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The Garden Scoop

The Garden Scoop is a collection of reflections about the Master Gardeners in Champaign, Ford, Iroquois, and Vermilion.
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Using Fresh Herbs

Posted by Jenney Hanrahan -

What is it about herbs that the mere word gets our attention? Is it the food connection? When I hear basil, rosemary, tarragon, oregano or thyme delicious images come to mind. Maybe it's aromatherapy? Herbal scented candles, bath salts, potpourri etc. Many gardeners enjoy growing lavender, lemon verbena, mint, bee balm and others merely for the fragrance you get by touching their leaves and flowers. There's no denying that for some planting herbs is a purely sensory experience.

Whatever the reason, summer is the perfect time to explore new ways to use fresh herbs. You do not have to be fancy, just get creative and combine different herbs with citrus, berries or melon to make refreshing herb infused waters. For best results give the mixture at least a couple hours to let flavors develop. Citrus should be added last as the peels can impart a bitter flavor over time.

For many people, summer means basil pesto, tomato basil salads and bruschetta but did you know there are many different types of basil, thyme, mint etc? Branch out and try cinnamon basil. pineapple mint, lemon thyme, lime basil and lemon verbena. Try pairing mint with cucumber, ice water and a green tea bag. It does not have to be hot to steep. Basil and watermelon complement each other. Lavender buds can be warmed with honey, strained and added to lemonade, vanilla ice cream or baking recipes. Fresh herbs also make great vinegars for salads and marinades. Herb butters can be delicious on bread or roasted vegetables. They can even be used to help spruce up store bought items.

In East Central IL I have overwintered herbs like lemon verbena, lavender and mint in their summer containers in my garage. They require very little water or light when dormant. In early spring I take them outside and repot in fresh soil. However, warm weather herbs like basil need to spend their winter months indoors with good lighting and regular watering. For more information on growing herbs indoors visit: http://web.extension.illinois.edu/jsw/downloads/45540.pdf

Remember that fresh herbs should be pesticide free and washed before using in the kitchen. While herb infused beverages and vinegars are fairly simple to prepare it is important to understand that herb infused oils require more preparation due to possible botulism contamination. An excellent source of information may be found at http://extension.uidaho.edu/owyhee/files/2013/10/PNW664-Making-Garlic-and-Herb-Infused-Oils-at-Home.pdf

Humans aren't the only ones who enjoy herbs. If you want to attract more butterflies to your garden you need to supply food for the whole life cycle. Swallowtail butterflies use dill, parsley, fennel and other members of the carrot family to lay their eggs. Butterflies and bees are frequently seen on flowering herbs like basil, cilantro, chives, thyme, sage, and mint. Herbs can be planted with flowers and vegetables to attract pollinators adding to the garden's sensory and visual elements.

If you are looking for a unique sensory garden, visit the Kennekuk Herb Garden where University of Illinois Extension Vermilion County Master Gardeners have partnered with the Vermilion County Conservation District to create a beautiful garden that was certified by the Illinois Herb Association in 2015. Visitors will find a wide variety of well-marked herbs. Feel free to snip a few samples to take home. Kennekuk County Park is open daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Follow posted signs to discover the Bunker Hill Herb Garden

The University of IL Extension website has a great deal of information on herbs. If you wish to explore this topic further try the following links:

http://web.extension.illinois.edu/jsw/downloads/45540.pdf

https://my.extension.illinois.edu/documents/8092503090309/S205family.pdf

https://web.extension.illinois.edu/mg/conference2012/files/Perennial_Herbs_Voigt.pdf

http://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/downloads/65445.pdf



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