My Beautiful Herb Garden
By Kim Westcott
I have always been fascinated by herbs from a very young age and having an allotment gives me the opportunity to grow some of my favourite plants. I derive great satisfaction and pleasure from my herbs as not only are they intriguing they are also fragrant, pleasing to the eye and very useful. On this page I shall show photographs and write some information on all the herb plants I have on my allotment.
Lungwort is native to Europe growing in woods and shady places. It is a hardy perrenial and a member of the boraginaceae family. Growing to around 12" high it appears in late winter with large silver spotted, hairy leaves. The flowers come in March and change from pink to violet as they mature. The Latin name of this herb gives a clue to its uses. Pulmo meaning 'of the lung' and officinalis meaning 'of the shop' showing that it was sold by apothecaries. Lungwort is used as a medicinal herb as the leaves have a high mucilage content and for this reason it is a useful remedy for coughs and other chest conditions.
According to the medieval Doctrine of Signatures, which claimed that a plant's appearance pointed to the ailment it treated, Lungwort was effective for chest ailments because its spotted leaves resembled diseased lungs. The new leaves can also be added to salads and soups giving a flavour of vermouth. The flowers are a favourite with the bees as they provide a valuable source of early nectar.
The common primrose is a member of the primulaceae family and is a familiar wildflower that grows abundantly in much of England and Europe. It is a perennial plant that can be seen in hedgerows, grassy banks and moist shady places. It can grow to around 6" high and has pale yellow flowers with pinkish stems that emerge from clumps of wrinkled leaves in Febuary. The primrose has many medicinal uses. Infusions or extracts of the roots can be found in commercial cough syrups and expectorants and are also used to alleviate rhumatism and arthritis. The leaves and flowers are mildly narcotic and offer a safe, non-addictive cure for anxiety, nervousness, insomnia and migranes. The flowers also make a pretty addition to a green salad in Spring. Primrose simply means 'first rose' referring to the early flowering of these herbs.
Chives are the smallest of the alliaceae family and grow wild in most temperate northern regions. It is an attractive perrenial plant with thin tubular leaves that grow to around 1ft high from small bulbs. If left to bloom they produce round purplish-pink flowerheads in spring and early summer which are very attractive to bees.
Chives are culinary herbs. The leaves, which are best eaten when young, have a delicate onion flavour. They can be chopped and added to soups, sauces and salad dressings. They are also a member of the chefs' 'fine herbes' mixture alongside chervil, parsley and tarragon. Equal amounts of the fresh leaves are blended finely together and then generally used in fish and egg dishes at the end of cooking where only a touch of flavour is needed.
In the vegetable and ornamental garden chives make excellent companion plants, protecting against pests and fungal diseases. Chives are not usually used in herbal medicine but they do aid digestion and assist the kidneys. They are also rich in vitamin C.
The Californian poppy is a member of the papaveracae family and originates from western North America. It is a widely cultivated garden plant grown as an annual in Europe. It is a very pretty plant with flowers ranging from pale yellow to bright orange growing to a height of up to 2ft. It flowers continuously throughout the summer months and once sown will self-seed and come back year after year. The bright coloured flowers are excellent for attracting beneficial insects such as hoverflies, bees and bumblebees to the garden.
In medicine, the Californian poppy is a valuable herb that contains pain-killing, sedative and antispasmodic properties. It is a gentle remedy that is used for the calming of hyper-active children, sleeplesness and anxiety. We also use the Californian poppy today as relief from toothache just as the indiginous population of western America did before the invasion of white man on their land.
The Common foxglove is a member of the scrophulariaceae family and is native to western and central Europe. This biennial herb can be found growing wild on a dry, acid soil at the edge of woods, in clearings and where timber has been felled. The spikes of tubular pink-purple flowers grow from a rosette of large, wrinkled leaves and can reach heights of 5ft.They make handsome garden plants for the back of the border which readily self seed and are highly attractive to bumblebees seeking nectar.
The foxglove is probably best known as a toxic plant but in medicine it has provided the main drug for the treatment of heart failure since the 18th century. I include foxglove leaves in vases of cut flowers as it seems to prolong their lives.
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© Kim Westcott 2008