aromatics) of lemongrass to a tall glass of icy soda water and taste those delicious subtleties.

Calendula - Calendula is actually a genus of about 15-20 different species within the daisy family, but for the purpose of this post I will be talking about Calendula officinalis also known as pot marigold or common marigold - and while it looks very different from most flowers sold as 'marigolds' at garden centers - it is related to those marigolds (native to the Americas) through the daisy family, even though calendula was likely originally from southern Europe. Calendula flower petals are edible and are frequently used to add color to culinary dishes and salads as a more affordable option than saffron. The flower has been used for several thousand years for everything from dyeing fabric to helping headaches and fevers, but more commonly it was used for rituals, ceremonies and magick potions said to reveal fairies or an unmarried women's true love. Modern witches use it during Beltane and Mabon, or in spells involving wealth and abundance. As a green witch, my favorite use for calendula is as a companion plant and pollinator favorite in my garden that I depend on to bloom early in spring and continue into early autumn, as well as a skin soothing agent in salves, lip balms and soaps.
New thing to try: This spring and summer, try mixing calendula extract or oil with aloe vera gel to sooth irritated and sunburned skin.

Rosemary - Salvia rosmarinus...hey, wait a minute, didn't we already have a member of the salvia family (genus)? Yes, indeed we did, which means that sage and rosemary are cousins! But we didn't always know that, as rosemary's scientific name prior to 2017 was actually Rosmarinus officinalis. But, since plant genetics is not what we are here for today, let's talk about what rosemary is good for: wellness, cooking, landscaping, fragrance and of course pollinators! Rosemary, whose name is Latin for "dew of the sea" is said to do best when grown near the sea, but can also thrive just about anywhere, even here in the PNW where our winters have gotten longer, cooler and wetter in recent years. Rosemary in folklore and magick is used for remembrance, memorial rites, connecting to the afterlife and fairy magick.
New thing to try: Rosemary is so versatile: mix some in with fresh bread before baking, or into the butter before putting it on warm bread; subtly flavor your cooking oil by adding a few sprigs and let sit; but my favorite is to slap a sprig around a little bit (no I'm not kidding) and add it to a Gin & Tonic (a cedar leaf is deliciously aromatic in this way also).

Dill - Why else would one grow dill if not to PICKLE ALL THE THINGS?! Well, let me tell you... Dill isn't just great in pickled veggies like cucumbers, carrots, beets, jalapeños, onions, green beans and asparagus - it is also excellent in homemade sauces like tartar and tsaziki! It's lovely with lemon and capers on pretty much anything from fish to shrimp to chicken. And it's a great sacrificial plant - yes you read that correctly - even if you dislike pickles (but WHY THOUGH?!) and you also don't like cooking with it, as a gardener you have to respect how this hard-working plant can literally attract all the aphids in your garden. It's also pretty tough, once established it can fend off a pretty hefty aphid attack without being too worse for the wear, and when it blooms it brings all the pollinators and parasitic beneficial bugs to your yard...Mhmm...we're talking lady beetles, golden digger wasps, butterflies, moths, hover fly, lacewing, stiletto fly and other predatory wasps. Pollen, nectar, delicious taste, delicious smell, AND she can fight for your garden? Definitely an herb worth growing. Oh, and if you let it go to seed, the seeds fall, overwinter and will completely repopulate themselves next spring and you don't have to do anything. All she does is win.
New thing to try: Add it to any salad during spring or summer picnics (especially potato) and watch your friends fall in love with the flavor...but remember, don't skimp on the quantity, with dill you should go big or go home!

Thyme (Orange, Lemon, Regular) - Not mint, but a member of the mint family, nonetheless, closely related to oregano (same genus), and another Mediterranean native - thyme is most commonly a culinary herb but also has medicinal and ornamental purposes. Historically, thyme was widely used: by the Egyptians for embalming; the Greeks in baths and incense for courage; the Romans added it to cheese and liquor for added flavor and often it was thought to ward off nightmares and other sleep troubles. Fun fact: Thyme usually retains its flavor better than many other herbs after being dried. Thymus vulgaris is the most common culinary thyme used, but Thymus citriodorus is the name for the citrus scented cultivars like lemon, orange and lime (my favorites). When it blooms, it usually has loads of small white or faint purple flowers that pollinators love and make nice edible accents for drinks and culinary dishes. I love this evergreen herb because like sage, lavender and rosemary, it can overwinter and withstand multiple freezes as well as drought conditions. In magick, it's aligned with the heart chakra, and can be used in spells for bravery, honoring the dead, letting go of the past, and easing heartache or grief.
New thing to try: Mix thyme with berries this summer for a unique flavor combination: raspberry thyme sorbet, or a raspberry lemon thyme bubbly water. Thyme also pairs well with blueberries, blackberries or cherries in jams, preserves, or fresh desserts!

Mint (Orange, Chocolate, Lime, Berries & Mojito) - Finally! That plant whose family so many other plants apparently belong to, and we had no idea! A mint plant eventually produces large buds of teeny tiny white, pink or purple flowers that bees absolutely adore - so much so, that when pollinating large patches of it, their honey can even take on a faint minty flavor! All mint varieties are pungent, and its uses are almost literally limitless: cosmetics, cuisine, traditional medicine, flavorings, insecticides, aromatherapy, and so much more. My personal favorite use is as ground cover in my garden - when I built it, I planted spearmint, peppermint, and a variety called mojito mint not knowing about how they sprawl, but now they grow all around the edges of the fence and the raised beds and their aromatics can be smelled immediately just by walking around. They are almost impossible to kill despite weed whacking and mowing around my garden and they provide an all-season long source of nectar for pollinators. They also make excellent companion plants for cabbage and nightshades (tomatoes and peppers) but beware when planting that if it's not kept to a pot, it will take over any space it's given! Just a few leaves pinched off can provide a lovely tincture, tea, or aromatic addition to a summer cocktail.
New thing to try: There are so many directions you could do with this, recently I've seen Mint Water (boiled mint leaves in water, then chilled and poured over ice), Chocolate Dipped Mint leaves as a dessert type snack, and a Mint Simple Syrup, made like regular simple syrup (sugar and water) but with fresh mint leaves added which can then be used in anything...your options with mint are almost endless.

New this season: Hyssop, Oregano, Wormwood, and Clary Sage - I will let you know how they turn out!

Closeup of Lemongrass plant with tag
Closeup of Lemongrass plant with tag
Close up of Chive plant with tag
Close up of Chive plant with tag
Newly constructed cedar herb trellis
Newly constructed cedar herb trellis