Herbs, a.k.a Inheriting a Garden

One of the fascinating things about buying a house with a garden is learning what someone else planted, and what you want to do about it.

I noticed when we were buying the house that it had a compost pile and three raised beds full of herbs, and it was part of the attraction. (Though, to be honest, I was sold on the house before we ever knew about the gardens.)

I’ve never been one who needs to classify the plants I encounter in the wild. I know such people, but I’m usually good with a poisonous/nonpoisonous categorization. Last night, I was curious enough to try to get to the bottom of the something with chives that dominates that bed and the something with the chrysanthemums that dominates that bed. I’d have told you one of them was mint, and maybe oregano or sage for the other. They’re very similar looking, and they both look like mint. I tasted them.

The one with the chives is really spicy-hot. Not minty. The other one is so mild (and not minty) as to be hard to classify. Now I’m thinking I have Mexican oregano and Mediterranean oregano. Which makes me sorry that I just planted a bunch of oregano seeds.

I mentioned chives and mint (no I mean it— this one really is mint) as other herbs I inherited. I think I have thyme in a section of my yard— I let it “go meadow” last year to see what it was, and there’s mint and wild strawberries and I think thyme in there, but it’s so weedy and crazy that I’ve gone back to mowing it this year. It smells great when I mow it, but for now, that’s it.

I also inherited yarrow in the raised bed with the mint (which I was curious enough to find out about in the first year we had the house.) I looked into uses for it yesterday, and though I see that the kind I have shouldn’t be taken internally (yellow flowers), there are lots of topical possibilities.

I planted an entire window-box of parsley, a big container of basil, some cilantro and some dill in the chives/spicy oregano box. Last year, I got a lavender plant established in my xeric garden and I added rosemary, this year.

I’ve dried and frozen herbs a few times, and last year I got such a huge amount of parsley from my then boss that I did some interesting sauces (chimichurri for the win!) with it. I think this year, I may explore even further. Culinary uses and medicinal uses and great scents, oh my! I was reading that you can use different dried herbs to deter pests— with the compost pile close to our garage (I’ve bought a pest-resistant tumbler to replace it, but the heap is big and will take me awhile to get to the bottom of, even with the dual tumbler) and a lot of green space around us, I’m interested in trying that, and a yarrow balm for first aid, lavender in cooking.

Back in the day, I made mint jelly, mint syrup, and dried mint for culinary uses and in the bath (messy but interesting. I now have an infuser for that, to cut down on the mess, though I haven’t done it a ton.) I’ve put fresh basil in strawberry preserves and a bourbon-peach pie. I did vanilla salt and vanilla sugar last year and had such fun cooking with them in the winter (and this year, my vanilla was bourbon-based instead of vodka-based, so those salts and sugars are going to be de-lish— so much richer). I was gifted lavender sugar awhile ago and enjoyed that and have bought lavender salt as a gift for a culinary friend— I feel like infused oils, herbal syrups and sugars and salts could be interesting gifts. I’m growing nasturtium and once made the prettiest nasturtium vinegar from it— maybe everyone will get herbal gifts from me this year!

What herbal things have you heard about that I should try, in my adventures with herbs? Are there obvious ones I’m missing that I should get into the garden, stat? And, seriously, what should I do about the forthcoming oregano tsunami?

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