Chicken Coop Chatter©
Most herbs are hardy and easy to grow from seed or plants. However there are a few herbs that will require winter protection and extra care and some that will not tolerate cold or wet conditions and must be treated as annuals and replanted year after year.
Herbs require fairly dry conditions and if the soil is too wet or too compact, they either will not grow well or will succumb to root rot. Make sure the soil you are planting in is loose, has good drainage with moderate water. If your garden soil does not provide the proper conditions, most herbs will grow well in containers with little care involved.
Some of the easiest herbs to grow are Oregano, Thyme, mint, lemon verbena, lemon balm, chives, parsley and basil. Mint and lemon balm can be somewhat invasive, so either grow in containers or in an area where they cannot invade flower beds or garden areas. Each of the mentioned herbs are culinary and can be used in cooking, either dried or fresh.
Other herbs that require drier conditions are Rosemary, Lavender and Sage. Though hardy, they do not like cold, wet conditions.
There are many medicinal herbs and some culinary herbs also have medicinal qualities.
If you have never grown herbs before, select herbs that you enjoy using in cooking or fragrant herbs you're familiar with. When planting the herbs, loosen the soil, water the hole, plant only to the depth of the soil line from the pot they came in, fill soil in and around the plant and press firmly. Water again, to make sure there are no air pockets. Water moderately as needed. If the herbs in pots are root bound, massage the soil around the roots to make sure the roots are able to take hold in the planting hole.
When cutting herbs, do it early in the morning while they are still covered with dew. The earlier they are cut the more volatile oils will be retained in the leaves. Herbs can be trimmed as often as needed, however never cut more than half of the plant. This will help the plant to produce more foliage and become fuller. I often snip just the center leaves, which helps the plant bush out more and keeps them from getting lanky.
When herbs attempt to go to seed, cut off the flower stalk and flower head so the plant will continue to produce leaves. If allowed to go to seed, they are basically going dormant for the season. Some, like Basil, often try to go to seed, by cutting the flower heads, you extend the season to collect more of the leaves for cooking or drying. Allow the plants to go to seed if you wish to collect seeds to share or sow.
Some herbs like Lavender you do want to flower so you can use the flower stalks and seeds in craft projects. Those stalks can be cut either before the flowers fully bloom or after in bloom.
If planting in containers, it is wise to move the containers to a frost free garage or shelter through winter with just moderate watering to keep them from drying out. If the herbs are in the garden, you may want to cover them through winter to keep from deep freezing. Snow cover is fine, snow insulates the plants and ground from freezing, but deep freezes can kill the plants clear to the roots, even well established plants can succumb to the deep freezes.
When planting from seed, follow the instructions on the seed packets for greatest yield.
Herbs can be dried by several different methods. Oven drying, dehydrator or air drying. The firmer type herbs do well air drying. Softer herbs such as basil, parsley and chives are best dehydrated or oven dried.
To air dry, simply gather up bundles of the herb, tie the bundle or wrap a rubber band around it. A paper clip works well, used to hang the bundles. I dry my herbs using a wooden clothes dryer. I just hang the bundles from the rungs until they are completely dry. Depending on weather, air drying can take from a few days to a week to completely dry. The more humid the weather, the longer it takes to dry them.
Dehydrator and oven drying works basically the same way. A dehydrator takes less time and electricity to dry the herbs, but if you do not have a dehydrator or no space in the dehydrator, laying the herbs on cooking sheets and setting in the oven on the lowest heat setting will work fine. Make sure to turn the herbs periodically so they are drying evenly. Oven drying may take as much as 12 hours, where dehydrator may take as much as 6 hours.
When using the dehydrator, it is preferred to have one with a circulating fan so that the herbs are drying evenly. Set the control temperature to 95-125 or according to manufacturer recommendations. If you do not have a fan, be sure to periodically turn the herbs for even drying. If you are using drying sheets, again be sure to turn the herbs periodically.
When ready to use the dried culinary herbs, you can use the leaves whole or crushed. A mortal and pestle or herb grinder work for making ground or powdered herbs. When preserving the herbs put them into labeled, seal tight containers out of direct light to keep them fresh. Once the herbs are dried and ground, it is not always easy to tell which herb is which, so it's wise to label them. Some of course have a distinct fragrance, but some are very similar.
Herbs can be frozen. The method I enjoy and use is to place herbs in ice cube trays and pour homemade meat or vegetable broth over the top to cover. I also like to place the herbs in ice cube trays and pour melted butter over the top to cover. Other methods I have seen are the use of Olive oil or other light oil poured over the herbs or frozen in plain water. When frozen by any of these methods, the herbs are ready to toss into a kettle of homemade soup or stew through the winter months. After the cubes are frozen, place in freezer containers, labeled with the herb used. Once these are frozen, you cannot always tell which herb is which. Herbs such as Lavender, Lemon balm, Rosemary and Rose petals frozen in plain water or carbonated soda are lovely when frozen in cubes and added to Punch bowls and summer cooling beverages.
Regardless of which herbs you choose to grow, choose ones you would enjoy for culinary use or fragrance. Many have the same growing needs and can be planted together. It is fun to plant herbs in the way you would use them. Planting an Italian herb container, with Oregano, Thyme, Basil and Rosemary to use in your Italian cooking, places them all together for easy harvesting.
Whether drying or using fresh, always wash the herbs gently from a hose or faucet to remove dirt and any insects that may visit the herbs. Harvest the freshest herbs and discard any that have bug holes or not in perfect condition.
The use of herbs in herbal teas, homemade soaps and cosmetics, cooking and medicinal use is enjoyable and beneficial when all precautions are in place.
Herbs have many attributes worthy of consideration, but as always, we recommend testing for allergy or sensitivity when using any and all herbs. Herbal use is ancient, and used in many current medications and supplements, however with all things and especially herbs use caution and use sparingly. Over use of any herbs can cause health issues in those with sensitivity.
I have used, grown and studied herbs for many years, however I never take anything for granted and will not make random recommendations, nor claim to be an expert or herbalist.
Research and know the herbs you are growing, some herbs are very toxic. And if you are going to be using any herbs for your chickens, we highly recommend that they be used as a mere supplement; used no more than once a month. Though we see others making recommendations of using herbs, we never see precautions posted and we want you to be aware that herbs though very useful can and do have unwanted side effects when over used. If you intend to use herbs for medicinal purposes, ALWAYS consult your family physician to make sure he/she approves of the intended use. Your family doctor is the best source to advise you, no matter what you read on any website or Social network.
CREDENTIALS: Certified Oregon State Master Gardener since 1999. Horticulture degree 2001. Study of Herbs and Horticulture Therapy, heavy research and study of all plants and herbs. Gardening a lifetime.
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