Herb Gardening

If you're looking for a natural way to enhance food, eat healthy and be more relaxed, it's time to explore the many benefits of herb gardening. For centuries, many cultures around the world have enjoyed and employed herbs as an integral part of daily living. Here are some herbs which have earned international appeal:

FENNEL
This perennial herb, belonging to the carrot and parsley families, was used in ancient times to cure jaundice, infant colic and hiccups. Today, fennel is used in Africa to aid digestion as it is thought to be an antispasmodic for the digestive tract. In Latin America, fennel is still used to increase milk production in nursing mothers and Jamaicans use it to treat colds.

If you are planning herb gardening for next spring, fennel is easy to grow from seed when planted in rich, moist soil. Germination takes about 2 weeks and seeds are ready for harvesting in late summer when they begin to turn brown.

DANDELION
Although it is most commonly thought of as a weed, this herb is rumored to be beneficial in aiding digestion, preventing cancer and helping treat premenstrual syndrome, obesity, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure and yeast infections. In ancient Europe, dandelion was used to treat jaundice and gallstones. Dandelion is believed to be a natural diuretic. Although slightly bitter, dandelion leaves may be added to salads or cooked as a vegetable with some garlic, oil and lemon. As most herb gardeners know, dandelions are easy to obtain as they will grow in almost any soil. Just be sure to harvest leaves while they are young and still developing; mature leaves have an extremely bitter taste.

BASIL
What a romantic, passionate herb! In recent centuries, when an Italian woman placed a potted basil plant on her balcony, it meant she was ready to receive her lover. In northern Europe, lovers exchanged basil sprigs as a symbol of eternal faithfulness. And, if you chew basil leaves you will have naturally fresh breath!

At one time, it was thought that in order to ensure a crop of truly fragrant basil, one needed to curse and swear while planting the seeds! If swearing is not for you, don't fret, basil is a very hearty plant that grows easily from seed and usually germinates in one week if grown in rich soil under full sun.

GINSENG
Interestingly, most ginseng which is available for consumption is not one single herb, but a combination of three varieties of the ginseng herb: Chinese or Korean (P.ginseng), American (P. quinquefoilus), and Siberian (E.senticous).

The ancient Chinese used ginseng to increase wisdom and believed that continuous use would lead to longevity. Today, ginseng is used in an attempt to heal a multitude of ailments, however, it is very difficult to grow. Since seeds are sometimes diseased, they must be disinfected in a water and chlorine bleach solution before planting. Should you take on the herb gardening challenge of growing ginseng, be prepared to wait. Germination takes about one year and harvesting will not occur for another five years!

PLANNING A WINTER HERB GARDEN
This winter, why not begin your herb garden indoors? Most herbs only take 1-2 weeks to sprout if you follow these guide lines for success:

1. Where you want only one plant, plant a few seeds

2. Plant seeds in moistened seed starter kit or in a soil mix of equal parts soil, sand and peat moss (Tip: moisten the peat moss before mixing it).

3. Keep the growing area medium moist until a couple of plants appear. Then trim away the weaker ones.

4. When the remaining plants have a second set of leaves, transplant them in to a flowerpot.

On a final note, please consult your physician before using medicinal herbs.

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